Nigeria is often referred to as “Africa’s giant”, given its huge population and economic potential, but it also has massive problems – and these will be faced by Bola Tinubu when he takes office as president Monday.
The 71-year-old is unlikely to be fazed by the challenges. As two-time Governor of Lagos, he has revitalized Nigeria’s business hub – no easy task – and is well aware of the stakes.
But Nigerians, even those who did not vote for him, will want to see Mr Tinubu’s early results. Here are some of the main obstacles he faces and how he can overcome them.
End of fuel subsidy
This challenge has been rejected by successive governments since its introduction in the 1970s.
Despite its oil wealth, Nigeria is unable to refine enough crude to meet local demand. It therefore imports petroleum products, which are then sold at a price set by the government. As this is usually lower than the import price, the government pays the difference.
But this subsidy weighs heavily on public finances which are dwindling. Last year it gobbled up N4.3bn ($9.3bn; £7.5bn) and for the first half of this year, N3.36bn was budgeted.
These payments come at the expense of development goals such as building schools or hospitals, but removing the subsidy will not be easy as it will drive up prices.
The last attempt to do so in 2012 ended in widespread protests.
Many struggling Nigerians, used to seeing politicians mismanage the country’s oil wealth, believe cheap petrol is their slice of what has been described as the “national pie”.
But Mr Tinubu has firmly reiterated that the subsidy must go, and his associates insist he has the political will to do so.
“He has the ability to listen and consult widely before making tough decisions,” Housing Minister Babatunde Fashola, a close colleague who succeeded Mr Tinubu as governor of Lagos in 2007, told the BBC. .
One area he could explore to mitigate the impact is to subsidize and improve public transport – something he has experience in after setting up a massive public transport program in Lagos that has put in place places fast bus links.
The outgoing government also managed to secure an $800 million loan from the World Bank, to boost its social protection program for vulnerable Nigerians who will be most affected by the loss of the grant. However, lawmakers have yet to approve the package – so it’s not a done deal.
Lack of popular support
Only 37% of voters backed Mr Tinubu, making him the Nigerian president elected with the fewest votes since 1999.
He won a hotly contested election that was not only vindictive, but exposed ethnic and religious divisions that persist even in Nigeria’s most cosmopolitan cities.
He will have to do a balancing act when it comes to choosing his government to build bridges across these divides.
There are signs he is already doing so, apparently meeting with two opposition politicians since winning the February vote:
Musa Kwankwaso, a strong northern rival, who finished third
Nyesom Wike, the influential and outgoing Governor of Rivers State.
As governor of Lagos, Mr Tinubu had probably the most ethnically diverse cabinet in Nigeria, appointing non-Lagosians to key posts, which is still rare.
“He is more interested in technocrats who are thinkers and researchers,” his friend Seye Oyetade told the BBC.
But politicians, often with common interests, may be easier to appease than the millions of young Nigerians who did not vote for him – especially those who backed Labor’s Peter Obi.
Many of them consider the vote to be wrong, although the electoral commission denies it – and an election challenge is still pending in the courts.
Close allies say that by making jobs available and involving young people in governance, Mr Tinubu could win some of them.
“You will see a government that will embrace new ideas and technologies and, by extension, you will see a lot of young people around it,” Fashola explained.
Fix the economy
Most agree that as a qualified accountant, this is Mr Tinubu’s area of expertise – but things have never been worse for Nigeria:
One in three is unemployed
Inflation is at a record 22%
96 million live below the poverty line of $1.90 a day
GDP per capita (the economic output produced in a year by an average person) was $2,065 for 2021 (compared to $70,248 for the US and $46,510 for the UK)
Low revenues due to lower oil sales.
Mr Oyetade beats such statistics: “It’s not too different from what he encountered in Lagos in 1999.”
It may be hyperbole, but Mr Tinubu’s use of technology to improve tax collection in Lagos has been remarkable, increasing revenue by more than 400% in eight years.
He has repeatedly spoken of his ambition to widen the tax net, but that may be harder to replicate domestically given high inflation, growing poverty and widespread insecurity that often keeps people out of work.
Tinubu also favors a more private sector-driven approach, unlike his predecessor, Muhammadu Buhari, who aimed to strengthen national social safety nets.
But it is his relationship with Godwin Emefiele, the central bank governor, that will be key.
The new president criticized the bank’s policy of using multiple exchange rates.
This keeps the naira artificially high – the official exchange rate is 460 naira: $1, available to different categories of people who have to apply and wait for it to become available.
Anyone wanting forex should use the parallel rate – currently 760 naira:$1, which means there is a growing gap between the official market and the black market.
For any review to take place, Mr Tinubu will need to work with Mr Emefiele, who has one year left to serve as governor.
The two have a rocky relationship following the central bank’s decision to overhaul the local currency – leading to huge liquidity shortages – just before the election. It was seen by some as a ploy to sabotage the ruling party’s chances of winning the vote – allegations Mr Emefiele denies.
Abduction and insecurity
Mr. Tinubu will want to get this under control quickly, given the magnitude of the problem. His administration will face armed criminals on motorcycles in the northwest, kidnappings across the country and a violent secessionist group in the southeast. Deadly clashes between farmers and herders also continue in the central states.
During the election campaign, Mr Tinubu’s deputy, incoming vice-president Kashim Shettima, said that would be his mission – touting his experience as governor of northeastern Borno state, home to many many Islamist militant groups and the Boko Haram insurgency.
But Nigeria’s security challenges have evolved since he left office in 2019 and President Buhari, a former army general, has failed miserably to find an answer in his eight years in power – instead, insecurity intensified across the country.
The Tinubu-Shettima plan includes using counter-terrorism battalions with special forces to pursue kidnappers and extremist groups.
More importantly, they have offered to free up police personnel from security and VIP guard duties, which could see more officers on the streets fighting crime.
Keeping fit – and other distractions
Opponents of the new president say he has lost the vitality he used to forcefully modernize Lagos.
Since the election, he has traveled abroad twice, raising questions about his health. In 2021, he spent months in London being treated for an undisclosed illness.
He brushed off criticism, saying the job doesn’t require the physical fitness of an Olympic athlete and his associates are quick to remind everyone that US President Joe Biden is older, at 80.
But Nigerians are weary of presidents spending a considerable amount of time in overseas hospitals, leading the government to fight for control. This happened under Mr Buhari and Umaru Yar’Adua, who died in office in 2010.
They also worry about potential controversies. Before the vote, Mr Tinubu denied various allegations of links to narcotics and corruption.
Since his victory, it has been revealed that he had already been issued a Guinean diplomatic passport – which is not illegal but had not previously been disclosed. While a Bloomberg investigation revealed his son owned an £11million mansion in London. Neither Mr. Tinubu, his son, nor his allies have commented on the report, and it has not been confirmed that Mr. Tinubu was involved in the purchase.
Mr Tinubu’s allies will fear that any further allegations will distract him from the enormous work he is about to undertake.