January 31, 2023

2023: A stitch in time in fuel and Naira scarcity


AT the end of his tenure in 1985, the then Head of State, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari, granted his last interview to Halilu Ahmed Getso of FRCN Kaduna. The answer to the last question in the interview was very informative. What last message do you have for Nigerians? Halilu asked.

Buhari, aware of plans to topple him, simply said that if anyone thinks leading the country is easy, let him come and try it. Barely two weeks later, Buhari was overthrown. My kind-hearted mentor planned to retire to a quiet life at the time. No. It was to be four years of torturous isolation and a haunting nightmare for 30 long years.

A decade later, Buhari would tell the world that he did not order the search of the houses of Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Sheikh Abubakar Mahmud Gumi when he was head of state. It was done by some fifth columnists. Unfortunately, as he noted, neither Awo nor Gumi were alive to forgive him. 

To Egypt. In their bid to topple Muhammad Mursi from power, the military and some prominent businessmen orchestrated fuel shortages and power outages in order to pitch the Egyptian populace against the Muslim Brotherhood and its regime. They then hired some youth organisations to carry out demonstrations that snowballed into the July 3, 2013 coup. I was shocked to watch the public confession of the sabotage after all was done. Dr. Mursi was immediately arrested and incarcerated until he died. 

Sabotage: The sabotage script is among the standard templates used by people who want to topple governments. Opposition parties that lack credibility in fledgling democracies do the same. As a result, the recent cry of the APC presidential candidate echoed in two issues—fuel scarcity and the shortage of new naira notes—that are spawning the anger of Nigerians barely a month before the presidential election, cannot be dismissed.

With his name representing the ruling APC on the ballot paper, he has every reason to voice out his concerns. His reading of the situation is that it is sabotage against him and the party at the polls by moles in government and business whose loyalty is to the opposition.

What else can explain the CBN’s inability to make the naira notes it printed available to citizens for three months since it announced the new policy last October? Is it that it did not print the new notes sufficiently, or that it is unable to transport them to its state branches and issuing them to banks in sufficient quantities?

That banks are unable to issue the new notes this late after threatening to reject any old one early this week betrays a sabotage of the present government, targeting the harm that the pain would cause the APC ticket on February 25. The pretexts for fuel scarcity under different pretexts since the flood of last September can hardly acquit the relevant agencies of the same intention.

The government is paying the subsidy. Why would they allow distribution to become a problem at this crucial moment, just weeks before the elections that will determine whether or not it will retain power or lose it? Is the regime so inept at pressing the right buttons to force compliance by officials and fuel marketers that even undergraduates in mechanical engineering can execute successfully?

Indifference: I do not share the indifference of the president in this case because it undermines his legacy and his future. If he is proud of his performance over the past eight years, which he ought to be, he must take measures to protect it. You don’t just abandon a child you’ve nursed for eight years to fate. Nigeria is that child, which he nursed for so long.

The projects he started and the younger ones that travelled with him along the difficult path of governance must not be abandoned. There is a future for completion in one case and for political ambition in the other, even as the president personally feels fulfilled. The other reason is that no one can predict what happens after allowing power to slip through his fingers. Because it could be brutal if chances are not taken.

Men acquiring power after a dirty fight behave like lions, except for a few forgiving ones. Once victorious, the majority do not take hostages. They strangulate the enemy until it can no longer breathe. That power tradition was miscalculated in Buhari’s risk assessment in 1985. As he spent his dark days in prison, the corruption he fought returned in full force, and the lieutenants he brought with him have been washed away into the sea by the new regime.

Today, none can assure the President of the continuity of his good policies, finish his projects, or shelter his lieutenants better than his party and its presidential candidate. Relying on the promises of the opponent is like writing on water. To think of safety in the jaws of the lion will be regrettable. 

“The Lion of Jada”: The opposition is naturally cashing in on the pain that the deliberate failure of the government is causing Nigerians, smiling as if it has grabbed manna falling from heaven. Officials who want the corrupt practices to continue if the opposition wins the election are also happy, while the ruling APC and its candidate are left in pain and powerlessness.

If I were the president or a member of his cabinet, I would have a rethink. I will remember 1985 and the pain it caused me. I will not miscalculate it this time, as I can see the same people who orchestrated the coup in 1985 are today busy running errands for the PDP to defeat my government again.

It will be a mistake to trust them or hand over the country to them. And what will follow the victory of an injured “Lion of Jada” can best be imagined. This time it will not only affect the president but also his family, relatives, friends, associates, ministers, and the party. 

Anyone who does not know what an election defeat portends should ask some ex-governors. Bauchi in 2007 is a classical example. Good luck was for Jonathan; it might not be for everybody. “The Lion” cannot be indifferent. In the unlikely event of Tinubu losing the elections, the biggest loser will be the APC.

It is a merger of three parties cobbled together to defeat the PDP, and which will disintegrate in the ensuing atmosphere of distrust that the defeat will bring. The President and the government must face their responsibilities and refuse to allow internal saboteurs and petrol marketers to succeed. While we are in the vanguard of welcoming the cashless policy, the CBN must be directed to issue sufficient new notes to banks and the public. 

The President must also press the NNPC to ensure that fuel scarcity is overcome quickly. Otherwise, he must know that he only has, like a coin, two outcomes in 2023: a head with the anticipated victory of the front runner, which must not be in spite of the President and his officials but because of them; a tail, in which he loses, and the President and his officials must prepare for a long night in which the sun will set, stars will eclipse, and life after office will not be the quiet they calculate but a bitterly distressing one. 

Call: I will call on Nigerians, as did the APC candidate, to defy the saboteurs and vote for someone who has the ability to change things; someone who has proven to be an achiever; a modernising innovator; ready to draw on the brains of experts and technocrats; deploy latest techniques and technologies to solve intractable administrative problems and to execute projects in record time; carry workers and the Nigerian people. That person is the front runner in the presidential race, Chief Bola Ahmed Tinubu. 

He leads with the determination that problems such as fuel shortages and the distribution of Naira notes will be solved with the skill that will put an end to the privileges of saboteurs, who are the source of our current suffering and must not be supported. Four years for our undergraduates, he said, will be four years. Period. That is the language of efficient administrators, which saboteurs hate to hear but which we will continue to sound into their ears. I must remind the President that in the game of power, peace is earned, not granted. 

The wise, like Obasanjo and many other governors, who determined their successors, fought hard while still in power to earn the peace they would enjoy. President Buhari must fight hard to ensure the success of his flag bearer, as if he were on the ballot paper. The year 1985 must not reincarnate. For his future peace, it must remain dead. A stitch in time!

Dr. Tilde, a public affairs commentator, wrote from Bauchi