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

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Subjects of Interest

  • Financial Market
  • Fiscal Policy

Tony Elumelu and 2023 11 Apr 2022

At the launch event of The Tony Elumelu Foundation in 2010, the chants of “run” rented the air. One of the nation’s foremost bankers and a top entrepreneur, Tony Elumelu had just served out at UBA Plc the regulatory, maximum 10-year tenure for CEOs of Nigerian banks. What was next for him was a subject of wild speculation. With the next general election coming up, in 2011, some of his invited guests wanted him to run for a political office to replicate his leadership competence in a high public office. But Elumelu insistently said he was not “running.”

Elumelu was not planning to go into politics on leaving his executive position at UBA, going by how he has grown his business interests afterwards. His generation of business leaders, especially in the banking industry, rising in their careers with the advent of the policy and market reforms enunciated in the earlier years of the Fourth Republic, nevertheless disavowed political engagement. They portrayed political partisanship as a risk and too murky for their involvement as members of the broader “decent” class.

While the CEOs avow political disengagement, their middle and senior management colleagues avoid exercising their franchise. As elections approach, some of them would take short holidays out of the country. Others would remain only to watch the proceedings on television – if they are that much interested – or stay glued to their favourite programmes on cable television, turning an election day to vacation time at home.

With the voter apathy, turnout of voters, which has been declining since 2003, dipped to 35% in the 2019 presidential election. When a representative “grassroots” voter was asked what his expectations were in voting Buhari in 2015, he said he had none. Millions like him, who the working executives have left the civic duty of voting during elections to, sell their votes for paltry sums of money.

But the CEOs, who have lulled the working executives into a political catalepsy, ridding the country’s elections of informed voters in the process, are, willy-nilly, donors to the campaigns of our incompetent politicians. To maintain their risk avoidance, they sponsor only the winning bandwagons taking the country only towards political and economic ruin.

After 23 years on the journey, the country is now almost at the destination. The economy is in a coma, sickened by wanton corruption, waning capacity to plan and execute public policy, inadequate revenue generation, capital outflow, and lack of investment inflow. High unemployment, poverty, and inflation have also become the nemeses of the disempowered people who exercise their right to vote mindlessly.

And more recently, our public misgovernance has begun to have a negative net effect on the nation’s big businesses and the private sector leaders who, because they were misguided or opportunistic, have been co-facilitators in the decline of the country and the economy through their political inaction and misaction. Nigeria is no longer attractive for investment or even international conferences. Truer than fiction, the big news is that up to 80% of the country’s oil production is being stolen and the state is seemingly helpless about it. And at a time that grid electricity supply has embed due to shortage of gas supply to the power generation plants, the price of diesel has increased by 100%, pushing the share of power supply of the total operating cost for businesses beyond their previous high levels.

The situation has compelled an outcry from Elumelu, who simultaneously sent a political message to the politicians and the electorate on Twitter. “What is Nigeria’s problem?” he rhetorically asked after identifying some of the crippling challenges. And he has the right answers: “We need to be vocal about 2023. Let’s focus on Nigeria. Demand and advocate for leaders that [can] deliver. In 2023, Nigeria must be on a strong trajectory for progress and development.”

His U-turn on political advocacy is redemptive, and timely, too, as the next general election is less than 12 months away. His voice, as influential as it can be, is also not a lone one in the wilderness. Atedo Peterside, another retired banker, through his Anap Foundation, has been mobilising Nigerians to register to vote in 2023. Their desperate efforts give credence to the view that the next general election can seal the fate of the country if it does not produce the right leaders.

For a good outcome, voter apathy, especially of the middle class, must be overcome. Massive voter education is also very important to sensitize the electorate on why they should shun vote-buying and vote right. This all-important campaign should kick-in immediately the current nationwide voter registration ends. This voter education phase of the next electoral cycle should educate the voters that they have to be deliberate in voting for competent candidates and not blindly for party logos.

Political and voter apathy by the working executives have ultimately proved to be misguided and risky for business and for the country. Britain has the Labour Party of blue- and white-collar working people. In the US, the middle class momentarily lost control of who is voted as president in 2016 but quickly regained it in 2020. In 2023, Nigerian executives must exert a decisive, positive influence on the general election. Their support and votes are needed to bring competent leaders into various elective offices, which is the only way the country can reverse course from its ruinous trajectory.