The next President will be tasked with turning the historically dysfunctional country around. Will he or she be up to the tasks?


February 15, 2019

NEWS ANALYSIS: On the first day as the new President of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari in his inaugural remarks touted teamwork, accountability, anti-corruption, national security, job creations, and improvement to socioeconomic mobility as core objectives for his incoming administration to tackle. The speech was designed to signal to Nigerians and the world that an authority figure, an expert is now in control of the country

“Today marks a triumph for Nigeria and an occasion to celebrate her freedom and cherish her democracy. Nigerians have shown their commitment to democracy and are determined to entrench its culture. Our journey has not been easy but thanks to the determination of our people and strong support from friends abroad we have today a truly democratically elected government in place,” President Buhari said in his remarks.

The President went on to say, “Daunting as the task [ahead] may be it is by no means insurmountable. There is now a national consensus that our chosen route to national development is democracy. To achieve our objectives we must consciously work the democratic system. The Federal Executive under my watch will not seek to encroach on the duties and functions of the Legislative and Judicial arms of government. The law enforcing authorities will be charged to operate within the Constitution. 

We shall rebuild and reform the public service to become more effective and more serviceable. We shall charge them to apply themselves with integrity to stabilize the system…My appeal for unity is predicated on the seriousness of the legacy we are getting into. With depleted foreign reserves, falling oil prices, leakages and debts the Nigerian economy is in deep trouble and will require careful management to bring it round and to tackle the immediate challenges confronting us, namely; Boko Haram, the Niger Delta situation, the power shortages and unemployment especially among young people. For the longer term we have to improve the standards of our education. We have to look at the whole field of medicare. We have to upgrade our dilapidated physical infrastructure.”

Almost four years later, as the incumbent candidate, he’s asking for more time to continue so he can complete the work he started. However, there’s much less enthusiasm from Nigerians for his request for a second term in office, which is rightly attributable to undelivered and broken promises. Others say his insouciance to the angst and plights of citizens living in poverty, especially the Nigerian youth, had rubbed them the wrong way and make them more skeptical to cast their votes for him and his party this time around. 

Can you blamed them?

Nigerians have been through enough turbulence in the last three decades, including several military coups, depreciation of currency, economic stagnation, corruption and terrorist insurgent that left many saying they cannot handle anymore chancy from politicians. At this point, they want answers and solutions right away, preferable a quick fix to end their prolongate sufferings.

The Three Amigos Who Lost The Road Map

Before I continue, let me take you back to give a brief history of Nigeria: In 1960, Nigeria gained independence from Britain. Part of the unofficial agreements between the three statesmen and founding fathers: Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Premier Nnamdi Azikiwe and Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, who advocated for the country’s independence from Britain, was to rotate leadership between the country’s three major ethnic groups: Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa. Despite this best intention by the statesmen, it didn’t take too long before rivalries and feuds disintegrated their political friendship and that subsequently prompted the country on a bumpy trajectory that led to the middle of no where. To use the title of one of Shakespeare’s plays in describing Nigeria’s situation thereafter, Much ado about nothing. Thus leaving the country in disarray, and for the most part from the mid ’70s until 2000, oscillating between military leaderships, some of who purloined large sums of money from the nation’s Federal reserves. Within those decades, Nigeria went from a paragon African country with abundant resources, both natural resources, monetary wealth, excellent social programs for citizens’ upward mobility, including the first free primary school education in Africa, free radio and television broadcast, to become a risible on the international stage due to its citizens’ internet scams, corruption and mismanagement of national’s reserves.

But the story doesn’t end there.

In the early 2000s, Nigeria managed to redeem itself after it elected a Yoruba man, Olusegun Obasanjo as President of Nigeria in 1999. He was a former military leader that ruled the country from the mid 1970s until 1980. Nevertheless, the democratic and economic transformations that took place during Obasanjo’s presidency were hailed by Nigerians and the international community as major accomplishments for the country. Despite noted minor transgressions, the country went from a deficit to a surplus within a decade. After serving two terms, Obasanjo handed power to Umaru Yar’Adua, a Muslim Hausa man from the Northern region of the country, following a democratic, but controversial presidential election. Yar’Adua died during his presidency on May 9, 2010. His Vice President, Jonathan Goodluck, an Igbo man and a Christian from the Eastern region, ascended to the top office to lead the country as an interim President and was ultimately elected as President of the country.

Remind Me How We Got Lost Yet Again and Who Has the Map?

At this point it’s important to note that in spite of the economic prosperity Nigeria was enjoying, very little of that success trickled down to the majority of the population. Many Nigerians were still living in extreme poverty and youth unemployment in the country was at all high. Details of improprieties, unaccountability and corruption began to emerge in the press and on the international stage. But what puts the final nail on the coffin and ultimately ended President Goodluck’s presidency as a one term president was his administration’s dispassionate response to the kidnapping of the “Chibok girls,” the 276 young girls who were kidnapped from their boarding school in 2014 by Boko Haram terrorist group. It took several weeks, public outcry and outraged, from both the domestic and the international community, including from the former U.S. First lady Michelle Obama, Heads of state, business leaders and the World Economic Forum, (which was holding its annual Weforum Africa Meetings in Nigeria that year), to get the attention of the Goodluck administration to begin search and rescue efforts for the girls’ recovery.

By this point in time, Nigerians were fed up and were at the end of their equanimity with the Goodluck administration. That opened the door and opportunity during the 2015 General Elections for a former autocrat military ruler to come in and present himself as a reformed citizen, an authority figure and the ideal candidate for the presidential office.

It’s been long said that Nigeria has a public relation issue, that the country needs an image makeover and needs an adult in the room. 

Who could blame the Nigerian citizens for embracing the once disliked military ruler and believing in his promises to fight corruption, improve national security, and that he’s the ideal candidate that can bring the much needed law and order to the country? There’s a saying that goes: It’s easier to walk a familiar path than to walk the unknown. 

It would be prejudicial and disrespectful to ignore the significant progress the country has made under President Buhari’s administration, including getting the country out of recession in 2017, improving national security by tackling Boko Haram insurgency in the Northern region, and keeping down corruption in the country as well as in his administration, and helping to recover millions of dollars that were siphoned and kept in overseas banks by previous Nigerian leaders and seniors officials. Nevertheless, there’s much more that were not addressed by the Buhari administration: poverty, high-level of youth unemployment, gender inequality, just to name a few.

Here We Go Again…

On Saturday, February 16, Nigerians will head to the polls to cast their votes to elect a president for the country. The top two candidates are incumbent President Buhari, 76, from the All Progressive Congress and Atiku Abubakar, 72, the former vice President during the Obasanjo administration, who is running for the top office under the People’s Democratic Party. More than 84 million Nigerians have registered to cast their votes on Saturday, a record number for the country that also shows how significant this election is for the citizens to get their voices heard. Overall, there are more than 15 presidential candidates running for the top office in the General Elections. Among the top 20 are two women: Obiageli Ezekwesili, a former VP at the World Bank’s Africa department is running under the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria and Mrs Eunice Atuejide of the National Interest Party.

The contrast between the top two candidates: President Buhari and the former VP Abubakar couldn’t be more obvious. Abubakar, a businessman and politician with a deep pocket, has a deliberate authority that telegraph how much business experience he has. However, with all due respect to African leaders, as it’s notoriously known in the international sphere that some African leaders partake in corruption, Abubakar can’t be described as someone with clean hands who didn’t somehow benefit or gained his wealth due to his close connections to power. 

As Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi said during a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month that if at the end of their presidential term, a President has much more wealth than when he or she was elected into office, then he or she should be held accountable to explain how that wealth was obtained.

“It’s my strongly held view that we should have a declaration of assets and liability bill,” President Masisi said. “If we’re going to fight corruption, it’s important to have a baseline by which you will judge me as president. When I come into office, I have [few a asset], including one vehicle that works and one that doesn’t work and at the end of my term, check the differences and factor in the income that I have earned. If all of a sudden I have an apartment in Davos and drive the latest Ferrari, and then there’s an issue [regarding corruption], I will want to be held accountable.”

Wouldn’t it be virtuous and commendable if Heads of state, politicians and civil leaders, especially African leaders, can subscribe to this proposal to put in place an anti-corruption legislation to help quell corruption in Africa? Well, one can always hope for the best in people and that politicians will do the right things for those who elected them into office. 

Now back to discussing Nigeria’s upcoming 2019 elections and the top two candidates.

Abubakar is running based on both his political acumen and business expertise,  while Buhari is running on legacy. They are both Northerners, Hausa men. And unless there’s a ballot upset from the other top presidential candidates on the ballot or one of the women presidential candidates is elected as the next president, an Hausa man will once again lead the country.

Regardless of who is chosen, the next Nigerian President will have a lot to tackle. First, he or she will have to address the poverty and the huge economic inequality in the country, which is due to the prolonged economic stagnation and breakneck growth that have plagued the country for decades. Then the president can turn the focus to unifying the country, creating jobs, improving literacy and education, health and socioeconomic mobility. In addition to those major issues, cultural and gender issues as well.

Perhaps most importantly, the next president will need to work to cultivate confidence from its citizens as well as foreign investors.

Though the tasks ahead may seem daunting at first, when it is necessary, Nigeria, and Nigerians have rose up to the occasions and this time around, it will neither fail nor disappoint those of us who still believe in its greatness, so I’m placing all my bets on Nigerian citizens, voters to choose the right leader that the country needs, not the one the country wants. A leader who will bring about positive changes to the citizens and restore the country back to its glory.