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What Tinubu Needs To Start Doing

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Fuel Subsidy: President Tinubu’s Quick Baptism

The Insight by Lateef Adewole

The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), on Tuesday, released a report that it termed “Selected Food Prices Watch (May 2023)”. It entails how the prices of many food items have changed in Nigeria in the month of May 2023, when compared with previous month of April 2023, referred to as ‘Month-on-Month’ and when compared with the same period in previous year May 2022, referred to as ‘Year-on-Year”.

These data give the inflationary trend within these periods. To be sincere, the figures are not palatable. I don’t want to start filling the articles with plenty numbers. Although, it was in the May 2023, the last month of the last administration of former President Buhari, one can only imagine what the figures will be when that of June 2023 is released. That will be the first full month of the present government under President Bola Ahmed Tinubu. I don’t think anyone needs a soothsayer to tell them what the report on inflationary trend will look like. It is likely to be more scary.

Although, all these statistics mean little or nothing to majority of the people who might not see or read them, or understand what they mean in real term. However, the real life impacts are clearly felt by them. Sometimes, when the inflation is said to be going down, it always seemed people don’t feel it, or may be, it’s psychological that in Nigeria, prices of things only go up, not down. So, whether the inflation figure reported is going up or down, people care less. But, prices do go down in actual sense, just not too often.

I raised the concern about the likely inflation figures of June 2023 because of the impacts, many negatives, of some revolutionary policies that the newly inuagurated Tinubu’s administration began immediately he took over. As a person who supported the aspiration, candidacy and the presidency of Tinubu so far, I am confronted with many questions by family members, friends, colleagues, associates and readers of my weekly articles, as to my opinion about the various decisions of the administration and what Nigerians are going through as a result.

Many do so just to gloat. These are people who were against Tinubu becoming the president from the beginning. They criticised those of us who supported him and now look for every opportunity to criticise him and his government, blames of which we also share as his supporters. They say that they hope I have seen what ‘we’ brought on the people. Such category do not genuinely seek clarification, explanation or understanding. They just want something to hold on to, to criticise.

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The other group are those who believe in Tinubu’s capacity to govern the country to success. However, they were shocked and confused as to why he could have been taking actions that seemed to ‘punish’ the same people who love him, supported and voted for him, with the various policies. They genuinely seek to understand what is really going on. This is the category that needs answers and explanation, and whose understanding should be sought.

Only those who blindly support any politician, political party, government, or who are die-hard sycophants, that will say all is well in Nigeria today, can say everything is fine and that people are happy. I am not one of such. But I am someone who seeks knowledge and understanding of what happens in government. All that the Tinubu’s administration has done so far, all their decisions and actions, are what I have advocated for in many years, including the last eight years. So, I had, fairly, the knowledge of their aftermath and anticipated them. So, I wasn’t surprised or shocked.

Also, I have projections as to the trajectory of events and what should be expected in the immediate, medium and long term, the last two being the most critical. All the reforms being carried out will have long lasting postive impacts on the country and the people in the long run, while the pain has to be borne in the short term. As they say “no pain, no gain”. That government must do everything possible for these long term gains to accrue to the country and Nigerians remains my interest and focus.

But, like the Yorubas would say “ayangbe aja dun, nkankan la o maa je k’aja to gbe”. This can be summarily explained that even if there will be long term benefits of many painful decisions taken and or to be taken now, people need to survive and be alive to see these benefits in future. Therefore, what’s government doing or what must government do, to keep the people alive, to keep the ‘Renewed Hope’ alive till then?

What seemed to top the hierarchy of the decisions that have changed peoples’ lives so fast and hit them badly, was the removal of petrol subsidy by Tinubu. Or should I say, the implementation of the law that demands the removal because, technically, he wasn’t the person who removed it. That was already in the law and also categorically put in the 2023 National budget to end by June 30. Tinubu merely put a force to it. However, since government is a continuum, he has to take responsibility for the after effects.

Since May 29, 2023, when Tinubu reminded us that petrol subsidy was gone, everything responded to it. As the fuel price shot up from the previous price of N180/L to N488/L in Lagos with the least price, prices of all other goods and services responded and went up. These have put immense pressure on finances of the people, whose incomes have remained stagnant. Their purchasing power has been hugely eroded. Life has become unbearable to many. Suffering has increased. This is the truth.

Although, in spite of these pains, Nigerians saw the wider implications of that action with protests that erupted in some of our neighbouring countries. How come? “Ta ni a na, ta ni ara nta” (who was beaten, who is crying). This only showed one thing; that we have been subsidising petrol for other countries around us while will groan under the debts accumulating due to paying subsidy, thinking we are helping and supporting our own citizens.

This revelation might have calmed the nerves of the people and we didn’t see the usual eruption of protests that used to follow such actions in the past. Today, the reported daily consumption of petrol has gone down by almost 40%. We believe it will be more than this as time goes on. This price increase affected transportation immediately. Fares initially doubled or trippled, but have adjusted to a marginal increase in many routes eventually. This happened because of many engagements with various transporters and their unions by the government. Their understanding was sought to avoid exploitation. Still, the fares are difficult to accommodate within individuals’ incomes.

Another thing affected is price of goods and services that depend on petrol generators to power their facilities due to poor power supply. Most of small businesses and artisans like tailors, welders, vulcanizers, barbers and hairdressers and so on, used small petrol generators to run their businesses. The increase have shot up their costs, which are passed to the customers. This has resulted in lower patronage and subsequent poor sales. These are where these people eke out a living.

Many households use petrol generators as alternative sources of power because of failures from the public supply. Many cannot afford to fuel their generators again. Others now run it for shorter periods. All these make life tougher to live. It is the cumulative effect of these that has translated to increase in prices of food stuffs as presented in the NBS report. Other sectors are similarly affected. But, what can or should the government do in the immediate?

Like I often say, for any government to gain the trust of the people and acceptability of their policies and actions, even when they affect them negatively, the leadership must be sincere. In all they do, they must be compassionate, transparent and be accountable to the citizens. The people must see that their leaders mean well and acting it. It shouldn’t be the case of “òrò mi ni ki e wo, e ma wo ìse mi” (only follow my words not my actions). Such is not acceptable. Leadership should be by example, not precept. Leaders should be prepared to sacrifice, and actual do.

Now that we are here, what do we do, going forward. Given that the first most critical sector that subsidy removal affected is transportation. Government at all levels should focus of how to alleviate peoples’ suffering in this regard. Afterall, all the levels of government will benefit from the savings that will acrue to the country from that removal. So, FG, all states, and local governments should begin providing public buses for commuters at affordable rates.

This example was seen recently in Borno state, where the state government procured 50 luxurious buses for public transportation and 30 pick up vans for farmers to move from their communities to their farmlands, free of charge or at a reduced cost. This might look small but it is a start. If the number is increased and possibly, each local government also do same, it will relieve the peoples’ pains. Similar things should be done across the 36 states and FCT. Lagos is a pioneer in such public transportation through the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) System. It should be expanded, given the population of Lagos. This will be a relief in the short term.

I am never a supporter of the dysfunctional arrangement called Conditional Cash Transfer, as palliative or poverty alleviation measure. This is because of the corrupt-tendency embedded in it and how it is prone to mismanagement. It is inefficient because of inaccuracy of the data they relied on. It is unsustainable. It will be, as it was, abused. No proper accountability. All these are demerits of such arrangement.

Where are those given in the past? Have their lives changed? Have they been lifted out of poverty? Where are the beneficiaries of marketmoni, farmermoni, tradermoni and the likes? Have the supposed “loans” of N10,000. per person shared to them to support their businesses been paid back? Where are the records of those who benefitted from it? That was money down the drain. The lofty school-feeding programme was relatively successful in few state where state governments paid more attention. Kaduna state was one of them.

Yet, it was still abused. Or, how does one explain the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs that told us that they were feeding school children during Covid-19, while the students were in their homes? Hundreds of billions of naira were allocated and purportedly spend on those jamborees yearly. That’s criminal! These would have been ways to support the people now. It is done in many advanced countries. But they have data, records and the structures to deliver such. Mismanagement of such programmes due to corruption was less, unlike here.

So, my appeal is that people will have to bear with the government, take whatever immediate palliatives they can get now and hope for better medium and long term benefits, which are enormous. This seems to be the more focus of President Tinubu, with many actions he is taking. To be fair to him, apart from these pains caused by the actions, they seem to be the right actions to take if we ever want move forward. We can all see how the president and our country have become the cynosure of all eyes globally.

On daily basis, whether while home or abroad, foreign countries, global bodies, international organisations, private businesses and investors, all swarming around our government, trying to get in as early as possible. No one wants to be left behind or be a late comer. This is evidence in numerous meetings that Tinubu attends on daily basis, with various commitments extracted from the visitors on long term huge investments in Nigeria.

When I saw the leadership of Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) visited the president and promised to invest billions of dollars in gas and deep water assets in Nigeria. I was shocked. Was this not the same Shell that was divesting from Nigeria and moving their investments to other countries in the past few years? Nigeria was almost begging them. ExxonMobil, Seplat Petroleum, and others have visited earlier. That is the power of quality and competent leadership. The transnational gas pipeline project from Nigeria to Morocco is back on the front burner.

A group of joint venture partners made up of UTM FLNG, TECHNIP Energies, and JGC Corporation wants to invest a whooping $5 billion in Floating Liquified Natural Gas (FLNG), which will produce 1.5 million metric tonnes of LNG, with 300,000 metric tonnes for domestic market, per annum. This will further lower the price of domestic gas, which has actually gone down in the last few weeks, and will contribute to improved power supply, something that put pressure on petrol demands all along. The project is estimated to generate 7000 direct jobs for Nigerians. These are the long term benefits. Same as many other foreign direct investments (FDI).

As the Tinubu administration is trying to provide enabling environment for investors to come in and invest, he demonstrated this in the four executive orders he signed two days ago. According to the Special Adviser to the president on Special Duties, Communication and Strategy, Mr. Dele Alake, in his press briefing, it was in fulfilment of the president’s promise. These were applauded across the business world. This is good faith and an example of a listening president and government. So, it’s not all about “squeezing blood” out of the people as his traducers would want us to believe, following his reforms in petroleum and financial sectors.

As previously recommended that big buses should be bought by governments at all levels to ease transportation, bigger picture of backward integration in the process that will see the manufacturers of these imported buses come to manufacture them in Nigeria. They can start with putting up assembly plants until local manufacturing will be feasible. This will generate employment opportunities, improve the lives of the citizens and contributes to our national economy. Over time, we can export to other African countries and begin to earn forex from it. This should be a deliberate policy plan of government as we anticipate escalation in demands.

The rail transport system should be made to work more effectively. Lagos-Abeokuta-Ibadan route has been awesome. I have many family members who used the train during this sallah celebration to travel. It was a beautiful experience for them. I supposed similar experiences are available in other routes like Abuja-Kaduna and Itakpe-Warri. In short term, improvements in service delivery and increase in frequency of trips can support travellers. In long term, the rail network that was already planned to cover Nigeria should be completed.

Fresh contracts for expansions should be better negotiated on favourable terms to Nigeria, unlike before. Nigerians should benefit more from the employment generated. We have too many foreigners involved presently. It should also involve technology transfer after completion and parties’ obligations fulfilled. Building rail shouldn’t be a rocket science. There is serious need to ‘revive’ local capacity. I used this deliberately because I know for a fact that Nigeria used to have and still can have very competent indeginous Engineers and experts in rail transportation. We need to revive this. We cannot always depend of foreigners.

Power remains the most critical infrastructure for economic revolution, which tops the agenda of Tinubu administration. So, it is critical to put all into it. The signing of Electricity Bill into law by President Tinubu last month, which further liberates the sector, was a step in the right direction. There were many efforts being put in place by the previous administration. They should be pursued to fruition. Many of them are game changers.

Renewable energy, especially solar, needs boost. We are blessed with abundant sunlight enought to power our country many times over. This should be supported in large scale, even if just for domestic and commercial purposes, to serve households and MSMEs. Being a long term investment, it will reduced dependency on petrol to provide power through the generators. I have solved my power problem through this means, such that I stopped running generator in my house in the last six years. I have enjoyed uninterrupted power in over ten years now, despite public epileptic power supply. This could be the lots of most households and businesses, with serious government supports.

Right now, nearly all the component parts are imported, with attendant high exchange rate for forex required to import and for clearing them at the ports. These make the initial capital required to be high and beyond the financial capacity of many low income earners. Mortgage to support such will be a welcome idea, just as the president has consistently advocated for mortgages in housing, car, and other basic human necessities. Ultimately, bringing manufacturers of these parts; solar panels, batteries, inverters and so on, to manufacture in Nigeria, should be the country’s focus. We can’t always depend on importation of what we consume. We must produce what we consume and consume what we produce.

As we progress in the administration, the expectations of the people are very high. President Tinubu seems to be up to it. If without a full cabinet, his administration has started well in the last 40 days, we only hope that he will assemble a formidable team that will help him perform better and deliver on his great vision for Nigeria. This should not be excuse for needless bureaucracy that increases the costs of governance further, while we are still demanding for reduction. Running a lean government, within the constitutional provision is the best for him. We wish him and his team well as we await the palliatives from government.

May God continue to protect us and guide us aright.

God Bless Nigeria.

You can follow me on:
Twitter: @lateef_adewole
Facebook: Lateef Adewole
Email: [email protected]
Whatsapp: +2348179512401

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July 8, 2023.

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