Politics, democracy and economy in transition: Whither is Tinubu … – Premium Times

Tee Rasheed
16 Min Read

President Tinubu should prioritise inclusivity in governance and animate his advertised determination to deliver an expanded and more integrated national economy, anchored on democratisation of economic opportunities for Nigerians, especially the youth demographic. The end-state of this schema is inclusive growth and shared prosperity. Above all, the President must commit to a project, wholly directed at making Nigeria attain the full measure of federalism.
Concepts and Nexus
A critical convergence exists in the literature that politics is a basically competitive enterprise. As we noted elsewhere, politics is all about ‘contestation for, and deployment of power, authority and influence in any social setting.’ Even so, it does not necessarily equate chicanery, as it is often taken to be in Nigeria, but provides the context within which governance, qua good governance, takes place. Conceived by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, as delivery on ‘the promise of human rights: civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights,’ good governance is indeed the very raison d’etre of all governance forms. This aligns with the conception of development, by the United Nations Development Programme, as ‘the richness of human life,’ rather than mere ‘richness of the economy in which human beings live.’ There is, thus, a strong convergence between politics (governance) and development, for as Lewis argued in the National Economic Summit Group’s Poverty to Prosperity, 2018, it is politics that brings about the transition of an economy from stagnancy to prosperity.
The jury is still out on what exactly constitutes democracy as a form of vehicle for delivering governance; whether it actually is required for development to take place; and why it seems, virtually everywhere, to be in reversal. It is enough for the purpose of this discourse, however, to note that while democracy may manifest via different institutional forms, it must meet the minimum threshold of popular participation, majority rule, respect of human rights – especially as they relate to minority groups, and public accountability. It affords any polity the right platform for mobilisation, in pursuit of the goals of national development but it is often susceptible to abuse in the hands of governing elites, thus making it increasingly suspect in the estimation of the mass of the people. There is the profound case for democratic renewal in very many societies across the world. The bottomline, however, is that unless the politics and governance structures of a country are properly delivered, the possibilities of development remain limited. In the same vein, in the absence of social development, politics and governance tend to be convoluted, both existing in a vicious cycle of sort. This provides a critical framework for interrogating Nigeria’s extant democracy project.
The Context
Nigeria has undergone seven election cycles since 1999, delivered with different degrees of credibility. While some advances may have been made in terms of the more liberal freedoms, the truth is that state capture, social exclusion and the politics of identity have nevertheless all deepened, raising significant questions about social justice, the absence of which – arguably more than any other single factor – catalyses insecurity across the country. With 63 per cent of the population in multidimensional poverty, it is evident that the material conditions of a preponderance of Nigerians have not significantly improved. It is also doubtful how well the democracy project sits with the electorate, given that voter turnout in elections dwindled from 52.3 per cent in 2003 to 26.72 per cent in 2023. It would seem, therefore, that what Nigeria presents after 24 years of civil democratic governance is at best, growth without development; and a state and governance regime that has not served as a platform for meeting the legitimate aspirations of the Nigerian people, eliciting the question of what is to be done, at a momentous occasion as this, when the country is in transition.
What Is To Be Done?
Broad macroeconomic frameworks, approximating the type of economic programming needed for inclusive growth in the country, have become quite imperative. As well, given that the development enterprise, everywhere, is of two mutually reinforcing dimensions, it is important that the new policy outlook is complemented by appropriate structures of delivery, if the outcomes must be in consonance with the projections. Thus, the country must acknowledge that the only constitutional form with which a plural social formation like Nigeria could be governed – on the basis of social inclusion and the promise of autochthonous development – is a federal one. The 1999 Constitution (as amended) is, to all intents and purposes, unitary, but makes pretentious claims to federalism. A necessary complement to a truly federal constitution directed at upscaling the quality of leadership and governance in the country is the substitution of the parliamentary for the presidential system of government. This would detract from the extant stress that characterises governance and democracy, casting this negatively in the estimation of Nigerians. Yet, it is a process that can only be catalysed by a strong and visionary leadership. Whether Nigeria’s new President, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, fits this billing remains to be seen.
President Tinubu’s willingness to engage, review controversial policies and actions that may be important but not necessarily fundamental, and the inclusiveness reflected in some of his security-related appointments, are noteworthy. While it could be argued that the President’s list of ministers could have admitted of greater value, we hasten to note that, ultimately, the responsibility is that of the President to select those he would work with.
Significantly, notwithstanding the circumstances of his emergence in the hotly contested 2023 election, it is notable that the President has already projected some vibes that could be the basis of hope. Attending to the corruption-infested fuel subsidy regime, and arbitrage-promoting multiple foreign exchange rate windows, aligns with our recommended framework. His students’ loans scheme, if properly canalised, could foster the much-needed paradigm shift in funding higher education in the country. Attempts to widen the tax net, and align the tax regime with the overarching goal of expansion of the productive base of the economy, and the planned N500 billion ‘intervention to support small businesses and the agricultural sector,’ are all in the right direction. These are ordinarily sound initiatives for stabilising the nation’s macroeconomic environment, without which new investments, and growth, may remain a mirage. They are, however, seriously challenged by the extent to which some of them were hastily announced, underscoring the need for government to recognise the scientificity of (public) policy, including extensive stakeholder engagement, without which any policy framework may eventually fail.
The President made a promise at the just concluded 29th Economic Summit of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), on 23 October, to “govern ethically, with accountability and transparency; implementing sound and effective policies to accomplish (his) Eight Priorities.” This resonates quite well, the focus being on “ending poverty, achieving food security, economic growth and job creation, access to capital across all segments of society and the economy, inclusivity, security, fairness and rule of law, and anti-corruption.” It is important, however, that the President walks the talk, and not end up merely paying lip service to these critical measures, requisite for turning around the fortunes of the national economy.
President Tinubu’s willingness to engage, review controversial policies and actions that may be important but not necessarily fundamental, and the inclusiveness reflected in some of his security-related appointments, are noteworthy. While it could be argued that the President’s list of ministers could have admitted of greater value, we hasten to note that, ultimately, the responsibility is that of the President to select those he would work with. The fair representation of youths and women in the ministerial line-up is admirable, and could be quite impactful if the horde of professional politicians on the list – many with very concerning public service records – is not going to be an albatross around the neck of the administration. It would have been better still, if a person or two, with evident disability had been on the list.
Overall, the need to scale down the cost of governance in Nigeria cannot be overemphasised at these times. The President’s job in this regard, is all too well cut out for him in the Oronsanye Report. The humungous allowances of members of the country’s parliament must be greatly moderated, in consonance with the requirements of the belt tightening keel, on which the President has practically placed most Nigerians. Education must be prioritised and robustly resourced to enable human capital development, which the country sorely needs. While the proscription of goods and beggar-thy-neighbour policies may not be consistent with the market orientation that the economy needs to increasingly reflect, moral suasion should be deployed to persuade Nigerians to patronise local products, and help ease the pressure on the foreign exchange outlook of the country. Sustained attention has to be paid to the overall security situation in the country. This has a direct relationship with the possibilities of fruitful economic engagements across the country. The President often speaks of ‘an elite crop of unpatriotic forces’ bleeding the economy. He has a duty to go after them, and save Nigeria from their destructive proclivities.
It is trite that the 2023 election could have been better delivered by the election management body, but it is apposite that the entire electoral process has now been concluded with the 26 October ruling of the Supreme Court, validating the election of President Tinubu. That the aggrieved candidates submitted to the judicial process in ventilating their grievances is indicative of intrinsic confidence in the nation’s democratic institutions, which deserves to be applauded.
On the foreign policy turf, the Tinubu administration, as we argued in Premium Times of 31 July, would need to recognise the relationship between domestic realities and external engagements, and carefully align the nation’s aspirations with its operational foreign policy. On Niger Republic, it is good that after the initial braggadocio, Nigeria is now treading more cautiously, while staying fully engaged. This is as it should be.
Pathway To Democratic Consolidation: By Way of Conclusion
It is trite that the 2023 election could have been better delivered by the election management body, but it is apposite that the entire electoral process has now been concluded with the 26 October ruling of the Supreme Court, validating the election of President Tinubu. That the aggrieved candidates submitted to the judicial process in ventilating their grievances is indicative of intrinsic confidence in the nation’s democratic institutions, which deserves to be applauded. This is one critical step to democratic renewal, nay survival, and should never be taken for granted, especially in the context of significant democratic reversals underway in the West African sub-region. The deepening of civil society engagement in the democratic space is also noteworthy, and fits into the overall drive in the direction of democratic consolidation. The trend deserves to be mainstreamed, going forward, given the criticality of the civil society, as the very bastion of democracy.
In the final analysis, President Tinubu should prioritise inclusivity in governance and animate his advertised determination to deliver an expanded and more integrated national economy, anchored on democratisation of economic opportunities for Nigerians, especially the youth demographic. The end-state of this schema is inclusive growth and shared prosperity. Above all, the President must commit to a project, wholly directed at making Nigeria attain the full measure of federalism. If the President chooses to be guided by the foregoing, the prospects of democratic consolidation in Nigeria would be greatly enhanced. Anything significantly at variance with this may, however, will reproduce patterns of democratic backsliding in the country, in proportions that could actually challenge the spatial integrity of the country.
Femi Mimiko is a professor of Political Science at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, and member, National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru. E-mail: femi.mimiko@gmail.com; nomimiko@oauife.edu.ng;  Twitter: @FemiMimiko
 


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