Will President-elect Tinubu succeed with Nigeria’s complicated problems?

All Progressive Congress (APC) leader and President-elect Bola Tinubu (centre) and President of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari

All Progressive Congress (APC) leader and President-elect Bola Tinubu (centre) and President of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari gesture towards the crowd during the APC party campaign rally at Teslim Balogun Stadium in Lagos on February 21, 2023.

Photo credit: AFP

I didn’t expect Nigeria’s presidential election to be the most inspiring affair.

And it wasn’t. It was marred by the usual instances of thuggery, vote-buying, ballot stuffing, lack of transparency and delayed electronic transmission of results. Was the mess premeditated, or just plain incompetence by the electoral body?

In total there were 18 presidential contestants. But at the bottom, it was a three-horse race. Bola Ahmed Adekunle Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) was declared the winner with 8.8 million votes. Atiku Abubakar of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) was second with 6.9 million votes. Third was Peter Obi of the Labour Party with 6.1 million votes.

The turnout was extremely low. Out of 93 million registered electors, only 25 million voted. Predictably Abubakar and Obi have rejected the results.

Officially it is said President-elect Tinubu is 70. To me, he looks closer to 90. He often naps during meetings. And his hands sometimes tremble. Runner-up Abubakar was deemed older but is far more sprightly. He’s 76.

Political fixers 

Both are political fixers of great influence in Nigerian politics. Tinubu is a Yoruba-speaking, US-trained accountant who became a big-time national powerbroker. He served as a senator and later two-term governor of Lagos state, the most populous in the country.

Tinubu actually considers himself — with merit — as the kingmaker behind outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari's two-term tenure. Abubakar, a Fulani, was vice president in Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, but they famously fell out. He has run unsuccessfully for president six times: in 1993, 2007, 2011, 2015, 2019 and 2023.

The 61-year-old Obi’s political career is less storied but the future looks bright. He was a two-term governor of the Igbo-dominated Anambra state before he was picked as Abubakar’s vice-presidential running mate in 2019. They lost to Buhari.

However, Obi was the surprise package of last week’s election. He galvanised the youth behind him. Then he caused a sensational upset when he beat Tinubu in his home state of Lagos.

Tinubu will have his hands full as president. Over time, giant Nigeria has been steadily losing its gravity. It has one of the worst terrorist problems in West Africa — Boko Haram. Former military man Buhari had promised to eradicate it. He failed. Other copycats and violent groups have mutated across the north of the country that are unrelated to Boko Haram. Then there are the highway kidnappings-for-ransom that have become routine.

Largest oil producer

Nigeria is Africa’s biggest economy and largest oil producer. Strangely it has no functioning refinery. The existing ones were closed down over mismanagement. It imports refined oil.

A $20 billion refinery is being built by Nigerian tycoon Aliko Dangote and is scheduled for inauguration this year at Lagos Lekki Lagoon. The electricity supply remains highly erratic. Blackouts are the norm. Inflation is sky-high. Unemployment is rampant.

Then there’s the staggering corruption Nigeria is infamous for. Tinubu and Abubakar have faced grave accountability issues in the past. They’re both lavishly wealthy, a fact that cannot be incidental in Nigeria’s notoriously corrupt politics.

In the US, where Tinubu worked for some years before returning to Nigeria in 1983, his mysteriously large assets raised the suspicions of investigators, who seized them after linking his activities to heroin dealing. As Lagos governor, he also faced Nigerian federal government charges of conspiracy, money laundering, abuse of office and official corruption. He was later controversially cleared.

Atiku’s business record is equally chequered. He has a penchant for unscrupulous wheeler-dealing, which partly caused his rift with Obasanjo. He started out as a customs officer at Apapa port in Lagos, a position which in Nigeria is not as innocuous as it seems. His public career ever since has been dogged by scandal and conflicts of interest.

It started when he set up a private logistics company at the Apapa port with an Italian investor while still working as a customs official there. Later, the logistics company was to become the subject of money laundering accusations levelled by the US against Abubakar when he was vice president.

Though Obi is not as fabulously rich as his erstwhile two competitors and in fact projects himself as an advocate of good governance and transparency, he’s had his share of controversy. Following the ‘Pandora Papers’ expose of 2021, it emerged Obi had registered assets and businesses in several offshore tax havens, which he had not reported to Nigerian authorities when serving as governor.

Though it’s not illegal under Nigerian law to operate an account or business in an offshore tax haven, a public official is required to report that to Nigeria’s Code of Conduct Bureau.

Nobody really knows the true figure of Nigeria’s population. Most estimates put it at somewhere over 200 million. Censuses are highly touchy affairs in Nigeria because they are supposed to determine the sharing of oil revenues and political representation among the 36 states and 300 ethnic groups.

Previous counts were hotly discredited, particularly after disputes between the three main ethnic groups — Hausa-Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo. The last census was 17 years ago and was similarly disputed. Expect the same for one planned for the end of this month. Assuming it won’t be postponed, as often happens.

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[email protected]; @GitauWarigi