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Perception Is Crucial To Public Acceptance Of Tinubus Reforms -By Godson Ogheneochuko

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Some discerning analysts have cautioned President Tinubu and his handlers from celebrating too early – and with good reason. Nigerians’ supposed ‘acceptance’ of the President’s early actions should not be misinterpreted to mean that people are generally happy about the decisions.

The President has been mindful of religious sentiments, as well as the Federal Character principle, in his appointments so far. The arrest of Mr Emefiele, the suspended Governor of the Central Bank, appears to be popular in view of the severe hardship imposed on Nigerians through the bungled Naira redesign policy. The change of service chiefs was another decision expected by Nigerians. The President has also been consulting daily and relying on his huge network of allies and influential Nigerians.

On the issue of fuel subsidy, however, it should not be mistaken that Nigerians are happy about having to fork out more than double the sum of Naira to buy the samevolume of petrol. Instead, while a group of Nigerians believe that the subsidy had to be eliminated, they were also unwilling to face the resulting hardship. This group, together with those opposed to the fuel subsidy removal, were however, unable to ‘properly’ show their opposition to the fuel subsidy removal because a critical actor in the opposition circles – the organised labour, comprising the Nigerian Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress, resolved to shelve their planned strike action, at least for now. The foreign exchange unification policy is another great decision but it also imposes some hardships – both on individuals and businesses.

It is against this background that the new Government must conduct itself in the coming weeks. As Nigerians are being asked to make severe sacrifices, someone in the current administration must take responsibility for the message that the Government sends to its people – in terms of tone by the principal players and the actions of our leaders.

The people have clearly received the message that things must change and some other ‘subsidies’(including that of tuition) will be scrapped in due course. As full brunt of the hardships is being felt bymajority of Nigerians, we must see a change in attitude from Government, together with great(er) empathy for those bearing the burden. Nigerians should not be made to believe that all that Government wants to do is to collect, collect and collect from them, rather than supporting them through these hard times.I will provide a few examples.

 

  • The recent move by the Lagos State Government to begin collection of N1000 for a vehicle ownership certificate, following the decision of an emergency meeting of the Joint Tax Board held on 9th May 2023, has left a bad taste, especially as there does not appear to be a commensurate benefit to vehicle owners. It is clear to me that the decision to impose fees for a certificate that has an arguable valuepreceded this administration, which came on board almost three weeks later. Its implementation needs to be reviewed by the current Government. The timing of the announcement is horrendous. The messaging is equally so. This Government should be seen as one that seeks to alleviate the suffering of Nigerians, not to impose greater hardships.

 

  • The FIRS has declared that it wishes to collect Value Added Tax from the informal sector, especially market women, artisans, etc. through what appears to be a well-considered and structured system. The agency is carrying out a mass education / information programme that should help to land this initiative. The timing is, however, also a bit concerning because when people think about the objective of this initiative, all they are likely to see is government reaching further into their pockets to collect the little that they are managing with. An elephant in the room is also how government intends to address the ‘tax’ that is collected by area boys and agents of the State and Local Governments daily but that is a matter for another day.

 

  • The President made his triumphant return to Lagos a few days ago and people noticed that his supposed convoy comprised of a stupendous number of cars. Now, I believe that the convoy was not entirely the Presidential motorcade and that several Governors, many government officials and political disciples, joined the train to ensure that they were noticed by the President and his handlers but the message is clear. Greater transparency, moderation and leadership by example is being demanded by Nigerians – especially the young people. A government voted in by not up to 10 million Nigerians must work very hard to gain acceptance and retain confidence. Own goals and careless errors must be avoided.

Leading Nigeria is a herculean task that can overwhelm the best minds. There should be no illusions that most Nigerians are happy. Instead, it is a waiting game to see how committed this government is to the people. The ministerial list, allocation of portfolios, subsequent appointments, next policy decisions, etc. will give a clearer indication to the people of whether President Tinubu is willing to walk the talk.

As it generally takes time for palliative actions and other socio-economic initiatives to be felt, especially at the grassroots level, it is extremely important for the government to take control of its messaging and ensure seamless policy co-ordination. This is not the time for any agency to ‘go rogue’ or introduce or implement any new initiatives that are inconsistent with the new administration’s roadmap – irrespective of whether they were approved by the previous administration or not. Empathy is crucial.

 

Mr Godson Ogheneochuko is a public affairs specialist at Thekla Advisory (www.thadng.com) and can be reached via godson.ogheneochuko@thadng.com

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