Viewpoint

February 26, 2024

Hardship: If I were President Tinubu

Hardship: If I were President Tinubu

By Chekwube Nzomiwu

IF I were President Tinubu, I will admit that announcing the removal of fuel subsidy on the day of my inauguration was a mistake. I will also admit that the floating of the Naira was an unintended error. Rather than offer Nigerians “Renewed Hope”, these two policies have thrown them into unprecedented hardship.

In just eight months of this administration, some Nigerians no longer know the taste of rice, the most staple food in the country. Others are now eating chaff from rice and dead meat to survive. The economic situation in the country is dire.

The first step to solve the problem is to admit that mistakes were made. Nobody is above mistake. The President is human. All humans are prone to mistakes. Grandstanding and assurances by his economic team will not solve the problem.

I heard Wale Edun, the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy say that before the reforms, only five percent of Nigerians had above N500, 000 in their bank accounts. Today, it is less than one percent. The rich is also crying. The economy is in a state of near depression. The economic situation has heightened insecurity.

Inflation, including food inflation, is at all-time high. Giffen goods like bread and sachet water are no longer affordable. Sick Nigerians can no longer afford drugs because major pharmaceutical companies are leaving the country. Investors are absconding from Nigeria because doing business in the country under the prevailing circumstances is unprofitable. They can no longer cope with the spiraling cost of everything, including fuel, diesel and cooking gas. The country is tilting towards hopelessness.

If I were the President, the best way to assess the success of my reforms is to look at the faces of my people and not listening to the flattering words of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, IMF. The success of any economic policy is determined by its impact on the living standards of the people, going by Lionel Robbins definition of economics “as the social science that studies human behaviour as a relationship between ends and scarce means, which have alternative uses.”  

The richest countries in the world offer one form of subsidy or the other to their citizens. Subsidy is not bad as long as it is honestly and transparently implemented. The President ought to have considered the fact that Nigeria is a petroleum-centred mono-economy before announcing the removal of subsidy. Once the price of fuel is tinkered with, it affects not only transportation and energy supply, but also the price of food and every other commodity in the country.

I have heard the supporters of the President say that his main opponents in the election also campaigned with the removal of subsidy. The period of campaign is over. We are now talking about governance. The eight million Nigerians whose votes catapulted the President from Bourdillon Close to Aso Rock Presidential Villa, are also feeling the heat of his economic reforms. Even the President’s die-hard supporters (not fair weather friends) are now being trolled on the social media because of the economic calamity arising from his reforms.

If I were the President, I would have kick-started my government with wealth creation and not subsidy removal, which has depleted the wealth of the country. If earnings from subsidy removal increased allocation to the states from the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee, FAAC, what is the impact on the economy of the country?

Even in the early days of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, the Federal Government shared bailout funds and Paris Club Refunds to states to settle outstanding emoluments of workers and pensioners. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, later traced the money to private accounts of some governors. We pray that the same fate does not befall the controversial N30 billion given to each state by the Federal Government, according to unconfirmed reports available to the President of the Senate, Senator Godswill Akpabio.  

Every modern society has a power triangle, comprising the government, business and labour. Each component must function for the society to make progress. Without workers, business cannot function. Without business, government cannot function. The three work hand in hand.

Currently, Nigerian workers are agitating. The minimum wage of N30, 000 has been eroded by inflation. It cannot buy half bag of rice. It cannot transport them to work. They cannot pay their children’s school fees and house rents, among other needs.

The businesses cannot function. Manufacturers cannot afford forex to import their raw materials. They cannot afford diesel to run their machines. They cannot pay their workers. Servicing their machines is difficult. Catering for other logistics is a herculean task.If the businesses are not profitable or run out of operation, how will the government get revenue through taxation? Taxation is done on profit and not loss.

If I were the President, I will not wait until my last day in office, like former President Buhari, to apologise to Nigerians for my economic policies that made them to suffer. Although the admission of error in the removal of subsidy will not make the hardship that Nigerians are facing to disappear overnight, it will make them to know that the President is sensitive to the pains they are going through. Telling someone to endure pains that he or she does not know when it will end is like adding salt to injury.

The President should see the hardship that Nigerians are facing as a “hurdle or obstacle” to be removed in the way of the people who are willing to invest in Nigeria. He campaigned for the presidency to offer Nigerians “Renewed Hope” and not to enter the Guinness Book of Records.

After admitting his mistakes, the President should appoint a petroleum expert as substantive Minister of Petroleum and give the person an assignment with a timeline to address all the issues bedeviling the sector, including the subsidy regime, which some people say “is not gone” after all. If subsidy must go, there should be a plan for its full implementation at minimal hardship to Nigerians.

President Tinubu himself has been a victim of political injustice in Nigeria. As the Governor of Lagos State, the Federal Government deprived him of the federal allocation to the local governments in Lagos State because of his attempt to create more councils. No other state has suffered this fate, including states where governors run councils with unelected officials, contrary to Section 7(1) of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended). 

By the way, the Senate passed a resolution in December, asking the President to stop allocation to states operating with unelected officials. The President is yet to implement the resolution of the Senate.

After serving as Governor, he was once charged before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) under circumstances suspected to be politically motivated. As a victim of political injustice, the President should know that removal of subsidy the way it was done, constitutes economic injustice to 230 million Nigerians. He should rethink that policy as quickly as possible to save the country further consequences, some of which could be grave. 

The President should refocus the attention of his government, from the petroleum sector to other means of creating wealth. To make progress as a nation, we must make use of our human capital. I agree with elder statesman and former Minister of Works, Adesewe Ogunlewe that we must not continue to waste the resources we have in our ivory towers.

I expect the President to set up a National Research Council, which will be given the mandate to think out how our enormous human and material resources, including agricultural and solid mineral potentials, would be harnessed to create wealth for the country.

The Federal Government through the Ministry of Labour and Employment must tackle the high rate of unemployment in the country, attributable to dearth of marketable skills, caused by fading apprenticeship programme, resulting in Nigerians losing jobs in their country to foreigners with better skills.

In conclusion, I don’t agree that Nigeria’s wealth is exaggerated. The big countries of North America and Europe do not go to poor countries. Today, the German Chancellor is in Nigeria. Tomorrow, the United States Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken will visit Nigeria. Next Week, the UK Secretary of this and that will be in Abuja. There is something attracting them to Nigeria. We must look inwards for us to realise our full potential and attain greatness. All hope is not lost.

Nzomiwu, a development communicator and political scientist, wrote from Awka, Anambra State