Only political change will turn the economy around

As the presidential race heats up ahead of 2023, Nigeria’s economy – Africa’s largest and most important – is freezing. Another week means another round of dire economic indicators that President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor must tackle. Buhari has a limited term and cannot run again.

Recently, the Nigerian central bank announced that foreign entries fell by 32%, while at the same time exits increased by 7.5%. It is not a new trend and follows a incessant deterioration over an astonishing 11 years.

Less money coming in and more money going out is a recipe for disaster for Nigerians and West Africa, given the dominant role the country plays in the region. It impacts everything from the cost of living, like inflation just hit 15%to jobs, the unemployment rate in March 2021 reaching 33% to become one of the highest in the world. And these are the official numbers; the reality is likely to be much worse.

Meanwhile, Buhari’s policies only make matters worse. Following a crackdown on free speech last year, the Lagos Chamber of Commerce estimated that Twitter’s seven-month ban cost the country millions of dollars, possibly more. His mismanagement of the security situationdespite being a former military officer, has further shaken the confidence of local and international businesses.

Nigerians must now decide which presidential candidate can turn around the economy.

The causes of malaise are well documented. Insecurity, poor infrastructure, impediments to business, corruption and dependence on oil revenues combine to create a toxic mess. Nigeria can get by when oil prices are sky high, but once they drop, the economy suffers. The business community then gets the final vote of confidence in the economy. They see gaping problems and increasingly vote with their feet.

Before 2023, presidential candidates must present their plans to restore international confidence, alongside a broader economic plan. The election and the opportunity to hold the administration accountable cannot come soon enough.

The current administration is asleep at the wheel with no plan to deal with Nigeria’s pressing problems. To be charitable, one could say that they are incompetent. To be ruthless, you could say that they lack basic compassion for people who suffer because of their inertia.

The ossified old guard are stuck in their ways, lack business experience, neglect Nigeria’s international reputation and simply wait for oil prices to rise. When banning Twitter, Buhari did not understand or care about the potential impact on the tech industry and the wider economy.

In the presidential primaries, the best candidates must show how to turn the situation around. The electoral bill and open primaries that allowed for better voter registration and a more egalitarian system would have helped select capable candidates. The president’s refusal to sign the bill after both houses agreed to it is undoubtedly a setback for democracy and fair elections – another reason Nigeria needs change. However, there is still hope that worthy candidates can be selected.

It’s clear what Nigeria needs in principle; a new face with fresh eyes to see the horrors of what happens to ordinary people, new ideas to challenge outdated orthodoxies, and fresh legs to solve energy problems.

A strong candidate needs business experience to understand what the private sector needs before companies invest and grow. They need experience abroad to inspire confidence in the international community. And they need delivery history for people here in Nigeria.

The suggestion that the All Progressives Congress might present Vice President Yemi Osinbajo as a candidate for change is laughable. The last two terms of the Buhari administration have been disastrous and the economic lights are flashing red. Any attempt to disassociate Osinbajo from his boss must be rejected. How Osinbajo absolves himself of responsibility for an administration that has left millions poorer is beyond reason.

Within the People’s Democratic Party, there are growing fears that Atiku Abubakar will win the nomination. The former politician’s authority appears based on long party service and a tenure as vice president 20 years ago, rather than recent accomplishments. Nigerians need to do better and ask themselves what they really want from a presidential candidate. Either of these two men would represent more or less the same thing and a return to the status quo. Elections are a time when young people can hold elders to account. But if both sides are putting forward relics of the past, then what choice does that leave the people?

Before party delegates decide on their primary candidate, they must consider Nigeria’s dire economic indicators and their consequences. Lack of jobs means people can’t afford even more expensive goods, while international trust plummets even further, limiting room for manoeuvre.

The longer it takes to transfer power to a younger generation, the more entrenched these problems will become. Party delegates must ensure that the people have a real choice of someone new and qualified in 2023. Only then will Nigeria emerge as a stronger country with a brighter future for its people.

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