What has President Tinubu achieved in his first year in office?

Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu/CREDIT: Chatham House
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President Bola Tinubu has just celebrated his first year in office, having assumed office on 29 May 2023. As 12 June is also Nigeria’s “Democracy Day”, this is a particularly good moment to ask when he has achieved during his first 12 months in office – and what we might expect in the years to come.

When evaluating a president, it usually helps to go over manifesto pledges and campaign promises. But in the case of Nigerian President Tinubu, most references to his appeal point to his record as governor of Lagos State between 1999 to 2007. For many supporters, his ability to identify talented policymakers, many of whom would go on to become governors, ministers and even vice-president, meant that he would be judicious in the many appointments a president makes.

Tinubu’s capacity to turn Lagos into an economic powerhouse was also cited as a reason to expect an economic recovery on a national level. Finally, his central role in the opposition merger that created the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) was especially hailed, with some arguing that he now deserved a chance at the top job.

Yet, a year after his inauguration, which followed arguably the most keenly contested election in Nigerian history, it is already clear that governing Nigeria is completely different to handling any of its constituent states. Citizen apathy and discontent has only grown following Buhari’s unpopular administration, and any semblance of a honeymoon period has quickly ended.

It is also evident that, despite succeeding a president from the same party, there has been a lack of continuity between both governments. This meant that the Tinubu administration neither hit the ground running nor benefitted by learning from the teething issues that affected its predecessor.

These factors have contributed to an administration that has admittedly made bold reform proposals but has also suffered from the political exigencies of a difficult election, volatile economic headwinds and foreign policy demands that have tested the capacity of the kingmaker that became king.

From Lagos to Abuja

Tinubu began his time in office with a bold declaration, made during his inaugural address, that the costly fuel subsidy program was over. This was a proposal made by all frontline candidates, but there was some concern that this was rolled out without a palliative program to address the millions of Nigerians who saw prices of basic needs, such as transport and food, skyrocket as a result.

Another economic proposal, to float the Naira and let market demand determine its true value, resulted in rising prices and in some cases scarcity. The government has attempted different measures to try and halt the crash, but none has been fully succesful thus far.

In order to address the challenges of governance, Tinubu initially appointed special advisors and began working on a cabinet list to accommodate the different constituencies and aides who had made his election possible. This resulted in the largest cabinet in Nigerian history, with many former governors and aides rewarded with posts.

The image of an administration asking citizens to endure hardship, while expanding executives with retinue of aides and significant office perks showed a government out of touch with reality. The subsequent and ongoing suspension of the minister of humanitarian affairs, ongoing failure to replace the minister of labour and decision to retain the petroleum portfolio does not show a president who has learnt from the mistakes of predecessors. Furthermore, after a hasty recall of all ambassadors, replacements are yet to be nominated and approved by the Senate.

Security and foreign policy

Foreign policy is an area that most governors do not have experience with, but given Tinubu’s ties with Guinea and extensive business connections there was some expectation he might perform better on this issue. Within weeks of his inauguration, Tinubu was named chair of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and asserted that coups would no longer be tolerated as he declared ‘Nigeria, we are back’.

Niger did not get the memo, however, and Mohamed Bazoum was removed from office within a month of Tinubu’s statement. A heavy-handed threat to militarily intervene was shot down by the senate, elders from the north that borders Niger as well as other Nigerians concerned about the prospects of a war. Niger remains under military rule and worse still, has moved to leave ECOWAS, along with the junta-led governments of Burkina Faso and Mali.

After two terms of the Buhari presidency, elected on the basis of its strong security credentials, there was perhaps less expectation on the Tinubu government when it comes to domestic security. It appears the president has attempted to address the remaining gaps in the system by granting the security establishment broader powers in response. This has led to some miss-steps.

Civil-military relations also frayed in Okuama, Bayelsa where some military officers were attacked by civilians and the army reportedly carried out reprisal killings. A particular high point was the rescue of hundreds of kidnapped boys in Kaduna, but there are still many unresolved cases that have not yet gotten national attention.

Finally, the rollout of a contentious cybersecurity levy was recently suspended, raising questions about the government’s intentions and ability to deliver on its priorities one year on from taking up power.

Prospects till 2027

Despite the challenges of the past year, it is too early to conclude that Tinubu will be a one-term president. The opposition remains in dire straits, with hopes for a merger still a long way off. By contrast, the ruling party remains largely united, with a core coterie of first term governors who are likely to avoid a contentious battle to replace the president and simply work together to get re-elected.

There are rightly expectations that the administration will start to perform more effectively as the administration reaches the mid-term point, however, and disappointing these will embolden the president’s critics. So what should we be looking out for?

First, a much-anticipated cabinet reshuffle might see poorly performing appointees removed and more trusted hands appointed. This could also be used to bring the party together.

Despite avoiding defections, the APC has struggled to form a genuinely coherent party, with the constituent parties still forming caucuses within the wider government. Despite the fact that three former government officials were re-appointed in Tinubu’s government, offering some continuity with Buhari’s administration, there have still been missteps and poorly coordinated policy rollouts – such as the cybersecurity levy and the ongoing negotiations with labour over a minimum wage.

Patience with the government is likely to wear increasingly thin if it continues to make these mistakes next year.

Secondly, a more consolidated economic team could with greater experience could help to get key monetary decisions right. If this can be done, the economic situation might start to look a little more promising.

Tinubu’s several state trips, such as to the Netherlands and the UAE, have reportedly resulted in significant investments that will be expected to yield fruit soon. A recent directive to increase capital requirements in the banking sector should see increased efforts to invite investment and foreign exchange to the country. Moreover, a plan to reduce monopolies should hopefully see greater competition the electricity sector and increased opportunities in the manufacturing and service sectors.

Thirdly, preparations for the next elections will commence, and could undermine the prospects for progress elsewhere. Upcoming off-cycle elections in Edo and Ondo will test the party’s popularity and messaging. More broadly, several cabinet members are expected to stand down in order to to contest governorship elections and will begin making necessary plans.

As the countdown to the next polls begins, the government will start to look for high-profile achievements to base its campaign around. A possible option might be to address what is perceived by many to be an imbalance in responsibilities between the federal and state governments. Governors recently agreed to explore the possibilities of creating state police structures and, in a government where the president, vice-president, senate president and government secretary are all former governors, reform of federal-state relations may be easier to achieve than in the past might quicker to reach than in the past.

As in 2015, the biggest challenge to the ruling party is an opposition coalition. The current “merger” talk between Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party and Peter Obi of the Labour Party was dismissed by the government on the basis that the two men were “desperate” and “can’t be trusted with power”, but President Tinubu would do well to remember that had the opposition been united it would have won last year’s presidential election in a landslide.

A week might be a long time in politics, but the next elections are not far off and the Tinubu administration must show positive results to avoid becoming only Nigeria’s second single term president.

Afolabi Adekaiyaoja (@adekaiyaoja) is a public policy analyst and holds degrees in International Relations and African Politics from Queen Mary and SOAS respectively – both University of London. 

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