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

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The prospects of Bola Tinubu’s presidency 09 Mar 2023

At 4:00am on 1 March 2023, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, declared Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the ruling APC as the winner of the presidential election that held the previous weekend. Tinubu quickly announced that he would serve the people and work with them to make Nigeria great.

As Governor of Lagos State between 1999 and 2007, Tinubu assembled a team that featured many technocrats. But his enduring achievement was the reform he introduced which has raised the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) profile of the state, from under N1 billion monthly to the current level of around N50 billion. With the revenue profile, coupled with the fact that Lagos was the capital of the Nigerian federation during the glory days of its oil economy, it leads the other states in physical development. Lagos also remains the commercial nerve centre of the country till date.

It is surprising that Tinubu said in his acceptance speech as President-Elect: “I will serve you; be your servant and not your leader.” One of his other achievements, which is touted in a corner of the political circuit, is that he is unapologetically a “leader” who has mentored and handheld many of his loyalists to national prominence and high public offices. Indeed, he successfully instituted a monocracy in Lagos, such that, till date, his anointment is required for any aspirant to a significant public office in the state.

But it is possible that Tinubu felt he will struggle to lead as President. The official results of the election and the popular complaint about its conduct suggest that he was unpopularly elected. He won with just a plurality of 36 percent, and his victory was secured by only 9.4 percent of the total number of registered voters for the election. Even more troubling, Tinubu failed to secure the electoral mandate of the politically influential core northern states of Kano, Kaduna, Kastina, and Sokoto. He lost Lagos (his base), the South East, and won only one state (Rivers) in the oil-rich South South. The political power base of his presidency is, therefore, up in the air.

Another major concern for his leadership is the level of international support that he is likely to get. The many international election observatories for the election said in their preliminary reports that the 25 February 2023 national elections were marred by violence, disenfranchisement of Nigerians, and there was lack of transparency in tallying the votes, with INEC ditching its guidelines for electronic transmission of results.

International support for the next president would be crucial for his administration to be able to access financing in the international capital market. A sense of Nigeria’s renaissance after eight years of economic downturn and spartan international engagement by President Muhammadu Buhari would be critical for diverting the attention of global investors to Nigeria. With many cash-awash Gulf States diversifying their economies from oil – in line with the ongoing global energy transition – it would be harder for Nigeria to attract foreign direct investment (FDI).

To make up for his loss of physical fervour to engage robustly with stakeholders in diplomacy and finance on account of his noticeable health challenges, Tinubu is expected to delegate some of his duties. Delegation of responsibilities is one thing, giving the power and authority to back them is another – with Tinubu’s approach quite nuanced to exclude the latter. This will likely cause delay in the business of government; and tentativeness in dealing with his aides would be unattractive to foreign investors.

The challenge before the President-Elect is huge. Judicial challenge of his victory is certain. But once sworn-in on 29 May, he will have a fractured country and a prostrate economy to contend with. While he may genuinely want to work with technocrats, it remains to be seen what his first cabinet would look like. His options may – like Buhari’s – be limited by his choosing to work with the people he “knows” (given that he builds long-term relationships); other technocrats of repute who know him may develop cold feet in working with him because of his controversial mandate and the long time that he has been associated with corruption.

But he can take some pragmatic steps to broaden support for his administration. This will include genuine friendly gestures to the youth, rapprochement with the Igbos, and allocating power to the northern oligarchy. If he is anything, Tinubu is a pragmatic leader and is expected to realise that these steps are not signs of weakness, but they are for building strength for his government.

A major test he will have to pass in the immediate term is his public utterances, should protests break out on account of the flaws in the election he officially has won – subject to likely judicial intervention. His public interventions to major crises in recent memory, like during the shooting of young EndSARS protesters at Lekki Toll Gate in 2020 and following the killing of the daughter of the leader of Afenifere – the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group – were brash.

His administration would also need to avoid the temptation of raising the tax rates or being too aggressive in expanding the tax net. Most Nigerians are poor, and many businesses are struggling. Where, then, would he find the money to launch a transformative economic programme? His only option, at the initial stage of his administration, is to become an effective anticorruption czar – blocking government revenue leakages – and ensuring value for public expenditures.