By Muyiwa Adetiba
We all literally woke up last week to find the pump price increased – again. Almost every administration does this at least once during its tenure. The script remains the same while the actors vary.
Government of the day increases price, the petrol stations rush to comply, a bargaining see-saw ensues between Government and labour during which the people are massively inconvenienced, during which names and possibly fortunes are made, – a certain Adams Oshiomhole launched his political name during one of these ‘struggles’ – a compromise of sorts is made between labour and Government, price is lowered, petrol stations are now reluctant to readjust, people are again massively inconvenienced, then a new normal gradually becomes established.
The script continues with the Government of the day promising to use the gain of the subsidy removal to improve the lot of the people. Some tokenism is made in the name of different task forces until it fades out…until the next subsidy removal.
Another part of the script is that the opposition party – whichever it is- protests loudly on behalf of the ‘masses’. The labour movements, fuelled – forgive the pun- by those who benefit through the subsidy, promise chaos and instability if the pump price is not reverted to its pre-existing price. In the end, a reduced subsidy returns which gradually builds up again. The corrupt, unconscionable petrol business continues and the petroleum brokers in and outside government, smile all the way to their foreign banks.
Now, I don’t want to get into the politics of petroleum subsidy. That would entail asking why our four refineries have not worked in years. However, if we import most of our fuel as we do, if one judges from the cost of fuel in Europe and America, and if our fuel comes from the same source, then there is a subsidy given the exchange rate.
The weaker our currency, the more the subsidy. This is not to say that subsidy is in itself bad. All countries including capitalist countries, subsidise one thing or the other for their people. But all subsidies everywhere have the potential to breed corruption. Subsidy related corruption can only be mitigated through transparent processes. Transparency is however not the only reason Nigeria is removing subsidies. The country is broke and needs increased sources of revenue from wherever.
That is why electricity subsidy was removed. That is why stamp duty on every transaction has been introduced. That is why VAT has been increased. That could be why ‘CAMA’ has been quickly signed into law –probably to get government’s share of tithes and offerings.
Another reason is that Nigeria has borrowed massively. And as the saying goes, those who go borrowing, go sorrowing. When you borrow, you lose your independence – moral, financial, spiritual. You sometimes even lose your sovereignty and humanity. You subject yourself to the conditions of the lender. Those conditions are usually not humane because the lender wants his money back with interest.
This why at this time of all times, – when COVID 19 has brought enterprises to their knees, when citizens are striving to meet basic needs, when other countries including capitalist countries, are showing human faces to their people by making sure they are not economically drowned – Nigeria is squeezing its people by removing subsidies and increasing taxes.
There are tough times ahead. We should have no illusion about it. The late arrival and somewhat haphazard nature of this year’s rains will not help matters. Food, if care is not taken, will be scarce. Money will be scarce. Crime will increase. These are times therefore, that call for committed, courageous and disciplined leadership. These are times that call for a serious restructuring of the economy, if not the entire polity. Subsidy removal can be seen in that light. But it is not nearly enough. It has to be judiciously spent. Recurrent expenditure has to be cut down from 80% thereabout, to about 50%. Importation of luxurious and non-essential goods must be discouraged.
A second tier of Nigerian entrepreneurs with international connections – the Dangotes, Rabius and Adenugas have enough on their plates – can be empowered and fast forwarded to set up shop in critical industries like some countries did during economic tough times. The cost of governance is way too high. Governors must stop travelling in private jets. They must stop the carnival like convoy of expensive cars when they move around. The presidential jets must go.
They are a luxury Nigeria can no longer afford. Imported cars must be replaced by made in Nigeria cars for all government officials. Cars, including bullet proof cars, are made in Nigeria. Why not patronise them? Bi-cameral legislature is a waste of money and resources. So are full time legislators in these dire times. Pension provisions for past governors should be stopped immediately.
Medical and educational tourism are contentious issues that should be tackled head on if the whole country, and not just the people, is going to tighten its belt. If our hospitals and schools are good enough for the people, then they should be good enough for our leaders.
Therefore, those whose illnesses require foreign treatment at this time should retire from public service and do so as private citizens. Those who prefer foreign schools for their children should indulge in their preferences as private citizens. In other words, no public official, or their spouse, should travel abroad for these two.
High time our leaders started making sacrifices. High time our senior public officials started showing basic patriotism. High time the country started taking pride in made in Nigerian products. High time we all started investing in Nigeria. If we must be at the economic war front, then we must be there together and we need our leaders commanding us from the battle front.
If we must stand in the belting rain or the scorching sun, we need our leaders to endure the harsh elements with us. If we must tighten our belts by a notch or two, we don’t want leaders who are over- weight; or leaders who belch from too much food. We are tired of leaders who stay in their air-conditioned offices while the rest of us are drenched in the rain. Or scorched by the sun.