By Tope Fasua
The APC Presidential Candidate’s superlative and candid showing with the Nigeria Economic Summit Group on the 13th of January 2023 has naturally endeared him further to millions of voters across the country. A legion of former doubters including those who had based their opinions on skits put together by usually unserious minds who seek whatever they could twist in every speech, have now seen that they have been misguided. The momentum will ramp up even as we move closer to the election day, delivering what may turn out to be the cleanest landslide victory since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999.
What struck me is the candidness of the conversation and the fearlessness of the speech. The economic thinking that attracted me to Bola Ahmed a long time ago, and thus made it easy for me to pledge my unallowed support in his quest this time, was there for all to see. The ideas that he had espoused in his many colloquia, including his writeups in Premium Times and other media, are truly etched in his mind. He comes to the table, not to be bamboozled around by the usual pretenders to intellectuality, but with his worldview, knowledge, drive, and dream for his nation. Of recent, I realized that Bola Tinubu, just like the great Nnamdi Azikiwe, having studied extensively in a certain era in the United States, must have returned to Nigeria with a fervour to right the wrongs, and to prove that there was nothing wrong with the black man. You cannot immerse yourself in the United States without forming a strong opinion which propels you to want to give direction to your own people – except you forget where you are from and decide to share in the American dream, or you are incapacitated politically. That Tinubu has been on this quest for decades, going by how long he has spotted his broken chains (which I prefer to call the infinity) traditional cap, is worth noting for the perceptive and attentive. This man is a gift to Nigeria and humanity.
It is evident that in Tinubu we have a fearless, tested, experienced, urbane, businesslike, well-rounded, visionary candidate. He felt very much at home with the business community, who themselves can see by now, that Tinubu is their best bet for further prosperity and for the business community in Nigeria to remain the linchpin of Nigeria’s development, and to even play a larger role. But not only that. The delegates of the organized private sector present at the parley, or watching from the comfort of their offices, would have whipped out their scientific calculators (I remember the hp calculators bankers used to love), and worked out rates of returns on potential investments under the guidance and auspices of a business-oriented and transformative government of Asiwaju Tinubu, who continues to avert their minds to the sheer possibilities of our nation; a great nation waiting to soar, if only we could stay positive, attentive, cooperative, and connect our quest to a higher calling to lay a solid foundation for our children today, and those yet unborn. Tinubu’s vision is not only about Nigeria. From his trajectory, one can already see that he subscribes to that Chinese adage; ‘If your vision is one year, cultivate flowers; if your vision is ten years, cultivate trees; but if your vision is eternity, cultivate people’. Hands-down, his understanding of succession planning sets him apart. And his investment in raising leaders from among those he has identified over time, sometimes shames his peers who seemed to have simply concentrated on themselves and their children alone over the years. I had warned many of Tinubu’s traducers that his delivery and carriage will only improve, and that he will seem to age backwards, like the fictional Benjamin Button. I hope they are seeing with their eyes now.
The meat – and there are several actually – of Tinubu’s discussion at the NESG parley could be itemized as follows:
1. A very candid discussion where reality is discussed, difficulties acknowledged, but without any fear to dream and envision a great Nigeria where the private sector will lead robust growth, powered and enabled by a refocused public sector.
2. An admission to the plurality and diversity of opinions necessary for national development. Asiwaju acknowledged upfront that he doesn’t have all the ideas, and some may disagree with some of the ideas he proposes. And that is important for robust engagements and progress.
3. In acknowledging diversity and plurality of ideas, Asiwaju emphasized the importance of teamwork between private and public sector, and his ability to put a committed and patriotic crack team together at the shortest possible time. His track record in Lagos comes in very handy and is unmatched by any other political leader in our time.
4. Unlike any other contender for the presidency in 2023, Bola Tinubu committed to a double-digit growth of the economy, in defiance to some of the tepid projections of multilateral agencies. This means that he is ready to drive a new thinking and show that we can begin to define our destiny as a people. As we are coming from a position of negative real growth, but we have potentials, this is a very laudable ambition because we have so much to do. A double-digit growth in GDP also means a surfeit of employment opportunities and profitability for private sector players.
5. Asiwaju also indicated his readiness to bring together the monetary and fiscal wings of the economy such that they synergize under strong and focused leadership. His ideas on trade are skewed towards value-addition, to consolidate on some of the achievements of the Buhari administration.
6. Asiwaju, while speaking with the NESG, prioritized security without which businesses cannot thrive. He intends to leverage on the ‘follow the money’ strategy of the Buhari administration to smoke out kidnappers, bandits and other criminals who are holding the nation back. He also intends to consolidate on the monetary reforms of this administration as it pertains to electronic transactions in the public service, guaranteed to improve value-for-money in government procurement and projects all over the country.
7. Bola Tinubu has an interesting take on inflation, which is ravaging the pockets of Nigerians at 21.47% today, largely due to the dislocations caused by COVID-19, especially the necessary spendings of that era geared at reviving the economy. He acknowledges that every country in the world had to engage in that counter-cyclical spending to revive their economy, thus leading to deficits and inflation. He however disagreed with the idea of raising interest rates stratospherically, hurting the private sector, in a bid to slowing down inflation. He suggested a focus on productivity instead. What I heard was; ‘We can work and produce our way out of this quagmire. It will not be easy at all. But we also don’t have a choice than to produce and add value’.
8. As with many of his writings and speeches, Tinubu excoriated the almost total reliance on foreign borrowing – which comes with a debilitating exchange risk. He challenged his listeners to think more broadly. He does not believe in the dollarization of the Nigerian economy but in the leveraging of our sovereign currency to solve more of our problems. This is a very bold proposition, worthy of further analysis.
9. The APC candidate further sensitized Nigerians to the need to move past the fuel subsidy era, especially because it opens Nigerians to being defrauded by a few. The integrated transportation system being proposed for all states in the federation will be enhanced to reduce the burden because 70% of fuel is used for transportation. Lagos State is already showing the beginnings of an example.
10. For agriculture, Asiwaju intends to extend the ideas of Buhari in prioritizing the growth of that sector, increasing the proportion of cultivated land in Nigeria, and returning to the era of commodity boards which serve to protect farmers of cash crops from the downsides of a slump in prices. The boards, which were removed with Babangida’s ill-fated foray into orthodox, far-right economics under what was known as Structural Adjustment Program in 1986, have turned out to be very beneficial still in the case of cocoa in Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana, which now produces ten and three times the volume of Nigeria’s cocoa respectively. Our farmers have been in limbo and disarray, and at the mercy of less-than-honest brokers of unknown origin. But at the same time as Asiwaju is proposing commodity boards, he is also moving for a modern solution to solving the problem – empowerment of commodity exchanges where farmers can get some assurances of future prices and also get forward contracts.
11. The centrality of infrastructure to economic growth and development was also emphasized by the candidate, who committed to the ‘faithful implementation’ of the Infrastructure Master Plan, especially Nigeria’s perennial issues with the power sector. He promised further private-sector-led reforms and also the promotion of alternative, green and clean energy, which will help with the climate change conundrum without slowing down Nigeria’s quest for rapid growth, employment creation, poverty eradication and the enhancement of productivity. A large part of the candidate’s plan is promised to be driven by Information and Communication Technology (ICT), keying into contemporary knowledge thrusts in Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Everything, Big Data, Robotics and the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Industrial Revolutions which are already afoot and/or in play.
12. Small businesses which provide 80% of jobs in Nigeria also got a mention, with Asiwaju promising to continue to help such businesses reduce the challenges to Ease of Doing Business in Nigeria, perhaps by looking at some of the Nigerian peculiarities like multiple ‘tax’ burdens, infrastructure, transparency, and public-sector corruption. Asiwaju promises a positively disruptive governance.
13. Another revolutionary promise by Bola Ahmed Tinubu is the quest to reduce interest rates with a view to spurring a consumer credit and mortgage revolution. The consumer credit will be geared at locally produced goods, thereby generating more employment, while the mortgage revolution will be powered by Nigerian banks and will seek to transform the face of low-income housing in Nigeria in a significant manner. This is a veritable gamechanger and can contribute significantly towards the double-digit GDP growth target.
14. There was also a promise to tackle exchange rate differentials and to enable the fashion and entertainment sector players where millions of youths are employed to be able to contribute their quotas to economic development further by remitting their proceeds home rather than maintaining their wealth abroad. This also goes for other players like commodity and manufactured goods exporters.
15. Lastly, and very comfortingly, Asiwaju restated his worldview, which is that government in an economy at our stage of development, cannot be absent in the lives of people and cannot shirk all its responsibilities and capitulate to the capture of a few in the private sector. He has an expansive view of the economy and prosperity and comfort, through hard work, for the people of Nigeria. He says that he doesn’t believe that Nigeria has provide enough for her people through our yearly budgets and so we can do a whole lot more. He also challenged all to think in kaleidoscopic fashion, for a diversified economy, while we consolidate on the petroleum sector and remove bottlenecks to the implementation of the Petroleum Industry Act.
Unbiased minds will begin to see that the image of our dear nation is about to be repositioned for good under the leadership of this man, and the kind blessings and forbearance of the Almighty. Nigeria had floundered enough. May all the stars in the firmament align spectacularly for our redemption this time.
-Fasua, PhD is an Economist and Public Affairs Analyst