Monday, 5th June 2023

The coming year

“And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’ And he replied: ‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.’” - Minnie Louise Haskins We could say that the pandemic of 2020…

Nigerians have a lot to look forward to in 2023. PHOTO: LUCY LADIDI ELUKPO

“And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’ And he replied: ‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.’” – Minnie Louise Haskins

We could say that the pandemic of 2020 changed the world. We could say that the world stumbled out of that moment that changed the course of history in 2021. But in 2022, everything really changed. Geopolitics, typically a dormant beast, awoke with a vengeance early this year when Russia invaded Ukraine. The result of that action meant that the terms “cost of living,” “inflation,” and “energy security” became deeply ingrained in the global socioeconomic and political discourse. Pretty much everyone, not just investors, now follows central banks, currency movements, stimulus announcements, supply chain notifications, and corporate earnings. Our clients at SBM Intelligence now tend to ask more questions about the effect of political events on economic outcomes.

This year around the world, voters also spoke out clearly and loudly, not always in a good way. In Israel, Binyamin Netanyahu is back, prompting Yael German, Israel’s ambassador to France, to resign in protest because Netanyahu struck a deal with extremists to bring him back to power. Expect to see the bodies of a lot more Palestinians on display next year. Instability is a theme in the UK as a post-Brexit and post-Elizabethan paradigm. The ruling Tory party are bleeding themselves out of Downing Street as they all have knives pointed at one another as the premiership became a revolving door. One PM’s tenure in office ended up being shorter than the shelf life of lettuce. More countries moved further to the right, meaning that reactionary politics will be more commonplace over the next few years. On a positive note, though, Jair Bolsonaro’s valiant attempt to be the “Tropical Trump” who won a second term was rejected by Brazilian peers. Meanwhile, by replacing Uhuru Kenyatta with William Ruto, Kenya demonstrated its shift away from elections based on ethnicity, which were usually accompanied by violence. At the same time, American voters chose to overlook his weak economic performance and not punish Joe Biden during the country’s mid-terms in November. The catalyst for that bucking of the trend is likely the country’s culture wars, given that many were energised by the conservative Supreme Court’s overturning of abortion rights. One thing that bears watching was Zhongnanhai being forced to have a rare change of heart when mainland Chinese, who cannot vote, voted against a harsh COVID-19 policy on the streets. The fallout of that is that the pandemic might just make a comeback next year as a largely unvaccinated Chinese population goes out and mixes with the rest of humanity, creating new variants of the disease.

Closer to home, a festival of coups in West Africa has ECOWAS considering the possibility of establishing a standby intervention force. Russia has made inroads in Mali at France’s expense, and France has doubled down in Chad as the Americans build up assets in Niger, firmly establishing global geopolitics in our region. Ghana is currently experiencing its worst economic crisis in decades. To deal with jihadist threats in the Sahel and maritime renegades in the Gulf of Guinea, the smaller states have relied on the network of regional security organisations. It was an unfortunately active year in security affairs due to the resurgent effort of an ascendant ISWAP in the North East, the near ubiquity of armed gangs in swaths of northwest and central Nigeria, some of whom number in the hundreds and few thousands, as well as the ever-present challenge of separatists in the South East and ravenous militant groups in the Delta. Poverty, recessions, economic migration, and democratic discontent are all firmly entrenched. Like the long lines at petrol stations this year, Nigeria is at risk due to record unemployment, record unemployment, a record drop in terms of living standards, and widespread dissatisfaction with politics.

The prospect of the most competitive elections in Nigeria in decades comes with the year 2023. It will be a vote of superlatives. A horse race that may end up in a run-off, a first in Nigerian history, has been thrown off course by the most viable third-party candidate in recent memory and record numbers of registered voters. Stopping escalating insecurity, combating gnawing poverty, expanding economic opportunity, and forging a sense of national consciousness are all huge tasks for the next administration. Rarely are the stakes greater or the error margin smaller. The action-packed sequel 2023 is the one everyone has been waiting for. Personally, I believe that the ruling party’s candidate should not win simply because his party has delivered record unemployment, 21.47% inflation, ₦43,000 for a 50kg bag of rice, ₦100 for a single egg, ₦120 for a single packet of noodles, ₦800 for a loaf of sliced bread, ₦809 per litre of diesel, petrol scarcity, ₦745 per $, at least ₦654 million paid in ransoms over the last year, 1.4 million Nigerians displaced by floods this year with 600 people dead, and a generally harder life, and more casual brazenness on the part of public officials. I have deliberately not spoken about our runaway public debt…

Nigerians need to learn to show our political class that the reward for failure cannot and should not be more time in office. But I fear we will not be able to send that message out. In the 2023 elections, while I think the turnout will be much higher than in recent times, I fear that we will not take the route that the Kenyans have taken, and we will ultimately default to our primordial silos.

I fear that Nigeria will still lose regardless of who wins in two months. Going back to the Minnie Louise Haskins poem that started this, the only thing I can now do is to pray and put Nigeria in the hands of God. I fear that even God is tired of us, after all, just a few days ago, a police officer told the mother of a pregnant woman killed by a policeman to “leave it to God.” Why will the Almighty not be tired of us? But what can we do?

God rest the dead.

Nwanze is a partner at SBM Intelligence