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2023 Presidential Elections: The invocation of statesmanship, constitutionalism

By Femi D. Ojumu
08 March 2023   |   2:31 am
With the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) presentation of a Certificate of Return to the President-Elect (“PE”), Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, in Nigeria’s recent hotly contested Presidential and National Assembly Elections held on February 25, 2023...

President-Elect Bola Tinubu

With the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) presentation of a Certificate of Return to the President-Elect (“PE”), Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, in Nigeria’s recent hotly contested Presidential and National Assembly Elections held on February 25, 2023, congratulations are in order.

The INEC Certificate of Return’s (“CoR”) statutory foundation is established in section 72 (1) of the Electoral Act 2022. It provides that a sealed CoR at an election in a prescribed form shall be issued within 14 days to every candidate who has been returned by the returning officer in an election; except where the Court of Appeal, or the Supreme Court being the final Appellate Court in any election petition, as the case may be, nullifies any candidate’s CoR. As at today, the PE’s Certificate of Return has not been overturned by any Appellate Court of law and he therefore remains, by force of law, Nigeria’s in-coming President.

Contextually, the election results pertaining to the four leading political parties according to INEC, established that the leader of the All Progressives Congress, now PE, polled 8,794,726 votes; the People’s Democratic Party, led by Atiku Abubakar, polled 6,984,520. The Labour Party, heralded by its flag bearer, Peter Obi, polled 6,101,533; whilst the New Nigeria People’s Party, fronted by Rabiu Kwankwaso, gained 1,496,687.

These dynamics certainly do not negate the rights of rival candidates/political parties to contest the outcome of the elections in competent tribunals, as some have already signified on alleged grounds of irregularities, voter suppression, non-compliance with provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) (“CFRN”) and the Electoral Act supra. The adjective ‘alleged’ is used advisably because as at the time of writing, none of these claims have been conclusively proven before a court of competent jurisdiction. Nevertheless, those legal machinations are strictly outside the purview of this article!

The maxims equity looks as done that which ought to be done and nature abhors a vacuum are germane here. For clarity therefore, this article calls upon the President-Elect’s higher sense of statesmanship to lead the country on an altruistic, developmental, inclusive and progressive basis for the benefit of all Nigerians. The cascading inference therein is that the PE will envision, develop and execute impactful and innovative policies which will optimise the country’s phenomenal human resources, profitably exploit its vast natural resources, whilst optimally engaging the 33.3% unemployed, 22.8% underemployed, 21% youth under employment and a staggering 42.5% youth unemployment population.

The reasonable expectation is that these impactful and innovative policies will be shaped by super talented individuals and teams who, experientially, possess demonstrable track records of effectively, timeously and successfully delivering programmes, projects and initiatives in diverse professional pursuits which, by definition, add beneficial value to the lives of citizens.

Logically, these imply transformational policies which will catalyse economic growth, cut inefficiency and waste, unleash best-in class models of public private collaborations across all aspects of governance and delivery, sever duplicitous regulatory burdens and overlaps, whilst reinventing the country’s attraction as the hub for foreign and domestic investment.

The PE’s in-tray must be full. And this is precisely where vision, judgment, strategic awareness, inclusiveness, the rigorous discipline of operations management, sharp prioritisation, programme, project and portfolio management, resource allocation and performance management strike concordant chords. There will be a million and one things to do all of which can never be done concurrently. Such is the attractive complexity of national leadership in this sphere.

An objective assessment of existing realities, highlights the flammable urgency to prioritize policies regarding defence and national security, economic development and diversification, education, international trade and co-operation plus, an unwavering commitment to the rule of law. It extends to agricultural sustainability, public health reform and sovereign debt restructuring within the compass of visibly demonstrable financial stewardship within the first 100 days! Thereafter, structural policies pertaining to constitutional reform, devolution and subsidiarity vis-a-vis sub-national bodies; enhanced and seamless linkages between the executive, legislature and judiciary; infrastructural development, energy sustainability plus, demonstrable actions regarding the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals take hold.

And none of the foregoing implies mutual exclusivity nor outdated silo working practices. Rather, resource constraints, manifesto commitments and people friendly policies will necessarily rank “higher” than those characterised as “maintenance” initiatives within the purview of deliverables within the first 100 days. Of course, there will be interdependencies in the execution of all these initiatives, in part because government, is necessarily a continuum, to ensure returns on investments for taxpayers via the axiomatic dividends of democracy, citizens’ safety, welfare and the preservation of social order.

To put these in perspective, prioritizing defence and security is quite simply non-negotiable given the on-going challenges and volatilities in that department and government’s overriding responsibility to safeguard the lives and wellbeing of citizens pursuant to the provisions of section 14 (2) (b) of the 1999 CFRN as amended. The complex and diverse nature of the challenges is such that a mechanistic one size fits all approach is never going to work! There are at least five uniquely different significant security risks confronting the country.

These include: (i) Ethno-religious security threats: exemplified by Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) which, according to the UN Development Programme, had killed over 350,000 people as at December 2020 alone;
(ii) Nomadic herders and farmers clashes: largely triggered by the deadly contestability for pastoral and water resources and the aftershocks of climate change and desertification. That’s claimed over 10,000 lives in the last decade according to Foreign Affairs.
(iii) Kidnapping and banditry: which is rampant across the entire country. Since January 2021 alone, over 1000 students have been kidnapped and many are only released upon payment of the equivalent of thousands of dollars.
(iv) The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB): who, on account of their alleged marginalisation within Nigeria seek to carve an independent nation; the agitation has reportedly claimed the lives of over 1000 IPOB members according to the Vanguard; and
(v) Oil militancy and theft: which has undercut Nigeria’s crude oil exports.

Back in 2015, the country’s mean crude oil production was approximately 2.2 million barrels per day. As of December 2022, mean production was approximately 1.2 million barrels per day. In April 2022, over 100 people were killed in Egbema Local Government Area following an explosion at an illegal oil bunkering site. Conceivably, the PE would have to frame and execute innovative strategies to address the unique complexities of the typology of each of these security challenges.

On economics, petroleum remains the country’s main foreign exchange earner, at approximately 90% of foreign exchange earnings, and approximately 66% of the country’s income spring from crude oil exports. According to OPEC, between 2017 and 2021, Nigeria earned over USD 206 billion from crude oil exports; USD 37.9 billion in 2017, USD 54.5 billion in 2018 and USD 45.1billion in 2019. The exceptional aftershocks of COVID-19 in 2020 yielded lower returns for the country at USD 27.3 billion. Still, that rose to USD 41.3 billion in 2021.

Be that as it may, crude oil exports accounts for less than 10% of the nation’s GDP. Twin challenges in this department are the lingering albatross of the fuel subsidy, which cost taxpayers USD 7 billion between January and September 2022 (NNPC); and perennial petroleum shortages across the country. Regarding monetary economics, what policy decisions would the President-Elect take in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s totemic decision of March 3, 2023, declaring inter alia, the Federal Government’s cashless policy as currently configured, unconstitutional and ultra vires?

Statistical 3-year trend analysis – Q3 2020 through Q3 2022- illustrates that the country’s total debt, that is, domestic and external debt stock of the Federal Government, State Governments and the Federal Capital Territory in each of those years was; N31 trillion (USD 85.89 billion) in 2020; N38 trillion (USD92.6 billion) in 2021; and N44.6 trillion (USD 101.9 billion) in 2022. In other words, the debt profile rose 42.1% through 2020 and 2022!

The Debt Management Office affirms that the increase in 2022 was especially due to new borrowing by the Federal Government to part-finance the deficit in the 2022 Appropriation Act plus, new borrowings by sub-nationals. These are huge burdens which call for innovative thinking, strategic management and bold decisions. The incoming administration will quickly have to grapple with the reality that although government is a continuum, it cannot be all things to all people, all of the time. No! This reality highlights strategic opportunities for outsourcing underpinned by sectoral expertise, thought leadership and original of thought, new ways of working, optimisation of technology deployment across all spheres of public administration and lean systems.

On structural issues pertaining to constitutional reforms, devolution and subsidiarity, considered and reasoned attention should be accorded the country’s 1963 and 1979 constitutional frameworks and the Sovereign National Conference Report 2014. That’s not because they are perfect. Rather, it is to evaluate and utilise, with reasonable adaptations, portions therein which might better give effect to the letter and spirit of the preamble to, and section 1 (1) of, the 1999 CFRN, which harps on the constitutional aspiration of “promoting the good government and welfare of all persons in our country on the principles of Freedom, Equality and Justice”; the supremacy of the Constitution and its binding force “on all authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines the word “federal” as a “compact between political units that surrender their individual sovereignty to a central authority but retain limited residuary powers of government.” Upon the natural construction of that definition, within the items contained in the Exclusive Legislative List, Part I, Second Schedule, 1999 CFRN, can it reasonably be affirmed that this provision strikes the right balance of powers between the Federal Government and State Governments say?

Wrapping up, there are no easy answers to any of the issues raised hence the necessary invocation of true statesmanship by the PE. On a macro level, elections are democratic pursuits in progressive climes which accord with, and honour the will of, the people. No contention there! However, on a granular level, elections are complex zero-sum games. There can only ever be one winner at any point in time. If there’s a winner, there must be a loser or losers. Are winners angelic? No! Are losers demonic? No! Are elections perfect? No! Have they ever been perfect? No! Should winners seek to unite their supporters and opponents? Totally! Should winners govern in the overriding best interests of the country? Incontestably!

The latter two responses define statesmanship and that is a legitimate expectation of the President Elect. Edmund Burke (1729-1797), the Anglo-Irish philosopher framed the concept in these terms; “the great difference between the real statesman and the pretender is, the one sees into the future, while the other regards only the present; the one lives by the day and acts on expedience; the other acts on enduring principles and for immortality.”
Ojumu is the Principal Partner at Balliol Myers LP, a firm of legal practitioners and strategy consultants in Lagos, Nigeria.