President Bola Tinubu of Nigeria recently delivered a speech at the United Nations General Assembly, highlighting significant African issues and advocating for more equitable global partnerships. However, Nigerian analysts argue that his leadership must first address pressing concerns within the country.
Tinubu assumed office on May 29th and swiftly made the controversial decision to eliminate the petrol subsidy as one of his initial acts. This move led to a sudden and dramatic doubling of transportation costs across Nigeria’s 213 million-strong population in less than 24 hours. Many Nigerians were forced to abandon their cars as petrol prices surged by approximately 200 percent. This exacerbated inflation, causing food prices to soar in a nation where roughly half of the population lives in poverty. Critics accused the president of triggering unnecessary panic on his first day in office.
While Tinubu presented a robust speech at the General Assembly, addressing various African challenges and underscoring the unequal terms of engagement between Africa and the West, Nigerian analysts remain skeptical of his domestic actions.
Kelechukwu Ogu, a Nigerian energy analyst based in Berkeley, California, pointed out that the president announced the subsidy removal without presenting an alternative plan to facilitate a smoother transition for Nigerians.
A few weeks later, Tinubu introduced changes to the country’s exchange rate system, describing the existing policy as “noxious.” Mayowa Tijani, a business journalist and editor at a Nigerian newspaper, TheCable, expressed reservations about the new forex policy. Tijani emphasized that while devaluation of the naira was inevitable, it should not be viewed as a standalone policy. He stressed the need for complementary measures to facilitate the efficient flow of foreign exchange and attract investors.
In his UN address, Tinubu defended his policy decisions, asserting that the resulting hardships were necessary to lay the groundwork for sustainable economic growth and investment in Nigeria.
He invoked the Marshall Plan of 1948, which facilitated the postwar reconstruction of Western Europe, suggesting that Africa could benefit from a similar partnership with the West to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Tinubu called for enhanced international cooperation with African nations to meet these goals.
Seyi Awojulugbe, a senior analyst at SBM Intelligence, urged African leaders to go beyond rhetorical speeches and offer concrete contributions to international affairs. She highlighted South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s active role in addressing the Ukraine conflict as an example. Awojulugbe argued that Nigeria’s foreign policy, despite its African-centered focus, has not consistently aligned with its stated principles.
Corruption remains a pervasive issue among Nigerian politicians and civil servants, and Tinubu’s government has yet to demonstrate a strong commitment to combating this problem. His recent appointment of Abubakar Bagudu, a former governor with a history of involvement in corrupt activities, has raised concerns.
Tinubu acknowledged the challenges of governance in Africa at the UN but also emphasized the adverse impact of broken promises, unfair treatment, and exploitation from abroad on the continent’s progress.
Awojulugbe acknowledged that Tinubu’s administration is still in its early stages and deserves an opportunity to fulfill its promises to the Nigerian people. She emphasized the importance of government creativity in finding solutions to the nation’s pressing issues while acknowledging the challenging state of the country’s finances.
In summary, President Tinubu’s UNGA speech has prompted scrutiny of his leadership at home, with many Nigerians looking for concrete actions and solutions to address pressing domestic challenges.