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Bola Ahmed Tinubu has been sworn in as Nigeria’s 16th president, having been tasked with reviving Africa’s largest economy, healing ethnic and religious divisions and tackling security issues.
In his inaugural address on Monday, he said: “We have endured hardships that would have made other societies crumble. Yet, we have shouldered the heavy burden to arrive at this sublime moment where the prospect of a better future merges with our improved capacity to create that future.”
Unfortunately, “at a time when the country desperately needs to rally toward a new sense of national purpose” it has a new president “of dubious legitimacy because of widespread irregularities”, wrote Howard W. French for Foreign Policy.
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“What is more, in Tinubu, who is officially 70 years old but is commonly believed to be substantially older, Nigeria is getting yet another visibly aged leader of questionable stamina for a job that should not be a laurel or capstone, but rather the challenge of a lifetime for a creative and resourceful statesman at the peak of his or her capacities,” he added.
Can he revive the economy?
“Reviving the fortunes of Africa’s largest economy is a critical challenge that Tinubu must immediately tackle head on,” said CNN. Having endured two recessions in five years, Nigeria faces “unprecedented levels of inflation, high unemployment and a heavy reliance on dwindling oil revenues, which has led to an exodus of mostly young Nigerians in a brain drain crisis known locally as ‘japa,’ or escape”, the news network reported.
Of all these problems, Nigeria’s debt profile stands out “like a sore thumb”, said Professor Stephen Onyeiwu in The Conversation.
The key to reducing the country’s “unsustainable” debt burden – estimated to be more than $100 billion last year – rests on Tinubu “being able to kickstart Nigeria’s economy and improve the finances of the Nigerian state”, said Remi Adekoya, a lecturer at York University.
In this regard, the new president benefits from being seen as “very pro-business”, which should attract much-needed foreign investment, said Adekoya. “Foreign investors would see him as a welcome change from the business-sceptic former President Buhari. This could work in Nigeria’s favor,” he said on CNN.
Yet things have got off to rocky start. Tinubu’s decision to scrap a decades-long subsidy on petroleum products led to people panic-buying fuel on his first full day in power.
He has argued the subsidy, which is a huge drain on public finances, could no longer be justified and should instead be spent on infrastructure. But BBC News said it is still “seen by many Nigerians as one of the few perks they receive from the state” and the last attempt to remove it in 2012 saw nationwide protests and a policy U-turn from the government.
What about the rampant insecurity issue?
Beyond the economy, the new administration “will have to deal with rampant insecurity across almost all six of its geopolitical zones”, reported Al Jazeera.
CNN said Nigeria “has been plagued by insurgencies, banditry, and communal conflicts that pose significant threats to the nation”. These include the 13-year armed campaign by Islamist group Boko Haram in the northeast, secessionists in the southeast, gangs of bandits in the northwest and central Nigeria, and other multiple armed groups operating elsewhere in the country.
Tinubu vowed to make security “the top priority of our administration because neither prosperity or justice can prevail against insecurity and violence”. However, unlike many previous Nigerian presidents the new commander-in-chief has no military experience, so much will depend on who he appoints to deal with what CNN said “remains a paramount challenge” for his administration.
Defeating insurgents may pale in comparison to uniting a divided nation. Tinubu’s task will not be helped by the fact he secured victory in February’s contested election with just 37% of the vote – the lowest of any elected Nigerian president since the handover from military to democratic rule in 1999.
Julius Abure, chair of the opposition Labour Party, described the vote as “a rape on democracy”. There were accusations of gerrymandering and widespread manipulation following a campaign that further polarised Nigeria’s long-standing ethnic and religious divisions.
As governor of Lagos from 1999 to 2007, “Tinubu showed considerable dynamism”, said French. “The organising principle of his rule was that for the city to function better, a new social compact was required,” he added.
But getting all Nigerians “to buy into a civic compact like this and delivering on the far larger and more complex stage of a struggling and fractious nation is a challenge of a different magnitude than even running giant Lagos, and because of the woeful nature of the current political system Tinubu will not start off with high levels of trust in him”.
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