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With The Rough Year Gone, 2024 Beckons With Hope, Promises And Reasons To Smile For Nigerians

December 31, (THEWILL) – The year 2023 was undoubtedly a significant and difficult one for the county and of course, myself due to the passing on of my mother, Ezinne Roseline Obiajulu Oganah, on February 20, after a brief illness..

I also lost a very dear friend, Abdul Imoyo, 52, the quintessential head of media relations at Access Corporation, whose shocking and untimely demise occurred on December 17, following a short illness. May their souls and the souls of all our departed friends and relatives continue to rest in peace. Amen.

The year was bookended by a general election which ushered in a new government, the country grappled with economic instability, infrastructure deficiencies and worsening insecurity. Yet Nigeria also witnessed bright spots, from outstanding athletic accomplishments to Afrobeats and Nollywood’s burgeoning worldwide popularity. As 2023 drew to a close, Nigeria stood at a crossroads between lingering crises and potential renewal.

Glo

On February 25, Nigerians voted in an election with profound implications for the nation’s trajectory for the next four years, at the very least. Over 18 candidates vied for the presidency, although the main contest centred around the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Peter Obi of the Labour Party and former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar.

Tinubu ultimately prevailed amid accusations that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) enabled manipulation, vote-buying and voter intimidation.

Unfortunately, INEC failed to keep to its promise of delivering an election that Nigerians could be proud of. This failure was a massive disappointment and it coloured the post-election period of appeals to the point where it seemed the courts, instead of the people, were deciding electoral outcomes.

In the presidential election, the opposition rejected the outcome due to alleged irregularities and the appeals went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in favour of Tinubu.

Before then, Tinubu assumed the presidency on May 29 regardless, marking the culmination of an election rife with controversies that undermined perceptions of its legitimacy both domestically and internationally. The new administration was immediately faced with a behemoth of issues that bedevil the country.

Indeed, even before the elections, Nigeria faced severe economic challenges. The GDP continued to contract with tell-tale signs of a recession no one wanted, while population growth continued to outpace development indices, meaning a decline in per capita GDP.

Both the contraction and negative per capita growth underscored how economic mismanagement had stunted Nigerians’ living standards over time. Unemployment and underemployment rates also reached alarming levels in 2023. Currency devaluation also hammered the purchasing power of many households in the country. The naira lost almost 50 per cent of its value against the dollar within the year, exchanging for over N1,200 to $1.

In conjunction with a declining economy in 2023, Nigeria also struggled with crumbling infrastructure that impeded transportation and commerce. Poor federal road conditions made transporting goods and services, including the extremely necessary agricultural produce, arduous. Decrepit government infrastructure, in health, education, businesses, across the country highlighted severe public sector limitations.

Dangote

Although power generation increased during the year, distribution bottlenecks caused by ageing transmission lines resulted in blackouts up to 20 hours per day as reports of the collapse of the national grid became commonplace.

Inadequate infrastructure coincided with surging instability, especially in the northern regions. Data showed that deaths from extremist groups continued unabated in 2023. Armed gangs terrorised rural communities and launched mass kidnappings along major highways across the South-West and South-East. The recent attacks in Plateau State only serve to exacerbate this worrying status quo. These are issues that no responsible government can allow to fester any longer.

Another issue that marked the final laps of the year 2023 berthed at the nation’s oil company, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation’s (NNPC). The company’s lack of transparency emerged as a critical issue impacting Nigeria’s progress. The absence of clear visibility into NNPC’s operations has resulted in revenue losses, fueled corruption and hindered effective resource management. The opacity within NNPC has perpetuated mismanagement and made it impossible to track crude oil receipts.

This lack of transparency has also adversely affected investor confidence in Nigeria’s oil and gas sector. Without clear and accessible information, potential investors are hesitant to commit resources, slowing down sector growth. Conversely, embracing transparency in NNPC’s operations holds the promise of enhanced governance, increased revenue generation and improved investor confidence.

Transparent governance practices foster accountability, prevent corruption and facilitate more effective resource management, leading to better decision-making processes and productivity.

Moreover, increased transparency attracts investors by providing reliable information, thus fostering greater investor confidence. This confidence not only invites more investments but also brings in technology transfer and expertise, further contributing to the growth and development of Nigeria’s oil and gas sector.

Indeed, I have consistently held that the government must divest its majority holding in the company and let the private sector drive NNPC to the levels of profitability that it has the potential to achieve.

To address these challenges therefore, and foster progress, prioritising transparency within NNPC’s operations is pivotal for Nigeria’s economic and developmental prospects in 2024 coupled with private majority holding. This applies to not just NNPC but across entities that are state-owned and designed to make profit. Government has no business retaining a majority state in these entities.

As 2023 ends, Nigeria’s infrastructure gaps and insecurity pose immense complications for economic activity and investment needed to spur growth. Yet, while infrastructure crumbled and extremism surged, evidence shows that government expenditures remain centred on extravagance for public sector elites. Budgets allocate copious resources for officials’ generous salaries and benefits at the expense of the poverty-ravaged citizens.

Such lavish government spending on itself as economic conditions deteriorated has helped to fuel public dissatisfaction. It underscored perceptions that the political class remained indifferent to everyday Nigerians’ financial struggles.

Combined with the flawed elections earlier in 2023, government’s self-indulgence opened space for opposition groups to paint the regime as illegitimate and self-interested rather than earnestly pursuing citizens’ welfare. I want to however urge the Tinubu-led Federal Government and the 36 states to be more compassionate and sensitive to the pains and frustrations of the average Nigerian who still struggles to eat a meal a day.

Nevertheless, 2023 highlighted that Nigeria retained significant cultural influence across Africa and globally. In sports, the country boasted standout individual performers like Victor Osimhen, named African Player of the Year, the first since the 1990 Kanu Nwankwo win, and female soccer phenomenon, Asisat Oshoala, who cemented her dominance of the women’s category with a record-extending sixth win.

Likewise, Nigerian music stars Davido, Burna Boy, Rema, WizKid and Tems topped global charts and sold out concerts across the world. Their dizzying success built upon Nigerian pop culture exports like Afrobeats and movies from “Nollywood,” Nigeria’s $6.4 billion film industry. Fashion also thrived in 2023, as designers combined local textile traditions with contemporary trends to acclaim in Europe and America.

As 2023 goes into history, Nigeria showed both vulnerabilities and strengths. Security risks, economic turmoil, infrastructure gaps and allegations of regime illegitimacy posed formidable challenges. Yet, sectors like sports, music and film highlighted the dynamism and creativity that positioned Nigeria as a pivotal African country.

Gladly, we got some good news with the completion of the overhaul/repairs of one of the two petroleum refineries in Port Harcourt, as well as the completion of the Dangote Petroleum refinery in Lagos, which I must mention, succeeded because of the resilience and backing of the Central Bank of Nigeria under its former Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele. These two facilities, when fully operational in the New Year alongside the Warri refinery, will cut the importation of petroleum products and return the economy to growth. This means that we will see a more stable currency and probably a moderate recovery for the naira in 2024, contrary to the projections of the West.

I will reiterate that realising Nigeria’s potential and getting onto a sustainable, equitable growth path depends on the government implementing substantial reforms focused wholly on citizens’ welfare. Tackling corruption, spurring job growth, expanding social safety nets for the poor and rebuilding decrepit infrastructure must top the regime’s priorities in 2024 and beyond, if Nigeria is to overcome its current tribulations.

Whether Nigeria sinks further into crisis or emerges renewed from the tumultuous events of 2023 remains to be determined. But this critical year underscored that even amid immense troubles, Nigerians have not lost their creativity, resilience or hope for a more just and prosperous future ahead. May God keep us healthy and help us achieve all our plans and resolutions in the New Year through Jesus Christ our lord, we pray, Amen.

 

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