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7 ‘Buhari mistakes’ Tinubu must avoid

7 ‘Buhari mistakes’ Tinubu must avoid
July 04
10:38 2023

I started writing this piece on May 17, 2023 — two weeks before President Bola Tinubu was sworn into office. At the time, the title of the piece was “7 Buhari mistakes that Tinubu must avoid”, but other events overtook the writing. At the time, I had listed four mistakes former president Muhammadu Buhari made, that Tinubu must avoid. I have contemplated changing the title to “7 Buhari mistakes Tinubu may already be making,” but it is too early to make those conclusions. So here is my advisory: 

Not Remove fuel subsidy: The first mistake Buhari made as a president in my books was not removing fuel subsidies months after he took office. At the time, many Nigerians with a clear understanding of economics and corruption asked the president to let the subsidies go. The president refused; he kicked against the advice of his petroleum minister Ibe Kachikwu and held on to the bill haemorrhaging Nigeria’s public purse.

Buhari supervised the explosion of the annual subsidy bill from N971 billion in 2014 to N4.5 trillion in 2023. This meant Nigeria could not embark on many other cash-consuming projects, and had to borrow from all over the world to fund its consumption. Thankfully, Tinubu departed from Buhari’s path and removed subsidy on the very first day he took office.

I, for one, will applaud that, but there is still a Buhari mistake: not following up with cushioning policies. In 2016 the Buhari government also removed petrol subsidies, allowing the price to rise from N86 to N145 but did not follow up with policies that made life easier for Nigerians in the midst of that hardship.

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This is a Buhari mistake Tinubu has also begun to make. In four years, we may look from Buhari to Tinubu, and Tinubu to Buhari, and see no difference, if this is not corrected.

Hold on to refineries: The second mistake Buhari made was holding on to Nigeria’s comatose refineries. I understand Buhari’s obsession with those refineries; they were built when he was minister of petroleum. He had seen them work at optimum capacity and somehow believed they could do the same 40 years later.

Buhari poured billions of dollars into those refineries, without any good for Nigerians — except those gulping the billions for turnaround maintenance and turning around as billionaires.

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My position on this has remained the same; sell majority stakes in those refineries for one naira to willing and competent buyers, and let them run them as private refineries. I explained why I think this is a good idea here. Holding on to those refineries is a Buhari mistake that Tinubu cannot afford to make.

Messing with the judiciary: If you have lived in Nigeria for the past eight years, you were a first-hand witness to how Buhari chose what law to obey and what law to despise. He was happy to obey certain court orders that favoured him and ignored court orders that were against his government and his circle.

This is a mistake, I listed that Tinubu must not make. However, Tinubu seems to be on his way to that mistake. In his June 12, 2023, Democracy Day speech, Tinubu said “It has become imperative to state here that the unnecessary illegal orders used to truncate or abridge democracy will no longer be tolerated”.

Many believe this should not be coming from a Democratic president. Only the judiciary can decide what court orders are illegal and what judicial pronouncements are legal. This is outside Tinubu’s jurisdiction, and he should not be meddling or seen as meddling.

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Rule of law is as important to investors as foreign exchange policies have been. Don’t be a Buhari.

Missing economic direction: Former president Buhari took six months before he named his cabinet. In those six months, much of the investing community had moved on from Nigeria. All the initial goodwill Buhari got through a smooth transition was lost.

For Tinubu, the removal of subsidy and float of the naira has gotten him into the good books of international investors. The FMDQ I&E window now records a regular turnover of more than $200 million per day.

Investors, however, still want more policy direction. It’s Day 37 in the Tinubu administration and we do not have a minister of finance or a substantive CBN governor. To make matters worse, we have a special adviser on monetary policy, in person of Wale Edun, an internationally-respected banker.

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Should investors look to Edun or Folashodun Shonubi, the acting governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), for monetary policy direction?

This is a typical Buhari mistake; the economic goodwill Tinubu has built for himself in the first two weeks in office would be lost, if he continues to delay on a clear policy path — monetary and fiscal.

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Sycophantic cult following: Populism is a great political approach, appealing to the masses will win elections, but they often do not develop a country. Last month, we saw what looked like the end of the era of Boris Johnson, Donald Trump, and Muhammadu Buhari, three populist politicians who drove a similar kind of world order. I sincerely wish this is the end of this kind of governance. But Trump may stage a comeback.

Two weeks ago, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala posted pictures of world leaders she met at the French Summit, and in a few minutes, Tinubu’s Trolls and Obi’s Bots were all over her tweets, saying unbelievable things. It was the most toxic thing I had seen online since the elections.

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Eventually, the WTO DG posted a picture with Tinubu, explaining that she posts as she receives the pictures. This polarisation was a key feature of the Buhari administration; the ‘them versus us’ situation is something the Tinubu government must shut down immediately. This is not something to ‘unlook’. Educate your online troops.

Waste & lackadaisical attitude: Before Buhari took office, he promised to cut down the cost of governance, sell part of the presidential air fleet, and reduce waste in government. Every Nigerian who believed this must now look at themselves and laugh out loud. The cost of governance grew astronomically under Buhari — not a single presidential jet was sold. The president was sold as frugal, but his presidency was wasteful.

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Tinubu did not bother promising massive cuts in the cost of governance or to sell presidential jets, he was just all “student loans, subsidy must go, dollar must come to down,” and whatnot.

As president, Tinubu has taken policy steps that could mean hardship for Nigerians in the interim, and many Nigerians are willing to ride with this for the greater good, but we all believe this should be paired with cuts in government spending. Reducing his convoy (or the convoy of his fans who picked him up at the airport) from 120 cars to 10 cars will not immediately reduce the cost of governance significantly, but the optics will go a long way.

Tinubu cannot afford to be seen as a wasteful president who does not care for what the people say. Again, don’t be a Buhari.

You can reach ‘Mayowa on Twitter @OluwamayowaTJ 

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