Tough decisions Tinubu must take

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•New president to face fuel subsidy challenges, Kanu’s detention, redesigned notes, debt burden, others


By Vincent Kalu

Governing Nigeria is one of the most difficult jobs in Africa: it’s a country replete with security and socio-political challenges. Again, the most difficult mark to score as a Nigerian leader is a high mark in public estimation. Nigerians expect ‘miracle workers’ as presidents, even when the wand is hard to come by.

As the President-elect, Bola Ahmed Tinubu takes over the reins of power as Nigeria’s president on May 29, he will be inheriting the leadership of a country where many youths have fled the country and more are rearing to flee in a japa wave that has made nonsense of the Andrews in the 1980s, having being disillusioned by the status quo. But restoring the confidence of the fleeing youths is just one of the many problems facing the new president.

Like a hydra headed monster, problems waiting to be solved are already staring the Asiwaju in the face. While some are recycled problems over the years, of which the previous leaders have laboured in vain to solve completely, others are of recent, presenting fresh jigsaws on cliffs of the hallowed Aso Rock.

Divided nation

Before the 2023 general election, Nigeria was tethering towards Armageddon because of the sharp divisions existing along ethnic, religious and social lines.  Some leaders of thought, including Bishop Mathew Kuka, have shouted themselves hoarse, expressing their worries that the country was more divided compared to the civil war era. This division came to a head in the lead up and after the recent presidential election, where the chasm of a riven nation widened further apart.

From the South East to the Middle Belt, South South to the South West, there was a resonating hoopla on restructuring the country. This clamour hasn’t petered out yet, even with Tinubu’s emergence.

One of the tasks before Tinubu, then, is on how to begin the healing process. In doing this, he has to become an excellent crucible for melting the differences among various ethnic and religious groups to forge a united and a strong nation. His mode of appointments into various offices may go a long way in addressing this issue.

The outgoing Nigerian president has been accused by various groups, especially from the southern part of the country and Middle Belt Christians, of favouring mostly his Fulani ethnic group in political appointments to influential positions, leading to cries of marginalisation elsewhere.

The Nnamdi Kanu conundrum

Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a self-determination group seeking the declaration of Biafra as an independent country, has been languishing in the detention facility of the Department of State Service (DSS) since his rendition from Kenya over a year ago following his vociferous campaign from exile.

IPOB’s agitation was predicated on marginalisation and injustice they claimed were meted to the Igbo of the South East. Before he fled the country, he was initially arrested by the Federal Government but was granted bail. Not comfortable with the IPOB movement, the military invaded his Afara home in Umuahia, Abia State, and he escaped to the United Kingdom. The government later proscribed IPOB, and declared it a terrorist organisation.

At this juncture, the South East region, which was, hitherto, one of the most peaceful regions in Nigeria, became a boiling cauldron, with guns booming in the streets and blood flowing everywhere, as protesting youths engaged the powers that be, who, they claimed, had pushed them to the wall.

Hence, the economic activities of the region were grounded. Worse still, every Monday was declared sit-at-home with no vehicular movement, shut markets, and closed private and public offices. Failure to adhere to the order, scapegoats were made to pay the price, resulting in murders, razed homes and shops and burnt vehicles.

In 2021, the government extradited Kanu from Kenya and started his trial again. On October 13, 2022, the court held that Kanu’s extradition from Kenya in June 2021 to Nigeria without following the extradition rules was a flagrant violation of the IPOB leader’s fundamental human rights. Yet the government refused to release him. For the umpteenth time, various Igbo groups and leaders have appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to release him for the region to have peace but to no avail. The Nnamdi Kanu question, therefore, is a tricky one Tinubu would like to solve quickly.

Sunday Igboho

He is the leader of a Yoruba separatist group fighting for the actualisation of Oduduwa Republic in the South West. Even though he has been granted bail from jail in Benin Republic, he’s still in some form of detention as he cannot leave the country.

When security agencies invaded his home in 2021, he and his wife escaped and were headed for Germany through Benin Republic, but the International Criminal Police Organisation at the Cadjèhoun Airport arrested him. He was in prison before his release on bail, but ordered to remain in Benin. This is another matter before the incoming president to solve.

Fuel subsidy

The Nigerian government has, for decades, subsidised fuel and fixed retail prices of petroleum products. But, in November 2021, the Federal Government announced its plan to remove the fuel subsidy and replace it with a monthly N5, 000 transport grant for poor Nigerians. The Nigerian National Petroleum Limited, in February this year, said fuel subsidy was now above N400 billion a month. According to the NNPC Group Chief Executive Officer, Mele Kyari, “that means there is a difference of close to N202 for every litre of PMS imported into this country.”

According to the former Managing Director of the defunct Manny Bank, Dr. Jona Ezikpe, “existing subsidy system creates huge corruption in the system, whereby few individuals will get fat, while the masses will be impoverished. It is like postponing the doomsday by arguing that if you remove the subsidy that the poor would be worse off.”

He called on Tinubu to put his feet down and remove the subsidy.  While the removal is being tinkered, the organised labour is insisting that before fuel subsidy is removed, the entire refineries in the country must be fixed. The new president would have to be decisive on the fuel subsidy issue once he gets into office.

Debt burden

Nigeria’s Debt Management Office (DMO) on January 6, 2023, said that the next administration would inherit a public debt of N77 trillion. The Director-General of the DMO, Patience Oniha, made this known in a statement.

In recent weeks, there have been heated debates on the sustainability of Nigeria’s debt amid shrinking revenue and mounting CBN loans. In the face of a weak naira and weak export base, the incoming president faces serious challenges, especially with over 93 per cent of the revenue used in servicing debt.

Forty per cent salary increase to federal civil servants

The federal government has recently commenced payment of the approved 40 per cent salary increase for civil servants in the federal ministries, agencies and departments under the Consolidated Public Salary Structure. Resident doctors and lecturers are excluded from this increment.

Expectedly, a crisis is looming in the universities and other tertiary institutions. In the same vein, resident doctors are asking for more than 40 per cent salary increments. With this development, workers at the state levels may begin to ask to be treated like their counterparts at the federal level. Workers in the public sector may likely do the same.

An economist, Mr. Chibuzor Mba, has argued that the government lacked proper advisers. According to him, “increase in salary without corresponding increase in production leads to spiral inflation and that is what the country is going to face, as prices of food items will increase, cost of manufacturing of local goods will skyrocket, companies may start closing shops and workers are thrown into a non-existence labour market. Nigerians should be talking of how to increase the country’s production base at this time, and not salary increase.” This, no doubt, is what the incoming president is going to confront.

National Census

After speculations of whether it would hold or not, President Muhammadu Buhari, on April 29, approved the postponement of the 2023 Population and Housing Census, earlier scheduled for May 3-7, to a date to be determined by the incoming administration.

Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, said in a statement, that Buhari approved the postponement.

“In arriving at the decision to postpone the Census, the meeting reiterated the critical need for the conduct of a population and housing census, 17 years after the last census, to collect up-to-date data that will drive the developmental goals of the country and improve the living standard of the Nigerian people,” Mohammed stated. The incoming government will start from where the outgoing administration stopped in conducting the census.

Redesigned naira notes

In October 2022, Godwin Emefiele, governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), announced the apex bank’s plan to redesign and circulate a new series of three banknotes out of the existing eight. The redesigned N200, N500 and N1000 notes were due for circulation on December 15, 2022.

Emefiele said the pre-existing notes would remain legal tender until January 31, 2023. The CBN governor explained that the decision was reached due to persisting concerns with the management of currency in circulation — particularly those outside the banking system.

Five months later, Nigerians were directed to go back to using the old notes alongside the new notes till December 31. But between October 2022 and March 2023, a lot happened that made many Nigerians livid with rage.

This redesign happening during the election almost brought the country down to its knees. Many people slumped and passed on while in the banking hall looking for the new notes. Families were not able to feed well, because there was no cash to buy foodstuff. Many lost their lives because of the cash crunch.

Will the problem of the new naira notes, which are even hard to find these days, resurface? This is among the myriad of questions waiting to be answered by the incoming president. The task before him is herculean.