/ 24 February 2023

Trust me, I have a plan, say Nigerian presidential hopefuls

Bola Tinubu
Continuity candidate: Bola Ahmed Tinubu takes credit for the boom in the city of Lagos.

The new Nigerian president, whoever he is, has plenty of work to do. But there are two issues that have dominated the campaign season. 

The first is the chronic insecurity which has worsened over the last decade. Last year alone, more than 8 000 people were killed by armed groups such as Boko Haram — and the military, despite massive investment, has been powerless to get the situation under control, while itself being implicated in repeated grievous human rights violations.

Then there is the fragile, misfiring economy that is always on the verge of collapse. Inflation is above 21%, making basic goods unaffordable for many, while the decision to introduce new bank notes has created a cash shortage. Unemployment is at 33%. 

On these issues, Bola Ahmed Tinubu is very much the continuity candidate. He is so entrenched in the political class that its stains cannot help but stick. He was criticised for appearing to blame unarmed protesters for the Lekki Massacre in 2020, in which at least 12 people were gunned down by security forces. They were protesting against police atrocities. 

His choice of Kashim Shettima as running mate is interesting. Some see it as a provocation, as Shettima is, like Tinubu, a Muslim — political tradition encourages power to be shared between Christians and Muslims. Shettima was governor of Borno State, a Boko Haram stronghold.

On the economy, Tinubu points to his track record as governor of Lagos from 1999 to 2007 and claims credit for the city’s economic boom. But that growth has come at a cost. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, Lagos is the second-worst city in the world in which to live, after only war-torn Damascus in Syria. 

It is hard to know what Atiku Abubakar plans to do about insecurity because he barely mentions it in his manifesto, perhaps wary of alienating his key northern electorate, who already worry he is too liberal.

This raises concerns over whether he will be able to make difficult decisions in the larger national interest. He does, however, have some form in this regard, having opposed the introduction of Sharia law in Muslim-majority parts of the north.

The focus of Abubakar’s campaign is the economy. He is unabashedly pro-business and says he will scrap fuel subsidies — even if it makes petrol more expensive for ordinary people — and privatise the state-owned oil company. These savings will be allocated to small- and medium-sized enterprises, to create jobs. 

Other ideas include renegotiating international debt agreements and raising a diaspora bond to fund the buzzing tech sector. Most Nigerians will agree that these are good ideas only if they are the beneficiaries. 

Perhaps the secret behind Peter Obi’s unexpected popularity is that he offers something different. He has little experience in confronting armed conflict but says he is prepared to negotiate with those who can be encouraged to see things differently and will “deal” with those who do not. 

His supporters, the Obidients, as they call themselves, believe his personal integrity will help him avoid the corruption and abuse of power which have hampered the current administration’s response to insecurity.

As Anambra governor, Obi built up state coffers and has a good record in the private sector, where he created enough wealth to feel the need to stash some of it offshore. The theory is he, unlike his rivals, is not looking to enrich himself while in office and thus would be a reliable steward of Nigeria’s finances.  

This article first appeared in The Continent, the pan-African weekly newspaper produced in partnership with the Mail & Guardian. It’s designed to be read and shared on WhatsApp. Download your free copy here.