Every election in any country is unique in its own way and comes with its own twist and lessons for the students of history to learn from. The 2023 general election in Nigeria is no different. It was one of the most interesting elections many young Nigerians have witnessed in a very long time.
The lessons in the 25 February presidential election will forever be registered in the hearts of many. From the incumbent president losing his own state, Katsina to an opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to Bola Tinubu, an ex-governor of Lagos State and the eventual winner of the election who ran on the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) ticket, losing his own base, Lagos and the nation’s capital, Abuja to a ‘third force’, Peter Obi of the Labour Party (LP) to about seven sitting governors losing their senatorial elections. Perhaps, the most weighty of the lessons is the massive political participation of the youths who, hitherto, have been apolitical.
Now that the elections are over and 29 May, the date for the inauguration of the president-elect, is fast approaching, many well-meaning Nigerians have continued to call the attention of the incoming administration on how to fix Nigeria, and I’d like to lend my voice to theirs. There is no doubt that many Nigerians are not impressed by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari which came into power in 2015 with the promise of curbing the multifaceted challenges bedevilling the nation, including insecurity and corruption.
No doubt, the administration has done its best but we all must admit that the gaps that are left behind have posed exponential challenges for the incoming administration. The state of the nation is a sad tale: 20 million out-of-school children, two million unemployed citizens as of 2020, 44.6 trillion public debt as of September 2022, and 133 million people living in poverty. This is a clear indication that the next administration should put on its thinking caps to come up with a lasting solution to these challenges which have smeared the image of the nation among the comity of nations.
Firstly, the incoming administration has the big task of fostering national unity through sincere policies that can strengthen our diversity. Though the APC won the presidential election, the party still has a long way to go to win public trust because many are still dissatisfied with the party’s choice of a Muslim-Muslim ticket. It is not enough to debunk the speculations that the party’s Muslim-Muslim ticket is aimed at the Islamisation of the country, the incoming administration should be intentional about running a ‘government of national unity’. One way to do this is to revisit the proposals made during the national conference of 2014, a round table discussion on nation-building involving all critical stakeholders.
Bishop Hassan Kukah lent credence to the need for the incoming administration to prioritise national unity in his Easter message. He wrote: ‘To the incoming President: I am hopeful that you will appreciate that the most urgent task facing our nation is not infrastructure or the usual cheap talk about dividends of democracy. These are important but first, keep us alive because only the living can enjoy infrastructure. For now, the most urgent mission is to start a psychological journey of making Nigerians feel whole again, of creating a large tent of opportunity and hope for us all, of expanding the frontiers of our collective freedom, of cutting off the chains of ethnicity and religious bigotry, of helping us recover from the feeling of collective rape by those who imported the men of darkness that destroyed our country, of recovering our country and placing us on the path to our greatness, of exorcising the ghost of nepotism and religious bigotry.’
Secondly, security is a paramount duty of any responsible government. The importance of securing the lives and properties of citizens cannot be overemphasised. The outgoing administration scored low on security. According to a report by SB Morgan about 2,085 persons were killed in Nigeria in the fourth quarter of 2021 in violent attacks by terrorist Boko Haram and militia herdsmen and by the end of the year, the number of deaths was estimated to be 10,366. Also, according to data sourced from the Council on Foreign Relations, CFR, and National Security Tracker, NST, an estimated number of 4,545 people were killed by different groups of terrorists and bandits, and incidences of kidnapping stood at 4,611 in 2022.
From the aforementioned statistics, it is clear that the incoming administration is inheriting a disturbing security situation and as such it must take urgent steps in addressing the push and pull factors behind these insecurity issues such as abject poverty and unemployment, among others. The security architecture in the country also needs to be restructured in tandem with global best practices and the welfare of the intelligence agents be prioritised to enable them to discharge their duties effectively and efficiently.
Thirdly, the economy of any nation is the building block for development. Nigeria is regarded as the giant of Africa because of the prospect and strength of its economy. Sadly, Nigeria’s economy has depleted under the present administration. Before Buhari took over power in 2015, Nigeria’s inflation rate averaged nine per cent but since then there has been a surge.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, under the current administration, the country’s inflation rate hit a 16-year high amid an increase in the prices of goods and poor purchasing power of the local currency. The urban inflation rate increased to 17.35 per cent (year-on-year) in April 2022 from 18.68 recorded in April 2021, while the rural inflation rate increased to 16.32 per cent in April 2022 from 17.57 per cent in April 2021. Similarly, the last poverty survey from the NBS showed that more than 65 per cent of the Nigerian population, or almost 95 million people, live below the poverty line. The 2022 Multidimensional Poverty Index further reveals that 63 per cent of Nigerians – 133 million people – are multidimensionally poor.
These indicators are all worrisome and the incoming administration must put its house in order to be able to solve these economic crises facing the country. Already, many young Nigerians have lost hope in the country due to the economic woes and are migrating massively to other countries with buoyant and thriving economies. To restore the faith of already-disillusioned Nigerians in Nigeria, the incoming government must take active measures to provide substantial job opportunities and create a conducive environment for businesses, especially Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, MSMEs, to thrive by tackling the epileptic power supply in the country. With the likes of Ngozi Okonjo Iweala heading the World Trade Organization, WTO, and Akinwumi A. Adesina heading the African Development Bank, ADB, Nigeria should not be rated as the poverty capital of the world.
Fourthly, the incoming administration must not downplay the critical need to restructure the country. A system that creates competition among the states and geopolitical zones in the country will foster more development and will bring to an end several national challenges facing the country The ruling party, APC, during their campaign in 2015, promised to halt the dangerous drift of Nigeria to a failed state by diversifying the economy thereby halting the overdependence on oil as a source of revenue and devolving power to the regions to make governance seamless.
Eight years after, the party has failed to deliver on its promises. It is, therefore, hoped that the incoming administration will champion the desired growth and development through the restructuring agenda. Interestingly, the President-elect Tinubu gave an interesting perspective on restructuring and the national divergences in a speech entitled: ‘A New Nigeria or a Better One: The Fitting Tools of a Great Repair’, which he delivered at the annual dinner of the King’s College Old Boys’ Association in Lagos in September 2017.
The president-elect said: ‘We cannot become a better Nigeria with an undue concentration of power at the federal level. Many of the 68 items on the exclusive federal list should be transferred to the residual list. This would be in harmony with the 1963 Constitution, again an instance of reaching back to revive something old yet more likely to give us a better Nigeria. That prior constitution granted vast powers to the regions enabling them to carry out their immense responsibilities as they saw fit. The clear fact that regional governments were closer to the people, they had a better feel for the material and intangible priorities of their populations. We must return to this ideal. Some items which should leave for the states to handle such as police, prisons, stamp duties, regulation of tourist traffic, registration of business names, incorporation of companies, traffic on federal truck roads passing through states, trade, commerce and census are now on the exclusive list for the federal government.’
Fifthly, education is key to any nation’s development. Unfortunately, the importance of education notwithstanding, the outgoing administration will be leaving a legacy of over 20 million out-of-school children as declared by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, which makes Nigeria the country with the highest number of out-of-school children.
The incessant industrial actions by university teachers and the non-teaching staff, the poor state of facilities in schools, and poor funding of the education sector, among others are key issues the incoming administration must look into. Over the years, successive governments have struggled to meet up with the UNESCO-recommended 26 per cent annual budgetary allocation on education. Going forward, there should be an upward review of the budgetary allocation to the education sector, which should cater for the funding for research purposes and the provision of critical infrastructural facilities and equipment.
There is need also to review the education curriculum at all levels to meet the emerging global best practices and socio-economic realities while improving and developing vocational and technical education. Most importantly, efforts should be made by the incoming administration to appoint the best brains to pilot the affairs of the education sector by selecting someone who understands the issues and challenges confronting education in the country to head the sector.
Lastly, the health sector in Nigeria is urgently in need of attention and as such the incoming administration must pay attention to developing it. The Nigerian health sector faces challenges such as underfunding, poor remuneration of medical personnel, brain drain, and inadequate facilities, among others. The financing of the health sector has not improved under the Buhari administration.
In 2016, the federal government had a budget of N6.06 trillion, out of which N550 billion, which represents 4.1 per cent of the budget, was earmarked for the health sector. In 2017, the total budget was N7.4 trillion and the health sector got N304.1 billion, representing 4.0 per cent of the budget. 2018 saw a further decline in the budgetary allocation to the sector. Out of a national budget of N9.1 trillion, N356.4 billion was reserved for the health sector. In 2020, the federal government reduced the budget allocation to the basic health care provision fund by more than 40 per cent, from N44.4 billion to N25.5 billion. Out of this year’s budget of N13.6 trillion, recurrent and capital expenditures of N380 billion and N134 billion, respectively, were allocated to the health sector, giving a total of N514 billion.
The underdevelopment of the nation’s health sector has made medical tourism thrive with many elites, most especially politicians, seeking world-class medical services in Western countries as a result of the deteriorating situation of the country’s health sector. President Buhari overtook former President Umaru Yar’Adua in medical trips abroad, spending 172 days outside Nigeria within his first two years in office. At least, the President traveled out of the country seven times for medical treatment in the past six years.
African leaders agreed in 2001 through the Abuja Declaration to allocate 15 per cent of their government expenditure to the health sector but Nigeria has failed to adhere to this pact. The World Health Organization, WHO, recommends that 15 per cent of the national budget be allocated to healthcare but the highest the outgoing administration invested in healthcare is this year’s 5.75 per cent which is an improvement from 2022’s 4.7 per cent. The incoming administration must do better in funding the sector, providing adequate facilities and championing the welfare of healthcare workers. Hence, it cannot jeopardise the place of competence and experience when appointing the Minister of Health and other key players in the health sector.
Conclusively, Tinubu’s government cannot afford to give any excuse for not delivering on its campaign promises as this is a good chance to rewrite the wrongs of the outgoing administration. It must hit the ground by putting square pegs in square holes as it pertains to the appointment of ministers. Competence and experience, rather than ethnicity, religion and party affiliation, must be the key determinants of any appointment. This is not a time for the President-elect to play the politics of the ‘winner takes all’ but a time to show his commitment to national unity by putting proactive measures in place to address pressing concerns that have put the future of the country into question. ◆