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‘Tinubu’s first year in office: Good policies, poor implementation’

Former president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Olisa Agbakoba SAN, recently assessed the President Bola Tinubu-led administration, offering insight into areas the government should focus on in the next three months to ease existential hardship on Nigerians. MUYIWA ADEYEMI was there.

One year after, what will you say the President has achieved considering his promises to Nigerians? President Bola Tinubu’s first year in office has laid the groundwork for significant progress, with notable achievements in various sectors. The right policy choices have been put in place, but implementation has been a challenge. To fully realise his transformative vision and deliver on his campaign promises, the government must focus on key areas that will make the most impact, such as security, power, and the emergence of the industrial revolution. If Tinubu can solve these critical issues, it will release kinetic energy and accelerate progress. It’s a good thing that even the President himself got his ministers to address the press on their performances.

The president is pursuing many projects, which area do you think he needs to pay greater attention? You can’t do everything at the same time. I would advise the President to focus on three important matters. The first is the security architecture. When I spoke to the President about a month ago, I said: ‘You cannot use conventional means to win an irregular war’. Conventional armies fight against each other.

The war in Nigeria is not conventional. Anybody who reads Che Guevara’s book on guerrilla warfare will know that you can’t defeat any army that is using irregular means, which is why America lost in Vietnam.

Now, the consequence of insecurity in Nigeria can be put in the way I asked my colleague here, suppose you are all businessmen, all of you sitting around here with millions of dollars. You are asking, ‘Oga, where do we go and invest?’ And I tell you, ‘We shall go to Gaza’. Will you go to Gaza? No. So, let us then ask, is Nigeria far from Gaza? Nigeria is a very unstable country in the context of insecurity – killings, kidnappings, banditry, thuggery, unemployment, and lack of funds – I think the government underestimates the issue of insecurity. Billions of dollars spent on insecurity haven’t worked.

I think President Buhari borrowed about $3 billion, if I’m right. No result. The Army and the Air Force are buying new helicopters, they are flying and landing. But no result.

But there was an important point that the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, made because he is from the area. He said, ‘I am surprised that this is happening because when the plane is landing at Yola airport, I can see everything. I can even see people running around in Sambisa Forest. So, why are they not seeing this?’  It beats me. Why is it that this forest seems impregnable? It shows that the tools are wrong.

I recommend to Nigeria what I called ‘The Treaty of the National Order.’ In the South-East, for instance, we have the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). The question to ask is, is it a correct strategy to detain Nnamdi Kanu? I don’t think so. If Kanu says that Biafra is the way to go, he has a right to say so.

But the question would be whether it would be something that would be endorsed in the South-East. I would simply conduct a referendum. Now, if the referendum shows that Nnamdi Kanu is right, then that’s it. That’s why I’ve said that the theory of Nigeria’s indivisibility is wrong. We must stop this issue of every president saying that Nigeria is indivisible.

You have to get the consent of Nigerians. We have to agree. It is that agreement or disagreement or lack of policy of the government that is causing the insecurity. That’s the policy that needs to change for peace to occur. Now, if peace occurs, because you have dealt with the insecurity, it will unleash a lot. Agriculture will be one.

Do you know that the North can sustain the entire Africa in terms of food? We’ve locked down trillions of dollars in the North because of insecurity. That’s the first thing I would flag. Focus on resolving the insecurity problem in the first three months of the second year.

The second one is power. Power is like a ship in deep water that goes through and there are ripples. When there’s power, you create employment at different levels.

With power resolved, insecurity resolved, business will flourish automatically because you have Nigerians who are very entrepreneurial. This issue of unemployment, look, for those of us who did the ‘Psychology of Crime,’ I did that as my Master’s thesis at the London School of Economics in 1980. The study shows that the psychology of crime is not an inborn thing. It is the environment. Nobody is born a thief.

If you have hungry people, you can’t have a country. That’s a point that must be emphasised. Nigerians are extremely hungry. The poverty levels are deeper than we know. So, when the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) releases their reports from time to time, I put them in the dustbin.   The absolute report that judges what Nigerians are going through is given to me every Monday by my driver.

I asked him, how was the weekend? He says, ‘Oga things are tough.’ So, that is how I judge it. The government must leave statistical economists like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and ask Nigerians.

How will you rate the performances of the Ministers? I am pleased with the activities of one or two.

Out of 46 ministers, why? Another minister I would point out as having so far achieved his purpose is Festus Kayamo. Since the Sani Abacha era, Nigerian aircraft have not landed successfully in Britain under the BASSA Agreement. The British government has done everything to frustrate us. More aircrafts will be able to go to the UK now. That was made possible by the minister. That will not only bring in foreign exchange, it will also create employment opportunities.

What is your opinion about the palliatives from the government to reduce hardship Nigerians are passing through? The first statistics that was released by the U.S. government is the employment figure after President Joe Biden came into office. And that employment figure raises his rating. When it went up to 300,000, Joe Biden was boasting because people got employed. If you ask many Nigerians what’s their problem, they will add the fact of lack of employment. So, one of the things the government should do beyond palliative is to create an environment for employment. I feel that palliative is not something we should be proudly promoting. We should be proudly saying that in the month of September, the government created the opportunity for 500,000 jobs. That didn’t happen in the last one year. So, that’s a problem.

The Federal Government claims that it has saved a lot of money by ending fuel subsidies but Nigerians say that there is no impact on public welfare. What do you think is happening? What’s the point of having money in your bank when your kids are hungry? That’s really the question you’re asking. Where is the money that has been saved from the subsidy? I think the challenge is in misaligning what is the priority to be the naira-dollar parity. But that is not the problem. The problem is, if the government has saved whatever, you need to put it in the system. That in economics, is referred to as quantitative easing. You make people bear less suffering. Some people don’t like spending. You see, the monetary people don’t like spending. So, they raise interest rates. When they raise interest rates, people rush to save because why should I worry about earning active income if I can earn passive income? If I have N100 million and the NPR is 27 per cent, I could make about almost 20 million. But if I have N100 million and I went active, would I make the same? That’s what is happening.

What do you think the government needs to do to encourage businesses because entrepreneurs are complaining of an unfavourable business environment and inconsistency of policies? If I thrive in business, it’s because the policy of the government is correct. Aliko Dangote in Rwanda made a very important point at the African Forum, he said, ‘people think I’m as rich as they make out in Forbes Magazine. Every naira I earn; 52 kobo is taken by the government because of multiple taxes and inconsistent policies.’ The Managing Director of Total, Matthieu Bouyer talked about Nigeria losing foreign direct investments to Angola because the laws and policies keep changing.

Another thing we need to see is stable policy, and government efficiency. I’ll give you an example of myself because it’s that personal example that shows you the larger problem. The land registry was not digitalised. I’m holding a title that hasn’t entered the system in Abuja. It’s when you trade that the economy works and everybody makes money. It has taken three years now and I have done everything possible but it is yet to enter the system.

How can an economy work? Another example that I’d like to give is also personal. My daughter has a property, it has taken nine years to regularise the title in the land registry of Lagos. If you do not create a title in a document, the building you’re looking at is dead. You can’t sell it or take it to a bank for a loan without a title.

They are standing, but they do not count for value because you must link the housing stock to the banking sector, that is what is done abroad.

Someone said there’s a problem with land tenure in Abuja. But what he didn’t say is that not only Abuja, it’s across the country. So, if you measure the impact of the failed land tenure on the economy, it’s striking. That is something I think the government ought to realise because there’s nobody in the government who has ever made any mention of connecting titles. It sounds very simple, but it’s not happening.

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