Politics

May 26, 2024

Tinubu is running a government without human face — Labour Party

Rivers Crisis:

Says Mr. President has taken tribalism in terms of appointments to the next level

By John Alechenu

In this interview, the National Publicity Secretary of the Labour Party, Obiora Ifoh, speaks about the last 12 months of the President Ahmed Tinubu-led All Progressives Congress (APC) administration. Ifoh describes it as falling short of the expectations of Nigerians. Excerpts:

President Bola Tinubu has spent one year in office. What does the first year in office mean to you?

In the last one year of this administration, we have taken a critical look at the policies, programmes and how it is going about addressing them. It’s been a year best described as a year of hopes deferred. We have come to the conclusion that Mr. President and his party are not prepared for the task of governance. Their intent was to capture power.

Indeed they captured power by grabbing, snatching and running with it. I don’t want to bother Nigerians with a rehash of what transpired during the 2023 elections. The truth about who was given the mandate is well known and what happened afterwards is equally in public domain. The fact however remains that someone was given the opportunity to steer the ship of state and that man is President Tinubu. I remember on May 29, 2023 when the President spoke to Nigerians. His first policy statement signaled the beginning of the economic mess we are in today. In three words, “subsidy is gone”, he laid the foundation for capital flight and the disappearance of small and medium-scale enterprises which were brought to their knees by the preceding Buhari-led APC regime. We thought he had a strategy, a methodical approach to the removal of subsidy which would involve the putting in place of clear cut buffers for the aftershocks of such a drastic action but alas, it set the tune for what has now become a standard operational procedure for this administration- act first, think later instead of the other way round. Today, Nigerians are paying over N600 per litre of petrol in an oil-producing nation, we’ve never had it this bad. How the President handled the subsidy removal issue is like what our principal, Mr. Peter Obi, described as performing a cesarean section without anaesthesia.

The President ran on the mantra of ‘Renewed Hope’ which implied making life better for Nigerians. If you were to assess him on that mantra, would say he has actually renewed the hope of Nigerians?
I would throw the same question back to you and fellow Nigerians. Has this government given anyone outside the corridors of power any hope? My simple answer is no. What this administration has done in the last one year is to defer our collective hope as a nation. We in the Labour Party believe that the removal of fuel subsidy is necessary but must be given a human face.

Why would someone remove subsidy on petrol without putting in place measures to contain the fallout? We are not talking about sharing N5,000 to households when the bulk of what workers earn is spent on transportation, school fees, house rent and out of pocket expenses for medical attention. Let the administration come out and tell Nigerians how many genuine investors have come into Nigeria since Tinubu came on board. The Bureau of Statistics can help with the figures of how many local and international manufacturing firms have folded up within the same period.

He promised to fix the battered economy he inherited from his predecessor, Muhammadu Buhari, who is also a member of All Progressives Congress, APC. 12 months down the line. What can you say about the management of the economy?

What this administration has delivered on is its promise to build on the foundation laid by the Muhammadu Buhari administration. Of course, it has built on the foundation of hardship being inflicted on Nigerians. The price of goods and services has quadrupled, inflation has risen to heights hitherto considered unimaginable. Africa’s richest man and foremost businessman, Aliko Dangote, who incidentally is a Nigerian, told the world at the African CEO Forum held in Kigali, Rwanda, only a few days ago, that the Nigerian government takes 52 percent of every one Naira his company makes as profit through all kinds of taxes. What does this tell you about the cost of cement to the end user in the country? How much is a cup of rice in your area? has become the national anthem on the streets. The National Bureau of Statistics has kept us updated about the double digit inflation which as at last week has crossed the 30 percent mark. Are we talking about the inconsistencies in fiscal policies that have led to instability in the foreign exchange market? Or are we to talk about the increase in electricity tariff? It is clear to the all and sundry that all this administration is interested in is the comfort of the few who have found themselves in power and their cronies. Today, the electricity distribution companies are taking about Band A, B, and C where citizens are made to pay exorbitant prices for unavailable power. Go and verify the sheer number of factories, companies and small scale enterprises that have closed shop within the last one year and it will give you a fair idea about how ill prepared this administration is for governance. The major activity which this government has given priority to in this sector is taxation. You are a witness to current efforts to introduce another tax called Cyber Security Tax. This is apart from Education Tax, Value Added Tax, Signage Tax and several others too numerous to mention. In Abuja here, you find all kinds of people with all shades of uniforms with receipts demanding for one form of tax or another from motorists, shop owners and struggling small scale entrepreneurs. Lest we forget, toll gates will soon join the fray.
Let’s look at his style of governance and approach. Do you think Tinubu has really demonstrated a clear understanding of the enormous problems in the country and the dangers they portend?
We are yet to see evidence that he understands the enormity of the challenge of providing purposeful leadership for a complex nation like ours. A man who understands these challenges will not behave the way he is behaving. Is this the time to budget N10billion for a car park in the National Assembly when in the same budget paltry N1billion is to be used to construct hostels in federal universities across the nation? Tell me, who will take us seriously when we go cap in hand across nations to borrow money which ends up funding the ostentatious lifestyles of a few when the majority lack access to potable water, education, sanitation, healthcare, and transportation? Of what use is spending over N15 trillion on the Lagos-Calabar Coastal Highway when most of our inter-state roads are in a state of disrepair? Should this be a priority? Why destroy businesses and livelihoods in pursuit of this when you are going around the world under the guise of seeking for investors? When you provide enabling atmosphere, investors will come. No investor will want to risk his funds in an environment where the rule of law cannot be guaranteed, where security of lives and property is a growing concern. We were promised that the refineries will start working because the previous APC government had done substantial work on them, has this happened? Why are we being deceived?

a particular zone. And when people complained, they were told competence is his watch word. In the beginning of this administration we heard about how certain ministers allegedly dipped their hands into the public till and stashed billions of public funds in accounts unknown to government. What happened? One of the ministers was suspended after public outcry, the other who shares some kind of affinity with the powers-that-be is still roaming the streets. So much for the saying that everyone is equal before the law. Apart from the Minister of Aviation, Festus Keyamo, and his Federal Capital Territory counterpart, Nyesom Wike, I really don’t see any other standout minister in this government. At least, one can say there is some measure of direction in the aviation sector with the minister leading the charge of Nigeria and Nigerian businesses getting their fair share of the global market. The price for tickets for international travel is now competitive compared to when he took over. Those in the FCT can testify about the infrastructure development. However, there is the need for transparency in the bidding and contract award process in order to keep corruption in check. Most of the persons picked by the President to drive his economic policies were his commissioners when he served as Lagos State Governor over twenty years ago. It is now obvious that they’ve lost touch with modern economic management ideas which is required to revamp this economy. Some of these men have not gone to update their knowledge. What is happening in the Central Bank of Nigeria today is trial and error.

His supporters claim that the magnitude of mess the President inherited isn’t what to make Nigerians expect a quick turnaround in key areas. Do you agree?

It has become some kind of tradition among successive governments in this country to blame their predecessors for whatever failings they encounter. For eight years, Buhari, the APC and their supporters found employment in blaming the Peoples Democratic Party administration which left office in 2015. Today, APC has taken over from an APC government and they are doing the same.

Nigerians are sick and tired of excuses and are eager to see positive results nothing less. With due respect, Mr. President, who was the National Leader of the APC, knew the level of the rot he is talking about because it was the policy and plans of the APC that Buhari executed. In fact, he told us that he would build upon what Buhari did. So, there is no excuse for non-performance.

Many Nigerians feel that the policies of the Tinubu administration, especially as they affect the lives of the citizenry, lack empathy. They include subsidy removal, increase in electricity tariff, high cost of importation/Customs duties and taxes. What’s your take?

The answer to this question is in every household. The cost of a bag of rice has jumped from under N20,000 to over N75,000 within one year, the cost of a bag of beans is even higher. This can be traced to the rising cost of doing business. The cost of transport which takes the lion’s share of profits is transferred to consumers. Subsistence farmers who served as buffers have been denied access to their farms because of the activities of bandits and other non state actors. Energy costs and multiple taxes have also driven investors out. The Chief Executive of TotalEnergies, Patrick Pouyanne, told the world that the company decided to take a $6billion investment to Angola instead of Nigeria because of the inconsistencies in government policies here. All this happened within the last one year. Which investor would want to risk investing in this kind of environment?

In its defense of the reforms that have made life very difficult for Nigerians, government said the policies were necessary for the country to survive. Do you think there could have been better ways of keeping the country going without inflicting pains on the citizens?

The answer is yes. There are ways to go about this. Our presidential candidate in the last election laid it bare when marketing the Labour Party manifesto. First, get the refineries to work; this will save the much needed foreign reserves which we deplete by importing refined petroleum products and even secretly pay subsidy for.

This will create direct and indirect jobs and reasonable taxes such as Personal Income Tax will generate revenue for government which, in turn, will provide services to make the lives of citizens and residents easier.

Eliminate multiple taxes and stop the practice of granting waivers for luxury items while supporting genuine manufacturers with incentives to produce goods thereby creating jobs. Take the issue of security seriously by ensuring that every person in Nigeria feel safe to live, work and invest in any part of the country. There is no better way to attract local and foreign investments.

We have seen the administration scoring itself high on security. What’s your assessment of the handling of the security situation nationwide in the last one year?

This is an area where this administration must be circumspect in making claims. Can this administration in all honesty say it has improved security? I live in a part of Abuja called Gwarimpa. In a District just opposite mine, only a fortnight ago, scores of persons were abducted by kidnappers from their homes in Dawaki right in the heart of Abuja.

Members of the family of a security personnel including a pregnant woman and her three children were kidnapped in Dei Dei, another area in Abuja suburb also last week. Such incidents were, before now, recorded in the fringes of Sambisa forest.

The last one year has been horrible. I’m not in any way indicting our security agencies, they are doing their best but huge funds which appear in the defence budget has not reflected in the lives of the fighting men and women in the front line. Government needs to do more.

We have all this trouble but what this government had concerned itself with is awarding a multi-billion dollar contract for the construction of Lagos- Calabar Coastal Road and billions for the construction of another residence for the Vice President.

In your capacity as the leading opposition party in the country, what advice would give the government to succeed in areas where it is struggling?

Our interest in the Labour Party is the survival of Nigeria and well fare of its citizens. This government must begin to give priority to things that have direct impact on the lives of ordinary. Government must give attention to how Nigeria can become food sufficient. Close to 60 percent of our landmass is arable, if properly cultivated; we can feed the entire West African sub-region at least. I take you back to our manifesto which has its focus on taking Nigeria away from a consuming nation to a productive one.

Each of the 36 states has at least two crops that can be grown on its soil. Why not work with state governments to leverage on this and produce this for consumption and export ? Deal with the energy crisis to revive our industries that have gone under. This is beyond giving out handouts as palliatives. Make use of the free trade zones to stimulate export of out manufactured goods the positive effect of this on the economy is unquantifiable.