By Azu Ishiekwene
“Subsidy on petrol will go, sparking initial higher prices and demand for higher public sector wages by union leaders who know the truth but prefer to play to the gallery. To tackle the scandalous difference between the official and black-market exchange rates, expect the new government to adjust the official rate from the current N430-450/$ to around N550/$ in the first instance”
– What You Might Expect in 2023, December 29, 2022
This is my fourth forecast since 2019. Apart from a few occasions when I have had eggs in my face from unforeseen events like that wrecking ball called COVID-19 and the African surprise at the last World Cup being Morocco instead of Senegal or Algeria, I have, on the whole, been on the mark.
This year, I’m starting with sports. Arsenal fans are currently over the moon, testosterone pumping – and why not? But they would do well to pay attention. After 20 years of a winless, Premier League trophy run, this, at last, feels like the year when the London club would break the jinx.
Everything is going well, so far. The team is better organised, far better disciplined – in and off the field – the defence is tighter, the attack deadlier, and all without a loss of flair. Also, the desire has never been stronger. But that, roughly speaking, has been the story of the last two decades at the Emirates – a story of nearly there.
That story will not change in 2024. I wish it would for the sake of the millions of broken red hearts strewn along the way over two decades. But the odds are not in Arsenal’s favour. The team has more depth but it still suffers a congenital momentary loss of focus when it matters most.
With about half the games already played, there’s still something about Liverpool and Manchester City — that streak of stubborn, resilient fighting spirit — that could lift either of them over Arsenal and multiply the misery of its fans, yet again.
I started with football because 2024 appears to hold less intensity for Nigeria’s usual obsession: politics. In 2023, we had four years’ worth of politics in one year. Apart from a number of senior lawyers in particular who also made four years’ worth of money in one year, swathes of the political elite are broke, exhausted and stranded. In 2024, they would be desperate for rehabilitation. Otherwise, their teeming supporters will dissipate and their misery will be complete.
Before June, some top politicians who had been discreetly reaching out to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu for favours, would be obliged to take their fate in their own hands and pursue their ambition more openly and less shamelessly. By the end of the year, the scramble for presidential favours would leave an already fragmented opposition in a shambles.
Edo, Ondo and Kano
Of course, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is planning re-runs and bye-elections in a few senatorial districts, 11 federal constituencies and 22 state assemblies. My bet is that there would be no surprises. If anything, the bye-elections for two or three senatorial seats would increase the advantage of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the National Assembly, while state assemblies would record more of the same.
In September and November, governorship elections would hold in two states – Edo and Ondo. Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki who assumed office in his first term as an APC governor, but switched parties in his second, would attempt to hand over to a People’s Democratic Party (PDP) successor. It’s an election that promises plenty of drama.
Amongst others on a list of direct and shadow contenders that appears to be lengthening by the day, Obaseki would be up against his former godfather, Adams Oshiomhole, who is currently an APC senator; his “interim godfather”, Nyesom Wike, a federal minister who is neither in the PDP nor in the APC; and his deputy, Philip Shauib, who has been in rebellion for the most part of their second term.
Obaseki is counting on a number of factors, among others, to help him hand over to his preferred successor and former Chairman of Sterling Bank, Asue Ighodalo: 1) the governor’s record of reforms in the civil service; 2) improvements in private sector investments in the state, especially in the energy sector; 3) doubling the state’s internally generated revenue from around N1.8 billion in 2016; 4) expectation that Ighodalo’s private sector experience would be Obaseki 2.0; and 5) advantage of an all-PDP local government formation.
My forecast is that despite setting his ducks in a row, Obaseki’s candidate would lose in September. His biggest undoing would be the large army of political enemies he has created in the last eight years – some inevitably from the reforms he introduced; but others, and in a far larger number, avoidably from his mean-spirited, opportunistic politics.
All politics is local. But if – and that’s a big if – the APC plays its card well, Edo would find in September a coalescence of local and external foes with old, fairly old, and new grudges ranged against Obaseki’s candidate in a fury that would result in a hostile takeover.
The biggest danger to APC’s victory is Oshiomhole. After cornering virtually all federal appointments to Edo North to the displeasure of many, the South, which is the state’s vote bank could enact a Labour Party surge by pressing a candidate from its zone. Except the APC finds an overwhelmingly appealing candidate, the party could be in for a surprise.
Ondo would be different. After months of a war of attrition with late Governor Rotimi Akeredolu that finally saw Lucky Aiyedatiwa becoming acting governor – and now governor – it’s improbable that he would lose the election to any challenger, whether from his party or not.
He fought his election war in advance. The battle between now and November would consist largely in mopping up the snippers. Of course, there would be contenders, both from the remnant of Akeredolu’s supporters and others, including Senator Jimoh Ibrahim. But it’s unlikely that Aiyedatiwa won the war of attrition only to lose it in subsidiary skirmishes.
As for Kano, the Supreme Court has up till January 15 to give its ruling. History does not favour Governor Abba Kabir Yusuf. As I said in a recent article on this matter, in the last over 20 years, there have been only a few cases where the two lower courts ruled in one way and the Supreme Court overturned them. It would be easier to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro on a paper kite than to expect an exception in the matter at hand.
Politics promises bread, but economics bakes it and also decides how it is served. President Tinubu has weathered serious storms in the last seven months at the helm. In the new year, he will be bolder, more sure-footed – and yes, be obliged to make a few changes to his cabinet by his one-year anniversary.
His biggest headache will remain the economy. With inflation at 27.3 percent, the naira depreciated by over 50 percent in six months, and unemployment trending up, any gains in 2024 would be marginal. The naira, still artificially sustained, would slide further and could close the year at 1500/USD in the black market, except if earnings from oil and gas rise fast enough to shore it up – an unlikely prospect with the chaos in OPEC and US’s all-time high production.
The silver lining could be in agriculture where food inflation could drop from the current 32 percent, if weather patterns are favourable and with improvements in the security situation in the country’s food belt.
For the troubled Central Bank of Nigeria that has, regardless, promised price stability in 2024, the report of the investigator would dominate discussions, but the leak might prove more damaging to any intended redress. Once vested interests on both sides enter the arena, they will muddy the waters and undermine confidence not just in the final outcome, but also in any possibility that there would be consequences.
Don’t expect much from the real sector this year for one main reason: power. Even if Nigeria’s four hydro-dams generate up to 2k megawatts combined, which they could produce but are currently unable to do so, the transmission, still in government hands, remains a nightmare.
As for the gas supply, there’s simply no gas. The Nigerian Gas Company is debt-ridden and the current market structure does not encourage private investment. More disruptions and outages loom for homes and industry.
And by the way, anyone expecting relief in petrol supply or a drop in the pump prices, is on a long wait. Largely as a result of technical and supply chain issues, the government refineries, if they start production at all, would not do so before the third or fourth quarter, and the Dangote refinery may not commence limited production till after the first quarter.
Sunak sunset, Trump eclipse
Outside Nigeria, it’s a big year for elections around the world – in fact, the biggest in decades. Two are of particular interest: the UK and the US. In the UK, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has finished his job as “a stabiliser,” after the catastrophic failures of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss. For reasons more real than apparent, Keith Stammer will win; but the “owners of the UK” would find out soon enough that they had traded an apple for a lemon.
As for the US, The Economist has framed the 2024 presidential contest as one between two unpopular candidates. Fair point. I wager that even though Donald Trump’s mounting legal challenges might increase both his popularity and unpopularity, he will lose to Joe Biden in November in yet another bitter contest that finally retires him to Mar-a-Lago.
Even though Trump’s candidacy will excite sentiments that would move US politics closer to the centre, voters would likely decide that one Trump tenure was enough for the monster created in America’s Frankenstein moment.
Azu Ishiekwene is Editor-In-Chief of LEADERSHIP
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