Zimkhitha Manyana

The victory of Bola Tinubu in Nigeria’s presidential elections has raised concerns about the neo-patrimonial and economic ideological implications of his presidency on trade and investment in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU). Neopatrimonialism is a system of a social hierarchy where patrons use state resources to secure clients’ loyalty to the general population[1]. While neopatrimonialism and trade liberalisation[2] are not necessarily mutually exclusive, the Tinubu administration’s prioritisation of neopatrimonialism over trade liberalisation could have negative consequences for the country’s economic growth and international competitiveness.

If the administration prioritises trade liberalisation, it could increase foreign investment, expand export markets, and generate greater economic growth. This could be achieved through policies such as reducing trade barriers, streamlining regulations, and investing in infrastructure and human capital development. However, if the administration prioritizes neopatrimonialism, it could lead to the misuse of state resources, allocation of government contracts based on political loyalty rather than merit, and imposition of tariffs and other trade barriers that limit competition and impede foreign investment.

Tinubu’s victory, challenged by Nigeria’s two major opposition parties due to widespread irregularities, has raised questions about his legitimacy and ability to lead effectively. Tinubu is also visibly aged, leading to doubts about his stamina for the job. He rose to the helm of Nigeria’s ruling political party, the All-Progressives Congress (APC) thanks to personal wealth and backroom deals. He outcompeted all challengers not based on a concrete and detailed program of government, but on political horse-trading across regions and ethnic divides, patronage, and the distribution of party cash.

Tinubu seeks to sustain the public-private partnership (PPP) model of former President Muhammadu Buhari[3]. While his reputation for raising taxes and appointing technocrats is promising for international investors, his control of Lagos long after his tenure as governor has led analysts to worry that market-friendly changes will fall victim to politics[4].

Nigeria is a significant actor in Africa, representing 70% of West Africa’s GDP, and is expected to become the world’s third most populous country by 2050[5]. As such, the future of ECOWAS, the Eco currency (postponed to 2025), and the African Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA) rests in Nigeria’s hands. The success of these initiatives will significantly impact the rest of the continent, and Nigeria’s role in international bodies such as the G20 will also be crucial.

Tinubu’s presidency must be marked by transparency, good governance, and a clear vision for Nigeria’s economic future. Nigeria cannot afford to be led by a leader of questionable legitimacy or stamina, especially when the stakes are high. To ensure economic growth and international competitiveness, Tinubu’s administration must prioritise trade liberalisation over neopatrimonialism and invest in infrastructure and human capital development. The success of Nigeria’s economy will significantly impact the rest of the continent, and as such, Nigeria has an opportunity to lead by example in its economic policies and governance.

[1] Ana Huertas Francisco, 2010, Neopatrimonialism in Contemporary African Politics, E-International Relations, https://www.e-ir.info/2010/01/24/to-what-extent-can-neopatrimonialism-be-considered-significant-in-contemporary-african-politics/

[2] Caroline Banton, 2021, Trade Liberalization: Definition, How It Works, and Example, Investopedia, https://www.investopedia.com/terms/t/trade-liberalization.asp#:~:text=Trade%20liberalization%20is%20the%20removal,as%20licensing%20rules%20and%20quotas.

[3]  Ronald Adamolekun, 2023, #NigeriaDecides2023: Atiku, Obi plan aggressive economic liberalisation while Tinubu, Kwankwaso want moderate reforms, Premium Times, https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/headlines/583831-nigeriadecides2023-atiku-obi-plan-aggressive-economic-liberalisation-while-tinubu-kwankwaso-want-moderate-reforms.html

[4] Rachel Savage, 2023, Investors hope Tinubu’s Nigeria presidential poll win heralds reform, Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/investors-hope-tinubus-nigeria-presidential-poll-win-heralds-reform-2023-03-01/

[5] Atlantic Council experts, 2023, Experts react: As the ruling party’s Tinubu wins a contested election, what’s next for Nigeria? https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/new-atlanticist/experts-react-as-the-ruling-partys-tinubu-wins-a-contested-election-whats-next-for-nigeria/