The winner of Nigeria’s most contested election is set to be announced by Tuesday the 26th of February 2019. From all indications, this appears to be a close contest, as supporters of both Atiku and the incumbent President Buhari, claim victories ahead of INEC’s declaration.
An Atiku victory is considered by many of his supporters as a major economic booster, considering his openly stated market-friendly policies. Going by his campaign mantra “Get Nigeria Working Again” it is not difficult to understand why they are so bullish.
Moving the Nigerian economy forward is not something that can be achieved in 4 years, let alone in the first 100 days of his presidency. However, since optics is everything, there are several initiatives that he could execute as quick wins, should he become president.
Float the Naira
This has been one of the most debated economic talking points of the last four years. The current President has made his opinion clear about floating the Naira, believing that it is a ploy to keep the rich richer and entrench further hardship on poor people. However, most economic progressives believe floating the naira is exactly what Nigeria needs to open its economy to foreign investor inflows. Ghana, and South Africa both have floating exchange rates and they see no reason why Nigeria can’t float. This should be a great move for Atiku.
Lift the ban on 41 items
This is one of the most unpopular economic decisions of the current government, implemented by the Godwin Emefiele-led Central Bank of Nigeria. Atiku already said that he will not renew Emefiele’s tenure when it expires later this year, so lifting this ban shouldn’t be a difficult thing to do. Though it is the CBN’s decision to lift the ban, the incoming President can influence it.
End Fuel Subsidy
Fuel subsidy is one of the most controversial economic policies of our time. The last time a president tried to end fuel subsidy, he was met with widespread demonstrations which many still believe affected his reelection. Sentiments towards ending fuel subsidies have changed, ever since the failed attempt by Goodluck Jonathan. Unlike the sentiments in 2012, many Nigerians now understand the subsidy issue better and are tired of the billions spent by the government on a policy that is marred by so much corruption. Many had hoped that President Buhari was going to end fuel subsidies when oil prices fell to record low levels between 2015 and 2016, but he refused to, as he believes that it does not favour the poor. However, Atiku is expected to finally end fuel subsidies and he will do well by making this a quick win for his presidency.
Nigeria surprised other African countries when it refused to sign the African Continental Free Trade Agreement last year. The decision to abstain from signing was shocking to most analysts, considering that Nigeria led the discussions for a free trade agreement in the first place. However, the government bowed to pressures from some influential people in the economy and decided to abstain. The government’s official response was that it needed to consult widely with stakeholders in the economy before deciding. We believe an Atiku presidency will fast track this process and go ahead to sign the agreement.
Power sector reforms
The power sector has remained largely in a stalemate since Nigeria entered a recession in 2016. With the government refusing to increase tariffs, Discos have found it difficult to raise capital to inject into the sector, due to under-recoveries. Electricity is a very touchy issue for most Nigerians, and many do not trust the discos. However, the last time tariff was raised was when the exchange rate was N197/$1 and the inflation rate was in single digits. Discos thus have a point and one that is difficult to fault. For the sector to move forward, the government will have to increase tariffs while also holding discos accountable to investment commitments over the next 5 years. A presidential accent to increasing tariffs may just be the panacea to the electricity debacle and this should be immediately possible under an Atiku Presidency.
This might not be easy, but Atiku himself has declared that this is what he intends to do once voted into power. However, signing the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIGB) might be the start of the end of NNPC. If he signs it, then it paves the way for a full or partial privatization of one of the most controversial entities of the government. It might be a popular move, but one that could potentially bite him if it is seen to be sold to his cronies. However, the upsides are huge if he does decide to privatize it and does it successfully.
Some of the decisions listed above are not populist, as most Nigerians still see these initiatives as elitist. However, there is a huge appetite for these initiatives both locally and abroad. He will get massive support from the press and the business community. Whether it will end up opening the Nigerian economy and lifting millions out of poverty is what we can’t be sure of.