Things have never remained the same for Nigeria since President Bola Ahmed Tinubu got possessed by the spirit of courage to announce shortly after being sworn in on May 29, 2023, that the fuel subsidy is gone! Inauguration ceremonies at the Eagle Square Abuja were yet to be concluded when the ripple effect of that off-the-cuff statement started being felt in fuel stations across the country. Oil marketers hiked the pump price of petrol. Days later, there was a knock-on effect on the prices of basic goods and services in the country including foodstuffs, transportation, housing, and school fees. It is therefore not surprising that when the consumer price index which measures the rate of change in prices of goods and services, was released, it showed that for the first time in over 10 years, CPI rose to 24.08 percent in July 2023!
As a temporary solution to the high cost of living occasioned by the subsidy removal, the federal government announced an upward review of the minimum wage, grants for micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), the release of 200,000 metric tonnes of grains, and more. On Thursday, the Tinubu administration announced an N5 billion relief package for each state, including the federal capital territory (FCT). The government at the center further released five trucks of rice to each state as part of the palliatives which from all indications is a far cry from what the impoverished people of Nigeria actually need to get by at a time when the inflation rate is between 20 and 25 percent.
Addressing newsmen at the end of this month’s National Economic Council (NEC) meeting, Governor Babagana Zulum of Borno State, explained the N5billion per state relief fund thus: “This funding has to be shared with a formula as follows: 52 percent of this money is given to states as grants, while 48 percent of the N5billon is to be paid back on an installment basis within a period of 20 months to the CBN by the states and the local government areas in Nigeria”. It cannot be overemphasized that these interventions are too paltry to serve as palliatives for the economic hardship visited on Nigerians by the removal of fuel subsidies.
This much came to the fore in states that have so far attempted to distribute the palliatives to residents. In a trending video on social media, some residents of Adewole Ward in the Ilorin West LGA of Kwara state were seen walking away from the venue of the distribution of foodstuffs in the Agunbelewo area. The residents lamented that the entire Agunbelewo was allocated six measures of rice, which is about one and a half painted plastic containers out of the eight bags allocated to the Adewole Ward. Yet, this is where the Governor of the state, AbdulRaman AbdulRazaq, hails from.
A community leader, Yinusa Magaji, could be heard in the video complaining: “We received six measures of rice out of one bag allocated to three areas of Agunbelewo, Gaa Odota, and Adewole Housing Estate in the Adewole Ward”. Another trending video also showed some residents of Osun State lamenting that they were yet to receive the palliatives promised by the Federal Government. The chairman of Somolu Local Council of Lagos State, Abdul Hamed Salawu, came under fire this week over the indecorous manner he dished out food packs to a jam-packed crowd. Without any control measure or orderliness, people were seen trampling on one another just to catch small packs of rice, cassava flake, and beans thrown at them.
Reacting to this development, a netizen, Temitope Ogunniyi, wrote: “In most developed countries, there are low-income earners and homeless people. But the government takes care of them via a lot of programs, one of such is partnerships with Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to establish a food bank where people in this class can go, get food items, clothes, and others”. Apparently, given that palliatives made available by the federal government cannot go around, thoughtless public officeholders resort to favoring the survival of the fittest approach in their distribution of palliatives. Thank goodness there haven’t been instances of stampedes and loss of precious lives whose only offense is trying to survive the hardship brought on them by the federal government’s cruelty. Our source insists that it mustn’t get to this level.
Meanwhile, it bears pointing out that citizens are not the only ones complaining, as some state governments have been telling whoever cared to listen that they haven’t still received the promised palliatives. While some state governments say they intend to start the distribution after receiving all the promised bags of grains, others claim that they first have to clean up their social register so as to ensure that the foodstuffs get to those who really need them. It is in the light of these uncertainties that the Governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki struck the right chord with the statement he made this week. Addressing journalists in Benin, the Governor said he was shocked and scared of the federal government’s inability to plan and effectively respond to the fuel subsidy removal that further inflicted hardship and suffering on Nigerians.
In his words, “I am shocked that people who campaigned around the country, saying that they will remove subsidies, had no clear plans on what to do after subsidy removal. They don’t know what to do and how to support those who will be victims of subsidy removal. I am shocked and scared of what we are passing through today, where the government doesn’t seem to have a plan or solution on how to respond to the consequences of the policy measure put in place by their administration.” We agree with the Governor that it is actually a thing of shock so much so that the cavalier policy was implemented when the full complement of government was yet to be instituted to adequately manage the fallouts.
The federal government has unfortunately input politics to the Governor’s intervention. Our source refuses to see Governor Obaseki’s statement from that lens. Here is a financial expert who spoke from the debt of his knowledge. Besides, he is a serving Governor hence should have all the facts. When Obaseki alerted Nigerians in 2021 that the central bank was arbitrarily printing money, the CBN and government of the day countered him. Today, Nigerians and the economy are reeling from the recklessness and indiscretion of the apex bank. Given that the country is yet to move away from discussions around subsidy removal, it then means that the band-aid shouldn’t have been ripped off ab initio. Assuming that the distribution of palliatives is smooth and efficient, how enduring will the cushioning measures be vis-a-vis the inflationary trend that has become Nigerians’ reality?
In view of the logistics nightmare, wastefulness, ineptitude, likely stampede, and sheer thoughtlessness that has greeted planned palliative interventions by the federal government, this newspaper calls on President Tinubu to immediately return fuel subsidies. If the country must conserve badly needed funds, let the anti-graft agencies be propped up to arrest the monumental corruption that has characterized fuel subsidy management. So many resources can be saved that way. Life must be made more bearable for Nigerians since government exists for the welfare of citizens not to kill them in installments!