Tinubu’s Fight or Flight Economy

Swearing-in ceremony of Nigeria’s President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Abuja, 2023 / FLICKR. Photo illustration by Dami Mojid for THE REPUBLIC.

the ministry of business x the economy


One year into the Bola Ahmed Tinubu administration, Nigerians are faced with serious economic hardship leaving many to constantly worry about remaining in Nigeria or leaving for greener pastures.
Tinubu’s Fight or Flight Economy

Swearing-in ceremony of Nigeria’s President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Abuja, 2023 / FLICKR. Photo illustration by Dami Mojid for THE REPUBLIC.

the ministry of business x the economy


One year into the Bola Ahmed Tinubu administration, Nigerians are faced with serious economic hardship leaving many to constantly worry about remaining in Nigeria or leaving for greener pastures.

The start of a new administration is crucial to the amount of trust citizens and investors will have in a government. Trust in an administration will determine how citizens perceive their future in the country, if they will continue to invest in the country or seek opportunities elsewhere. Nigeria is in the first year of a change of administration. The Bola Ahmed Tinubu-led government came into power through a process some political analysts have described as electoral irregularities. Considering the doggedness and determination Tinubu put into securing the presidential seat, it is surprising to find that very little of that energy has been directed into ruling the country and making it a better place for Nigerian citizens. In many ways, Nigerians are worse off than they were a year ago. This reality cuts across various sectors, the most jarring of which is the dire economic state that Nigerians find themselves in just a year into a new administration.

For example, In January 2024, the inflation rate for essential items such as food rose to 40 per cent from its previous rate of 25 per cent last year. There are also downturns in other sectors including healthcare as prices of some foreign-made medications increasing by 1,000 per cent. Education has not been spared either, with universities and unity schools alike within the past year increasing tuition fees by up to 100 per cent, all of this in the backdrop of worsening economic conditions.

Nigerians often have had to adjust to a new wave of woes even in past administrations, but as far as the economic condition stands, it is becoming difficult, to the point of almost impossible for the average Nigerian to survive the reality of a country that seemingly became economically hostile overnight. To put things in context, the international poverty line set $2 a day as the recommended minimum spending for an average person. Anyone surviving below that is already living below the poverty margin. This amount is equivalent to about N3,000 and the minimum wage in Nigeria is only N30,000. What this translates to is that both government and private institutions are paying Nigerians a minimum wage that sets them up to live in a very precarious state: an income that in no way buoys them against the harsh inflation of everyday items. Until 2022, Nigeria was known as the poverty capital of the world only being surpassed in the same year by India. With the worsening economic condition, Nigeria’s state appears even more bleak than before.


There is a sentiment shared by supporters of the Tinubu administration that the current hardships Nigerians face are only the early days, the bad before things get better. However, this is difficult for Nigerians to believe because previous administrations made similar promises to Nigerians but failed to live up to expectations.

One of the biggest policy changes initiated by the Tinubu administration that affected the Nigerian economy was the removal of fuel subsidy. It was a measure that increased the price of petrol to about four times the initial price. This was done overnight, with no steady rollout in its implementation to cushion the economic shock that such a change would have on everyday Nigerians. Money saved from the removal of fuel subsidy was meant to be channelled into other sectors to create much-needed income to grow the country’s infrastructure and create a more enabling economic environment. President Tinubu said as much concerning the fuel subsidy in his inauguration speech in 2023:

The subsidy can no longer justify its ever-increasing costs in the wake of drying resources. We shall instead re-channel the funds into better investment in public infrastructure, education, health care and jobs that will materially improve the lives of millions.

Instead, what Nigerians saw was a sudden spike in the price of petroleum products, a catastrophic phenomenon in a country partly dependent on the many generators that power homes, offices, and hospitals. Ironically, in 2020, the Nigerian government spent N90 billion on fuelling generators in various government facilities.

The downstream effects of the removal of subsidy were multisectoral. It increased the cost of transportation, the cost of doing business, and thereby, the cost of bringing any product or service to the final consumers. Businesses have had to increase the prices of goods and services to keep afloat. The effect of the funds saved from subsidy can hardly be noticed just yet.

Another reason for the dire economic situation is the long-standing shortage of forex which can be traced to the declining export of crude oil, Nigeria’s main source of revenue. The shortage of forex has led many investors to leave the country.

And perhaps the most jarring of them is the recent exit of pharmaceutical giants like GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi who in the past year stopped operations in Nigeria. In a 2023 interview, Ade Popoola, the managing director of a Nigerian pharmaceutical brand, Reals Pharmaceuticals described the phenomenon of having the company’s products being crowded out by cheaper alternatives from Indian and Chinese companies with presence in the Nigerian market. ‘The look-alike from India crowded the (foreign companies) out,’ Popoola said, ‘You find out that if you have been selling 250,000 units per year, when cheaper alternatives come in, it will, first of all, reduce to 200,000, and subsequently to 150,000, and 100,000.’

Whatever the reason, such an exit is not only costly to the economy, it also means fewer foreign investors are encouraged to set up in the Nigerian market. The peculiarities of such renowned pharmaceutical companies no longer having a presence in Nigeria is a big blow to a health sector already ranked 157 out of the 167 countries examined by Statista, a research organization. While the cost to the Nigerian economy and society at large is quite dire, the cost of those companies maintaining a presence in Nigeria was also dire to them financially. These exits signify a vicious cycle in the Nigerian market. Consumers’ purchasing power is shrinking thus making them prefer much cheaper alternatives to high-end but well-known products.

Many other situations in the past year have the potential to discourage foreign investors from wanting to partake in the Nigerian market. In February 2024, cryptocurrency giant, Binance, claimed that the Nigerian government had sought bribes to resolve the tax evasion and money laundering accusations made against Binance. And that was before the government detained Binance’s non-Nigerian members of staff for refusing to comply.

The new government has come to show how it is business as usual when it comes to governing the country. And that is the business of creating perhaps well-intentioned but poorly executed policies. With little thought of cushioning the downstream, and long-term effects of these policies.

To mark his first year in office, President Tinubu approved the change of the Nigerian national anthem to the earlier, ‘Nigeria We Hail Thee’. This move paints Nigeria’s legislative arm badly as it appears they chose to ignore the economic hardship in the country, focusing instead on matters that provide little value.


The decline in Nigeria’s economic growth in the 1980s due to poor governance, corruption and shoddy policies implemented during a decade of large oil profits resulted in the decline of the purchasing power of Nigerians. The recession marked the sharp decline of cinema in Nigeria and the rise of Pentecostalism, with the churches buying up unprofitable theatres from the owners. It’s no surprise that when Nollywood emerged in the early 1990s, it did so with a skewed vision of what our Nigerian spirituality represents. Nigerian stories from that period embodied the tenets of ‘prosperity gospel’ and the idea that our country’s ills were not due to bad governance or poor policymaking but due to demonic plotting.

Additionally, Nigerian cinema represented the interests of this gospel by presenting other religions as demonic and attributing secular behaviours and attitudes to demonic control. For example, the agency of women was attributed to waywardness and demonic possession only turned around by the hands of the anointed. Thus, the school of using cinema as cautionary tales about Nigerian spirituality was born.

Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries, an evangelical ministry based in Calabar, Cross River State headed by film writer, Helen Ukpabio, worked with directors and actors in Nollywood to create films that reflected the tenets of this school, as evidenced by the film, Highway to the Grave, in which Sonia, a princess from the underworld (played by Regina Askia) seduces men, leading them to their death. Her femme fatale victim list, as expected, is cut short when she encounters the power of Jesus Christ. There were other variations of the same story during this period, with films like Nneka the Pretty Serpent (1994) and Karashika (1998) all embodying elements of demonic femme fatales.

Given that some of these films were directly financed by churches, it’s clear that the doctrine pushed from the pulpit was also repackaged in cinematic fictional forms and propagated to reach a wider audience. The oft-named starting point of Nollywood, Living In Bondage (1992), is a good example of this. The film’s story follows a desperate Nigerian trader who turns to a satanic cult to acquire wealth and, consequently, his eventual descent into madness before being delivered in a church. The message passed, through exaggerated means, is that wealth can only come from the Christian God. These prosperity gospel ideals were rooted in these cautionary tales, as thousands of these films were churned out under the direct-to-video age of Nollywood, all focused on how to sell and profit, a microcosm of the goals of American interests in our industry.

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The economic trend in Nigeria appears bleak. There is a growing sense of fatigue with the promises and present failures of the government. One way to measure that is the spike in the number of passport applications. Between 2022 and 2023, the National Immigration Service noted a 100 per cent increase in the number of applications for international passports, with two million passports issued in 2023. Given that the disposable income of Nigerians shrinks by the day, it is unlikely that these passports are for relaxing vacations abroad. They are a strong pointer to the little faith that the Nigerian populace has in its government.

While the cost of governance increased, with the recent 300 per cent increase in the salaries of the chief justice of Nigeria and other judicial officers, there is little sign that the amount being spent in governing the country translates to proper governance. The salary increase comes in the backdrop of the strike initiated by the Nigerian Labour Congress in June 2024 over the call for an increase in the minimum wage.

While the battle continues, the old cycle of Nigeria losing its brightest minds to foreign countries persists as well. But this time, the reality of the country, of life ‘back in Nigeria,’ makes settling into a new country even harder than it normally is.

An international student who left Nigeria in January 2024 who simply identified as Kemi told me that she was able to secure a student job to cover basics like rent and groceries in the UK. However, her school fees are largely funded by her family back home. She explained that covering those fees has become harder with the current exchange rate. She said: ‘When it comes to receiving funds from home, the situation is really sad. You receive a million (naira) and when you convert it to pounds, it’s only about £500. Whereas in just January of this year, you could get so much more.’

Her move to the UK to study wasn’t simply to evade the bleak economic reality, rather, the course she wanted to pursue, a master’s degree in physiotherapy, wasn’t offered in Nigerian universities. Kemi expressed worry about the current state of affairs in Nigeria, saying she didn’t expect things to be this bad after just a year. She said: ‘If it continues, it is scary where we would be three, or four years from now.’

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Another looming problem is the lack of independence to figure out what stories we get to display. As a creative, I believe that the emergence of an enduring film tradition is inextricably linked to the independence of our cinema, an independence that we can’t claim to have had at any point in our young country’s history.

In the 1950s, the Enugu regional government sought to answer that question and gain that independence. At the time, Lloyd Young, an opportunistic independent producer out of Burbank, California came upon Nigerian shores looking to make his film, Mark of the Hawk. Young’s production company and the Enugu regional government made a deal. The Enugu regional government held up their end of the deal by providing Young with locations and subsidized costs with the filmmaker promising to ‘help’ the Eastern Region develop a Hollywood-style ‘movie colony’. That promise, to date, stands unfulfilled.

Presently, we have profit-driven international partnerships with our biggest studios to consider and with these media houses owning production studios, distribution houses and theatres (vertical integration, a vicious tool of monopoly in film industries), less populist Nollywood productions and independent filmmakers are at the mercy of these budding conglomerates. An example is FilmOne Entertainment whose international partners (exclusive theatrical licenses in West Africa) range from the Coca-Cola Company to the Walt Disney Company, Warner Brothers Discovery, Sony Pictures Entertainment to Empire Entertainment.

With so many of these companies to strategically satisfy, we find less and less of our indigenous and independent films on the screen with, for instance, local cinema giant, Filmhouse’s available screens (their theatrical chain) going to the company’s produced (and distributed) films and industry favourites. Given that FilmOne Entertainment has a 75 per cent market share in distribution in West Africa and is the largest theatrical chain in Nigeria (controlling 47 per cent of the industry as of 2023), it signals a growing threat to the industry, as far as displaying less populist indigenous and independent films go.

The control will influence the direction of stories emerging from our industry, with other studios looking to make the ‘kinds of films’ that will appeal to the team at FilmOne Entertainment, in a bid to secure whichever prime theatrical showing spots are still available to the rest of the industry. To paint a clearer picture, on the weekend of 23 February 2024 to 25 February 2024, seven of the top ten best-performing films at the box office were distributed by FilmOne Entertainment.

It’s encapsulated in Ofeimun’s aforementioned quote that an enduring film tradition had not emerged in the late 2000s. He then went on to say, ‘The great Nigerian film has not yet been made. When would it be made? Who will make it? Within what themes can such a film be made?’

Ofeimun’s questions are worth answering if we must come into our own as an industry. Already, a major animated television series, Iwájú, has been produced by Disney in collaboration with a British-based, Nigerian-helmed studio and Nigerian voice talents. However, Iwájú was received poorly by the Nigerian viewing audience, with many claiming that the show encapsulates nothing but the ideas of what the West thinks the country is.

This isn’t further helped by the fact that Disney+ the streaming platform hosting the series is not available in Nigeria. Whatever the result might have been, it signals a definite growing interest in the medium, one that has, in the past, depended on folklore and myths for source material. How much of a future does this medium have in our industry and will this medium—folklore source material already tried and tested—be a good place to start telling stories that deftly reflect the realities of our society?

It also begs the question of just how much control we can exert in the animation space in Nigeria if we are beholden to the expertise of established industry players like Disney. Is there a risk of losing control of the budding industry to foreign entertainment’s financial interests?


Interestingly, there has already been a promising move towards exploring myths, legends and folklore among independent Nigerian filmmakers. The critically acclaimed Juju Stories (2021) by the Surreal 16 Collective (Michael Omonua, Abba T. Makama and C.J Obasi) is a three-film anthology in which the filmmakers each tackle a juju story rooted in Nigerian legend. The three filmmakers take care to adapt these stories in modern contexts, laden them with all the societal ills and fears, while also finding space to consider their thematic pursuits as filmmakers. The films touch on ill-fated love, class and its consequences, and an almost religious obsession with a friend, taking care to reflect current Nigerian realities in the worlds that these stories occupy.

Obasi’s Mami Wata (2023) is another indie production that leans towards that direction with considerable success and acclaim. It touches on the decline of traditions, the erasure of culture and the heavy hand of those who perpetuate modernity for personal benefit. As far as considering the representation of West African spirituality on the big screen, it succeeds in sidestepping the demonizing approach endemic to Nollywood and instead celebrates the beliefs and the worship of the oceanic goddess, a first in New Nollywood Cinema, also visually representing Black skin’s beauty, with the hues and shadows creating an ethereal effect underrepresented in Nigerian Cinema.

In the animation space, we find Ajaka: Lost in Rome (2023), a story about the oft-forgotten elder brother of Sango. Ajaka finds himself in Rome, betrayed, captured and made a gladiator and must find his way back to Oyo, to take his revenge on Sango and those who conspired to depose him. Produced by Spoof Animation, the nineteen-minute reimagined animated film is exceptional, engaging and cohesive, providing a strong basis in Nigerian cultural heritage which is in sharp contrast to Iwájú which, even though it’s set in a future that we cannot exactly predict, finds no basis in the realities that would have connected a Nigerian audience to the body of work. Ajaka: Lost in Rome has received critical acclaim from local audiences and critics with the production company seeking funding to make a feature-length film, pushing the boundaries of what animation can do on the Nigerian cinema landscape.

Another short film worth spotlighting is Ugo Azuya’s Swimming in a Sea of Trauma. A deft, dense body of work with a six-minute thirty-second runtime, the film explores the trauma incurred due to the genocide of the Igbo people during the Nigerian Civil War. Azuya imbues this story with the specificities of Igbo spirituality, also engaging with trauma that Nigerian regime after regime has, to date, refused to engage or acknowledge. It succeeds in opening up a dialogue about this deeply traumatic event in our country’s history and conversations about this reality will only move us in the direction of healing these wounds.

In mainstream Nollywood, The Origin: Madam Koi-Koi, a television series based on the urban legend of Madam Koi-koi, a tale legendary across secondary schooling institutions in Nigeria, was released in 2023, heralding the possibilities of more folklore and myth adaptations being created for a wider, theatre-going audience. Looking across West Africa, we find similar stories steeped in mythos endemic to their respective regions, including Philippe Lacôte’s Night of the Kings and Jean Luc Herbulot’s Saloum.

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The first year of the Tinubu administration has been one of the hardest for Nigerians in recent history, for multiple reasons. The faith that the country had in the possibility of change from a new administration seems to be fading away by the day. With nowhere to turn to, Nigerians have found no choice but to either move to other countries for those who can afford it or to stay back and live with the unpredictable outcomes of the Tinubu administration’s policies.

Time alone will tell if the new government fulfils any of its promises to create a better economic future for Nigeria. As it stands now, the administration has kept to fulfilling the plan in the president’s manifesto which includes the withdrawal of fuel subsidy and launching the student loan scheme. What has been grossly lacking is proper implementation.

Whatever the plan the government has, time is ticking. The country grows more and more disillusioned with the economic reality today as there is a need for quick intervention to create the better future the Tinubu government so gallantly promised Nigerians a year ago⎈

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