Why President Tinubu’s policy adventures will fail

Reps Ask Tinubu To Review Oronsaye Report Before Implementation

President Bola Tinubu and his administration bask in the euphoria that they have taken some “tough” and “courageous” measures that would deliver prosperity to Nigerians in the future. The coordinating minister of the economy, Mr Wale Edun, recently stated that despite public uproar at the harshness of the measures and their devastating impact on the lives of Nigerians, along with the more frightening dimension of security meltdown, the administration has been receiving accolades at several international forums, including the World Bank, IMF, and the G20 meetings.

However, it is not because the measures are tough, courageous, and may have attracted accolades from outside that they may fail to produce any result close to prosperity, but because they are extraneous and largely disconnected from the existential reality of the current condition of the country. The choice of the word “measures” to denote government response is deliberate, even as it is widely called policy.


Policy is more nuanced because it is an aggregate course of actions derived from extensive and broad interrogation and inquiry of the country’s specific existential reality with compelling exertions to seek truth from facts, which is to design policy from the actual and prevailing condition. Both in economic and philosophical terms, no two realities are the same. Therefore, while other countries’ experiences are important to study and examine, any conclusion that seeks to mechanically replicate the choices others have made is doomed to fail, despite its attractions. Lessons from the experiences of others are factors to be taken into account while designing one’s own choices, with special attention to the pitfalls and low points, and nothing in the high points or successes of others’ choices should give any optimism that such is possible in another clime. Policy advisories of international partners, including international financial institutions, are not to be taken lightly or dismissed offhandedly with arrogance, but to hold them as the banner of eternal truth is the well-known historical pathway through which nations fail or even die. Such advisories or counsels are crucial policy lessons to be acutely examined, studied, and integrated into the overall framework of experiences garnered from looking at oneself exclusively in the mirror, which is the relentless interrogation of one’s specific condition and reality.


Nigerian policymakers, including the current administration of President Tinubu, have continued to treat policy as a general prescription valid in all circumstances and times and across all climes. Otherwise, why would his coordinating minister of the economy feel more validated by the cheers in international circles rather than feel sobered by the enormous uproar and backlash at home? There is nothing in traditional economic policy or, to be specific, Western economic policy prescriptions and outlines that Nigeria has not yet done, yet progressive socio-economic decline with the added negative factor of an increasingly toxic political process and worsening security situations are the real outcomes.


From austerity measures of former President Shehu Shagari to the Structural Adjustment Programme of subsequent military regimes to the long lines of neoliberal measures, including privatisation, deregulation, commercialisation, and floating of the national currency, all based on the familiar rhetoric of taking the bitter pills that would produce a better tomorrow for Nigerians, have rather seen worsening living conditions for Nigerians instead.

President Tinubu and his team have simply followed the overtravelled path of his predecessors, offering the same rhetoric as they have. Some people say that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the actual definition of insanity. The question is, why have Nigeria’s subsequent governments and regimes been bogged down in inertia and thought atrophy, ostensibly limited to one way of seeing things and unable to break through and free from a sterile economic orthodoxy that has serially failed? Why are they persistently unable to align their thoughts and thinking with the stark and existential reality of Nigeria’s specific conditions, which are on a daily and routine display? Probably because public office-holding and the toxic politics that enthrone it have developed as a privilege-seeking and entitlement rather than, a public service which comes with exertions and privations of self-sacrifice.

To this extent, policy responses to complex realities are reduced to simplistic measures, gathered with ease and the least exertion and offered with a magic glee to command the disappearance of problems. More than half of Nigeria’s existence as a sovereign nation, these lacklustre, simplistic measures have not worked, and one can confirm with the benefit of critical insight that they would not work in the immediate or distant future.


Again, President Tinubu’s government and the ones before him may not lack good or honest intentions and even a genuine desire to turn around Nigeria’s fortunes, but the reality is that honest intentions and genuine desire are the least of the categories/criteria required to transform the fate and fortune of a country in a desperate and dire need like Nigeria.

To this extent, government well-wishers and supporters are the least of the government’s urgent requirements to understand and appreciate the depth of crises for which the country is sunk, and the options and choices needed to outline the difficult pathway for repositioning the country. Policies are not tested for their toughness or sublimity but by their efficacy, and this is not determined by some esoteric future, when, with a bang, prosperity will appear.


The efficacy is known by the visible, tangible, and incremental results that it produces much like Chinua Achebe’s pointed proverb in Things Fall Apart that a chicken that will grow into a cock is known the very day it is hatched, solidifying the wise saying that “only fools are comforted by promises.”

From Indonesia to Malaysia, India, Vietnam, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Singapore, France, Greece, South Africa, Rwanda, and Botswana, countries have sought to leverage the international system and order and the experiences it offers, to drive a persistent policy of reform, and varying results have been based on how efficiently home-grown initiatives have predominantly led the way in managing opportunities and reducing risks. Where the easiness and glamour of so-called best international practices have taken preeminence with domestic initiatives grounded in local realities dovetailing it, the result has been a calamity.


Nigeria’s policymaking community since the return of civil rule has been more inclined to “international best practices,” which actually means nothing except the cumulative experiences of different nations but which the Nigerian policy community lazily identifies narrowly with the so-called “Washington consensus,” a neoliberal outline that has long fallen out of favour and been overtaken by the historic rise of emerging nations and their representative institution of the BRICS.


Broadly speaking, policy is not that you must do something when there is actually no need. In fact, policy is essentially to do nothing to interfere with or harm the course of natural or historical processes when it cascades along to the happiness and civic bond of society. Policy, therefore, in this instance, becomes an act to identify, detect, and remove any noxious influence, be it special interests that stand in the way of unyielding economic factors and social variables operating in tandem with human will to optimise efficiency and make the greatest returns to the greatest numbers. This tendency and trajectory are antithetical to any ideological obstinacy and bigotry that holds that any given school of thought is the sole proprietor of economic truth and social practice.



Meanwhile, the existential and critical policy vacuum that has been historically masked by ideological bigotry, especially one beholden to the myth of the “Washington Consensus” and its underlying neoliberal outlines, has hobbled Nigeria and driven it to the current cesspit of socio-economic and security lethargy.

Any prospective solution that disproportionately includes travelling the already traversed path is a sure way to fail. There have been arguments that the policy choices that have failed are not because the policy is not good enough but because its implementations have been wrong. This view offers simplistic reasons or explanations of why policy fails. Any policy without the inherent capacity to modify the behaviour of its implementers or target audience is fundamentally deficient in its characteristic as a policy and is either not sufficiently adjusted to the reality of its operating environment or is anything but policy.


The President’s wife, Mrs Remi Tinubu, claimed some time ago that her family is sufficiently made and that there is nothing they want from Nigeria, except to render service to the country. Nobody can justifiably question her sincerity, but it takes more than such effusive declarations, no matter how honest, to turn around the fortunes of the country. President Tinubu has started on a false premise.


His desperate shop for foreign investment to fuel domestic economic revival is a non-starter. He is not in a position to command foreign investment to come and even foreign investments have different colours, and aligning those willing to come with your critical economic priorities is a nuanced endeavour.

But more importantly, the challenge is to unlock and unfetter the constraints to domestic productive processes through fair competition, rational resource allocation, and policy incentives free from the toxins of special interests and influence peddlers. President Tinubu has not demonstrated any courage to do this. The government’s removal of petroleum subsidy and floating of the naira have endured more as rhetorical flourishes, with devastating impacts on the lives of Nigerians, than any policy instrument to address the seeming lacuna.


The government has not demonstrated any fiscal discipline. Floating the currency would have come with such measures as tightening government spending and especially restricting it to value-creating and multiplying productive activities. Nothing of that sort has been remotely seen in the behaviour of the government. Government-inspired excessive demands on foreign exchange have brought desperate pressure on the domestic currency and sent it spiralling down to a level never imagined before.


The excess from petroleum subsidy has also triggered profligacy, with government officials and their associated hangers-on indulging in wild hedonism. Social media exposes of their hedonism, for which many ordinary Nigerians are familiar, instead of making the government rethink its way, are rather emboldening them to consider blocking the free cyberspace.

The reality, as it is obvious now, is that the government has no policy to address the country’s existential challenges, and the harsh measures it is currently implementing to the detriment of millions of Nigerians are a testimony to the deficit of original insight into the nature of Nigerian problems.


Charles Onunaiju

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