DANIEL AYANTOYE examines some of the challenges facing the country which the next President must begin to tackle after his inauguration in May 2023
The race for who becomes the next President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has intensified with many of the 18 presidential candidates reaching out to the electorate to appeal for votes.
According to the Independent National Electoral Commission, those going for the plum job are Asiwaju Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress, Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party, Peter Obi of the Labour Party, Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party, Imumolen Christopher of Accord Party, Al-Mustapha Hamza, Action Alliance; Sowore Omoyele, African Action Congress; Kachikwu Dumebi, African Democratic Congress; and Yabagi Sani of the Action Democratic Party.
Others are Umeadi Nnanna of the All Progressives Grand Alliance; Ojei Chichi, Allied Peoples Movement; Nnamdi Osita, Action Peoples Party; Adenuga Oluwafemi, Boot Party; Osakwe Johnson of the National Rescue Movement; Abiola Kolawole, Peoples Redemption Party; Adewole Adebayo of the Social Democratic Party; Malik Ado-Ibrahim, Young Progressives Party; and Nwanyanwu Daberechukwu of the Zenith Labour Party.
The current situation in the country, however, has raised diverse concerns on the need for the next president to be versatile. Not a few have insisted that the successor of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), must be a quick-witted maestro to be able to crack the nut. Even the incumbent President couldn’t hold back words on the enormous challenges in steering the ship of state when he expressed his mind that he couldn’t wait to hand over the baton of leadership to another without considering the state he would be leaving the nation, which has been describe as worse than where he took off.
The Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, in a statement in July 2022, said Buhari described his seven years in office as “tough and eager to go.”
Buhari had specifically said, “I can tell you; it has been tough. I am grateful to God that people appreciate the personal sacrifices we have been making. I wish the person who is coming after me the very best.”
Unlike his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, who had contested the 2015 election, hoping to continue as President, Buhari was sure to be inundated with problems of governance.
Recently, the former Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido, while speaking on the state of the economy at a Kaduna investment programme, expressed pity for the president that would succeed Buhari. He said, “In 2023, if we have an election, we cannot continue to have the trend because any continuation will lead to insecurity and might get us to Mali, Burkina Faso’s situation. We can’t keep pushing towards the brink; we have to come back.”
With the performance of President Buhari, who appears overwhelmed with a series of crises, it is believed that the next president will surely inherit more failures than successes of the current regime.
The current poverty ratio in the country has never been recorded in the history of the nation. The rate of unemployment vis a vis underemployment has also added to the increasing poverty rate. As of January 2022, the Nigerian Economic Summit Group said 91 million Nigerians live below poverty. This complements the World Bank projection that the number of poor Nigerians will hit 95.1 million in 2022.
More challenges ahead
There is no doubt that one of the challenges before the next President is the poor exchange rate between the naira and dollar. The naira-to-dollar exchange rate rose from N197 to N430-N442 to a dollar in the official market over a period while a dollar currently sells for N735-N745 at the parallel market.
Also, there has been a huge debt burden which will automatically be inherited by the person that will be at the helm of the country’s affairs from May 29, 2023. According to the Debt Management Office, the administration met a debt of N12.12tn on June 30, 2015, but it increased it to N42.84tn by June 30, 2022.
It is believed in some quarters that one of the critical steps that the incoming president must take at the assumption of office is to stabilise the economy, provide adequate security and good governance as the current situation under the Muhammadu Buhari-led government has worsened than what it was in 2015.
Jonathan’s government faced widespread outrage when his administration attempted to remove fuel subsidy and increase fuel price in 2012. The price of petrol rose from N65 to N141 per litre and also pushed inflation upward. This was the period of #OccupyNigeria protest when hundreds of thousands of Nigerians, including Muhammadu Buhari, took to the streets to express their misgivings over the development. After days of protest, the administration reversed the price of petrol to N97. It was further reduced to N87 per litre just before the end of Jonathan’s administration in 2015.
But upon his emergence in 2015, Buhari scrapped the Petroleum Support Fund and declared an end to the era of subsidy, even as he assured Nigerians that with the removal, the price of petrol would remain at N87 per litre. However, in 2016, the Buhari-led government took Nigerians by surprise when he abruptly increased the price to N145 per litre, with a promise to channel saved revenue to pushing the nation’s refineries, which were in bad shape, back to life.
The government quietly continued the payment of subsidy despite the increase in fuel pump price and earmarked N305bn for petrol subsidy in the 2019 budget proposal, although the administration never admitted that it was paying subsidy.
The coming of COVID-19 in 2020, however, forced down the price of oil to as low as $21 a barrel. The nation later witnessed an increase in the pump price to N161. In November 2021, the government said it would remove fuel subsidy and replace it with a monthly N5,000 transport grant to poor Nigerian, a situation that may be described as postponing the evil days. The Buhari-led regime on January 24, 2022, postponed the removal of fuel subsidy to July 2023 when a new President would have assumed office.
According to the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, the government realised that the timing of its planned removal of petrol subsidy was problematic and will worsen the suffering of Nigerians. To avert the reactions and possible revolt this may attract from the Nigerian masses, experts say the suspension became a necessity for the government.
As the Group Managing Director, Nigerian National Petroleum Company, Malam Mele Kyari, said while speaking during the World Bank Development Update. In November 2021 update, subsidy removal will lead to increase in fuel pump price from the current N180 to N340 per litre. This may also increase further with the current economic realities.
A professor of Economics, Olabisi Onabanjo University, Sheriffdeen Tella, said any decision to remove subsidy upon resumption of office might cause civil unrest in the country.
He said, “The subsidy removal has to be in gradual process. You cannot just enter into office when the next thing people get is subsidy removal. It will cause problems in the economy.”
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Professor Tella argued that the continuous payment of petrol subsidy was unsustainable as the process was marred by fraudulent activities. According to him, the import of the removal of fuel subsidy is that inflation will be on the rise while transportation and other commodities especially food items will also increase. This, he said, would have adverse effect on average Nigerians.
“Importantly, the amount of subsidy that we are paying is not correct, the consumption record is not correct. How did they get that we are consuming 66 million litres of fuel (petrol) per day? Most of the generators used by companies and big houses are using diesel and not petrol and most lorries and trailers are also using diesel. So, where did they get such an amount of petrol? It is just one of the leakages of taking money out of the country,” he stated.
The National Secretary of All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Yunusa Yabwa, told Saturday PUNCH that the recent flooding in the country would have adverse effects on the economy next year.
In the same vein, the President, Nigerian Young Farmers Association, Promise Amahah, said the price of a bag of rice would increase to N100,000 next year from the current price of N35,000 as a result of the extent of damage caused to farmlands by the flooding.
According to global data on out-of-school children of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, there are currently about 20 million out-of-school children in Nigeria, a development that has been worsened by the recent flood as a result of government failure to put in place preventive measures and also ensure access to education.
Not until recently, after over seven years in office, President Buhari directed the Minister of Water Resources to lead and coordinate with the Ministries of Environment and Transportation as well as state governments to develop a comprehensive plan of action for flood disaster prevention in Nigeria.
Again, the Nigeria Labour Congress, academic and non-academic unions, medical associations, among others have at one point or the other gone on strike over loggerheads with past governments thereby disrupting economic activities in the country. Many are of the view that government at all levels should do the needful by ensuring that civil servants and other government workers get their dues in order to avoid incessant strikes.
Recall that the Academic Staff Union of Universities embarked on an industrial action which lasted for eight months but was suspended after the ruling of the National Industrial Court and the intervention of stakeholders. Despite the suspension of strike, the loggerheads between ASUU and the Federal Government still lingers. Experts, however, believe successive governments will have its fair share if Buhari fails to meet the union’s demands before the end of his regime.
Another challenge that the new government will also need to confront is the fight against banditry and kidnapping which is rampant in the northern part of Nigeria, attacks on innocent citizens by herdsmen and gunmen in the eastern and western regions respectively as well as religious intolerance.
The PUNCH had earlier reported that about 53,418 Nigerians lost their lives from farmers/herders’ conflict, clashes by religious groups and attacks by terrorists and bandits under the Buhari regime.
The need to also encourage religious tolerance and unity in the country is also an important aspect of governance that the next president will have to beam his searchlight and proffer solution for peace and tranquility to thrive. The next president is expected
Speaking on the issues, an expert and professor of Economics, University of Uyo, Akpakpan Edet, said the current regime would not be able to achieve much within the short time it would spend in office. He said, “The President mentioned in one of his speeches that the government would continue to ensure that they addressed negative effects in the country. When will that be addressed? Is it in five months that this government is leaving? Are they going to put it in the handover note for the incoming government? This is something they could not achieve for seven years plus. I don’t think so.
“Security is a very important aspect of economic growth. A country without adequate security will lose investors, and businesses will not grow. This is one aspect among many others that the incoming government should be ready to inherit.”
A lawyer and political Analysts, Malachy Ugwummadu, said though the challenges did not start in the Buhari regime, there was need to look up to the leadership that would have the capacity to respond to them (challenges).
“Whoever is coming must perfectly know that it’s not a tea party. We are aware of the condition of the country, the standard of education that has gone down. If you add that to the level of brain drain occurring in the medical sector, we must fully understand that the next president is coming to confront big challenges and he must learn this from day one. He must learn to work with the best experts he can find anywhere in the world. He must understand that there is no luxury of time. He must anticipate the danger of perpetuation of these situations. Above all, we must find a man who will rekindle the hope of Nigerian people.”
Speaking in the same vein, a professor of Political Science, Bayero University Kano, Kamilu Fage, was of the view that Buhari’s successor must forget political, religious affiliation or ethnicity in forming an effective team that would save Nigeria from her current quandary.
Fage added, “We need to focus on the person who will be able to solve these problems. We can do that by first looking at the agenda of the candidate and what he has on the ground. Secondly, we look at their track record and thirdly, we look at the things surrounding them whether if they get the power, they will be able to face these problems.
“The issue of national unity is a very serious challenge. We are facing challenges in that respect. What we should do is to look at the leaders who will be able to face these problems and not those who will campaign or dance around the problems in order to get support. From their body language, speeches and programmes, we should be able to see who is better off in terms of confronting these issues of national unity and integrity.”
Also, the Secretary of the Joint Action Front, Oyo State chapter, Abiodun Bamgboye, said the new government would need to deviate from the current system of governance, adding that the debt of the country must first be cleared. Speaking in an interview with Saturday PUNCH, Bamgboye said with the list of the forerunners for the 2023 general election, Nigerians should not expect any meaningful results, especially based on the challenges ahead.
He added, “There are lots of problems that the new government will definitely inherit. The problems are all manifestations of the system of capitalism and any government that subscribes to the ideals of capitalism will have no choice but to continue to help those problems to grow. This is because you cannot continue doing things in the old way and expect a different result.
“The next government, if it will attempt to make any difference, must first of all clear the debt that has been incurred in the name of Nigeria because I don’t believe it’s our debt. None of that debt has been used for any meaningful thing in terms of improvement in the lives of Nigerians. The question we should ask ourselves is that among those who are contesting, who do we think has the courage to follow through? Personally, I do not see any in Atiku, Tinubu, Obi and Kwankwaso. None of them has the capacity.”
Also, the Chancellor, International Society for Social Justice and Human Rights, Jackson Omenazu, suggested that the next president must be ready to manage available resources, encourage production and work to improve the economy and the security situation in the country.
He said, “Nigerians are sophisticated thinkers, you can hardly deceive them. You can’t tell Nigerians not to eat foreign rice whereas Buhari is in Aso Rock eating foreign rice. Also, on the issues of security, I will tell you that the Nigeria Army is not incapable of handling the insecurity of this country. What they need is motivation, a president that will come in and change the narratives. We can get rid of these criminals within the shortest possible time. On the huge debt, it’s because we are not a producing nation. If we encourage production and make use of the available resources, the debt level will be reduced.” ,
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