In the course of discussing politics in the United States with a gentleman from the city, an American rancher once quipped that many politicians were like post turtles. Unfamiliar with the term, the fellow from the city sought an explanation. And the rancher obliged him. When farmers are busy ploughing their fields, they dutifully watch out for turtles. Because of its hard shell, a turtle can ruin the best of farming equipment, thus resulting in additional costs to a farmer. Once one is sighted, the farmer gets down from his tractor, picks it up and puts it on the fence post of his farm until he is done with the day’s job. For the turtle, the post is like a prison, and it patiently awaits its freedom. So, for many politicians in Nigeria, public office is like the fence post of a farm; it is the people who put these politicians in office. But no sooner do they get there, they simply forget who put them there and why they have been so lifted above their fellow men. Thus for four years, they run round in circles, embark on extravagant and obscene lifestyles. And the society they have been elected to make better remain in perpetual penury.
As May 29, 2023 dawns, Nigerians are reminded that this is the longest stretch of civil rule since independence. Four presidents later, however, the Nation is seemingly rooted to a spot. Perhaps, because our leaders in the last two decades have been nothing more than post turtles.
For instance, in 1999, the power sector was one of the Nation’s daunting challenges. Several decades of negligence of the sector resulted in a situation where large swathe of the country has continued to suffer severe outages. Therefore, at night, our homes are always in perpetual darkness. And for companies to stay in business, they have to invest humongous resources in generating plants to power their machines. Twenty-four years later, the situation is worse. And that is in spite of all the overhauling supposedly embarked on in the sector.
Today, a country of 200 million people is said to generate about 5,000 to 10,000 megawatts. And as meagre as that is for the Continent’s largest economy, the distribution companies are said not to have the capacity to evacuate more than 50 percent of that. We understand the story is not as simple as that; the transmission company which is wholly owned by government is believed to be ill equipped to transmit what is being generated. Yet, South Africa with a population of about 60 million people generates about 60000 megawatts daily; and that country is planning to double that capacity. Thus making it a more attractive destination for investors.
As if that is not enough, as a member of Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC, Nigeria is the sixth largest producing crude oil exporter. Yet, we import refined petroleum to power our economy. That’s against the backdrop of four refineries that are perpetually comatose. Thus whenever the international oil market sneezes, the country catches cold. Whereas, high oïl prices should be a boom to our economy, it has become a curse. In the attempt to cushion the pump price of imported fuel, the government has been subsidising its price for decades. In the last two decades the subsidy regime has become a scandalous affair. Today, government subsidy runs into trillions of Naira, and sometimes it outstrips the revenue generated from oil exports. The Nation is waiting with bated breath to see how the Bola Tinubu administration handles the subsidy issue.
Although the incoming President belongs to the ruling party, experts expect him to handle the situation better than outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari. This is in a situation where manifestos of political parties are mere deceptions to hoodwink the electorate. Since 1999, every President we have had runs his own show allowing the party’s manifesto to gather dust on the shelves in the secretariat. And in the ensuing confusion of what governance has become in Nigeria, nobody remembers what the party in power promised the people. Rather, the presidents substitute their own hurriedly assembled “agenda”, which is largely implemented in the breach. It is doubtful if President Buhari ever took a look at the APC manifesto. His campaign promise in 2015 focused on combating insecurity, corruption in government and reviving the economy.
Eight years later, his scorecard on security leaves much to be desired. In fact, his traducers would say he worsened it with his nepotism. Though at his swearing-in in 2015, he declared that “I belong to nobody and I belong to everybody”. With his poor handling of the Fulani herders and Farmers’ clashes, and his loading the top hierarchy of the security services with men from a particular ethnic group, we all now know to whom Buhari belongs. After eight years in office, his legacy is a more fractured Nation than the one he took over at his assumption of power.
And talking about his fight against corruption, it is doubtful whether he indeed achieved much. Although the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission was very active in going after those who have dipped their hands into the till, the fact that the bosses of the Commission itself has at various times been accused of what they are fighting against speaks volume of the success of the war. Out-going Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara State has accused AbdulRashid Bawa, EFCC’s executive chairman, of demanding two million dollars from him. That allegation reminds us that Bawa’s predecessor in office, Ibrahim Magu, was relieved of his office because of corruption allegations. So, if the EFCC gold, the number one anti-corruption fighter, is rusting what will ordinary iron do? And as regards the economy, nothing paints the despair it is in better than the free fall of the Naira against the dollar in the last few years.
So, against this backdrop, is the incoming President going to be another post turtle? Although, during the campaigns, Tinubu did say he would continue from where Buhari stopped, deep in his heart, he knew Buhari has underperformed on all fronts. Even the outgoing President wondered aloud why those who should be trumpeting his achievements from the rooftops were not doing so. To many Nigerians, Buhari tried his best, but it was not good enough for Nigeria. That was why, rather than trumpet Buhari’s “achievements”, Tinubu’s campaign team focused on his achievements in Lagos in his two-term tenure as governor. Furthermore, since he left office in 2007, the template for government he left as a legacy is what all the three administrations that came after him are still using. And no matter what Tinubu’s traducers may say, not a few believe Lagos, the City State, is the better for it.
Thus, the incoming President is not going to be a post turtle, who will be totally bemused as to what he is doing in Aso Rock. God helping him, he has promised to hit the ground running. In respect of the economy, he has promised a revival of the manufacturing sector. To quote him, “we seek a minimum of six percent growth annually through reforms of our industrial policy, infrastructure enhancement, power sector innovations, and significant budgetary reforms.” Those reforms will result in job creation, reduce brain drain, stop crude oil theft, and cut the country’s penchant for borrowing. Right now, the country’s debt burden is very alarming, the greater percentage of which was incurred in the last few years under President Buhari.
One crucial matter waiting for the new President to tackle with urgency is the fuel imports to power the economy. Since the last quarter of 2022, fuel queues have become a nasty recurring decimal all over the country. Thus, many Nigerians spend many hours at filling stations to fuel their vehicles or to buy fuel in jerry cans to power their homes and small businesses. Those queues may be about to disappear. Why? On Monday, May 22, 2023, President Buhari commissioned the newly built Dangote Oil refinery in Lagos. It has a capacity to refine 650,000 barrels of crude oil daily. That should largely reduce if not totally put an end to fuel importation. It will be a great relief for Nigerians and the dawn of a new era. This milestone comes 16 years after Aliko Dangote, leading a Consortium of investors, purchased the NNPC’s three refineries for 750 million dollars in the twilight of Obasanjo’s government. But no sooner than his successor, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua assumed power did vociferous calls from labour and civil society organisations demand that the deal should be cancelled. The then group managing director of the NNPC added his voice, promising late President Yar’Adua that he could revive the refineries and put them on winning ways. Yar’Adua returned the consortium’s money. Today, those refineries are said to be in a worse situation than they were 16 years ago. The incoming President should end the regime of the conduit of waste that those refineries have become.
Another issue demanding Tinubu’s immediate attention is the insecurity in the land. While the Buhari government claimed that insurgency and kidnapping had been largely degraded, but banditry and mindless killings are still rampant. In the wake of the general elections, there was another bloodbath in the North Central geopolitical zone. And a so-called Fulani group claimed responsibility. Till date, not much is known about what the security services had done to arrest the culprits. Because they have been largely allowed to go on the rampage when it suits them, the blood-thirsty criminals continue unabated. Nigerians are, therefore, relying on Tinubu’s promise to rejig the security apparatus. Beyond that, within the shortest time possible, he needs to set in motion a process to reconcile Nigerians who are aggrieved, and who if given the opportunity would want to opt out of the Federation. Certainly, the task ahead of him is daunting, but having prepared for many years for this Number One spot, Tinubu, warts and all, cannot afford to fail.
Mr Akinkuotu, is a former executive editor of TELL magazine, wrote from Lagos.