We start today with three strong assertions. First, “Nigeria is in a mess”. Secondly, “There is no Messiah to fix Nigeria”. Thirdly, “Nigeria can be fixed”. We would go further to amend the third to say, “Nigeria can be fixed with good leadership that can make politically-ruinous choices and citizens willing to allow the necessary compromises”. If you understand the import of those twenty words, we can continue the rest of this article.
We are at yet another election cycle, but 2023 may be of greater significance than any prior election. This time, added to the perennial issues, the soul of Nigeria is also at stake. Recently, I told classmates in a WhatsApp group that the coming elections would influence whether many persons in that group would be using Nigerian mobile numbers or foreign numbers to participate in group discussions. Whoever gets elected as the next president or governor of any of the 36 struggling states would be in charge at a time of grievous economic upheaval.
Maybe my words are too feathery, so three images might help here. First is Venezuela where hyperinflation and FX constraints led to several international airlines fleeing the country and sellers resorted to weighing Venezuelan bank notes rather than spend hours counting piles of valueless Bolivars. Next is Sri Lanka where exams could not hold because the government did not have any FX to import paper, and citizens ended up rioting, and taking over the presidential palace (“Aso Rock”), with social media pictures of some Sri Lankans sitting in the president’s living room and taking a presidential shower in a bathroom. Finally, we head over to Lebanon where a frustrated Lebanese took a bank hostage with a gun, not to rob anyone, but to demand access to his own FX saved in the bank.
If those three images finally hit a chord, be aware that Nigeria is not too far away if things continue the way they are. Saying that Nigeria has been grossly mismanaged is a misuse of calories. Nigeria is in a mess and that is why people seek a Messiah. But the last time we went in search of one, we were blessed with one whose proclamation that he belonged to nobody was not quickly interpreted to mean that he was fine with using a toothpick to focus on cleaning his teeth even if the country were to burn around him. Seemingly uninterested in learning from experience, we have begun another ultimate search for a Messiah, expecting to get someone with a magic wand to wave away all the ills bedevilling our Naija.
Unfortunately, there is neither a Messiah nor a magic wand. Fixing Nigeria would be like using dental braces to fix crooked teeth. At first, your mouth being shocked to have all that metal in it would react with pain, then the pain would subside but return each time the braces have to be retightened, yet results may take a while to be seen, so you hold on to hope that your teeth would be better down the road. While the braces are in place, you may face some inconveniences, including stares and questions from people, but you tell yourself that the braces are there for a good reason. The same would apply to Nigeria.
The next Nigerian President, if he truly means well for Nigerians, would have an extremely short honeymoon, and quickly become the recipient of Nigerian-branded dislike. This is because he would need to take decisions with immense immediate pain but long-term benefit for Nigerians. To make matters worse, Nigerians currently crying about the dollar exchange rate would likely face further devaluation of the naira and would blame the president for this. The challenge is a Catch-22 situation where FX restrictions need to be pushed aside to allow free entrance and exit of FX, but this would mean the Naira falling against global currencies until the economy stabilises and generates enough exports plus remittances and other inflows to meet the national FX demand. Similarly, a serious president would need to consider scrapping petrol and electricity subsidies for long-term economic sustainability but doing this would likely spike inflation in the short term and lead to a national outcry. One then begins to wonder why any serious person is even trying to become the most hated man in Nigeria as there are several of these kinds of decisions that need to be made if we are to prevent Nigeria from becoming like Venezuela, Sri Lanka, or Lebanon.
Recall the opening assertion that Nigerians would need to be willing to allow the necessary compromises. This is a key requirement for any economic turnaround to work because it would be a very painful period but as we persevere to the end, we shall be saved from national ruin. This is where we need a merchant of hope. The president Nigeria needs is one who can truly lead and make those tough decisions, yet is empathetic, and understands the essence of giving Nigerians hope. We need a government with a media centre not structured around self-serving, deceptive propaganda but focused on creating and propagating content to show Nigerians light at the end of the tunnel. This merchant of hope is what we should seek. Anyone looking for a Messiah should wake up, channel the energy towards electing a merchant of hope, and strap in tight because it’s going to be a long, bumpy ride to freedom.
Image Credit: executiveleader.com
PS. I have used “he” for the next Nigerian President because all the frontline candidates are men, and I am unaware of any female candidate.
Want to see some other images to illustrate how much of a mess Nigeria is in? Check out my 2020 Independence Day article