The passing of 2023 was a year of significance for Nigeria’s political and economic landscape. Reflecting on the year underscores the need for heightened vigilance against the emergence of small, yet consequential political challenges that threaten our democratic fabric. Domestically, the ascent of Peter Obi and the Labour Party during the 2023 elections signals the ongoing momentum of our democracy. The rise of a populist candidate post–Buhari indicates a desire by some Nigerians to have a radical change and depart from the orthodoxy. The successful transition from the Buhari administration to the Bola Tinubu administration is a commendable milestone because the consistent adherence to periodic elections, a pivotal democratic pillar, has been sustained for five consecutive terms since 1999.
In 2023, several economic challenges hinder democratic progress in Nigeria.
Achievements in Nigeria face challenges, notably in states like Ondo, Edo, and Rivers, emphasising rule of law, democratic principles, and leadership roles. Localised issues highlight cronyism and clientelism in politics. Leadership scarcity at the grassroots hampers national development. The judiciary’s role, exemplified in Kano, is a vital concern. Seemingly isolated, these issues could coalesce into a significant threat to national cohesion and democracy. Historical lessons underscore the need to address these local challenges before they escalate, potentially causing widespread political upheaval.
Nigeria found itself confronted by deep-seated issues because of ethnic and geopolitical tensions, rendering the resolution of national problems increasingly complex and, at times, impossible. Through 2023, there are pockets of mass killings by bandits across some Northern regions and secessionist brouhaha in the South- East. Even lately, some communities in Plateau State were ravaged by suspected bandits and over one hundred people were murdered with no consequences. Kidnapping is rampant across major cities in Nigeria. The Southeast states shot down every Monday without economic activities because of fear of reprisals from groups enforcing sit-at-home orders.
The general elections were fought along ethnic and religious lines; prominent candidates resorted to exploiting divisive narratives to secure support, detrimentally impacting the overall fabric of national unity. The aftermath of the elections revealed a persistent reluctance among Nigerians to unite and a preference for clinging to ethnic identities over fostering national cohesion. This inclination became glaringly evident in the election campaigns’ content, tone, and themes, further contributing to the widening ethnic fault lines. However, Atiku Abubakar, former VP, argues that ethnicity and religion are not our main problems but symptoms of absence of leadership and negative attitude. He posits, “Nigeria’s problem is not ethnic or religious. It is systemic. It is the leadership system. It is an attitude problem.” It is only leaders that perpetuate and stoke the fire of ethnicity and religion for political gains.
In 2023, several economic challenges hinder democratic progress in Nigeria. The Naira’s redesign during elections, soaring inflation, and a weakened Naira against the dollar worsened poverty and inequality. The cost-of-living crisis disproportionately impacted low- and middle-income earners, escalating economic vulnerability. Alarming inflation raised staple prices, exacerbated by the Dollar rate surge, starting at N460/N and peaking over N1200. Removal of the Premium Motor Spirit subsidy increased fuel prices to about N600, from N190 earlier. This surge, coupled with rising transport costs, amplified commodity prices, while stagnant incomes and inadequate palliative measures intensified the harsh economic impact on Nigerians.
Insecurity directly correlates with food security. The prevailing insecurity in the country worsened the already cost of living crisis Nigerians faced. Many farmers faced hindrances in cultivating and harvesting crops due to insecurity and other forces, causing disruptions in the national food-producing regions. Addressing the national food insecurity challenge is a sine quo non. The government must find solutions to the undue pressure the farmers face nationwide due to the siege of insecurity .
On the global stage, the Israel-Hamas conflict resisted international intervention, and the Russia-Ukraine war posed a substantial threat to the worldwide economy. Nigeria is not insulated from the vagaries of global economic upheavals. When the world coughs, Nigeria catches a cold. We must be prepared to deal with these global uncertainties and develop structures and systems to serve us in adverse global economic impacts. We must not allow ourselves to be docile victims at the mercy of global crises. Instead, we must be bullish and active participants hoping to take advantage of such a global crisis present.
Nigeria faces significant challenges impacting its political and economic growth, demanding urgent attention. Recent political crises in states like Rivers, Ondo, and Edo highlight democracy’s fragility and the vital role of upholding the rule of law. The economy, seemingly more fragile, prompts questions about intentional actions favouring the political elite. Former President Goodluck Jonathan emphasises the need for comprehensive corrections in politics and economics to secure the nation’s future. These issues collectively underscore the imperative for concerted efforts to deepen democracy and address systemic shortcomings.
As we step into 2024, the paramount concern and developmental priority for the government should be fostering unity among Nigerians. A national peace and unity dialogue is imperative now, aiming to address the divisive lines that have emerged over the years. It is essential to plan and convene a national meeting, engaging in discussions that focus on healing the nation and redesigning governance structures to ensure the equitable delivery of democracy’s dividends to all Nigerians. Rebuilding trust among citizens and fostering complementary national growth and development actions are indispensable for the country’s progress.
In 2024, the Nigerian economy faces challenges amidst global economic volatility. While inflation may slow, the Naira’s stability in Q1 might give way to a decline. The real sector anticipates muted growth, worsened by the persistent electricity deficit, especially impacting manufacturing. Confidence in economic management is crucial, yet the absence of a clear blueprint leaves investors and citizens sceptical. The lack of substantial government investments in agriculture suggests continued upward food inflation, posing a significant obstacle to economic stability.
Meanwhile, in 2024, 18 African countries are slated to hold elections, making Africa the continent with the most electoral events. Widespread challenges with credible elections and good governance prevail across most African nations, contributing to growing disillusionment among citizens with the democratic process. Ineffectual leadership significantly burdens Africa, fostering an environment where corruption thrives. Military involvement in politics and governance has become more prevalent, with nine countries experiencing military rule between 2020 and 2023. Without drastic interventions to enhance governance quality and improve the economic fortunes of citizens, this trend is anticipated to persist in 2024.
President Tinubu’s primary focus for 2024 is to restore macroeconomic stability. Nigerians are grappling with tangible economic hardships, and all indicators point to the continuation of a cost-of-living crisis. Political figures must actively work to mitigate the escalating risk of these more minor challenges that imperil our democracy and the nation’s survival. The answer lies in upholding the rule of law, respecting democratic values, and embracing selflessness. We can only achieve this through exemplary leadership. Ngozi-Okonjo Iwela, DG WTO, posits, “The problem of Nigeria is not a problem of ethnicity or religion. The problem in Nigeria is the problem of bad leadership. This is the problem we need to tackle.” If we get our leadership right, everything will fall into place.