By Femi Odere
The 1992 presidential campaign of then State of Arkansas governor William Jefferson Clinton for the president of the United States threw a man into national prominence. His name was James Carville. Carville, who was Bill Clinton’s political consultant as the governor of Arkansas, became his lead strategist in his successful presidential election against the incumbent President George Herbert Walker Bush.
Carville, although already a known quantity in that little Arkansas state and within the media establishments in the TRICARE South region as a political consultant, gained national attention and remained in the American consciousness for a very long time primarily as a result of his “It’s the economy, stupid” coinage. This short, razor sharp sentence was one of the three strategic soundbites coined by Carville for the Clinton campaign workers for them to deploy when they’re out on the field soliciting voters for the Democratic Party presidential candidate Bill Clinton.
This very short phrase reverberated across the length and breadth of the American landscape that it tilted the electoral scale in Bill Clinton’s favour that he secured victory at the poll. This was because the economy, as far as the American public was concerned, was already heading south (when Clinton wanted to go north) with unemployment skyrocketing and the inflation temperature already beyond the 7 percent acceptable threshold under the watch of President George Bush despite the fact that he rolled back the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 with very minimal, if any, American casualties during the brief war, which should ordinarily have been a good enough reason for his re-election.
There’s perhaps no better time to import this simple, almost meaningless by itself, but very powerful phrase into Nigeria’s electoral lexicon (just as “Emi Lokan” has now been) than this time not only in light of the country’s perplexing, multifaceted economic travails from which other socioeconomic problems and lethal societal vices are issued, but also because of the alarm that was sounded by the World Bank very recently that Nigeria is in a very dire economic strait as a result of her “dwindling revenue.” The international financial institution actually characterized this “dwindling revenue” as an “existential threat.”
While one may never know for sure why the World Bank rang the alarm bell on the country’s economic health at this particular time when voters are warming up to elect a new president, the alarm, nonetheless, came in such an auspicious moment that we may well thank the financial institution for, at the very least, trying to point our attention to what’s really important that we should be concerned about in an election season rather than, quite frankly, the present nonsensical issues that has so far occupied a centre stage in our political discourse if we want to survive, and not implode as a nation. And this is where the presidential candidates comes in.
Unless the unthinkable happen either by some judicial sleight of hand through disqualification or the Grim Reaper itself decides to strike (but God forbid), Nigerian voters must decide who will be their next president on Saturday, February 25, 2023 between three contenders in the persons of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Peter Gregory Obi. And this is where Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu comes in.
While so much has been said, and more would still be articulated when the real campaign starts about the suitability and experiential qualifications of these three main presidential candidates by themselves and their supporters, a people who are genuinely desirous of a saviour, by virtue of his unassailable track records of social and economic engineering, not to talk of his scientific approach to governance, laced with his intoxicating knack for looking for the best brains society can offer when he was privileged to preside on the governance affairs of one of the country’s sub-nationals (and they all had had the opportunity to be at the helm of affairs at one time or another) shouldn’t have looked anywhere else other than in the direction of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate.
Without necessarily going through the litany of his accomplishments, which has been adequately articulated by others since winning the presidential primaries, one can easily see that the solutions that has been suggested by the international financial institution if Nigeria must get out of her economic woes, most of which are self-inflicted, had already been discovered, tested and found to have worked like magic by the “Lagos Boy” when he ruled the roost in that state of Aquatic Splendor. While some of these magics has since been adopted by the same federal government he now wants to superintend, countries in the West African subregion have since incorporated the financial template he developed for Lagos, which is still being used by subsequent Chiefs of State to this day, into their development model.
In a “virtual event anchored by the PwC’s Fiscal Policy Partner” the World Bank, in its report on Nigeria’s dire economic strait, suggested that “the continued payment of trillions of naira on fuel subsidy by the government” will continue to be “an existential threat” to the polity.
One can say at this juncture, without any fear of contradiction, that a parallel can be established between what the World Bank has suggested, which is that the country must find a way to increase her “dwindling revenue” and what Tinubu did as the governor of Lagos State. It should be recalled that when the state’s monthly allocations was suddenly seized by the federal government because of his audacity to create Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs) from then existing 20 Local Government Areas (LGAs) Tinubu led his administration into an overdrive.
While Lagosians panicked, chastised him and complained that the heavens was going to fall on them because of the seizure (the kind of panic, chastisement and complaints that the Israelites leveled against Moses in their journey to the Promised Land that he should have left them alone in Egypt when they faced adversaries), Tinubu said to them, through his actions not to worry. He ended up generating for them revenues that septupled the state’s monthly allocation in about 10 folds that nobody ever imagined in the state, let alone across the country.
The international financial institution, also in its attempt to guide the nation and her minders aright, said that “if the country failed to optimise its tax system and focus on other areas to boost its revenue, the already low revenue would continue to drop.” Again it must said, based on facts that are immutable, that Asiwaju is another politician who had been in the helm of affairs in the history of this country, second to Chief Obafemi Awolowo, that built a formidable, robust, technology-driven tax regime that other state governors including those ones with significant industrial bases, till today, are still scratching their heads as to how it can be replicated in their states.
And as if the World Bank’s dire warning was not enough to be dejected about, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed said that “the nation was battling with revenue problems, which had compelled the government to keep borrowing.” She also warned that “the debt stock had risen to N41.6tn in the first quarter of 2022 with projections that it could peak at N45tn by the end of the year” adding that “Nigeria is now rated the “fifth on the list of the World Bank’s debtors, with $11.7bn debt stock as of June 30, 2021.”
What’s more, one of the participants at the event Mr. Awasthi, who shared a slide in his presentation, explained that “Between 2015 and 2019, Nigeria’s non-oil revenues were among the lowest in the world and as a result the second lowest in spending, and that oil revenues were also falling even when oil prices were higher.” He also went further to tell us what we already know that “Nigeria has the largest economy in Africa and the largest country in Africa by population” and she’s therefore “critical to Africa’s progress.” “But the government of Nigeria, from the public finance perspective, is really facing an existential threat. Let’s not downplay the situation. That is the actual reality,” Awasthi deadpanned.
It should now be seen, from the foregoing, that what should be the front, back and centre of our political discourse is not only the seemingly hopeless and precarious national economic condition but who’s in a good stead among the aforementioned presidential trio that can, through his track records and his audacity to dare, which are the two most important leadership qualities that people from other countries of the world on the growth path constantly and consistently demand from those that must shepherd them, give Nigeria and her people a new lease of life.
Considering the presidential candidates that are in contention for the highest political office in the land with Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who should not only win but must be seen to have won by the Nigerian voters should be a foregone conclusion by now. Tinubu’s emergence should have put paid to all the leadership questions that has dogged us as a nation for a very long time. He should have been the end of discussion by now because, at the end of it all, it is about the economy, stupid.
*Femi Odere is a former Senior Special Assistant (Diaspora Affairs) to Ekiti State Governor.*