May 17, (THEWILL) – Of all the four (4) frontrunners for the presidency of Nigeria in 2023, at least three (3) are established multi-billionaires.
These are Asiwaju Bola Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Wazirin Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition, People Democratic Party (PDP), Mr Peter Obi of the Labor Party (LP).
Dr Musa Kwakwanso of New Nigeria People Party (NNPP) may actually be a multi-billionaire, but he really does not identify as such, simply because his politics is modelled after that of late Mallam Aminu Kano, the leader of the talakawas – the poor masses.
Mallam Aminu Kano (1920-1983), was a radical politician, who dominated Kano politics and was known to have led a very frugal lifestyle his famous devotees, known as ‘talakawas’, are the modern-day equivalent of the ‘kwakwansias’, who are the followers of Dr Kwakwanso that gave him and NNPP nearly one (1) million votes in Kano state alone, two (2) senators and seventeen (17) members of House of Representatives in the North, during the just concluded 2023 general elections.
While Tinubu and Atiku are owners of private jets, Obi claims he is averse to it and Kwakwanso, owing to his radical lifestyle, cannot be associated with such luxury.
It is interesting that wealth was not such a campaign issue during the campaigns.
And that is probably because none of the frontline presidential candidates has not occupied public office, so they did not want to risk throwing stones when they all live in glass houses.
Expectedly, at the end of the race, only one person was declared the winner and it is the APC candidate, Asiwaju Tinubu, who garnered nearly nine (9) million votes nationwide, which is about 1.8 higher than his closest rival’s score, Wazirin Abubakar. As such, he received the winner’s certificate from the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC in the wee hours of the 1st day of April, which confers on him the title, President-elect.
Arising from the above, for the first time in the annals of Nigeria, we are on the verge of having a multi-billionaire, private jet owner as president.
So when Asiwaju Tinubu gets sworn into office as president and commander in chief of the armed forces of Nigeria on May 29, in more ways than one, our country would appear to be shadowing events in the United States of America, USA, whereby the 45th president, Donald J Trump (2016-2020), was a private jet owner and billionaire.
Since the adoption of American type presidential democracy in 1979, after practicing the British constitutional monarchy type of democracy when the country attained independence from Britain in 1960, Nigeria has had as president, a school teacher, Shehu Shagari,1979/1983, and an ex-military dictator, General Olusegun Obasanjo, OBJ, 1999-2007.
After OBJ, there were two (2) school teachers, President Umaru Yar’adua, 2007/2010 and immediate past president, Goodluck Jonathan, who has also presided over the affairs of our country.
The current president, Mohamadu Buhari, 2015/2023, is the second army general and ex-military dictator and head of state, to reincarnate as a democratically elected president of our country.
That means that out of the five (5) presidents that have ruled over Nigeria in presidential style democracy, three (3) were school teachers and two (2) have been ex-soldiers.
And by the time president-elect Bola Tinubu is sworn into office as president on 29 May, he would be the first president that is a fully qualified chartered accountant with a formidable track record of private sector orientation to lead Nigeria.
Would Tinubu’s business orientation be an asset and the possible game changer for our country to operate less as a bureaucracy and more business-like since it would be the first time that a president, who is highly literate in economics and very business savvy would be calling the shots from Aso Rock Villa?
My gut feeling is that the private sector would very likely find it easy to key into the policies of Asiwaju Tinubu’s government owing to his pedigree as a past major shareholder in the business world by virtue of having been the treasurer of Mobil oil in Nigeria.
And the fact that he speaks the language of business would likely inspire confidence in business leaders locally and internationally, which would motivate those that had exited our shores to relocate their business back into Nigeria and establish new ones as well.
Such a development would boost our country’s Gross Domestic Product, GDP, when more businesses are established as increased Foreign Direct Investment, FDI, flows into Nigeria, thereby creating employment, and prosperity and ultimately fostering higher and better standards of living for the masses in our country.
It may be recalled that in the heat of the campaigns before the party primaries conducted to select their flag bearers, at about this time last year, l noted in an article titled: “Thankfully, 2023 Presidential Hopefuls Are Literate In Economics”, published on July 12, 2022, that it was a good thing that all the front runners are literate in economics, so they would not need a masterclass to understand the language of business or identify good opportunities for a Public Private Partnership, PPP, whenever the need arises.
Below is how l made that projection about ten (10) months ago, which remains relevant today as pulling our economy from the brinks of collapse must be the priority of the incoming president:
“So without further ado, it is pertinent that we get down to the brass tacks by shining the light on the private sector background of the likely candidates that would become president of Nigeria next year.
“In any case, with the economy and security likely to occupy the left and centre of the political debate when the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, officially opens the space for campaigning on 28th September, Bola Tinubu and Atiku Abubakar, who are thankfully not economic illiterates would be going head-to-head.
“Remarkably, the terrific and encouraging thing about the candidates is that both the APC and PDP candidates, plus the LP candidate, Peter Obi, can read the balance sheet because they are all business savvy, having been private sector practitioners.”
As predicted in the referenced article, today, the trio are in the tribunal fighting for the heart and soul of our country, as all the three are laying claim to the presidential mandate even if the elections umpire, INEC, had declared Asiwaju Tinubu, the winner of the contest and, therefore, president-elect.
And the future of Nigeria is already in a precarious situation and could have been in worse jeopardy if someone as blind as the three (3) blind mice in the famous kindergarten fable and lullaby in terms of literacy in economics had become the president-elect of Nigeria at this critical point in time that the economy of our country is in dire straits, if not nearly comatose.
Put in colloquial language, Nigeria could have literally jumped from a frying pan into the fire if it so happened that the three (3) of the front liners before the 25 February polls, who have private sector blood running in their veins were not the ones that the system threw up for one of them to clinch the ticket.
As things currently stand, it is a good thing that the presidential pendulum that was swinging between the trio of Bola Tinubu, Atiku Abubakar or Peter Obi, from the end of May last year to 28 February this year when the elections exercise ended, settled on former Lagos state governor, Asiwaju Tinubu, with Wazirin Atiku Abubakar and Mr Peter Obi being in that pecking order.
So in case the current push comes to a shove, Nigeria would still have a business-savvy president to save the economy from total collapse.
Without a doubt, right now, Nigeria needs an astute manager of her abundant but sub-optimised human, material and financial capital to pull the economy and people back from economic peril that is looming as it has been dragged literally into a cliffhanger situation owing to a debt overhang estimated to be up to N77 trillion and debt servicing liability of about 96% of its income according to world bank statistics that the outgoing administration is leaving behind.
Another ‘can’ as the Americans would put it, that is being kicked down the road by the outgoing government for the in-coming government to deal with is the burden of removing the obnoxious petrol pump price that by some estimates the authorities have sunk funds in the region of $15 billion dollars in the past decade.
It may be recalled that just last year alone, a whopping six (N6) trillion was budgeted for petrol subsidy and just for half of this year alone (January to June), three and a half (N3.5) trillion was also appropriated as petrol subsidy in budget 2023.
That is a total of nearly ten (N10) trillion sunk into a subsidy for petrol in less than two (2) years in a country where the government is borrowing money from banks to pay salaries to civil servants.
In the same category of what l would like to categorise as escapist tactics that reflect the political spinelessness of the outgoing administration is the case of the naira that had been propped up in the past eight (8) years via the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN intervention policy of injecting billions of dollars into the Foreign Exchange, FX market resulting in trillions of naira being expended to defend the naira.
Despite the interventions, the government exchange rate or import and Export I&E window, which was about N160 to $1 in 2015, had reached N450 to $1 by this time last year and it is currently N460.53 with the black/parallel market rate hovering at around N747 to a dollar.
Going by the rate at which the gap between CBN and black/parallel market rates is closing up since the dollar injection to defend the naira stopped, it appears as if the CBN may be left with no better option than to allow for the two (2) market rates to converge sooner than later.
And should the matter continue to be out of the control of the CBN, since the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) currently a limited liability company that is about to be privatised is no more remitting crude oil income to the CBN, which in turn is no longer able to intervene in the exchange market by pumping dollars into the system through multiple bureau de change outfits selling dollars to the highest bidders to shore up the value of the naira, our local currency may soon be exchanging at about N1,000 to one United States dollar by this year’s end.
That may be the reality that the new administration under president-elect, Tinubu’s watch may have to deal with immediately upon assuming office, especially as the current governor of the apex bank, Mr Godwin Emefiele, highly stressed and distressed due to the enormity of the burden of managing Nigeria’s complex and complicated financial system has been reported in the media to be planning to go on study leave validating the rumour that he would be quitting his role with the curtain falling on the stage for the current government.
Similarly, after the removal of the petrol subsidy, which is due next month, it is predicted that the pump price of the commodity may also spike up to the region of N350-N500 per litre.
The immediate consequence of the anticipated spikes in prices of Foreign Exchange and petrol which are essential services with high-level impact on the masses would be that the inflation rate in our country is currently 22.22% (which is a seventeen (17) years high based on National Bureau of Statistics, NBS report), could become double of the current level.
And that would spell more misery for the critical masses of Nigerians of which over thirty (30m) million of our compatriots are said to be living below the poverty line.
Given the doom and gloom picture of the economy and country that the incoming president would be inheriting, a faint-hearted president-elect would have baulked at the enormity of the challenges ahead.
But the incoming president, Asiwaja Bola Ahmed Tinubu, also known as the Lion Of Bourdillon, by his fans and foes alike, is not a faint-hearted leader.
Evidence of his lion-heartedness is reflected by his determination to throw his hat into the ring for the presidency despite all the odds stacked against him.
With his famous quip: “emi lo kan”, translated to the English language as ‘it is my turn’, Mr Tinubu has been intentional about realising his dream of becoming president of Nigeria, willy-nilly.
Prior to this time, the president-elect had weathered an equally severe, if not more challenging storm when as Lagos state governor, he was denied access to the federation account allocation amounting to billions that were supposed to accrue to the state monthly under the regime of ex-President, Olusegun Obasanjo, OBJ, who withheld the funds on the ground that then governor, Tinubu, unilaterally created local government councils in the state, which OBJ deemed as a breach of the 1999 constitution and he took it upon himself to sanction him and the state.
Remarkably, it was while the state was being starved of funds by OBJ, as a survival strategy, effective collection of tax money from Lagosians to enable the governor to keep the government afloat became a necessity.
Notwithstanding the grim scenario of the economic, political and social turmoil that he would be inheriting from his predecessor as highlighted above, the president-elect appears to be poised to rise to the occasion by as it was taking the bull by the horn one more time, especially because he has passed through similar adversity in the past.
That doggedness is reflected by the belief that Mr Tinubu might have already started tackling the gargantuan challenges even before receiving the baton from the outgoing president Mohammadu Buhari, hence he is currently in Europe on business.
Arising from the above it is not surprising to his close watchers that after consulting with the National Working Committee, NWC of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC on how to zone key positions to ranking senators and members elect that would drive the tenth (10th) national assembly, NASS, thinking that the bridge had been crossed, the president-elect, Tinubu, would jet out to Europe to woo investors back to Nigeria in order to move our ailing economy out of the current sick bay where it is located.
But his jet had hardly soared into the sky on his way to Europe to tackle the next item on the agenda of his imminent presidency which apparently is the resuscitation of the economy before he was surprised by the rebellion within his party as the process of selecting NASS leadership has gone awry as it stirred up a nasty political storm.
By all indications, the political firestorm is already looking like it would be of the dimension reminiscent of the circumstances that led to the emergence of Senator Bukola Saraki as the senate president in the 8th Assembly (2015-2019), with the support of the opposition parties and to the chagrin of the ruling APC leaders.
Surely, the aftermath of the sharing of office amongst incoming lawmakers is clearly testing the capacity and ability of the president-elect, Tinubu, to manage internal crises. But then again, as a two terms governor of Lagos state, he had faced a similar rebellion by lawmakers in the state assembly when he had a running battle with then deputy governor of the state, Mrs Kofoworaola Bucknor when his University of Chicago or Chicago state university degree certificate controversy reared its ugly head and the legislators were being primed to impeach him.
At the end of the spat, he triumphed.
It is expected that like he did in the past, he would deploy his trademark sagacity in politics to calm the storm that has erupted in the APC.
But it appears as if in the interim, going on a mission to consult with potential investors with a view to convincing them to put Nigeria on their investment radar, supersedes all other considerations for Asiwaju Tinubu.
That perhaps explains why he seems to have put behind him the furore raised by the choice of the senators and members of the House of Representatives that would steer the affairs of the lawmakers and left it for the party chairman, Senator Abdullahi Adamu and vice president-elect, Senator Kashim Shettima, to resolve.
In the interim, he seems to have elected to focus his energy on the next task, which is how to take our sick economy out of the Intensive Care Unit, lCU where it is currently lying, more or less prostate.
That is what can be gleaned from president-elect Tinubu’s media handler, Bayo Onanuga’s announcement of his principal’s mission to Europe earlier on the 10th day of this month, is on the business drive.
So in principle, the president-elect’s current trip abroad is essentially aimed at reversing the ugly and alarming trend of dwindling foreign direct investment into our country, which by some accounts has experienced about an 80% drop.
And he hopes to reverse the trend by persuading foreign investors that have fled from our clime due to the inclement business environment in the past eight (8) years to return because a business-savvy leader is about to mount the throne in the Aso Rock Villa presidential seat of power.
Clearly, reversing the relocation of businesses out of Nigeria and resuscitating the ones that have gone comatose would be the most efficacious panacea to the malaise of unemployment and the misfortune of economic stagnation besetting Nigerians.
International Council For Investigative Reporting, ICIR analysis indicates that Nigeria has suffered eight (8) recessions since 1960.
Two (2) of the economic recessions suffered in our country in 2016 and 2020, which is less than a space of five (5) years, were under the outgoing president, Buhari.
And both phenomena have left the ugly trail of massive job loss, business atrophy and the dragging of more Nigerians into the poverty bracket and multidimensionally than any other Nigerian president.
Also, let us not forget the unprecedented migration of our youths abroad known as ‘jakpa’ a reverse of which President-elect Tinubu is probably desirous of and which he is trying to achieve by luring businesses back to Nigeria to create employment for our youths to stem the ‘jakpa’ syndrome.
As the World Trade Organisation, WTO Director General and former finance minister of Nigeria, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala quipped, during an interview on Arise tv, on the sidelines of the induction of the newly elected governors in Aso Rock Villa last Monday, ‘kakpa’ is the reverse of ‘Jakpa’, which is reverse migration of our youths which can only happen when we rebuild our economy and free it from the current debt trap which she cautioned the new governors not to worsen.
Invariably, it appears to me that it is the desire to save the economy and also have something tangible to show in the first 100 days in office that are the motivators for the president-elect Tinubu’s hurry to go to work and as the saying goes ‘hit the ground running’.
That is justification for his embarking on a trade drive in Europe even before officially receiving the baton of leadership from President Buhari, which would only happen on May 29, which is still more or less two (2) weeks away, all things being equal.
And his assignment abroad is not only to convince the investors that have fled Nigeria’s hostile business environment, but it also includes wooing new entrepreneurs, particularly those in England, who are seeking new frontiers to expand into in light of the fact that the country has recently decoupled itself from the 29 nations European Union, EU market via a phenomenon known as BREXIT.
And what Tinubu’s trip overseas to seek investors suggests to me is that he has identified unemployment, which KPMG estimates to be about 41% as of last month, as a major bane of the Nigerian economy, which he has to tackle frontally.
That is more so, as unemployment is high amongst the youth demographics, who some experts estimate to also constitute as high as sixty (60%) percent of the unemployed in our country.
Given that our youths have become a powerful political force as evidenced by the critical and pivotal role that they played in elections 2023, which put on the front burner, a hitherto unknown quantity in politics, Peter Obi, the LP presidential flag bearer, as a formidable contender; it would be understandable why president-elect, Tinubu, has to prioritise getting our youths to be productively engaged in value creation through gainful employment for their prosperity and that of our country.
And the current unprecedented unemployment level in our country stems from the massive exodus of corporations from our land, owing to the inclement business environment.
As BusinessDay newspaper noted in one of its surveys, over fifty (50) corporations have exited Nigeria in just a space of about five (5) years.
Also, according to reporting by the Punch newspaper, the following firms that were based in Nigeria are reported to have specifically relocated to Ghana since 2015:
Berec Batteries; Exide Batteries; Okin Biscuits; Osogbo Steel Rolling Mills; Nigeria Sugar Company; Bacita; Tate and Lyle Sugar Company; Matches Manufacturing Company, Ilorin; Nigeria Paper Mill Limited located in Jebba, Kwara State; Nigerian Newsprint Manufacturing Company Limited, Oku-Iboku.
That is not forgetting tyre manufacturing firms – Dunlop and Michelin, which also relocated their operations from Nigeria to our neighbouring country, Ghana.
Apart from manufacturing firms, service-based businesses such as international oil companies, IOCs-Chevron and Mobil from the United States of America, have sold their assets in Nigeria to local entrepreneurs like Seplat Energy, HEIRS, etc, just as ShopRite, a South African consumer goods retailer, has also sold its chain of stores to Persianas, a local retailer, owned by Mr Tayo Amusan, a multiple shopping malls owner.
Airlines such as British Airways, Emirates and lberia, amongst others, are either operating skeletal services or have also exited Nigeria, citing lack of access to foreign exchange, insecurity and corruption, as the reason for folding up their operations in our country.
Even then, the airlines that are still in operation in our clime are only accepting payments for tickets in dollars, which is one of the reasons there is so much pressure on the naira and its rapid devaluation.
Given Asiwaju Tinubu’s private sector background, having been a treasurer with Mobil Nigeria and being a US-trained accountant, it is unsurprising that he would have a business mindset.
That is an assertion that is validated by his focus on wooing back into Nigerian businesses that had taken a flight out of our shores which has taken pre-eminence in his agenda to engender an economic rebirth in our beloved country.
It is worth pointing out that the current trip is the second time that the president-elect, Tinubu, would be embarking on a retreat and confinement abroad since the 1st of April when the Independent National Election Tribunal, INEC, declared him the winner of the 25 February presidential contest.
The first was when he travelled to France one week after the 18 March gubernatorial and state houses of assembly elections, during which he was reported to have gone to recuperate from the stress arising from the gruelling one hundred and eighty (180) days campaign period (September-February) that climaxed in victory for him.
In my assessment, the strategic initiatives so far undertaken or addressed by the president-elect since he attained the status tend to suggest or point to the societal challenges that would be receiving his priority attention when he mounts the saddle of leadership in Aso Rock Villa in the next couple of weeks.
While the date to end petrol subsidy has been set to happen in June as agreed in the Petroleum Industry Act, PIA, the devaluation of the naira has been ongoing slowly and surely to the extent that both the official and parallel market rates are looking like they would likely converge, if not before the incumbent administration exits, but sooner than later.
A signpost to which direction Asiwaju Tinubu’s tenure as president would be heavily weighing in can be distilled from his two (2) terms tenure as governor of Lagos state, during which he engaged heavily in a lot of collaboration with the private sector.
And since practically all Nigerians admire the giant strides that Lagos state had taken in terms of socioeconomic progress since 1999 when Mr Tinubu laid the foundation for development, it may not be difficult for Nigerians to key into his agenda.
So the president-elect, Tinubu, is likely to replicate his Lagos state template while serving in the central government.
Now, sceptics and cynics may raise issues with regard to state capture which is a tendency that Tinubu has been accused of exhibiting without concrete proof since he has not been indicted or convicted by any court of law in Nigeria for corruption.
And on that score, it behoves civil society to be vigilant to see if such alleged perfidy can be tracked and established against him in the event that it happens when he steps into the office of the president and commander-in-chief of Nigeria on 29 of this month of May.
Remarkably, becoming the president of Nigeria has, by his own admission, been the life-long ambition of the president-elect Tinubu.
So it is likely that the entirety of his brain and brawn would be geared towards proving sceptics of his “emi lo kan“ mantra wrong by demonstrating to his critics that he is deserving of his victorious race for the presidency of Nigeria against all the odds stacked up against him as underscored by regional political calculus and permutations as well as the muck raked up against him to impede his long walk to Aso Rock Villa.
As things currently stand, most Nigerians love Lagos because of its mega city status of which President-elect Tinubu is a significant architect, so they are looking forward to Lagos state type of economic transformation being replicated on a national scale.
At this juncture, it is worth re-emphasising that president-elect Tinubu would be the first billionaire president of Nigeria as he would be moving into Aso Rock Villa with his private jet like the 45th president of the United States of America, USA, Mr Donald Trump, who is also the first billionaire president of the richest and most powerful country on planet earth in recent history.
Would the president-elect retain his private jet during his stay in Aso Rock Villa or rely on the presidential fleet?
During his campaign for the presidency, the outgoing President Buhari reportedly promised to convert the presidential fleet into part of the national airline, which did not materialise.
Asiwaju Tinubu has not made such a promise, but it would be interesting to see if he would as part of his personal sacrifice in this period when our economy is in dire straights, offer to excuse himself from using the presidential fleet until the economy improves and thus save the country of the enormous cost currently being incurred for maintaining and sustaining the presidential fleet.
It is noteworthy that the first modern-day billionaire president rubbed off positively on the US economy because he was business-friendly.
Despite the honest mistake made by President Trump by understating and mismanaging the consequences of the worst humanitarian disaster and calamity to afflict mankind in our time, the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr Trump ranks as one of the most practical and impactful presidents of the US.
That is so much so that even after being out of office for over three (3) years, Mr Trump is still a very consequential voice in his country and controls the majority of Republican Party votes and remains attractive to nearly 50% of the American electorate that voted for him 2019, hence he remains the frontrunner in the forthcoming 2024 presidential elections.
Does Asiwaju Tinubu’s proven ability and capacity to unlock wealth as evidenced by the development footprints that he has left in Lagos state imply that the days of businesses fleeing from Nigeria may be over and the era of economic boom may be looming on the horizon?
Should one use the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja, whose rooms are currently sold out even as room rates are being hiked as a barometer and conclude that Abuja, the seat of federal government power, is already experiencing bustling activities even before Asiwaju Tinubu fully occupies Aso Rock Villa?
Right now, the president-elect is already occupying the halfway house known as Akinola Aguda house, where he is currently lodged until 29 May when the incumbent president, Buhari, would be yielding the baton of leadership to him and handing the keys to Aso Rock Villa to the president-elect, Tinubu.
The fact that Abuja is already a beehive of activities, suggests that there may not be a dull moment during Tinubu’s presidency from 29 May, all things being equal.
Apparently, Nigeria and Nigerians cannot wait to exhale.
***Magnus Onyibe is an entrepreneur, public policy analyst, author, democracy advocate, development strategist, an alumnus of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Massachusetts, USA and a former commissioner in Delta state government.*