A deliberate decision from the incoming administration to show magnanimity across the political divide along with a rigorous pursuit of people-centred policies will go a long way in kick starting the process of national reconciliation, leading up to nation building. All that Nigerians are asking for is a chance to witnesses a nation that works for them in their lifetime.
Editor’s note: This essay is available in our print issue, A Nation Divided. Buy the issue here.
Nigeria’s 2023 general election was short of perfect. From a wide array of issues such as delays in the arrival of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) staff and voting materials on election day in some areas; the delays in uploading results through the INEC Result Viewing Portal (IReV); technical glitches with the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS); and in other instances, violence perpetrated by political thugs against voters; the elections were marred by several irregularities. This has since triggered feelings of frustration and dismay among voters across the country some of whom were young Nigerians, keen on participating in the voting process for the first time. The import of this is not lost on the significance of the elections in Africa’s largest economy and democracy, especially at a time where some countries in West Africa such as Burkina Faso, Chad, Guinea, and Mali have witnessed a resurgence in democratic backsliding, thereby threatening the prospects of political stability in a troubled sub-region. As Nigeria’s 2023 general election caught the attention of the entire world for obvious reasons, the post presidential-inauguration era is poised to attract greater attention and keener observation from the international community.
Following the emergence of the president-elect, Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC), other contenders including Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) have challenged his victory in court. This follows the trend of general elections which have taken place since 1999, which marked the return to democratic rule and the beginning of the country’s Fourth Republic after several years of military rule. From previous experiences (where although the court cases mostly ended up in the Supreme Court, the electoral outcomes remained unchanged) there are also concerns by some Nigerians today that the outcome of the court cases are not likely to upturn the emergence of the president-elect Tinubu.
As it is, the 2023 general elections laid bare the existing cracks and cleavages in Nigeria’s pluralist society which has since become widely polarized in the aftermath of the elections. The quest for nation building must, therefore, first begin with national reconciliation which would be best achieved through the president-elect’s magnanimity reflected through political inclusivity and the pursuit of national unity. The prioritization of these objectives will potentially help with dosing some of the existing grievances that traverse the land, while presenting the nation with an opportunity for a much-needed reset.
Given these realities, the incoming administration, which will be inaugurated on 29 May, is off to a tumultuous start. It is also for this very reason that the incoming administration must first and foremost address the contentiously polarizing issues surrounding the controversies, and circumstances of its emergence. There are also the twin challenges of national unity and nation building in the current atmosphere of disenchantment. These issues are further complicated by the limited resources at Nigeria’s disposal which highlights the need for the soon-to-be president to make difficult choices. To do so efficiently and effectively, ‘politics’ will have to give way to the deliberate prioritization of concrete ‘policies’.
WHAT’S AT STAKE?
Nigeria’s debt profile as of June 2022, stood at an alarming N42.84 trillion and is expected to hit N77 trillion by June 2023. This comes at a time of double-digit inflation in the country. Managing Nigeria’s rising debt will need to be among Nigeria’s next president’s key priorities. As of January 2023, headline inflation had risen to 21.82 per cent from its previous 21.34 per cent in December 2022. These macro-economic realities point to a struggling economy. As of 2022, a total number of 133 million Nigerians (63 per cent of persons in Nigeria) were said to be living in multidimensional poverty. With a teaming youth population, the need to address unemployment through the provision of jobs and an enabling environment especially for micro, small and medium-scale enterprises remains paramount. The first point of call for the incoming administration will be to prioritize policies targeted at curtailing the country’s current rising debt profile by cutting excesses and wastages. One of such areas is the contentious fuel subsidy regime, which has come at great cost to the Nigerian economy. According to the Africa Report, Nigeria currently spends a whopping $43 million (an average of N18.39 billion) daily on fuel subsidies. An unsustainable venture. Redirecting these funds would no doubt contribute towards freeing up much needed resources that could be channelled towards critical infrastructural development thereby stimulating additional job creation and economic activities across the country.
Difficult as this is expected to be on ordinary Nigerians, the incoming administration as part of efforts to build trust with Nigerian society, must ensure that it institutionalizes a system of transparency and accountability on what these funds are redirected at. Another important issue on the macroeconomic front that must be accorded speedy attention post-inauguration is the need to prioritize the floatage of the naira. This departure from the current grip of the naira by the Central Bank of Nigeria, would go a long way in helping to ensure foreign exchange stability thereby tackling inflation in the long run. In addition to this, the post-inauguration era must prioritize rebuilding investors’ confidence in the Nigerian economy and attracting massive foreign direct investment, which holds the potential of injecting life into and boosting Nigeria’s ailing economy. But doing so requires an assurance of safety and security.
This leads to the second policy area that must be accorded utmost attention, which is on national security. Currently faced with multiple threats to its national security such as violent extremism, banditry, communal violence, cultism, ethno-religious tensions, militancy, and secessionist agitations to mention a few, the urgency of deliberateness in improved security sector governance and reforms cannot be overemphasized. So far, Nigeria’s approach to tacking most threats to its national security have been characterized by overly militarized efforts. The problem with such approaches is their unintended consequences in contributing to the protractedness of the ongoing internal security wars. The next administration will need to consider security alternatives. Plagued with numerous challenges including misappropriation of funds, inadequate manpower, lack of demonstrable professionalism, insufficient state-of-the-art equipment and technology, and deficiencies in transparency and accountability among others, accomplishing the task ahead within the shortest possible time, which is required to reposition Nigeria’s security sector is no mean feat.
THE WORK AHEAD
Upon resumption in office, the president-elect must as a matter of urgency embark on far-reaching security sector reforms. The goal of these reforms should be to ensure that Nigeria’s coercive apparatus is adequately equipped and prepared to confront existing and emerging threats to national security. Of utmost importance in this regard is the need to prioritize human security, which focuses on tackling some of the root causes and underlying factors that trigger armed conflict and violent extremism such as socio-economic grievances including poverty, inequality, unemployment, and illiteracy. Others include political marginalization, ethno-religious differences, and environmental conditions such as desertification and afforestation. Squarely addressing such issues, which directly affect lives and livelihoods, must be considered as part of the broader non-military approaches, in complementing existing military approaches.
Specific national security policy reforms should include a dedicated Office of the Director of National Intelligence which will be saddled with the responsibility of coordinating and processing all intelligence, across Nigeria’s intelligence community. This should not be another newly established institution, but rather one domiciled within the presidency. As it currently stands, the Office of the National Security Adviser plays the role of a coordinating agency which results in overtasking the office beyond its mandate of providing advice on national security matters to the presidency. This has been a missing link in ensuring the efficacy of intelligence gathering and coordination and in reducing existing frictions within the intelligence community.
Furthermore, given their strategic utility, and the value that special operations forces offer, across the various theatres of operations, the need for a Joint Special Operations Command is long overdue. This would contribute significantly to harnessing the collective expertise and interoperability of these elite operators, across the services, while ensuring their rapid deployment including through covert action towards degrading, dismantling, and destroying Violent Extremist Organizations or ‘VEOs’. A dedicated Integrated National Security Fund should be established to provide a pool of resources from which to finance some of these proposed reforms and policies.
As earlier highlighted, non-military approaches must also be deliberately pursued, through political processes intended at fostering peacebuilding including through ceasefires. The plight of internally displaced persons must be accorded the attention it deserves. For instance, the banditry-induced conflict in the troubled North West region has given rise to looming humanitarian crisis. As a matter of urgency, a comprehensive recovery and peacebuilding assessment must be an immediate priority for the region. Daunting as all of these may appear to be, they are however not impossible to accomplish given the political will required. To this end, Nigeria under the incoming administration must very early, signal to the rest of the world its preparedness and readiness in taking on a geostrategic leadership role in global affairs.
This brings us to the third policy area which must be accorded utmost attention by the incoming administration—Nigeria’s foreign policy. In recent times, Nigeria’s engagement with its external environment has been mostly reactionary rather than proactive. Several reasons have been attributed to Nigeria’s somewhat laid-back posture, which include having to deal with its multiple internal challenges. However, considering its regional hegemonic position, Nigeria is duty bound to play a more active role in fostering peace and security particularly in West Africa, Africa and beyond. Beginning with its immediate sphere of influence, under the incoming administration Nigeria must play a more assertive role in the Lake Chad Basin region, through the Lake Chad Basin Commission. In this regard, Nigeria should increase its current support through additional funding and boosting its troop numbers for the Multinational Joint Task Force thereby enabling the task force to better deliver on its mandate in addressing the scourge of terrorism across the region.
In addition to this, Nigeria must be willing to support the new Accra Initiative, a cooperative and collaborative security mechanism between seven West African countries as they face increasing threats and attacks from Islamist militants particularly across their northern borders in Burkina Faso and Niger.
On the Sahel region, the continued proliferation of Al-Qaeda and Islamic State-affiliated VEOs, has consequences for regional stability. To this end, the incoming administration must urgently signal its willingness and readiness to address this issue by appointing a Special Envoy on Peace and Security to the Sahel Region. The Special Envoy whose activities should be coordinated by the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, should serve as focal point on all matters related to peace and security in the region. With Russia and China’s renewed penetration into Africa, which has characterized the current age of Great Power Competition, Nigeria must exercise caution in its engagement with both countries while ensuring that it balances its alliances within the Western hemisphere. Foreign policy built on strategic gains and guaranteed national interests must therefore be prioritized.
As the incoming administration settles into office, the prioritization of key policies in the days ahead will play a central role in defining the nature of state-society relations, which remains crucial to the administration’s acceptance and public trust. With tempers flaring across the land, there are no margins for error. A deliberate decision to show magnanimity across the political divide along with a rigorous pursuit of people-centred policies will go a long way in kick starting the process of national reconciliation, leading up to nation building. All that Nigerians are asking for is a chance to witnesses a nation that works for them in their lifetime. The problem is can Nigeria’s next president guarantee this? The president-elect has his work cut out for him and he must deliver⎈
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