What should Tinubu’s agenda be?
The Nigerian presidential elections have come and gone, and the candidate of the ruling All Progressive Congress, Bola Ahmed Tinubu has been declared the winner of the poll with 8,794,726 votes, while Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was second with 6,984,520 and Peter Obi of Labour Party third with 6,101,533 votes.
Abysmally low turnouts characterised the elections in practically all states, violence, and accusations of rigging and voter suppression by state and non-state actors. The candidates of the two highest-scoring opposition parties, the PDP and the LP, have announced their decision to go to the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) and while that is not an option that has ever panned out for opposition candidates at the Nigerian presidential level, it is important that any misgivings on the electoral process be expressed and possibly corrected by the judicial system rather than have them addressed outside of the legal system by non-state actors in injurious ways.
For now, though, the incoming president is Bola Tinubu, and the country he will be taking control of is one that has been quite frankly led into its poorest economic, social, security, and inter-ethnic situations by the Muhammadu Buhari Administration that he helped into office.
Nigeria has a 33.3% official unemployment rate. One out of every three Nigerians who qualify for the labour force is unemployed, and another 22.8% is underemployed, so Nigeria actually has a combined unemployment rate of 56%. Nigeria has an inflation rate of 21.8% which is the 3rd highest in OPEC, only behind the wonderful pair of Venezuela and Iran. Driven by rising food costs and a weakening currency means, Nigeria’s inflation rate is at 21.82%.
Then you have the security situation worsened by growing unemployment and poverty and at an all-time low with terrorist attacks from Boko Haram and other extremist sects happening side-by-side with attacks by gangs that kidnap people and hold them for ransom.
This is not helped by the existing inter-ethnic hostility that has been further tested by an election campaign season that has been rife with inter-ethnic and interreligious spats and ended up with Nigeria getting an all-Muslim presidential and vice-presidential ticket elected into office after the opposition split itself into different blocs and spent most of the campaign season fighting each other and allowed a battered but resolute APC candidacy step over their intertwined bodies and into a winning position.
16 million Nigerians voted without wanting Tinubu as president. Tinubu must recognise that his victory is a somewhat lethargic one that did not spark celebrations in any part of the country, even in Lagos, where he lost to the opposition. There is ethnic, regional, and religious dissatisfaction and competition that he must address alongside other elements of governance.
In October 2022, he released an 80-page manifesto that gave different levels of detail on his plans for the economy, but the immediate agenda of the Bola Tinubu presidency must address the social, political, and ethnic upheavals that have been further stirred by the bitter electoral season. Nigeria is already dealing with separatist and insurgent violence in several regions, and the discontent unearthed recently should not be left to become more fuel for ethnic and religious strife.
If nothing else, Bola Ahmed Tinubu is a shrewd dealmaker, and right now, his immediate agenda has to be to make a power-sharing deal with the Nigerian people. The first (and less important) component of this is a government of national unity, a broad coalition government comprising all relevant and willing opposition parties. Getting the input and participation of different blocs would help ease tension and get buy-in.
This is complicated by the opposition’s resolve to seek legal action against the announced results because they insist that the elections were rigged. There is also the fact that these multi-party coalitions tend to reward individuals much more than they are likely to unite people and improve governance, but every little bit counts.
Read also: Five major economic decisions awaiting Tinubu
The second and more important part of this power-sharing is a quick arrangement to get a devolution arrangement that transfers some powers from the federal government to the states to help ease fears of oppression and help support his attempts to improve the economy.
The offer of Devolution was the bedrock of the Atiku Abubakar campaign. While it was talked about sparingly by the Peter Obi campaign, the devolution issue is very powerful in the South-East and South-South, where separatist militias have been formed in response to the actions of an overbearing Nigerian federal government.
This Devolution offer would also position Bola Tinubu to present himself as a true followup to the Obafemi Awolowo legacy that was based on achieving true federalism. At the moment, Nigeria is beset by centrifugal forces that push outwards, tearing it apart, but a successful sale of a Devolution project would provide Tinubu with significant political capital and offer a centripetal force that unites Nigerians around an idea that is greatly valued, especially in the South and Middle-Belt regions that provide much of the opposition’s support.
Nwanze is a partner at SBM Intelligence