By Owei Lakemfa
I AM surprised that organisations that want to be taken serious said they are surprised that the President Muhammadu Buhari government, in the midst of crushing poverty exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, announced the immediate increase of fuel litre from N121.52 to N143.80. I am surprised that they are surprised. I will be further surprised if they do not know that this increase is merely the first of more increases to come.
I write this so they will not claim to be surprised when the new fuel price increases, higher electricity tariff and taxes would be imposed on Nigerians. I understand this government quite well; while for five years, it has made flowery speeches and contaminated the atmosphere with promises it never intends to keep, it has been honest to let Nigerians know that its true intentions are not in its declarations, but its practices. After all, what is in a speech?
Let us examine the immediate example. Last Tuesday, June 30, the United Nations held a virtual high-level meeting on Trends, Options and Strategies in Poverty Eradication in the face of grinding poverty. Baba Buhari spoke at the occasion vowing to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty. He said he was saddened that over 700 million people worldwide (with Nigerians accounting for one eighth) are in dire poverty.
He lamented: “All the while they struggle with the most basic needs like nutrition, shelter, health, education and access to clean water and sanitation.” He told the world: “In this condition, the number of poor people is estimated to triple as livelihoods across almost all economic sectors have been adversely affected.” He announced that in Nigeria, his government was going to reverse this trend.
Good talk, you will say. Those who do not know how the Buhari government operates might even have clapped. Gullible Nigerians might even start thinking that their dire situation might improve. The very next morning, government announced sharp increases in fuel with immediate effect. Anybody who understands Nigeria will know that the most-poverty inducing strategy is increase in fuel price because the 200 million people depend entirely on private road travels as there is no public mass transit. So, transport costs which have been hiked under the COVID-19 social distancing regime which requires fewer passenger capacity, would be further increased.
The entire food chain from the farmer to the consumer is by road; so there will be increases in cost of food. Most of the country operates in the informal economy trying to run small businesses as petty traders, tailors and vulcanisers. Virtually all of them rely on tiny, environmentally unfriendly generators which guzzle fuel. So a fuel price increase means an increase in their cost of doing business.
The manufacturing sector has mainly been in coma, a lot of it induced by high cost of energy; increasing fuel price merely adds to the burden more so with the country held hostage by government-backed electricity companies who in most cases, supply darkness. Generally, our homes and appliances, are run on generators.
I have come to the painful conclusion that when most of our leaders talk about peace, they are preparing for war; when they speak about peaceful elections, the guns are already out; when they promise the votes will count, they have already written the results; and when they talk about poverty alleviation, the poor should be ready for worse times.
How can any organisation feign surprise about the fuel and electricity increases when these were amongst the Buhari government’s pledges to the International Monetary Fund, IMF, on March 18, 2020? Anybody who wants to dispute this should please Google the government’s April 21, 2020 letter to IMF Managing Director, Ms. Kristalina Georgieva. In the letter signed by Finance, Budget and National Planning Minister, Mrs. Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed, the Buhari government pledged to engage in “further VAT reforms (and) rise in excises”.
These mean further increases in VAT and other taxes and cost of imported goods in a country that is import-dependent. That means government agrees to higher inflation rates. In the same letter, it pledged to the IMF, the “introduction and implementation of an automatic fuel price formula”, which translates to fuel price increases, “moving to full cost-reflective tariffs in 2021”, which is periodic hike in electricity tariff.
In my May 11, 2020 column titled: “General Buhari was more democratic than President Buhari” I drew the attention of Nigerians to this enslavement of Nigeria to the European-run IMF. I wrote that the “most worrying are the government’s acceptance of other stifling IMF Conditionalities like post-COVID-19 increases in the prices of petrol and electricity, the immediate stoppage of employment, scrapping or merger of agencies (using the Oronsanye Report) and massive devaluation of the Naira.”
As I said earlier, the price increases in fuel and electricity tariff are merely the first steps and we should not divert attention about being surprised or blaming faceless agencies like the Petroleum Product Pricing Regulatory Agency, PPPRA, for the increases when we know the masquerade and for whom he is masquerading. The issue for Nigerians or any organisation that claims to love or speak for them, is what should we do? Lie back and continue to be raped, or resist?
I have no doubt that professional scavengers would soon flood the media talking nonsense about landing cost, the price of the dollar and the unsustainability of an illusory fuel subsidy. The issue is: should a country soaked with so much oil and gas import petroleum products?
If after a stretch of 45 years being state governor, petroleum minister, head of state, head of Petroleum Task Force and in the last five years, the Executive President and Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces, his government cannot refine petroleum products, defend our highways against terrorists or our towns and villages against bandits, should Nigerians continue to hope President Buhari has anything substantial to offer?
On June 18, 2020, the President called his security chiefs to say given the serious security situation in the country, their best is not good enough for the country. Nothing substantial has come out of that apart from the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai adding to his ‘Songs of Praise” books, proclaiming himself as the military genius that has come to save the country from insecurity.
I wish President Buhari were more introspective and ask himself if having done his best, that best is good enough for the country. He would find the answer in his home state of Katsina where the young and old have been out in the streets, saying enough is enough! The nuts and bolts of governance in Nigeria have gone lose; we need to start picking them in the streets.