Jide Akintunde, Managing Editor/CEO, Financial Nigeria International Limited

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Nigerians need surprises and not predictability in 2022 10 Jan 2022

One needs not be a clairvoyant to accurately predict 2022 Nigeria. For the country, it will not even be a year of known unknowns. Rather, it will be a year marked by entrenched realities. Conventional wisdom, especially taken from investors’ fondness for predictability, would suggest this is a good thing. But on the contrary, surprises are what Nigerians need in 2022.

One of the needed surprises is for President Muhammadu Buhari to become a “lame duck.” Some people wrongly think he will automatically become one. 2022 is his last full calendar year in office. As his second term ends on May 29, 2023, he is constitutionally ineligible to contest the presidential election slated for earlier that year. As such, he is supposed to become more inert and watch the rest of his tenure in office overrun by electoral politics.

This is not what happens in succession politics in Nigeria. The incumbent president takes an active interest in who succeeds him. President Olusegun Obasanjo laid the precedent for this in the Fourth Republic. Ahead of the 2007 general election, he became the chief campaigner for Umaru Musa Yar’Adua as his successor. President Buhari, who will be the second elected president in the history of the country to oversee his succession politics without being eligible to be on the ballot, will likely follow the Obasanjo example. The phenomenon whereby the incumbent head of state hijacks what is supposed to be the prerogative of the electorate to elect his successor, started with the transition programme of the then-military head of state – and self-styled “President” – General Ibrahim Babangida. He said he knew who would not succeed him, even if he didn’t know who would.

Babangida’s shenanigan was a disguised plot for self-succession. But in the case of Obasanjo, as it will be for Buhari, it was a desperate attempt at preserving his legacy by installing a perceived loyalist at all costs. But what Nigeria needs to restore a modicum of effective governance and faith in the country’s democracy, is an open electoral contest in which Nigerians are allowed to freely elect the best man for the job. Buhari’s worthwhile legacy may yet be enablement of free and fair election in 2023.

In the advanced democracies, the notion of a “lame duck” president relates to the stalling of the policy agenda of the incumbent – in particular those that require legislative approval. This has notoriously been the case in recent years of hyper-partisan polarisation in the United States among the Democrats and the Republicans. For instance, if two years after electing the incumbent president his party loses the majority in the Congress during the mid-term election, the remaining two years of his administration becomes frustrated by the opposition.

This is a dissimilarity to Nigeria’s presidential system in which the president and the federal legislators are elected in the same electoral cycle for four years. And the 9th National Assembly has earned its sobriquet as a “rubber stamp” of President Buhari. Already, the hope by Nigerians that the legislature would veto the President’s refusal to assent to the new amendment of the Electoral Act has been dashed. This president will continue to have his way until his last day in office.

This means the policy predilections of the last six years will continue. In 2022, the national debt will continue to grow as the deficit financing programme for the year’s budget of N17.1 trillion will scale through the legislature. The anti-democratic impulses of the last years – and the divisiveness wrought by presidential nepotism elevated almost as state policy – will also go unchallenged in the other two arms of government.

The surprises needed in this regard are for President Buhari to change course and accept that the N3.89 trillion yearly average increase in the national debt in the last six years cannot continue in 2022, for the sake of debt sustainability. He also should ensure that the potential game-changing, popular provision for electronic transmission of election results in the Electoral Act Amendment Bill becomes law and that the law rules. (The uniform provision for direct primaries for political parties in the bill is, indeed, contentious. Such matters are best driven by convention and not by legislation.)

The third area of needed surprise in 2022 is improvement in the welfare of Nigerians. Since 2015, the national poverty and unemployment rates have witnessed persistent rise. And the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these trends. To survive, Nigerians and their small businesses sorely need well-targeted fiscal stimulus to support jobs and consumption. This has been a longstanding need. But we are now virtually out of time in waiting to see effective fiscal intervention begin to counter worsening poverty and unemployment, which have been fuelling insecurity, emigration, and lack of patriotism.

In just about the final year of the administration that rode on the crest of “change” mantra into office in 2015, any real change by it, even this late in the day, will come to Nigerians as a big and pleasant surprise.

Happy New Year!

NB: We welcome rejoinders to articles in this magazine - this and subsequent editions - via editor@financialnigeria.com.