No matter the level of hopelessness in the land, people will breathe a sigh of relief once they are assured of hope at the end of the day. Nigerians are so helpless now and thank God, the mantra of the present government is: “Renewed Hope.” So when the assurance of the redemption has come, then what is next in the present circumstances is timeline. That is: For how long exactly are Nigerians going to wait to buy petrol at affordable pump price? Then when exactly will Nigeria stop importing wholesale petroleum products from abroad for local consumption?
When will Nigerian refineries start working? Either the present government agrees or not, finding an answer to that most important poser today in Nigeria is the solution to the myriads of problem plaguing the society. It is no use talking about how past leaders have been so wicked to fellow compatriots by abandoning the nation’s refineries to rot away, preferring to ship out crude and then use hard currency to buy refined products for local use.
As one of top oil producers playing in the highest league in the world, one would wonder in vain that administrations after administrations in Nigeria felt so unashamed that all the nation’s refining facilities were run down, cannibalised. Then, they chose to pick up their portmanteau and in cahoots with rent seekers, milked the country dry in the name of subsidy. It is so unthinkable.
Before the All Progressives Congress government came on board in 2015, its presidential candidate then, who eventually became president, Muhammadu Buhari, never for once believed there was subsidy. As far as he was concerned then, subsidy was a scam. And the same Buhari paid phantom subsidy to ghosts for eight, wasteful years. Not in millions, billions but trillions. So, which one is the bigger scam? It is so disheartening that Buhari not only paid subsidy in trillions, he did not think of bequeathing Nigeria with a working refinery throughout!
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So by the time he closed shop, the damage to the economy was already an open book. Buhari made a feeble attempt to remove subsidy, but almost immediately recoiled when he was confronted with security reports that the regime might not be able to withstand another protest after #EndSARS uprising, which happened in October 2020.
That is the more reason why President Bola Ahmed Tinubu should open up to Nigerians and put timelines to all steps being taken to right the wrongs of his predecessors in office. He should tell the truth that the aftermath of the removal of oil subsidy may not go away in a jiffy. So instead of pursuing any quick fix that would end up portraying his government as inconsistent or not focused, there is nothing wrong to say: ‘Look my people, we cannot apply any short term solution to this problem. It may take one year for it to go away.’
But President Tinubu must be specific when giving such timelines. He must show fellow compatriots that he actually had his thinking cap on when he started campaigning to succeed Buhari.
Of course, it was so reassuring on July 14, 2023 when on Tinubu’s behalf, Dele Alake, then the Special Adviser on Special Duties, Communication and Strategy, reeled out so many measures aimed at crashing prices of food in what some reports described as a declaration of emergency in food security. Addressing newsmen in Abuja, Alake, who is now a Minister, said his boss wants to ensure citizens never go to bed hungry again. He said Tinubu’s government would invest in agriculture and provide security for farmers to enable them to work on their farms without fear.
“As a direct and immediate response to this crisis, a number of initiatives will be deployed in the coming weeks to reverse this inflationary trend and guarantee future uninterrupted supplies of affordable foods to ordinary Nigerians,” the President said through his spokesman, adding He stated that fertilizers and grains would be immediately released “to farmers and households to mitigate the effects of the subsidy removal”.
According to him, this should make food available to many in Nigeria, adding that efforts would be made to stabilise food prices. “We shall create and support a National Commodity Board that will review and continuously assess food prices as well as maintain a strategic food reserve that will be used as a price stabilisation mechanism for critical grains and other food items,” he added.
These are lofty ideas, no doubt, but when specifically would they be done so that the populace would know exactly how long they would have to wait tightening their belt? Hear him more: “We will engage our security architecture to protect the farms and the farmers so that farmers can return to the farmlands without fear of attacks. The Central Bank will continue to play a major role of funding the agricultural value chain.
“Activation of land banks. There is currently 500,000 hectares of already mapped land that will be used to increase the availability of arable land for farming which will immediately impact food output.
“Mechanization and land clearing: The government will also collaborate with mechanization companies to clear more forests and make them available for farming
“River basins: there are currently 11 river basins that will ensure the planting of crops during the dry season with irrigation schemes that will guarantee continuous farming production all year round to stem the seasonal glut and scarcity that we usually experience.
“We will deploy concessionary capital/funding to the sector, especially towards fertilizer, processing, mechanization, seeds, chemicals, equipment, feed, labour, etc.
“The concessionary funds will ensure food is always available and affordable thereby having a direct impact on Nigeria’s Human Capital Index (HCI). This administration is focused on ensuring the HCI numbers, which currently rank as the 3rd lowest in the world, are improved for increased productivity.
“Transportation and Storage: The cost of transporting Agricultural products has been a major challenge (due to permits, toll gates, and other associated costs). When the costs of moving farm produce are significantly impacted- it will immediately be passed to the consumers, which will affect the price of food- the government will explore other means of transportation, including rail and water transport, to reduce freight costs and, in turn, impact the food prices.
“As for storage, existing warehouses and tanks will be revamped to cut waste and ensure efficient preservation of food items.
“We will increase revenue from food and agricultural exports. As we ensure there is sufficient, affordable food for the populace, we will concurrently work on stimulating the export capacity of the Agric sector.
“Trade Facilitation: Transportation, storage and export will be improved by working with the Nigerian Customs, who have assured us that the bottlenecks experienced in exporting and importing food items as well as intra-city transportation through tolling, will be removed. These are some of the immediate interventions this government will put in place to tackle this crisis.”
Would anyone dismiss all of these as nothing? They are fantastic measures, but running through the speech, there is no timeline that each would be achievable.
In Tinubu’s nationwide broadcast on August 1, 2023, he also made more lofty pronouncements and unveiled policies which to a large extent would be a breather if they are very well implemented, especially the new minimum wage for workers.
No reasonable Nigerian is expecting any miracle from Tinubu, but as the person occupying the driver’s seat steering the ship of state, he should be open about his moves and challenges. He should tell Nigerians that by tomorrow this is what we will do because it is achievable and this is what we have to wait to do next year because of so so and so. And trust Nigerians, they will understand.