To hold that Nigeria is in a dire strait economically and that its next president has an unenviable task to fix it, is an understatement. Besides the electorate expecting an end to challenges of insecurity, they expect a leader with a magic wand to upturn fortunes of the economy, effectively deal with fuel subsidy dilemma, its seemingly intractable power debacle, weak Naira and restore hope, among others. Unfortunately, the next president shall not enjoy the luxury of time to impress; nor the public patience erstwhile accorded to his predecessors. Are the contestants ready for this herculean task? Are they equipped for it and have they the right dose of enthusiasm to grapple with the problem?
Naturally, Nigerians who have been on the receiving end of economic depression are interested in the future of the economy, especially as it affects inflation, growth and employment. With the parlous state of the nation’s economy, presidential candidates eyeing 2023 will need to convince the electorate on how to overcome challenges of high inflation, rising debts, dwindling revenue, high unemployment, rising insecurity among others. To a discerning candidate, this is not the best time to become Nigeria’s president.
Rationally, the boom-and-bust cycles that are inherent in capitalist economies depend on forces that are independent of any president’s actions. For instance, the last global recession and present inflation were largely influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia-Ukraine crisis. None of these is within the capacity and influence of the president. However, when the same party controls the executive and legislative branches of government, policy is likely to move in one direction, reducing the threat of a presidential veto. In addition, the president can shape the policies of agencies and ministries to align with campaign policies. Without external influence, the president bears the burden of failed policies and what befalls the economy.
The next president must deal with the subsidy issue and make a decision once and for all. Spending over N4 trillion that the country does not have on subsidies is one of the most expensive populist decisions made by past and current administrations. Alongside inflation and high unemployment rate, Nigerians cannot commute from one part of the country to another for fear of being killed or kidnapped; at such a vulnerable time when a dollar is over N600 at the parallel market, and when over 13 million children are out of school. Major economic reform initiatives have been practically stalled because of the perceived political cost of such decisions as the government has rather opted for populist policies at a heavy cost to the economy.
Even though the campaign at this time appears to thrive on ‘It’s my turn’ and other primordial sentiments, it might also be the turn of the next president to witness the intolerance of Nigerians to suffering and bad governance. Presently, the next president has more questions than answers. How would he tackle the hydra of insurgency, banditry, terrorism and kidnapping? What measures will the next president take to address the galloping debts, oil revenue shrinkage and freewheeling inflation? How will the next president provide elixir for the health sector and reduce health tourism? What are the plans to address youth unemployment? What is the plan to make Nigeria’s power sector viable and work for all? How will ASUU demands be addressed for good? How will sectional agitations and corruption be tackled? The issues the next president will have to contend with are unending. While no single government can solve Nigeria’s challenges, the time to start is yesterday.
In 2023, Nigerians will look to one of the presidential candidates to determine who will lead the country through one of the worst challenging times aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic and global crisis. His job will be to work for Nigerians for the Nigeria that they seek. This job is neither for the frail nor faint-hearted. Going by what Nigerians have experienced in the last few years from people who see the presidency as an ambition or one of the items on their bucket list, it is time Nigerians asked the difficult questions rather than compensate anyone for running. Nigeria has some of the best brains in the world and has never been devoid of good ideas to make the nation better. Implementation of the lofty ideas, however, remains the challenge.
A major question that Nigerians should be asking should be about the worth of a Nigerian life. At home and abroad, the Nigerian brand, identity and equity have been battered and carry little weight. Nigeria needs a president that will once again sell the country as a better experience than its jollof rice, not one that goes on the international stage to call its youth lazy. Nigeria needs a president that will restore hope that the country can work for everyone. The ‘japa’ syndrome (slang for emigration) has done more harm than good to the quality of the workforce across several sectors. While some may argue that Nigeria is not the only country witnessing the exodus of youths, it should be a source of worry that those emigrating are not doing so because they want to but due to lack of environment conducive for growth. Many Nigerians are even enrolling for postgraduate programmes that they do not need.
Elections do matter for the economy, especially during deep downturns. The time is short for campaigns that hold empty promises. Candidates should go beyond personality attacks to answering serious questions as to how they want to solve the many problems bedeviling the country. Former President Goodluck Jonathan reiterated that. For instance, Nigerians deserve to know how the next president will solve the electricity problem. Nigerians have heard enough of electricity targets of 30 to 40,000MW; they need to experience it. Solving electricity and insecurity problems alone is capable of triggering real growth that can be felt by all and sundry and also taming inflation. Nigerians spend at least 30 to 40 per cent of their incomes and revenues on alternative energy. High-energy costs have an indirect effect on prices of goods.
It is also high time citizens go beyond Twitter and money politics to choose a candidate that will secure their future. The 2023 election is the battle for the soul of Nigeria. Money should not be the defining criteria for choosing a leader. The president is also the most powerful individual in most countries. Who is elected in February could make a big difference in how the economy performs, how income is divided up and how much protection the working class has over the next four years and beyond. Protection should be both in terms of safety of lives and properties as well as from assets depreciation across all classes.