Nigeria: The election season is on

By Rafiq Raji, PhD
Twitter: @DrRafiqRaji

They are beginning to come out of the shadows now. I do not suppose anyone is a tad surprised Bukola Saraki is running for president. Mr Saraki, who heads the Nigerian Senate, did not exactly hide his ambition hitherto. And clearly, he has proved to be quite a formidable politician. (Nothing beats a few troubles to test the mettle of a man.) Former vice-president Atiku Abubakar has thrown his hat into the ring as well. Unsurprisingly, Muhammadu Buhari, the Nigerian president, has suddenly found his wings. For a man popular (or unpopular) for, amongst other things, his deliberative style, you might wonder about the irony, of course. But lately, there has been a spring in the steps of the ailing former army general. He still would not say whether he is running for re-election; officially, at least. I suppose he reckons we already figured that out from his fabled body language. What I do know is that if you want a Fulani man to do something for sure, tell him not to. So the “bad belle” former army generals should probably think of another way. One hopes the president did learn a lesson or two from his recent trip to Lagos, though. If he is going to do a campaign event in that city in the future, he had better ensure his helicopters are in sharp condition. That way, those of us on land and him in the air would both be at peace. Otherwise, even Lagos kingmaker Bola Tinubu’s political magic would not suffice to sway votes in his favour. Still, the trip was a huge political success for Mr Buhari. Because if his intention was to make up for the humiliation Mr Tinubu felt hitherto, he likely succeeded. (Mr Buhari did not appoint Mr Tinubu’s preferred candidates into his cabinet.) Lucky man that he is, though, Mr Tinubu’s star still shone on the back of the appointments. Whenever vice-president Yemi Osinbajo is praised for his diligence, for instance, the man at “Bourdillon” is also given some credit. So, although Mr Buhari’s visit to Lagos in the week past was an official state visit, the first in almost two decades for that matter, it is no secret that the likely real reason why he finally visited Lagos was to pay his respects to the man he needs to win re-election.

Change as the wind blows
Still, I would not rest easy if I were Mr Buhari. And if I were Mr Tinubu, I would watch the wind. No one can say for sure in which direction it would blow, you see. And irrespective of how Mr Tinubu has been able to continue wielding power in the southwestern parts of Nigeria, even as he does not occupy any office of state, if he desires to maintain his influence, he would do well to put his ears to the ground before deciding on which horse to bet on. It is not a secret that there is currently not as much support for Mr Buhari in those parts as there was three years ago. We also know, judging from the recent statement credited to a northern elders’ group, which incidentally was read by a very sound former civil servant from the north, who also happens to be Mr Saraki’s chief of staff, that the northern elite would prefer a candidate from the north other than Mr Buhari. That way, power could potentially remain in the north for another eight years instead of four. Of course, the elderly northerners’ accusations against the man is mostly drivel. I remember thinking aloud when I first happened on the news: what else do they want? The whole country? The security establishment is firmly in the hands of northerners. Almost all the positions that really matter in this country are currently occupied by northerners. Quite frankly, it is unfair to accuse Mr Buhari of not helping the cause of the north. Ironically, these truths are also an indictment of the president.

MPC welcome party
And yes, the newly constituted monetary policy committee of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) would finally be meeting this week (3-4 April), the first time this year. Some prominent economists desire that it should cut the policy rate; currently 14 percent. I would not be too quick to heed their advice, however. Not yet. Thus far, the CBN’s tight monetary policy has been quite successful in moderating inflation expectations. And even as the annual consumer inflation rate – 14.3 percent in February from about 18 percent the same time last year – is expected to continue trending downwards, it might be best to wait till it is in the single digits – probably by July – before attempting a rate cut.

Also published in my BusinessDay Nigeria newspaper column (Tuesdays). See link viz.

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