TINUBU’S RUDE AWAKENING
“We Africans all over the world
Suffering and smiling!
Every day my people dey inside bus
Forty-nine sitting, ninety-nine standing
Them go pack themselves in like sardine…” — Fela Anikulapo Kuti.
In 1977, the king of Afro-beat music genre, Fela Anikulapo Kuti released an album titled: “Shuffering and Shmiling” from which lyrics, the above lines were culled. The song hinted on decades of existential uneasiness that characterized his generation and forecasted many years of avoidable poverty that would underscore Nigeria’s underdevelopment. And 26 years after his death, this prophecy had continued to come through.
On many occasions, Nigerian leaders had subjected their citizenry to teeth-gnashing socioeconomic hardship as burden bearers of their leadership failure. We just witnessed irrational naira redesign policy that brought in austere cash crunch that left everyday Nigerians economically devastated for over three months. The policy would in the end yield no single positive result.
On May 29, a new administration came in town with Bola Ahmed Tinubu (whose election legitimacy is still being contested in court) taking the front seat. The first thing he did was to announce total removal of subsidy on premium motor spirit (PMS) on the spot.
This threw the country into confusion! A policy statement as huge as oil subsidy removal ought not be casually made in such manner. The resultant ergonometric effects on the masses are usually unpredictable.
The independent petroleum marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) inexplicably hiked the product price, as a liter shooted to as high as N600 in some stations, while millions of Nigerians resorted to panic buying measures. Those who transported themselves from “the winding creeks of the Niger Delta, the vastness of the northern savannah, the boardrooms of Lagos, the bustling capital of Abuja, or the busy markets of Onitsha” (in Tinubu’s voice) to Abuja to witness his inauguration, could not foot the hiked transport fares back to their destinations, no thanks to the knee-jack decision of their new president.
As the marketers continue to hoard the product in the face of market uncertainty, Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) is sleeping on duty, while customers pass sleepless nights in stations. The regulatory bodies in both upstream and downstream sub sectors of the oil industry are nowhere to be found at this moment of need.
The problem is that at the end of this dark energy tunnel, we may still not see the light of economic buoyancy, because no one is sure the regime will reinvest the proceeds in building “public” infrastructures. I choose my words carefully here; because as usual the proceeds may end up in “private” pockets (building stomach infrastructures) of cronies in the presidency.
No one is sure whether Tinubu has the requisite situational awareness to hold his cronies accountable. Will he re-instate palliative and cushioning programs like former President Jonathan’s “Subsidy Reinvestment Program” (SURE—P)?
After two days of distasteful queue in fuel stations, New Telegraph newspaper’s banner headline on Wednesday, May 31 read: “Tinubu backpedals; says fuel subsidy removal not with immediate effect.” An indication that Nigerians may end up suffering for nothing, as usual.
It didn’t start today anyway.
In January of 2012, under President Jonathan, similar pronouncement and its cringing effects lasted for about one month, after which it was quashed.
Recall: that after years of military rule, Nigeria crafted and adopted a new constitution in 1978, and held general elections in 1979 that ushered in Alh. Shehu Shagari’s administration. And as the global price of oil skyrocketed within the period, the country began to enjoy economic prosperity, a degree of social stability and political influence among African states.
As in other oil-rich nations, however, Nigeria’s wealth was not evenly distributed. A few Nigerians became billionaires, while many lived in squalor. They mismanaged the fortunes of oil boom era. But when revenues from oil dropped precipitously as a worldwide oversupply of oil brought prices down, time ran out for President Shagari.
Economic hardship bedevilled the country. Instead of looking inwardly to blame the man on the mirror, Shagari adopted blame-shifting games. He distracted citizens’ attention, and blamed the economic woes on illegal immigrants from neighboring countries.
And so in 1983, his government spared no energy in expelling about two million undocumented West African migrants, half of whom were from Ghana. The sturdy, checked bags into which they packed their belongings while leaving have become a symbol of exclusion and intolerance between the countries till date. That was how the bag became known as “Ghana-must-go.” In the end, Nigeria was plunged into austerity that lasted until Shagari was outsted on December 31 1983.
The demise of that inglorious second Republic was summarily brought about by the total breakdown of law and order, and the apparent insecurity in the country arising from the bitter political wrangling generated by the 1983 general elections. The nation was moving dangerously in murky political waters that could have hit the reefs.
Juxtapose 1983 with 2023, and draw your conclusion. Once again Nigeria is on the precipice!
Such abysmal downward plunge of the already battered economy, the unmitigated corruption, greed, avarice, lack of public probity and accountability, hunger and abject poverty, and the aimless drifting of the ship of state which characterised the last days of the Second Republic prompted the Armed Forces to strike in the midnight of December 31, 1983 and install Major General Muhammadu Buhari (then GOC 3rd Division, Jos) as the new Head of State.
People trusted the junta would do better to relieve their pains. He came by as an interventionist, offering shortcut route to economic freedom, which ended up causing Nigeria sadness without fruit.
His arid policies included the change of colour of the nation’s currency notes (except the fifty kobo note) in April 1984 to stop currency trafficking. The exercise rendered almost half of the estimated N6 billion in circulation worthless at the expiration of the change. He okayed closure of the Nigerian borders in January 1984 to stem smuggling. Instead of devising means to bring traffickers and smugglers to book, he choose to spare the monsters while the masses bear the brunt.
The same man returned to power 32 years later, as an octogenarian civilian president, plunged the nation into economic recession twice in six years, and cluelessly enacted naira redesign policy that became fruitless in the end.
Tinubu, another octogenarian, has inherited a moribund economy from him, and while the masses hoped on him, he made a rash statement signalling an end to subsidy regime.
Nigerians are suffering in an unending petrol queues, but it is fascinating to hear some of them express optimism that it will only last for short period and things will normalize. This was the same position they took during naira redesign days few months ago, which came to nothing.
Fela was right: “Suffering and smiling” has mastered us as a people.
Let it be known that our problem is not subsidy. The real problem is the cloud of corruption that surrounded it. No president has been able to uproot these cabals who feast on our oil patrimony. Instead of wresting them out of that cesspool, President Tinubu like his predecessors choose window-dressing — fighting from the periphery.
Instead of fishing out and prosecuting the culprits, he choose to shy away and place on Nigerians the weight of inflationary burden which experts define as the short term implication of the policy. The unanswered question is “how short is the short term?”
May daylight spare us!