Remove absurdities not subsidies

Successive Nigerian governments have proven irresponsible and largely insensitive to the suffering of the people. In its few weeks of mounting the power rostrum, the President Bola Tinubu administration has not evinced any exceptional trait that can trigger a perception that there will be a difference.  Its starting point of glibly pronouncing that “subsidy is gone” without any thorough ideological – especially social and economical – evaluation is the barest slap planted on the faces of suffering Nigerians in recent time. It beats one hollow to fathom that this administration would accept to implement a policy conceived by an economic novice as the former president Muhammadu Buhari administration which lacked the tact, faith, courage or conviction to remove subsidy in its eight years of woeful hold on the nation. It does sound like eating hemlock for another person’s suicide mission.

In a country where there are no basic social amenities or welfare packages, it is anti-people and insensitive to make such a pronouncement or accept to implement such a policy. Some blind loyalists of this administration have been quick to compare our petroleum pricing to countries such as the US, Canada or UAE ignoring the facts that those countries are not on the same socio-economic level as ours.

In Nigeria, there is no basic health programme for citizens except for paltry attempts by a few states to score political points. There is no free universal basic education too which includes primary to secondary school. Even if there is any, it is again organised by a few sub-nationals. Besides, a vast majority of Nigerians now enrol their children in private schools due to the poor management of the public schools and its inadequacies. In our time, public schools were the best. Today, it is a different story.

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Sadly, electricity supply – an amenity upon which all our lives now depend – is more than erratic. One should not bother to rehearse the quality and standard of living of Nigerians. We wear the shoes and we know where they pinch. In 2022, the United States had a per capita income of $62,000, Canada had $54,104, UAE stood at $48,950. Nigeria struggled to muster a disappointing $2,140 per capita income. Is it not sacrilege to compare Nigeria with these countries?

There is news making the rounds that the Federal Government was planning an N8000 monthly palliative for some households, an idea that seems to have been dropped. For God’s sake that amount is less than $10! Our leaders delight in seeing our people living from hands to mouth. They want to subjugate them forever, only to dole out handouts to them. This nation shall be free.

Up till now, the only excuse that the government has given for removing subsidy on premium motor spirit is that certain elements who are friends to the government and our political leaders, divert products and rip the nation off. They “steal subsidy” through their false claims of importation of fuel. The question is, has the government run out of ideas on how to get these criminals and bring them to book? Why must the poor, the weak, the needy and of course, the pious suffer for the sins of the known few fraudulent individuals?

The Nigerian Police especially the Special Fraud Unit has the capacity to unravel the faces behind the subsidy fraud. Besides the conventional police, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, an agency which I have had the privilege of engaging in many of its works, has the unmatched capacity to unravel any fraud in Nigeria and the identity of those who dwell in darkness to hurl darts at light.  The government should stand up to its responsibility of enforcing the laws rather than passing the cost of complacence or complicity to Nigerians in the form of subsidy removal. The people must not bear the brunt of conscious failure to perform lawful duties of enforcing the law.

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As far as I know, shipping and of course import business are highly documented. There are rules. Apart from those documentations by the government through customs, DPR and other agencies, there are documentations by insurance companies and international organisations. How will Nigeria pretend not to know how to tackle the fraud or get the culprits? If we continue to run our nation based on nepotism, bigotry or any form of unfair patronages, we will not go anywhere.

Now, my heart goes out to our people especially the suffering people of Ondo South senatorial district of Ondo State. In the last 15 years, these people have not been supplied electricity from the national grid. Every household in Ondo South (especially Ilaje, Ese-Odo, Okitipupa and Irele LGAs) who desires to power its business runs on petrol generators. Imagine all the Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises, beauty parlours, barbershops, cold rooms, restaurants, beer parlours, pharmacies,  hospitals, welders, fabricators, fashion designers,  “business centres,” everybody have all had to buy petrol at all times in the last 15 years. Now, they are going to buy the same product at almost 300 per cent increase going forward. Does it not look like Buhari chastised us with whips but this administration chastises us with scorpion?

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These people, my people of Ondo South are the only ones who produce petroleum in the entire South-West. They have no single functional amenity. No roads, no potable water, no electricity. All they now deserve is a paltry sum of N8000; I mean $9.7 per month. This is a typical tale of an average Nigerian and the Nigerian people. Under the same regime, members of the National Assembly are lobbying for higher pay despite their current unreasonably humongous pay.

Generally, Nigeria’s economic strength lies with the MSMEs which are about 37 million and constitute about 96.7 per cent of Nigeria businesses. About half of Nigeria’s GDP comes from these MSMEs. Now, the interesting thing is that almost all of these MSMEs run on PMS. One can only imagine the bandwagon effect of subsidy removal on prices of goods and services.

With the removal of fuel subsidy, the incomes of the MSMEs naturally dwindle, their savings dwindle, their investments too dwindle and productivity will follow in the order of Estonian-American economist, Ragnar Nurkes’s vicious circle of poverty.

It is better that this administration quickly retraces its steps. There is no shame in doing that. The economy is already bleeding and needs to be salvaged. It is better to remove the absurdities and not the subsidies.  A stitch in time saves nine.

  • Asemudara, a lawyer, is the founder, Mission Against Injustice in Nigeria

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