Tinubu’s challenging but focused start, by Debo Alabi

Borrowing the words of Bayo Onanuga, Special Adviser to the President on Information and Strategy, “One year after being in the saddle, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu will be the first person to admit that the ride has been bumpy. He is also the first to say he is unfazed by the turbulence as he remains focused on the marathon of the next three years”.

President Tinubu made it clear during his campaign for office that he would make difficult decisions and that running the country would not be business as usual.

He fulfilled his promise, removing the subsidy regime on the day he was sworn in. The announcement was received by Nigerians with mixed reviews, despite the consensus that the several decades-old, wasteful subsidy must end.

The decision was followed up with the foreign exchange rates harmonisation policy. The multiple exchange rates executed under his predecessor had given room to various waves of abuse, where people close to the power loop made humongous money, getting forex at the official rate and offloading it at the so-called parallel market for almost 100 per cent profit. As a result of this policy summersault, forex obligations piled up, FDI’s dried up and investors shunned Nigeria. Tinubu knew that to reset the economy and build renewed confidence locally and internationally, there must be a policy somersault.

The currency at a stage fell to about N1,900 to one dollar, raising concerns about a total crash of the Nigerian currency. But, Naira at some point rebounded to earn global acclaim as the world’s best-performing currency. Unfortunately, after weeks of gaining against the US dollar, the Nigerian currency weakened again.

The removal of the subsidy regime and the forex harmonisation policy triggered an inflationary rage, with food inflation, hitting unprecedented levels. The cost of living rose countrywide. The administration responded with the introduction of several palliatives. These included subsidised bus transport and free train service to Nigerians going home for Christmas and New Year return journeys. Over 200,000 Nigerians benefited from the subsidised bus service.

In agriculture, the government declared a food emergency, launching a massive dry season farming in important crops such as wheat and maize. It also assisted farmers with N100 billion worth of fertilisers and released 43,000 metric tonnes of grains in the reserves. It bought another 60,000 metric tonnes of rice from local millers for distribution to the people. States, rich individuals, and National Assembly members joined in distributing food and cash to the vulnerable millions in the country.

Whereas food inflation resisted all the measures, hitting 33 per cent in April, the government also resisted the panicky measure of importing food, reposing confidence in the Nigerian farmers, that from their yields, Nigeria will overcome its food crisis. In recent weeks, the news from the markets has been that some food prices are going down.

As part of the ameliorative measures, the Tinubu administration announced wage awards of N35,000 to federal workers to enable them to cope with food inflation and transport costs, as it works out a new minimum wage, that it calls living wage. It announced in July last year the Presidential CNG Initiative that will herald a new industry and new jobs, hundreds of buses and tricycles, which will be powered by Compressed Natural Gas(CNG) will be locally assembled for countrywide rollout.

According to the presidential spokesman,  Onanuga, some of the vehicles will be electric, for use in some Nigerian states, where CNG is not readily available. A panel to drive the vision was inaugurated in October 2023. However, bureaucratic delays slowed its procurement work.

The Bank of Industry, in conjunction with the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, is implementing the Presidential Conditional Grant Programme for nano businesses. Disbursement of N50,000 each to the applicants that registered began in April. Beneficiaries included retail marketers, corner shop owners, petty traders, market men and women, food and vegetable vendors, vulcanisers, and shoemakers. Over 1,000,000 nano businesses are targeted. To help big businesses, the government announced an aid package of N1 billion each to 75 of them.

The Tinubu government also released $617 million for up-skilling Nigerian youths, providing startup funding, catalytic infrastructure, and policy advocacy. Youths with digital skills are now registering to benefit from the fund, being administered by the BOI.

President Tinubu set up the Oyedele Committee on Tax, which has recommended far-reaching reforms in the tax regime. He also changed the leadership of the Federal Inland Revenue Service(FIRS) to plug revenue holes and introduce creative ways to increase revenue without necessarily overburdening the people. The government now takes 50 per cent of the revenue of the MDAs, with a record N840 billion recorded in the first quarter. The NNPC was ordered to remit its dollar earnings into CBN. Revenue inflow generally is increasing, while FIRS is working towards increasing the percentage of tax to GDP to about 20 per cent.

The Renewed Hope Infrastructure Fund is a plan to enable the government to embark on legacy projects, such as the 700-kilometre Lagos-Calabar Coastal Superhighway, which began in March. The government also plans to reactivate the Sokoto Illela-Badagry Superhighway, which was abandoned in 1976. Many roads and bridges in a state of disrepair are to be refurbished. There are plans for the Ibadan-Abuja-Kaduna, Port Harcourt-Maiduguri and Kano-Maradi rail lines, started by the Buhari administration.

Several policy initiatives, such as the quicker issuance of travelling passports, the planned implementation of some aspects of the Oronsaye report, to cut the costs of governance, the issuance of an executive order to enhance investment in the oil and gas sector and the opening of three big gas plants in the Niger Delta and the Students Loans and Credit Corp are either emplaced or ready for take off.

Indeed, as the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, has noted, the first year of any administration is typically for taking stock of what was inherited and laying the foundation for the most important legacies that the administration will be identified with.

Firstly, President Tinubu has resolutely focused on policies and actions that will attract long-term local and foreign investments to Nigeria. This explains the focus on improving the business environment, through ease-of-doing-business initiatives, tax and fiscal policy reforms, the Central Bank’s monetary policy reforms, and many more.

Already, foreign currency inflows to Nigeria in the first quarter of 2024 have surpassed the total inflows in the entire 2023. The focus is on policies and programmes that provide direct and targeted economic relief and benefits to the pockets and livelihoods of Nigerians, through grants, student loans, food and fertilizer distribution, cash transfers, health insurance, consumer credit, and the new minimum wage that is being finalized.

As Idris has noted, the President understands that desirable developmental outcomes often require a temporary period of pain and adjustment. He, therefore, seizes every opportunity to be seen and heard asking for the understanding of the Nigerian people. In his words, “the hallmark of leadership is making difficult decisions when they need to be made.” Importantly, these difficult decisions are necessary to make things easier for us all in the future. Also, President Tinubu as a listening leader, does not allow ego to get in the way of doing what is best and does not shy away from implementing adjustments in the policy-making process, where necessary. The goal is simple: to ensure that the greatest good is guaranteed for the greatest number of Nigerians.

“He is very serious about communicating his administration’s vision and actions and selling the compelling story of Nigeria as Africa’s leading investment destination. He sees himself as the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) of the Federation and goes the extra mile to fulfil this role with boldness and determination.”

Alabi, a renowned public analyst, writes from Ilorin

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