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Paying A Steep Price For Government’s Hubris -By Ikechukwu Amaechi

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SHORTLY after President Bola Tinubu delivered his inaugural speech on May 29, a friend of mine called frantically from Abuja to enquire if I listened to our newly minted President. I didn’t watch Tinubu deliver his inaugural presidential speech but I had read the full text before my friend called. I told him I didn’t watch Mr President deliver the speech and there was a tinge of disappointment in his voice. “But you should have,” he retorted accusatorily. Why, I enquired? “I think we finally have a president who understands what the issues are. His speech ticked all the relevant boxes and addressed most, if not all, of the problems bedevilling Nigeria,” he riposted.

I chuckled even as I wondered whether there was something the president said off-the-cuff while delivering his speech that was not in the one I read. And, indeed, there was. Most Nigerians are either naïve or hypocritical. While the naïve are easily deceived, they, nevertheless, mean well and want the best for the country but self-serving leaders exploit their naivety for self-aggrandisement. My friend was naïve and was simply blown away by Tinubu’s vacuous promises at his inauguration. But the hypocrites are the real problem. They wallow in self-deceit and lie to themselves. Lying to others is bad enough but lying to oneself is the worst of all lies because the damage is enormous.

And what did Tinubu say in his inaugural speech that blew my friend away? He promised that his administration will govern on behalf of the citizens and not rule over them; to make security topmost priority for his administration; assured Nigerians that his administration will create one million jobs through digital economy, and promised accessible and stable electricity by ultimately allowing states to generate and distribute power. But, most importantly, he vowed to ensure a unified foreign exchange rate; make food available at affordable cost; before blurting out, like a possessed man, as he confessed in Paris during a recent trip, that “the fuel subsidy is gone”.

“When I got to the podium, I was possessed with courage and I said subsidy is gone,” Tinubu told his Nigerian audience in Paris. But what possessed him, I dare say, was not the spirit of courage. It was sheer hubris. It is only extreme haughtiness that would push a president to making such a consequential pronouncement at his inauguration – an auspicious and solemn occasion – even when his prepared speech only talked about “phasing out” the subsidy, which was what he actually promised in his “Renewed Hope 2023” manifesto. Two days after that presidential faux pas, the Mele Kyari-led Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited, NNPCL, jacked up the pump price of petrol – Premium Motor Spirit, PMS, – by over 200 per cent from N195 to average of N573 per litre. While Lagos had the least price hike of N488, in far-flung Northeast capital cities like Maiduguri and Damaturu, the product sold for N577 per litre.

Instantly, prices of goods and services quadrupled. When organised labour threatened industrial action, the Federal Government not only got the National Industrial Court presided over by Justice O. Y. Anuwe, to restrain them but also primed the Southwest and Northern caucuses to break away from the Comrade Joe Ajaero-led Nigeria Labour Congress if it proceeded on strike as threatened. It was a classic divide-and-rule gambit, typical of autocrats. Those adorning Tinubu in borrowed robes know they are lying to themselves. As David Pilling, Africa Editor of the Financial Times, wrote recently, “Tinubu has appeared to epitomise all that is wrong with Nigeria’s governing class.”

There are some people, though, who genuinely believe that he will do much better than Buhari. I was persuaded to think so too. Not anymore! His resort to the much-discredited Buharinomics of conditional cash transfer to the so-called poorest of the poor in dealing with the fallouts of the fuel subsidy removal, what many have also dubbed Tinubunomics, is a big cause for concern. Like Buhari, Tinubu’s idea of palliative was to use N500 billion in paying N8,000 monthly to a phantom 12 million poor Nigerian households for six months. That will be a paltry N48,000 for the period. To add insult to injury, the 469 national legislators will get N70 billion of the booty, which if shared equally, will give each member N149 million, a move which the NLC said was tantamount to robbing the poor to pay the rich.

Though Tinubu, on Tuesday, July 18, ordered a review of the N8,000 conditional cash transfer programme due to overwhelming public criticism, there is nothing on ground now to cushion the hardship induced by the removal of the subsidy on petrol. In the statement announcing the suspension of the conditional cash transfer programme, Dele Alake, special adviser on special duties, communications and strategy said Tinubu has also directed that the whole gamut of the palliative package of government be unveiled to Nigerians without saying what they are other than “immediate release of fertilisers and grains to approximately 50 million farmers and households respectively in all the 36 states and the FCT.”

This is sheer deceit. Where are the grains? How many bags will each of the so-called 50 million households get and for how long? Coming a day after the NNPCL, for the second time in less than two months, hiked, yet again, the pump price of petrol by at least 18 per cent from N513 to N617 per litre, the Tinubu government has shown that it has no clue what to do to rein in the debilitating economic genie that is already out of the bottle. Even if he knows what to do, he has definitely no interest in the welfare of the masses. And the worst is yet to come. These are just early days.For those who are hoping that by a stroke of luck, the escalating cost of petrol will tank, that is a forlorn hope. The Tinubu government is abdicating in its core responsibility of ensuring the welfare of citizens by leaving Nigerians at the mercy of market forces.

Speaking on Tuesday at Aso Rock after meeting with the Vice President, Kashim Shettima, the Group Chief Executive Officer of the NNPCL, Mele Kyari, said market forces are responsible for the rising pump price of petrol. He is right. What he didn’t tell Nigerians is to brace up for the worse. It will be worse because all the determinant factors – crude oil cost, exchange rate, freight and handling cost, as well as import charges – are escalating rather than reducing. So, if crude oil cost which is about $80 per barrel today hits $100 per barrel tomorrow, and Naira depreciates to about N1,000 to $1, petrol will sell at over N1,000 in Nigeria as dictated by market forces.

That is the price Nigerians are paying and will continue to pay for Tinubu’s hubris and tactlessness. It is too steep a price. Admonishing Nigerians to further tighten their belts and make more sacrifices when government officials have shown no appetite to heed their own advice smacks of insensitivity. In the midst of this horrendous suffering inflicted on the people, Tinubu has shown no inclination whatsoever of cutting the cost of governance. Lawmakers are still enjoying their jumbo pays and buying customised official vehicles when the Nigerian masses can no longer transport themselves to work, not to talk of putting food on the table. That is contemptuous of the people. The Tinubu administration is taking Nigerians for granted and that is a recipe for anarchy.

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