A Year in Purgatory

ENGAGEMENTS with  Chidi Amuta

There is a sense in which both Nigerians and Mr. Tinubu share a place in purgatory in the last one year. Both leader and people are dwelling a house of incendiary troubles in waiting for admission into either hell or heaven. To that extent, we all have been in purgatory for the last one year and still counting. The questions are mutually reinforcing: Will Nigerians emerge from here into greater anguish or splendid glory? In turn, will Mr. Tinubu emerge from this place into a place of glory and honour given his troublesome past and current travails at the helm?

Twenty five years of unbroken democracy in Nigeria has taught me something about presidential democracy. The four -year cycles between administrations resolves into three time segments. The first year is for learning the ropes, making mistakes and stumbling  to establish an identity. The next two years are for effective governance and head -on confrontation with the promises that inspired a particular presidency. The final year is for succession politics , playing to be re elected if possible.

Effectively then, given this four year template, Tinubu has only the next  two years of effective governance to tackle the myriad problems tormenting the nation. He has two years to ensure improved security and chase away all bandits, kidnappers, abductors and sundry criminal gangs from the face of the nation. He has two years to reduce the poverty population to a manageable level, There are only two years to fix dilapidated infrastructure, reduce the national debt burden, return the Naira exchange rate to Buhari levels at least. He has two years to reduce official corruption to an acceptable minimum and put away an accumulated crowd of previously indicted corrupt officials. That is not all. Tinubu and his team have just two years to find food for the hungry, jobs for the army of unemployed youth and reprieve for threatened businesses. Most important of all, Tinubu has to use the next three years at most to restore the hope of Nigerians and friends of Nigeria in the Nigerian promise of a free, diverse but prosperous and united nation.

This may sound like a tall order indeed. After all, the litany of problems that today define the Nigerian reality  were  not created by Mr. Tinubu. He may have inherited most of them. He succeeded a president who is easily the most unfortunate thing that has happened to the Nigerian nation since inception. Mr. Buhari literally ran the Nigerian state aground and destroyed the very basis of our national cohesion. An economic illiterate and bureaucratic nonentity, Mr. Buhari brought to bear on the affairs of the Nigerian state his trademark incompetence, epic ineptitude and cruel aloofness. His aloof indifference enshrined the idea that perhaps Nigeria did not need a president as the affairs of state and society went on to the exclusion of any perceptible executive responsibility. Worse of all, he reopened old wounds, reignited the hatred that led the nation to war and sought to invade the nation with armed jihadist monsters of his own creation. The dot in a circle president !

But Buhari and Tinubu share a common political ancestry and party platform, the APC. It remains one of the most baffling aspects of Nigeria’s democracy that a party that ruined the nation should be returned to power. Given the complicity of the APC in creating the crises that define today’s Nigeria and Mr. Tinubu’s reluctance to call his predecessor by his real names, he in turn is a co -architect of the present national disaster.

Therefore, as President Tinubu prepares to graduate from the apprentice year in office, he cannot outsource the responsibility for the state of the nation. Democracy elects leaders to solve problems, not to read out an inventory of blames on previous dispensations. And we all are entitled to the stubborn hope that those we elect to rule over us will leave us in a better place than they found us. Buhari failed that most elementary demand of democracy,

Arguably so far, in all fairness to the man, Tinubu may have given the job his best shot. Simultaneously, he has deployed the judiciary to wriggle out of a controversial electoral victory, assembled an inchoate collection of ministers and key officials and tried to give his presidency a character and a name. No one can as yet call the exact name. No one can accuse Tinubu of not trying so hard to lead and to be appreciated by Nigerians.

He literally charged on to the presidential dais with a hell fire storm of controversial policies. He used his inauguration podium to withdraw a controversial gasoline subsidy. Shortly afterwards, he embarked on devaluation of the troubled Naira. Both policies set off a vortex of policy repercussions that have kept him busy ever since. Arguably both policies may end up defining what remains of his tenure and tenancy in Aso Villa because he failed to do one thing: he did not think them through before  reaching for  the mic.

In what is emerging as a basically reactive presidency, Tinubu has tried to address the yearnings of Nigerians mostly as they arise and not necessarily in any ordered and systematic prioritization format. He has tried to emplace an economic policy to ameliorate the impacts of his  initial disruptive policies. The Central Bank of Nigeria has literally engaged currency speculators in open street fights to dampen the deterioration of the exchange rate of the Naira to major currencies with minute success. The exchange rate continues to do a yo yo dance which has escalated inflation and made uncertainty a permanent feature of the economy in the last one year.

An untidy students loan scheme is about to go into a trial run.  But no one is sure that this populist scheme, desirable as it is, can in any way redress the decades long decay in the nation’s tertiary education sector. Similarly, an initial reaction to the spread of hardship in the land gave birth to efforts at palliatives. No one knows what has so far happened to earlier efforts to release grains or supply food or cash to the most vulnerable. The general hardship graduated into an epidemic of hunger across the nation. Food riots have occurred in major urban centres while efforts to increase access to food among the poor and vulnerable have been at best chaotic in places.

 The president has fared poorly in healing the wounds of divisiveness in the nation that he inherited from his friend and predecessor, Mr. Buhari. His key appointments unfortunately drip of a sickening level of  xenophobic sectionalism. Most strategic appointments have gone to Tinubu’s Yoruba ethnic home base: Army, Customs, CBN, Finance, Police, Power , Transportation, Internal Affairs, Marine economy etc. etc.

In a bizarre backlash, even among the Yoruba South West elite, there is discord. The most outspoken elite of the region accuse Tinubu of favouring mostly the Lagos, Osun and Ogun axis to the exclusion of other components. The core northern elite that helped him onto power have in recent times begun making threatening political noises. The South-east and South-south feel outflanked and excluded. If Tinubu fails as president,  it would be deemed that the Yorubas ran the nation into another ditch.

If the current state of the Nigerian economy and society are anything to go by, then we are in a worse place than in the darker Buhari days. Gas station queues are back all over the country as routine supply and logistics planning seem to have overwhelmed the corrupt and inept NNPC. Healthcare costs have shot through the roof as the prices of essential drugs have reached for the skies. Prices of basic need goods are beyond the roof . To worsen a bad situation, we have become a virtual Federal Republic of Taxes as all manner of taxes, levies and tariffs are unleashed on the hapless and already impoverished populace. These range from astronomical electricity tariffs to proposed levies on phone calls, cyber security, increased custom duties and airport  transit and car parking fees.

Tinubu has tried his hands at reaching out to the world through a plethora of foreign junkets. In particular, he has tried to deploy his Muslim identity to reach out to the economic powers of the Middle East for economic lifelines. He has visited Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Qatar. Promises of resuming normal diplomatic and citizen visitation relations with the UAE have been sugar coated but yet unfulfilled. Qatar has refused to play ball yet on investments. The Saudis remain skeptical but are reluctant to tell Tinubu to his face that they cannot trust Nigeria to abide by any lasting agreements as the nation is half Christian.

Europe and the United States remain reticent, knowing that Nigeria only needs to go home and fix its troubles through responsible governance, transparency and greater accountability. For whatever reasons  that are only known to Tinubu, the CIA an the Department of State, I cannot see an imminent joint press conference at the White House lawns between Mr. Tinubu and any US president any time soon.

The attitude of the West to Nigeria’s need for economic bailout remains unchanged. If you need assistance, go through the World Ban, the IMF or enter into bilateral agreements with Western nations that trust you enough,

Back in Africa, Nigeria remains something of a fading empire. Our influence and stature has been tested in the West African sub region with regrettable outcomes. As leader of ECOWAS, Tinubu failed woefully in containing the coup in Niger Republic. Our failure in that regard led to the eviction of France and the United States as security guarantors in the Sahel, thus opening up the nation to greater jihadist terror while shrinking Western hemispheric influence in the region to the advantage of an ambitious Putin’s Russia.

In terms of style and character, Tinubu has displayed the typical African modern political trait of mixing up constitutional republican democracy with elements  of decadent monarchical absolutism. His motorcades are too long and rowdy. His immediate family is too conspicuous in the affairs of state including official delegations to important foreign countries. Worse still, the National Assembly has seemed all too eager to pass nearly every legislation emanating from the presidency while the judiciary is yet to recover from its perceived compromises in its verdicts on election cases that arose from the 2023 contests.

In matters of governance, there is  a disturbing lack of method in the  ways of Tinubu’s maddening crowd. Sometimes the government speaks with too many voices. Communication between president and people is very often mismanaged as the all too frequent presidential absences and disappearances are conveyed through either eloquent silences or conflicting speculations. 

The road to the future is defined by the mood of the time: it is an interesting time to be alive in Nigeria if you are that lucky to survive till the morning after.

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