By Tunde Olusunle
Whether the administration of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu is a substantive one or a “placeholder” to deploy a new addition to Nigeria’s electoral lexicon, will be decided by the courts in the land. He was declared winner of the Saturday February 25, 2023 presidential election by Mahmood Yakubu, Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC). Two of the 18 political parties which participated in the poll and their candidates have since challenged the proclamation of Tinubu as true and authentic victor in that contest. The Peoples’ Democratic Party, (PDP) and its presidential candidate, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, as well as the Labour Party, (LP) and its flagbearer Peter Obi, are querying the veracity of the triumph of Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress, (APC). Revelations from the Presidential Elections Petitions Tribunal thus far, are mind-boggling for the ears of laymen like some of us. Tinubu would seem to be standing on tenuous grounds, even marshlands if the judiciary were to discharge its obligations fairly and dispassionately.
While the legal brickbats proceed, it is necessary to appraise the “first 30 days” of the new administration in Nigeria. Onetime President of the United States of America, Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced the concept of assessing the “First 100 Days” of his government in 1933. It has become fashionable globally thereafter, to examine the preliminary months of administrations against this precedence. I was Director of Information and Public Affairs to the pioneer democratically elected governor of the teething Kogi State, Abubakar Audu, back in 1992. I recall very vividly how very seriously my boss, now of blessed memory, took the question of deliverables within the preliminary 100 days of his government. As a familiar proverb tells us, “morning shows the day.”
The social media was dominated early this week by video clips of Tinubu’s return to the country after his recent visits to France and the United Kingdom. Scenarios from recordings of his departure from the airport for his Lagos home, are instructive. The convoy of automobiles which accompanied him in one particular two minute, twenty seconds clip couldn’t have been any less than 100! And this is being really conservative. There were SUVs, sedans, trucks, buses and other vehicular brands in that entourage. The very predictable alibi if one were to interrogate this will be to the effect that the carnival air was spawned by the fact that it was Tinubu’s first appearance in Lagos, his home state since his inauguration as Commander-in-Chief, a month ago. It will be suggested that the entire political superstructure of Lagos State beginning from its Number One citizen, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, holistically, was activated to honour the homeboy.
A similar video clip of about one minute, fifty seconds trended in the media last week. It featured the exit ceremonials for the President of the Senate, Godswill Akpabio, from the premises of the National Assembly complex, to his Abuja home. The convoy was complete with out-riders, the chain of vehicles, infinite. The President of the Senate is the *Numero Uno* lawmaker in the land and the third most senior official of state in the nation’s political hierarchy. He comes behind the president and his deputy. The argument for such lascivious display will be hinged on the premise that the nation’s chief lawmaker must be chauffeured in style and elan.
These twin incidents could be interpreted as profligate so early in the day for a regime which recently removed subsidies on petroleum products. Yes, this specie of flamboyance by the nation’s leaders at the topmost echelons, stands logic on its head arising from the economy-induced pall across the country. From petrol, to diesel and kerosene, there is no respite for the citizenry. Hapless Nigerians have been subjected to grievous socioeconomic discomfort and grave hurt so early in the life of an administration which canvassed “renewed hope.” Petroleum products are as costly themselves as much as they have triggered downstream inflationary trends across board.
There were reports on the eve of the *Eid el Mubarak* celebrations, that certain categories of rams, the favourite animal protein for this season, skyrocketed to as much as N700,000 in many markets! The World Bank indeed, recently observed that “Nigeria has one of the highest inflation rates” globally. It noted in its latest “Development Update” on Nigeria, that at least seven million Nigerians will soon join the club of the poor. This is “if the federal government fails to compensate them or provide palliatives for them, following the removal of fuel subsidy.” The situation is that dreary this very first month of the Tinubu dispensation.
Side by side with these discombobulations is the unsettling free cascade of the *naira* in the foreign exchange market. This follows the new government’s policy on the harmonisation of the official and street rates of the nation’s currency. In the last few days, the pound sterling hobbled very close to N1000 each, while the United States Dollar has been nestling on the borders of N800. The naira has never plummeted to such dizzying abyss. Not since it replaced the “Nigerian pound,” under the superintendence of Yakubu Gowon, four-star army General and Nigeria’s civil war era Head of State, five decades ago. One’s mind rolls back in time to the blunt Governor of the Ugandan Central Bank in the film titled *The Rise and Fall of Idi Amin* who told his principal that the nation’s currency was more worthless than toilet paper. The *CFA francs* in use by neighbouring West African countries is suddenly stronger than our *naira.*
There were insinuations in recent days to the effect that electricity tariffs will also be increased by as much as 100 percent, a report which got people uptight and scurrying around to boost their power account balances. Rebuttals have since followed, reassuring harried Nigerians that the planned increment on energy costs has not been officially approved. While these reforms may be desirable, they are evidently hasty and squashed into such a ruthlessly short time frame. This is especially because the new regime has not emplaced succour of any kind to cushion the gravity of the changes. From foodstuffs to transportation, and to clothing, Nigerians are agonisingly paying much more. The differential could be as much as 200 percent in many instances.
Certain appointments have been made by the president at the level of advisers and similar support staff. The portfolios of some of these officials, however, are unnecessarily unwieldy and capable of encroaching into the schedules of some other aides. This could readily breed conflict and distraction for a government in gestation. What do we make of an omnibus schedule such as: “Special Duties, Communications and Strategy,” all in one box? It is so open-ended, so blatantly grabbist. It can as well pass for the unintended consecration of an “alternate president,” or a “deputy vice president,” given its amorphous, amoebid possibilities. Each of the various departments under this three-pronged brief, is a mouthful on its own. This is not alluding to the deadweight of such a tri-legged potpourri on one single head! I speak from the point of cognate experience in a similar designation for the better part of my eight-year service in the Olusegun Obasanjo/Atiku Abubakar government.
Tinubu attended the “Summit for a New Global Financing Pact” in Paris beginning from Tuesday May 20, 2023. He was equally supposed to use the opportunity to canvas Foreign Direct Investment, (FDI). Beyond his well publicised reception by French President Emmanuel Macron, the Nigerian leader barely participated in the proceedings of the summit. Notably, he took photographs with the presidents of the World Trade Organisation, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; the African Development Bank, Akinwumi Adesina; Heirs Foundation, Tony Elumelu, and the international football star of Nigerian descent, Austria’s David Alaba. President of the Afreximbank, Benedict Oramah, was also in the mix.
Our President was equally pictured in a handshake with Cameroun’s “life President” Paul Biya. Whether Biya knew what part of the world he was in on that occasion or who he was exchanging pleasantries with is another matter. But the presidents of South Africa and Kenya, Cyril Ramaphosa and William Ruto spoke at the Summit, while Tinubu directed the Nigerian ambassador to France, Modupe Enitan Irele to represent him, even when he was physically present. The scenario reminded of his December 2022 appearance in *Chatham House* in the UK, where he delegated members of his entourage to take turns answering questions directed at him.
The Obasanjo/Atiku combo never missed opportunities to reinforce Nigeria’s frontline role in African affairs and international reckoning. Under their watch, Nigeria spontaneously regained its exalted global diplomatic standing lost to years of military governance. Nigeria firmly reestablished its ascendancy as the “go-to nation” in African affairs. Nigeria helped in the restoration of peace in troubled brother nations and facilitated the return of democracy in instances. Nigeria accommodated leaders who had to be diplomatically eased out of their countries to make for the restoration of sanity. The Muhammadu Buhari years were the very worst for Nigeria’s foreign diplomacy ever. Buhari was almost always missing from group photographs of world leaders at their various convergences. At best, he was either regularly consigned to the back row, or flung into the anonymity of crowd scenes. The Paris programme was not an opportunity a Nigerian president should have allowed to slip by.
Tinubu’s language register thus far, has betrayed avoidable militarism in instances. This is totally at odds with the communicative aesthetics of a career advocate of democracy as he desires to to be known. His “Democracy Day” address on June 12, 2023, featured intemperate phrases like *this administration will not tolerate…* and similar combat rhetoric. Bulletins announcing the suspensions or removals of heads of government ministries, departments and agencies, have also tended to deploy martial preferences like *with immediate effect.* Twenty five years into Nigeria’s Fourth Republic, official discourse should not re-echo our ghoulish past of the coup day speeches of Joe Garba, Bukar Suka Dimka, Joshua Nimyel Dogonyaro and Sani Abacha.
▪︎ Olusunle, PhD, poet, journalist, scholar and author is a Member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, (NGE)