June 6, 2023

Tinubu: One week after, By Jideofor Adibe

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Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Nigeria’s President since May 29, 2023, once said that his lifelong ambition was to become the President of Nigeria. He was lucky that his dream came true. Though the outcome of the election remains contested, he has been Nigeria’s President the past one week. So what are the takeaways from his one week in office?

One, there was a bounce from his inauguration. Though Tinubu came to office with a huge legitimacy crisis and is one of the most scandal-ridden African Presidents, no fewer than 20 Presidents from around the world attended the inauguration according to some media reports. American President Joe Biden sent a delegation as did the British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak. And these were despite the damning reports of most of the international election observers of the presidential election in which INEC declared him the winner and the campaign by the opposition for world leaders not to legitimise Tinubu’s ‘victory’ by congratulating him.

Two, the bounce from the inauguration was overshadowed by the unintended consequences of Tinubu’s declaration on the day of his inauguration that “fuel subsidy is gone”. That speech immediately led to panic buying of fuel, the return of queues in petrol stations across the country and the jumping of pump prices in some filling stations to as much as N700 per litre.

Though the removal of fuel subsidy was expected and all the three leading presidential candidates – Tinubu, Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi –  had promised to remove it if they won the election, few people thought it would be done in such a dramatic manner as Tinubu did it. Those who argue that removing the subsidy on fuel was a decision foisted on Tinubu by the outgoing government forget that he has the powers to reverse it by sending a supplementary budget to the National Assembly with a request that funding the subsidy should remain while he put together his team and the necessary infrastructure that would help cushion the effect of that policy.

My feeling is that by announcing the ending of the fuel subsidy regime the way he did he wanted to convey a message that he would be a decisive President who would not bulk at taking tough decisions. This is especially so if his “fuel subsidy is gone” statement is related to his pre-inaugural speech where he declared that he would not want anyone to pity him because of the enormity of the challenges bedevilling the nation because he sought for the job and campaigned for it.

Three, the angst across the country resulting from the manner in which the removal of the subsidy was made shows that hardship has no ethnic, religious or political party affiliation. In fact, the argument that fuel subsidy benefits only (or even mostly the rich) is motor park economics as everyone – rich, middle class, the poor and businesses seems overwhelmed by a sense of foreboding following the 300% hike in the pump price of fuel in this largely generator-dependent economy.

Suddenly the perennial online combat between the ardent supporters of Tinubu and others that are often wrongly lumped together as ‘Obedients’ seem to have abated as everyone seems to worry how the policy will impact on them once it has cascaded through the entire value chain. Though a new price template of N488 per litre in Lagos and N537 and N557 in Abuja and Borno State respectively by the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, led to the disappearance of queues in most filling stations, it would take a while for the effects of the nearly 300% price hike in fuel price to fully work themselves through the country’s various value chains.

My feeling is that if the anticipated hardship from this policy becomes overwhelming and is not attenuated within a reasonable time frame, even some of Tinubu’s most passionate supporters will join the camp of those praying for the court to overturn his declaration as the winner of the February 25, 2025 election.

Four, just a few days after his inauguration, some putative centres of power in the Tinubu government had begun to emerge. One of the President’s children, Folasade Tinubu-Ojo, the Iyaloja (“Mother of the Market”) of Lagos markets, crowned herself the First Daughter of Nigeria and also elevated her position from the Iyaloja of Lagos Markets to Iyaloja of Nigeria. She also announced the launching of what she called Friends of Iyaloja Initiative, which she said will “channel her experience, connections and human resources” towards supporting her father’s administration.

Similarly, just a few days after his inauguration, there was a viral video of the First Lady, Senator Remi Tinubu, sitting in a purported economic meeting with President Tinubu, Vice President Kashim Shettima, the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Governor Godwin Emefiele and the Group Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited, NNPCL, Mele Kyari at the Presidential Villa Abuja. While some argued that the First Lady sitting in such a meeting was a violation of protocol, her supporters argued that as head of the Senate committee on NNPC during Saraki’s era as Senate President, she sat at the purported meeting as a politician, not as First Lady.

The point here is that one of the issues used against Tinubu during the campaigns was that different members of his family (Remi, Seyi and Folashade in particular) might constitute themselves into independent centres of power if he won the election.

Five, in the one week of his presidency, Tinubu has also started assembling members of his kitchen cabinet. In his first set of appointments as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Tinubu named Ambassador Kunle Adeleke as the State Chief of Protocol, SCOP, to the President; former Lagos State Commissioner of Information, Dele Alake, as Presidential Spokesman and Olusegun Dada as Special Adviser, Digital Media.

The following day he appointed Nosa Asemota as his official photographer and Adelani Opeyemi as the official photographer of Vice President Kashim Shettima. On June 2, 2023, just five days after his inauguration, he appointed the outgoing Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, as his new Chief of Staff; former Deputy Governor of Jigawa State, Sen. Ibrahim Hadejia, as Deputy Chief of Staff and Former Minister of Special Duties, George Akume, as Secretary to the Government of the Federation.

On Sunday, June 4, 2024, he announced the appointment of Nuhu Ribadu, the pioneer Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, as the National Security Adviser.  While his appointments so far mirror the tendency for chief executives to populate their kitchen cabinets with long term allies and loyalists, he has so far not included very controversial individuals that would make the task of post campaign reconciliation more problematic.

For instance, if the position of Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, was given to former Kaduna State Governor Nasir el-Rufai as was rumoured, it would have made reconciliation more difficult. This is because El-Rufai not only championed the Muslim-Muslim ticket in Kaduna, he sought to institutionalise that anomaly by ensuring that his hand-picked successor retained the same Muslim-Muslim template.

Similarly, it would have been more difficult to achieve reconciliation if the duo of Bayo Onanuga and Femi Fani-Kayode who uniquely fanned the embers of ethnic hatred and promoted both provincialism and Igbophobia are given front row seats in the government. 

Overall, Tinubu started with a fumble as many newly elected leaders often do. This is because while politicians are said to campaign in poetry, in governance, they will be forced to rule in prose. They will not only discover that the devil is in the detail but will also find out that every policy or even major pronouncement, has unintended consequences.