BusinessDay

2023: Buhari’s failures as biggest threat to Tinubu’s ambition

When Nigeria goes to the polls on February 25th, 2023, it will not only be to test the strength of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the newly invigorated Labour Party (LP), it will be a referendum on the popularity and the right to continue to rule, of the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC).

The APC’s presidential candidate, Bola Tinubu says he is confident of winning the 2023 general election.

“I am going to solve all the problems in Nigeria if elected president…I have the ability to surmount all problems to bring the country on the right track and to prosperity… I am confidently telling you that I will lead this country in 2023 with your support,” Mr Tinubu boasted earlier this month at the 7th edition of the Kaduna Investment Summit.

While unveiling his manifesto a week later, the ruling party’s candidate debuted a salad of promises; vowing to end the provocative fuel subsidy regime that has guzzled hundreds of trillions of Naira since his party captured power in 2015. He also swore to confront the corrupt and inefficient CBN-managed forex regime that has negatively affected economic growth and value of the local currency since 2015.

“I will ensure the stability of petroleum product supply by fully deregulating the downstream sector and ensuring that local refinery capacity will meet domestic consumption needs,” Mr. Tinubu, a former governor of the country’s economic capital promised, adding, “we shall phase out the fuel subsidy yet maintain the underlying social contract between government and the people. We do this by dedicating the money that would have been used on the subsidy to fund targeted infrastructural, agricultural and social welfare programmes ranging from road construction to boreholes, public transportation subsidies, and education and healthcare funding programmes.

“In this way,” he assured, “the funds are more directly and better utilised to address urgent social and economic needs. Our planned approach will not only mitigate the price effects of deregulation but will also result in the significant expansion of public infrastructure and improvement of public well-being.

“Subsidy removal and deregulation are, however, only part of the solution. To further increase our refining capacity,” he further assured.

According to him, “We shall focus on the rehabilitation of the nation’s refineries and shall consider, as a model, the joint venture partnership arrangements implemented by other leading oil-producing states and global petrochemical firms.

“Further compounding our difficulty,” Mr. Tinubu’s manifesto noted, “is the fact that we are tied to an ineffective regime of multiple, somewhat arbitrary, exchange rates. This situation gives rise to financial dislocation, currency speculation and arbitrage. These practices divert much-needed funds away from productive endeavours that could employ hundreds of thousands of people and create products that improve average living conditions.

“To ensure that exchange rate policy harmonises with our goals of optimal growth and job creation driven by industrial, agricultural and infrastructural expansion, we will work with the Central Bank and the financial sector to carefully review and better optimise the exchange rate regime. Our economic policies shall be guided by our desire for a stronger, more stable Naira founded upon a vibrant and productive real economy.”

Despite his confidence and great-looking promises, Tinubu knows that he will have to run against the appalling record of the current president, Muhammadu Buhari; the present flag bearer of his party. Opposition parties and many Nigerians are holding him up against the atrocious outcomes of Mr. Buhari’s incompetent management of the nation’s economy, politics, society and security.

Elected into office in May 2015 under a cumulus of expectations that he himself and his party the APC had generated, Mr. Buhari promised to focus on three key priority areas when elected. He vowed to ensure the safety of Nigerians by putting an end to Boko Haram and other forms of insecurity in the country. He threatened corruption, promising to kill it ‘before it killed us’, and also swore to Nigerians that the economy would change for the better.

With a few months left for him to leave office, the consensus of most credible watchers of Nigeria and indeed majority of Nigerians is that Mr. Buhari’s more than seven years in power has been a nightmarish disaster for the country and its impoverished citizens.

“He has simply run the country aground. What I have observed since I have been in this country in the past four years, is the overt pessimism that this government has bred in Nigerians,” An African diplomat accessed.

In 2018, Nigeria displaced India to become the world’s poverty capital, according to a report by Brookings Institution, while Nigeria’s total public debt hit N41.60 trillion under the watch of the Buhari-led regime, according to the Debt Management Office.

A citizens’ perception and attitude survey on topical issues and trends covering a potpourri of social, economic, political, governance and public-life issues released in March by Africa Polling Institute (API) found that only one in 10 Nigerians (eight per cent) are happy with the current state of affairs in Nigeria, under Buhari.

According to figures from data consulting firm StatiSense, in 2015, when Buhari came into office, 54.51 million Nigerians were fully employed. Five years later, only 30.57 million Nigerians had full employment. Unemployment rate, which stood at 10.4 percent in 2015, rose to 35 percent in 2021, up 6.06 percentage points from the 33.3 percent reported in 2020, according to figures from Agusto & Co.

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In an October 2021 article, the Economist Magazine aptly described the government of the Mr. Buhari, as inept and high-handed, adding that it had also failed to tackle corruption.

The depressing state of the Nigerian economy under Buhari, was fittinglycomputed by the Economist magazine in its May 2019 edition, when it noted, “the Nigerian economy is stuck like a stranded truck. Average incomes have been falling for four years; the IMF thinks they will not rise for at least another six. The latest figures put unemployment at 23 percent, after growing for 15 consecutive quarters. Inflation is 11 percent. Some 94m people live on less than $1.90 a day, more than in any other country, and the number is swelling. By 2030 a quarter of very poor people will be Nigerian, predicts the World Data Lab, which counts such things”.

It is this terrible record that Mr. Tinubu and his APC party would have to contend with and skilfully navigate if he would win in February next year.

While the APC presidential candidate has linked his political future to the record of the President, he has also in the past sought to distance himself from that record.

At a rally organised by a section of APC youths in the South West in April, Mr. Tinubu agreed that Nigerians have the right to be angry at Mr. Buhari’s failure to live up to their expectations.

“We feel your anger when you are angry” he told them, adding, “I don’t blame you. The promises of the past have failed to realise that you build a future from the onset; from the kindergarten.

“We cannot continue with the lamentations of the past,” he further chided the president. “We cannot continue with excuses on NEPA failure. No! No nation can make rapid development without electricity. Give us that, and if we cannot be successful, you can abuse us. But you cannot give us erratic electricity that is undependable and then blame us again that we are lazy.”

In August, one of Mr. Tinubu’s allies, the former Edo State governor, Adams Oshiomhole, repudiated any vicarious relationship between his party’s presidential candidate and the current president.

“I think in appropriating or apportioning blame or crediting people, you will look at their role. It is a fact that Tinubu himself co-founded the APC. But he never participated in governance,” Mr. Oshiomhole asserted in an interview with Arise TV.

Mr. Tinubu, he stressed, “never held any position in government. He didn’t carry out any contract on behalf of government. So how can you credit him either way?”

Earlier that month, Mr. Tinubu’s campaign spokesman, the Minister of state for labour and employment, Festus Keyamo denounced Mr. Oshiomhole’s assertion, declaring that the APC’s presidential candidate would deploy the same template used by the Nigerian president when he gets into office.

“It is the same APC template that both leaders (Buhari and Tinubu); that they will use. I saw one misleading headline from one of the papers yesterday and I laughed. It was misleading, misinterpreting what one of our leaders said. That we were distancing ourselves from the records of Buhari; that is utter nonsense. Like I said, we are proud of the record of the APC,” Keyamo had declared.

Tinubu, he said, was proud of the achievements of the Buhari regime, adding that the APC presidential candidate may however choose to improve on certain aspects of governance “on the same template of progressivism.”

Despite the thinking in some quarters that Mr. Buhari’s tenure has been a disaster, Tinubu recently said that he would continue with the legacies of the President if he is elected in 2023.

Addressing participants at the third Ministerial Performance Review Retreat at the State House, Abuja, Tinubu said as President, he won’t relent until terrorists were completely diminished in the country.

Tinubu promised that if elected, he will show due honour to the efforts and legacies of the President and work in the spirit of unity, national purpose that informed the creation of the party.

Tinubu said his government would be devoted to continuity, particularly of projects that will bring prosperity to the citizens, while his guiding principle will be hinged on providing the best of progressive governance and reform the nation.

While many Nigerians, including many in the president’s political heartland in northern-east and north-west Nigeria believe there has been nothing progressive about Mr. Buhari’s leadership and governance style, the APC and its presidential candidate would no doubt face its biggest test from the voters, many of whom expect to know from Mr. Tinubu why he should not be punished for the gargantuan failures of his party and the president; a president whose policies and programmes he has publicly defended at varied times.