Why Nigerians should not despair
By Mike Ebonugwo
For obvious reasons the talking point in the Nigerian polity as President Muhammadu Buhari marks his first year in office is government’s decision to scrap the contentious Petroleum Support Fund, otherwise known as fuel subsidy, a development culminating in marketers being directed to sell premium motor spirit, PMS, also known as petrol, between N135 and N145 per litre. Not surprisingly the hike in the pump price of petrol elicited mixed reactions, with those against it raising a deafening din of condemnation and demanding that government should immediately revert to status quo: that is, continue to sell the product at N86.50 a litre.
This opposition to the hike had culminated in a short-lived nation-wide workers strike called by a faction of the now fractured Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC. But while justifying the subsidy removal and the attendant hike in petrol price, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, said failure to do so at this point in time would entail that the Federal Government would continue to cough up N16.4 billion every month to offset the subsidy claims of oil marketers on petrol. He further explained that the imperative of government’s action derived from the realisation that it was incurring about N13.7 as subsidy on each litre of petrol bought by Nigerians.
While the storm engendered by the issue has since subsided, Nigerians have continued to debate the matter at different formal and informal fora, with opinions sharply divided on whether or not subsidy removal is in the best interest of the country. But it would appear that Nigerians are gradually adjusting to the reality of the subsidy removal, especially against the backdrop of the scarcity of the product prior to the hike in price and its present availability at various filling stations across the country.
Also on the front burner of discussions is the present state of the economy which some commentators said had slid into recession due to inflationary pressures. Indeed complaints have been coming thick and fast that the cost of living is soaring beyond the reach of the average Nigerian. There have also been other sundry complaints, including lingering epileptic power supply.
But Mr Femi Adesina, Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to President Buhari, has said that the problems that gave rise to these complaints pre-dated the current administration which in his informed estimation has done more than enough in one year to justify the confidence reposed on it by Nigerians through their votes at the last general elections in the country. He said that under the pang of the present inconvenience, Nigerians should not be in a hurry to forget where the country was coming from, especially the uncertainty that characterised the immediate past which necessitated a nation-wide chorus for change. According to him, the Buhari administration is still engaged in the painstaking process of cleansing the Aegean stable that it inherited and that performance-wise, it has made giant strides in the areas of national security, fight against corruption, management of the economy, governance, among others.
He said the President appreciates the difficulties being experienced by Nigerians currently and appealed for understanding as government continues to battle the enormous challenges confronting the nation and its survival. According to him, any objective assessment of the administration will not fail to appreciate the gravity of the problems it inherited and the commendable efforts it has made in addressing them within the limit of time and resources at its disposal.
With regards to the economy, Adesina said in order to arrest the financial drift and indiscipline that characterised previous administrations, government decided to take far-reaching steps to instil fiscal discipline by way of implement the Treasury Single Account, TSA, which entailed the closure of all multiple accounts in Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government, thereby plugging loopholes for leakages with new technology. In the event, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, which hitherto was seen as an enclave of corruption, had more than 40 of its accounts closed, paving way for its questionable accounting structure to be reconstructed for more transparency, creating more room for competition, predictable revenue generation and compliance with global best practice of operations.
This intervention through the TSA, he informed, “provided greater visibility of government revenues and cash flows”, adding that: “Between June 2015 and April 2016, the Federal Government TSA collection clocked N3trillion.”
Also worthy of mention, according to Adesina, is the resuscitation of the grounded Port Harcourt and Warri refineries which are back in operation with 60 per cent capacity and producing seven million litres of PMS daily, adding that the Kaduna refinery also resumed production at the end of the April, 2016.
The Presidential spokesman also cited as economically expedient President Buhari’s interventionist resolution of “the lingering shadowy oil swap deals that had cost the country billions of dollars and left it at the mercy of a few rich Nigerians.”
Adesina equally noted that following the complaints of most state governments that they were broke last year, President Buhari had directed the Central Bank of Nigeria to disburse N689.5 billion as bailout to 27 states of the federation to pay salaries so as to assuage the suffering of Nigerians. And to stimulate the economy and reduce poverty, the President had in April this year approved deferment in the payment of the bailout as states were still reeling under the burden of the fall in commodity prices, he said.
Beyond all these, Adesina passionately avers that Nigerians should for ever be grateful to President Buhari for his timely intervention in stabilising the drifting ship of state immediately he took over office. He particularly cited the decisive actions taken to arrest the worsening state of insecurity in the country, especially in the North Eastern part of the country which was under constant threat by the Boko Haram. He recalled that as a demonstration of his resolve to bring the lingering insurgency to an end, the President had immediately ordered the relocation of the Nigerian Military Command Centre to Maiduguri. And he is convinced that the action “contributed to the success in the fight against insurgency” such that as at February 2016, the total number of persons rescued by the Nigerian troops during the ongoing operations in the North East came to 11,595″.
Part of the success he attributed to Buhari’s ability to mobilise both local and international support in the fight against terrorism and attract assistance to victims and communities affected by terrorism. This included President Buhari’s meeting with G7 leaders and other world powers as well as Nigeria’s hosting, this month, of a Regional Security Summit to boost military operations against Boko Haram and forge a global support for the rehabilitation of Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs and rebuilding of the North East.
However, there are some Nigerians who prefer to believe that Buhari has excelled more as an anti-corruption President and say he deserves plaudit for that, especially given the prevalence of corruption in Nigeria before he assumed office. While acknowledging their sentiment in this regard, Adesina said the anti-corruption actions of the President have resulted in the arrest and trial of looters of public funds, “with many of them returning funds that had been stolen under previous administration”. He did not stop there.
“The anti-corruption battle is gaining ground with several high profile cases already in the courts. The administration is being guided by the rule of law in the prosecution of corruption cases. President Buhari enlisted the support of multilateral institutions like the World Bank and IMF, security agencies, Western countries and other friendly nations to source, locate and repatriate stolen assets.
“To create a frame work for prosecuting the war against corruption and institutionalize probity, President Buhari set up an Advisory Committee on War Against Corruption,” he said.
An essential component of the anti-corruption fight is government’s spirited quest to recover looted funds stashed either locally or in some foreign countries.
He said that since being sworn into office, President Buhari had enlisted the support of multilateral institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, IMF; security agencies, Western countries and other friendly nations to source, locate and repatriate stolen assets. “In the first quarter of 2016, President Buhari embarked on trips to the Middle East to sensitize the governments on the need to repatriate stolen assets and hand over the looters for trial in Nigeria. In January, Nigeria and UAE signed Judicial Agreements on Extradition, Transfer of Sentenced Persons, Mutual Legal Assistance on Criminal Matters.
In March 2016, the Federal Government and the Swiss Government signed a Letter of Intent On the Restitution of Illegally-Acquired Assets forfeited in Switzerland.”