At least three close associates of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu since his early days in politics will play influential roles in his incoming administration.
The Lebanese-Nigerian brothers, Gilbert Chagoury (b.1946) and Ronald Chagoury (b.1949), will be at the centre of the Tinubu administration. They are said to be one of the reasons Tinubu has become a frequent visitor to France, along with the fact that his physicians now appear to be based in Paris.
Tinubu and the Chagoury brothers have been close since the former’s time as Lagos State governor, and a picture of them together was circulated on social media during one of his recent tips to France, demonstrating their close relationship.
The Chagoury brothers are even better known for their association with the late military dictator Sani Abacha, who governed the country between 1993 and 1999. Gilbert, the elder of the two brothers, was convicted in Switzerland in 2000 for assisting Abacha with money laundering. He also ran afoul of the law in the US where he was fined US$2 million for unlawful campaign contributions.
The Chagoury brothers’ construction company, Hitech, is well known for handling significant road construction projects in Lagos State, but perhaps its biggest deal is Eko Atlantic, a project to reclaim 25 kms2 of oceanfront land in order to construct a city that resembles Dubai. The US is building what it calls its largest consulate in the world in the city.
When Tinubu was governor, the Chagourys pitched him the concept of developing Eko Atlantic as a solution to the ocean’s repeated encroachment of the state’s commercial hub on Victoria Island. It is rapidly becoming a modern metropolis of skyscrapers, with the country’s most expensive real estate.
While the Chagourys will not have a direct role in governance, it is expected that they will be the unseen hands behind some of the biggest deals under the Tinubu Presidency. Their enterprises are expected to flourish with Tinubu in power, and they are also likely to have an impact on business policies enacted under his administration.
Due to Tinubu’s lengthy stays in France, they are likely to have already shared a number of business ideas with him.
A view of the outside world
As he did under Abacha, Gilbert Chargoury is expected to serve as Tinubu’s chief deals man. Those wishing to get the president’s ear and approval for the most lucrative deals may have to go through the Chagourys.
In and of itself, that may not be a terrible idea. One of the chief criticisms of President Muhammadu Buhari was that he was inaccessible to anyone outside his circle of political appointees. Even some ministers had trouble getting to Buhari. This meant he had little knowledge of the impact of his government beyond what this small group of close associates told him. And he was most likely hearing only what they wanted him to hear.
Chagoury will have direct contact with Tinubu and is more likely than an appointee to be able to tell him the truth. He will also be able to advance his and his business partners’ interests without relying on Tinubu’s appointees. The downside is that this is likely to promote cronyism and corruption, just as it did under Abacha’s regime.
A de facto chief of staff
The other foreigner likely to play a significant role in Tinubu’s administration is a retired American diplomat, Brian Browne, whom Tinubu’s closest aides describe as a ‘staff’ but who is reportedly his de-facto chief of staff. Browne’s last diplomatic assignment was in Nigeria in 2017.
The National Assembly’s current speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, is expected to be appointed as Tinubu’s official chief of staff, while Browne will probably continue to serve as an unofficial adviser to the president.
Tinubu and Browne co-authored Financialism: Water from an Empty Well, which is essentially a critique of capitalism as it is implemented in Western democracies. The book contends that capitalism has morphed into financialism, which is defined as making money solely through money creation as opposed to productive activities.
It also asserts that the current global order is biased against Africans and that the continent’s development will be hampered without systemic reforms. Browne reportedly joined Tinubu’s personnel after retiring from his US diplomatic posting.
He is likely to play a significant role in economic policy formulation. Based on the ideas of financialism, the approach could be unconventional. The finance sector may be subject to greater regulation, and the government may play a larger role in stimulating productive activities. Browne could shape the president’s economic concepts and coordinate his non-political schedule behind the scenes.
Browne is expected to play a significant role in the selection of the new Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor and the Minister of Finance. He will no doubt want to ensure that those individuals share the values that are conveyed in his book.
The Tinubu presidency provides him with the opportunity to prove his ideas for an economic renaissance in Africa. If Browne has his way, banks could be directed to invest more in economic sectors that are deemed productive by the government. Browne and Tinubu have also argued for an increase in consumer loans, and banks can now expect pressure to do more in this regard.This excerpt is taken from Nigeria Focus, our monthly intelligence report on Nigeria. Click here to receive a free sample copy.
The May 2023 issues of Nigeria Focus also includes the following:
- Is the Tinubu presidency losing steam before it begins?
- NNPC to complete AKK pipeline
- Dangote Refinery commissioned, sort of
- Squabbling over power supply
Politics & Society
- Blinken’s call with Tinubu
- BBC casts more electoral doubt
- US convoy attacked
- Foreigners who are close to power
Economy & Finance
- Food costs and poverty