By Tabia Princewill
A LOT has been said about the recent fuel price increase but not enough of this has taken into account the social palliatives accompanying it now that the budget has been passed and funds will be released.

Too many of us still misunderstand the dire straits the Nigerian economy is in and totally misjudge how this is a direct consequence of corruption, which makes graft the number one issue to be tackled immediately if there is any hope of all others being resolved.

NEW FUEL PRICE—Minister of State, Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, briefing newsmen on the new fuel price, yesterday, in Abuja.

Policymaking in Nigeria has been ineffective, not for a lack of ideas, or of brilliant minds and not merely due to poor implementation but mostly because funds to achieve stated goals are ruthlessly looted.

Global funds donated to fight HIV/AIDS and malaria received by the Federal Ministry of Health (some estimates quote over 500 million US dollars received by successive Nigerian governments since 2003) have had no real impact on Nigerians, with donor agencies finally clamouring for an account of these funds (possibly because the international perception is thatwe now have a commander-in-chief ready to investigate).

Subsidy  removal

This momentous fraud has been timelessly replicated across ministries and agencies, from power, to housing, to roads, education etc. so how can anyone reasonably claim “witch-hunt” if not due to some complicity or attempts at a cover up?

The clean up has to start somewhere and will eventually engulf all those whom corruption has stained. If a murder suspect were on trial, would we say his trial should be suspended till every single murderer is either tried or jailed?

Corruption kills and deregulation is the first step to stemming the bleeding. Government has always practiced “cure after death” style medicine; it’s now time for a (real) change.

Yes, many were once against subsidy removal but making life “easier for the people” cannot be sustained through crowd-pleasing yet ineffective measures. This is real change, telling people the truth as ugly and disappointing as it is, while providing support to the poorest and most vulnerable.

The lack of said support was one of the reasons why I personally was opposed to subsidy removal under previous governments. I didn’t trust previous leaders to use the subsidy savings judiciously: case in point, we have no savings today even after prolonged periods of oil selling at an all time high.

Okonjo-Iweala who served as Finance minister during two “rich” administrations cannot blame the lack of savings on pressure from governors: it was her job, as well as the two presidents she served, to make sure whatever was withdrawn from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) was properly used, the same goes for the recovered (allegedly re-looted)Abacha loot. It wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to say state governors, federal ministers have “crimes against humanity” to answer to.

What did they do with funds from the ECA? Sure-P, designed to reinvest oil rents now looks like nothing but a scam. Nigeria is one of the least agriculturally mechanised countries in the world. Our farmers use manual, obsolete tools that haven’t been seen since 19th century Europe’s peasantry. Yet, we call attempts to fix all this a “witch-hunt”!

As a presidential candidate, Buhari said subsidy was “a fraud” (which it is) and that he’d clean up the oil industry, resulting in the prices of petroleum products “coming down”. In an ideal world, one where the “subsidy cabal” (and their political masters) were not so powerful, that should have been the case.

A man who searches for different alternatives to tackle a problem when initial plans don’t work is smart, not a liar. But how would we know, we’ve become used to doing things the same way and expecting a different result! We called this NEEDS (National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy), then a transformation agenda, we even had a so-called “servant leader” in between (whose family was intriguingly perturbed by the lack of paid adverts commemorating his death; people hardly seem to get this “change” idea, but again, why should they, it goes against their very survival).

Unproductive  gains

The only savvy way to tackle the “cabal’s” influence and corrupt, unproductive gains was to use the current economic crisis and lack of FX to pay for subsidy, to Nigeria’s advantage. Deregulation could not have been done 4 years ago when the petroleum ministry was the personal fiefdom of a few individuals, who’ve now all curiously disappeared, some conveniently ill, others rumoured to be selling off their ill-acquired properties.

Nigerians pay incredible, unrealistic prices for services because the providers know we’ll find the money by whatever means, as we all merrily continue our association with corrupt politicians and the cabals they empowered, making them emissaries among us, representing and encouraging an unsustainable system.

We’ve all been living off the proceeds of political corruption and economic monopoly. This had to happen: we had to hit rock bottom to wake up. Let the little we have build roads not enrich a few hundred men buying private jets and fooling unknowing former presidents into believing this translates into Nigeria being a rich country!

It makes a lot more senseto feed 5.5 million children, for 200 school days: this’ll boost school attendance,spur agricultural production.

Economic  opportunity

Such programmes have been successfully conducted in other countries, yet we in Nigeria would rather defend a wonky system where closeness to power enables subsidised economic opportunity, while those who don’t benefit from any representation (in the National Assembly or at state government level) go hungry.

The monthly N5000 stipend to the poorest amongst us will help combat the subsidy shocks, much like the billions budgeted for loans to artisans, trades, plus N60,000 for unemployed graduates.

However, no amount of welfare could ever be enough to tackle poverty if we have no functioning infrastructure, power, modern healthcare centres, schools, roads and railways (construction will also drive employment).

Those are the real triggers to lift Nigerians out of poverty.Rather than creating a few billionaires and calling this wealth-creation. This government will create hundreds of thousands of small-scale operatives who’ll employ others in their communities.

Social investments soften the impact of deregulation while creating a sustainable future for all. True reformers have a conscience: their improvements reorganise our character, restructure our beliefs from mindless consumption to production.

Chibok girls

Their parents should sue the past administration as well as officials who denied their very existence. The US government maintains the girls could have been rescued (they had intelligence regarding their whereabouts but couldn’t act alone).

Rescued Chibok girl, Amina Ali

The Jews have never forgotten the Holocaust yet we in Nigeria have made a habit out of accepting the killing of our people due to our own selfishness and greed. Human rights lawyers should counsel the Chibok parents, especially in light of the $15 billion arms fraud which allowed Boko Haram to kidnap, rape and kill, virtually unchallenged.

The parents’ blood should boil at the thought that Dasuki claimed our soldiers were “cowards”. This same army, from Liberia to Sudan, assisted foreigners but couldn’t save its own. Corruption is a crime against humanity.

Amnesty programme

Would the US  government pay terrorists not to destroy infrastructure? What governments across the world do, however, is to minimise the social factors, which lead to unrest in the first place. If the Niger Delta oil spills had been properly tackled and fishing hubs hadn’t been destroyed, if the NDDC had done its job, if state governors had done more than enrich themselves, we wouldn’t be talking about paying people not to harm themselves. Rumours of unrest in the Niger Delta being connected to the possible arrest of former President Goodluck Jonathan are outrageous yet full of meaning: do militants fear the end of wasteful contracts which didn’t develop the region beyond creating rich militants? The rule of law must prevail: any Nigerian can be called upon by the EFCC, especially if evidence of their negligence and possible complicity cost a country and its citizens so much.

Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.