The removal of fuel subsidy by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu on the first day of assumption of office was ill-timed, out-rightly ill-advised and uncalled for. The president with his team was in a better position to understand that without an enabling environment, a team on ground to drive policies, decisions made without right thoughts are always counter-productive. Nigeria is unfortunately a nation where government does not function as expected even when a team is in place, let alone when there is none.
The decision had upon announcement immediately jolted the foundation of market forces and sent shock waves through the fabrics of the general economy. Consequently, the people were exposed to unimaginable hardships. Everyone is sad, pained and disenchanted as cost of goods and services increased exponentially and still increasing. The exchange rate along with inflationary trend leaves everyone dazed. Even the rich and politicians are crying!
A nation and its citizens almost asphyxiated under the abysmal performance of the immediate past administration of Muhammadu Buhari should have been allowed a moment to breathe fresh air. The people never got such needed reprieve. As usual, those in government who eat free of charge from our general purse, rarely go to market or fuel stations, never put into consideration the cumulative ripple effect of the policy on the people and economy.
Amongst the myriads of problems confronting Nigeria, fuel subsidy was a creation of the political class and can be stopped by any serious-minded government without necessarily creating undue hardship for the people. It is still a mystery that names of the beneficiaries of this fraudulent process are still shrouded in secrecy. The exact amount spent on subsidy from 1999-2023 is still in the realm of conjectures. Security agencies are only at work to unearth the mystery around subsidy scam when someone in the bad book of government deserves to be punished or humiliated.
Providing palliatives to cushion the effect of harsh policies of government or disasters has become a trend of governance in Nigeria. However, one sore and sour point of announcing and rolling out palliatives is its lack of positive or visible impact on the lives of the people. During the COVID-19 lockdown, hungry and unemployed citizens most especially youths have to break into warehouses almost throughout Nigeria where palliatives donated by international organisations and bodies for the people were stashed away from public knowledge by greedy politicians. The problem with almost all citizen-driven interventions in Nigeria lies not in the announcement or amount of funds approved but the way and manner of implementation. Another issue is the sub-heads under which funds are allocated.
There are several odds against this N 500bn palliatives proposed by government. First, there is no long-term plan or concrete measures to cushion the effect on the lives of citizens who are already broke and pushed to the wall by the harsh economic realities on ground. The planned implementation period, according to government, will last for six months only. What happens afterwards? Will the nation attain self-sufficiency in local production of fuel and stop importation after six months? Are there immediate plans to make the moribund refineries working? Second, due diligence was not carried out on what constitutes better measures to take, owing to the way and manner the removal was abruptly carried out and pressure on government to provide succour or needed alternative.
Third, payment of N8,000 to 12 million households is simply cosmetic, just like the previous ones. How did government even arrive at the numbers? What can N8,000 possibly do for a family in one month? What is the mode of payment? How does government ensure transparency? Fourth, viral documents on social media detailing how monies were allocated to agencies of government like N70bn for the new members of the National Assembly and N35bn for the National Judicial Council, NJC, call for public scrutiny.
How will dolling out such humongous amount to the two bodies impact on the general wellbeing of the people is yet to be ascertained. There are strong beliefs in certain quarters that allocating money to the above organs of government, especially the NJC, has more to do with bribing judicial officers and influencing the outcome of the ongoing Presidential Election Tribunal Court sitting over the disputed 2023 presidential election currently being challenged by Peter Obi and Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidates of Labour Party, LP, and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, respectively.
Government is hereby invited to genuinely embark on long-term measures aimed at stemming the tide of hardship instead of toeing the same old fashioned cosmetic line of the previous administration which is open to corrupt enrichment of those in charge. First, the nation should shift more to production and consumption of local goods, including patronage of local services, as a way of whittling down the high demand of dollars. The resort to importation of foreign goods and services has to also reduce as a way forward. Second, we are an oil producing nation, thus have no business refining our petrol abroad and then paying to bring it back home under any guise.
Our local refineries should be made to function while more should be built. Third, government should have thought of injecting the cumulative of N97bn amounting to payment of N8,000 per month earmarked for 12 million households into buying transportation buses and hand them over to credible stakeholders or industry operators with a robust ticketing and payment system capable of bringing return on investment within five years.
Fourth, small and medium scale enterprises with the capacity to employ a number people should have been supported with free interest loans as a way of encouraging employment creation. The period of repayment could be spread over ten years. It is better to avail people of nets to catch the fish rather than giving them only fish. Fifth, government should identify poor rural bulk billed communities throughout the country and settle their electricity bills for at least one year to ease their burden. The past administration claimed to have provided palliatives worth trillions of Naira to cushion the effect of COVID-19, flooding and others but it has remained a classic example of failure as peoples’ condition remained the same afterwards. This one should be different.
Eze is a media and communications specialist