Nigeria is in an extremely fragile state. Available indices show characteristics of a failing state. There are conflicts and agitations everywhere, feelings of marginalization and exclusion, a rise in political and criminal violence, loss of control of borders, rising ethnic, religious, and cultural hostilities, weak institutions, food shortages, unemployment, inflation, crumbling infrastructure, deteriorating human development indicators such as infant and maternal mortality, and literacy rates. These troubling realities make the 2023 general elections a defining moment for the country which, in turn, raises the need for a thorough and insightful search for who will succeed President Buhari. The candidate who emerges as President must understand all the issues and have a clear vision of where to take the country. We have read and followed the manifestoes and issues of all the presidential candidates and are happy the campaign is issues-based, unlike previous elections.
This article is our little contribution because Nigeria is in a critical position and we all need to put our heads together to solve the problems. The article reviews a few of the big issues that should engage the Presidential candidates. It also suggests policy issues to address, matters on National Unity, the Economy, Insecurity, etc. It is our hope that this will contribute to the political and economic transformation of Nigeria.
The article is divided into two parts. The first part presents Nigeria’s challenges in the context of the big issues, in the context of the issues raised by the Presidential candidates. The second part offers solutions that the candidates may consider and incorporate into their agendas.
This part of the article sets out the existential challenges confronting Nigeria. They shall be discussed in the following order.
1. DISUNITY, DISORDER, INSECURITY
The first big issue confronting a new President will be disunity, disorder, and insecurity. If it is not resolved, there will be no peace and the President cannot deliver on his mandate. This is an issue all Presidential candidates correctly identify as an existential threat but are not quite clear on how to resolve it. Nigeria has never been this disunited and disordered. The International Index of failed states says Nigeria is in a low-grade civil war. There is insecurity, conflict, and agitation everywhere. The southwest of Nigeria is plagued by a surge in cybercrime, armed robbery, kidnapping, domestic crime, extrajudicial killings, herder-farmer conflicts, and banditry. The southeast is a haven for killings, commercial crime, secessionist agitation, kidnapping, herder-farmer clashes, attacks by unknown gunmen, and banditry. The south-south remains threatened by militancy, kidnapping, and environmental agitation. The northeast has been subject to a humanitarian crisis lasting over a decade and caused by the Boko Haram insurgency and the Islamic State in West Africa Province. Meanwhile, the northwest is enmeshed in illegal mining, ethno-religious killings, and banditry. How will the Presidential candidates address this issue? This will be discussed in the second part of this article.
2. ECONOMIC CHALLENGES
This is another big issue to engage all Presidential candidates. The Nigerian economy is in a technical recession. This is complicated by high-interest rates, lending and exchange rates, unemployment, poverty, structural defects caused by budget deficit, debt crisis, and shrinking revenue. Apart from disunity, disorder, and insecurity, a weak economy must challenge all Presidential candidates. Unfortunately, whilst most Presidential candidates refer to issues relating to the economy generally, there are no specifics. The new President will be confronted with a massive debt burden of close to N80 trillion. This includes a current debt stock of N41.6 trillion in March 2022, Ways and Means borrowing at over N19.9 trillion, FGN debt Bonds at N5.1 trillion issued since April 2022, and a projected deficit of over N11 trillion to finance the budget of 2023. This excludes the bonds to be raised before 2022 runs out. Already the country is at risk of borrowing to pay interest on its debt obligations. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has predicted that Nigeria’s debt service-to-revenue ratio would jump to 92 percent in 2022 from 76 percent in 2021. Added to all this is the admission of the Debt Management Office that the country was unable to secure any foreign loan in the second quarter of 2022, leaving very little room for maneuvering by the new government. How a new President should confront this problem will be discussed in part two of this article.
This is another big issue confronting all Presidential candidates. All the Presidential candidates recognize the alarming unemployment figures in Nigeria but have yet to make specific recommendations on how to tackle the massive unemployment.
Available data shows the number of unemployed Nigerians is over 20 Million. The Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) defines unemployment as the number of Nigerians that either did nothing or worked for less than 20 hours per week. How will a President address the issue of unemployment? This will be discussed in part 2 of this article.
This is the single biggest issue confronting the Presidential candidates. Apart from general statements, most Presidential candidates have not said how they intend to reverse Nigeria’s alarming poverty. The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) has disclosed that 133 million Nigerians are multi-dimensionally poor. This represents 63 percent of the nation’s population. According to the NBS, half of this poor population cook with dung, wood, or charcoal, rather than clean energy. Deprivations are apparent in sanitation, time to healthcare, food insecurity, and housing. Sokoto, Bayelsa, Gombe, Jigawa, and Plateau are the top poorest states. Sokoto leads with 90.5 percent of people in the state being poor. It is followed by Bayelsa with 88.5 percent poor people, Gombe with 86.2 percent, Jigawa with 84.3 percent, and Plateau with 84 percent. How will the Presidential candidates address this? This will be discussed in part 2.
5. WEAK AND INEFFICIENT JUDICIAL, LEGAL, INSTITUTIONAL AND REGULATORY FRAMEWORKS
This is a very important issue. It is generally agreed that a country with a weak legal, institutional and regulatory framework cannot develop economic opportunities. Unfortunately, Nigeria suffers from legal, institutional and regulatory failure. Any Nigerian President that comes into office will be confronted with weak institutions and impunity, a cost of governance that is too high, and a presidential system that leaves the task of developing legislative agenda to the National Assembly. Regrettably, this is not top of the agenda of most Presidential candidates. The Judicial system is vital to the development process. Unfortunately, most presidential candidates have failed to talk about this. This is a big missing link in the manifestoes. The impact of an inefficient judiciary on development cannot be overstated. In our practice, many international clients are reluctant to come to Nigeria as they say that the legal and judicial process is sluggish. Unfortunately, most presidential candidates have not dealt extensively with the issue. Many Presidential candidates are unaware of the scope of legal failure. A president must work with the Judiciary to give urgency to the justice sector and reverse legal failure. Legal failure must be converted to legal sanctity with no impunity in respect of rule of law. More details in Part 2.
6. INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS/FOREIGN POLICY
This is a very big issue. The voice of Nigeria in global affairs has been largely silent and has provided the opportunity for the marginalization of Nigeria and the absence of a force to drive the African role in global affairs. Unfortunately, no Presidential candidate has dealt extensively with the issue of international relations. International relations allow nations to co-operate with one another, pool resources, and share information as a way to face global issues that go beyond any particular country or region. Contemporary global issues include pandemics, terrorism, and the environment. How will the Presidential candidates approach Nigeria’s international relations in the light of an emerging new world order? This will be discussed in part 2.
7. CORRUPTION, LACK OF TRANSPARENCY, AND ACCOUNTABILITY
This is another big issue. Most Presidential candidates have correctly identified corruption as an existential challenge and impediment to development. Some Presidential candidates have set general principles but no concrete solutions. Nigeria is ranked the second most corrupt country in West Africa after Guinea. It is Nigeria’s second consecutive year of a downward spiral on the TI’s CPI ranking; the country’s score has dropped from 26 in 2019 to 25 in the 2020 assessment, and further to 24 in the latest 2021 record. How will the Presidential candidates address the issue of massive corruption? This will be discussed in part 2 of this article.
8. ENERGY CRISIS
This is a big issue because it is crippling the economy. Some presidential candidates have set out solutions on how to deal with the energy crisis. Unfortunately, many of these solutions are too general and not specific at all. Regrettably, bad news in the energy sector is coming in torrents. Banks and regulators have moved in on five electricity distribution companies, diesel and aviation fuel prices have risen four-fold, threatening businesses, and the cost of subsidizing petrol is climbing even higher, despite an official increase in pump head price. The sole national electricity transmission grid crashed six times in 2022; from wheeling 3,900 megawatts, it recently fell to as low as 3 Megawatts. Battered by shortages and higher prices of diesel, lubricants, and electricity tariffs, the organized private sector has warned of further impending factory closures and job losses. Airlines have raised airfares
in response to the multi-fold increases in aviation fuel prices and shortages. Many have reduced flight frequencies and similar fears of shutdowns have been voiced. The oil and gas segment is in a tumultuous mess. The prohibitive petrol subsidy bill for this year may reach N6 trillion as crude prices rise and the naira continues its free fall. One report said that subsidy gulped N1.59 trillion from January to June, well above original estimates. Crude oil theft is on an industrial scale; $1 billion in revenue was lost in the first quarter of 2022, reported Reuters. An average of 108,000 barrels of crude is stolen per day, says the industry regulator. With this huge theft, Nigeria has been falling short of its OPEC production quota of 1.8mbpd. Gas supply – for industrial use and cooking gas – has been hit by shortages and prohibitive prices too. This is disastrous, as the country is unable to cash in on rising oil prices fuelled by the Russia-Ukraine war to plug its revenue hemorrhage and meet high debt service. How will a presidential candidate deal with Nigeria’s energy challenge?
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