Last Thursday, October 26, 2023, tension was doused and nerves were calmed. This was after the Supreme Court’s seven-man panel headed by Justice John Inyang Okoro delivered its judgement on appeals filed by Atiku Abubakar of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party and Peter Obi of the Labour Party, seeking the nullification of President Bola Tinubu’s victory on the platform of the All Progressives Congress in the February 25, 2023 presidential election in Nigeria.
Like other Nigerians, The Eagle Online is saying to Tinubu: Election is over. Now is time for focused governance. President Tinubu acknowledged the distraction he has had to endure when he met with the German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, who is on a two-day visit to Nigeria, at the Presidential Villa in Abuja on Sunday. He told Scholz: “It is a profound pleasure for me to welcome my friend, Olaf Scholz, to Nigeria. It is a joy to see you here. At this particular period of time. It is just about a few days ago that the Supreme Court of the Federal Republic of Nigeria had a final say on our electoral exercise. The distraction is over. This gives us more time to focus on governance for the people and moving Nigeria forward for economic opportunities and prosperity that will defend democracy.”
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In his post-ruling statement, the President in his message titled: “It is time for us to build our great nation together,” said: “The victory of today has further energised and strengthened my commitment to continue to serve all Nigerians of all political persuasions, tribes, and faiths, with honour and total respect for the diverse opinions and uniting values of our citizens. Our Renewed Hope agenda for a greater and prosperous Nigeria has further gained momentum and I will continue to work from morning to night, every single day, to build a country that meets our collective yearnings and aspirations. We are all members of one household, and this moment demands that we continue to work and build our country together. The strength of our diversity and the great citizenship that binds us must now compel us forward in directing the energy of our people towards building a virile, stronger, united, and more prosperous country. In the days and months ahead, I trust that the spirit of patriotism will be elevated into supporting our administration to improve the living conditions of Nigerians. I am prepared to welcome the contributions of all Nigerians to foster and strengthen our collective progress. I send my immense gratitude to all Nigerians for the mandate to serve our country. I promise again to meet and exceed your expectations in service delivery and good governance, working with my team and trusting in the grace of God.”
And two things happened in quick succession last week that gave hope that things may indeed be looking up for Nigeria following the ruling of the Supreme Court, despite the fact that they were scheduled occurrences or battles that had been on for a long time: the Naira gained some value against the Dollar and the first converted buses to Compressed Natural Gas was delivered to the Federal Government.
We totally support Mr. President in his utmost desire and drives to salvage the country and reposition it. However, in achieving this feat, we must take him back to the basis of the current hardships on millions of Nigerians. The fact be told, the Nigerian economy is crude oil-based, therefore, the removal of the fuel subsidy, with the ailing refineries on one hand, was not a perfect decision. On the other hand, the gesture has its good side, given the activities of few criminal elements, who have been working against local refining of our crude oil. They have milked the country to the bone and brought its economy to its present sorry state.
This time, we are persuaded to align with the position that the President Tinubu-led administration is suffering from devastating effects of policy somersault. We say this because virtually every measure being taken by the Federal Government has been yielding little or no results.
In July for instance, less than three months of the present administration, the market forces necessitated a hike in pump price of the Premium Motor Spirit, otherwise called petrol. Since then, it has been from one problem to another.
For example, when the Federal Government was bombarded with the complaints by fuel importers of difficulty to access FOREX to do business, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited signed a $3 billion loan deal with the African Export Import Bank, an investment but non-deposit financial institution. It was also meant to defend the Naira, which has been crumbling against other currencies. The deal was described as a loan for crude oil swap. Not less than two months after, as we speak, the facility is stillborn!
To worsen the situation, the hope that came with the commissioning of the 650,000 barrel per day capacity Dangote Refinery has since been dashed as the NNPCL-AFREXIM agreement has impeded the private company to source crude oil locally! In our recent Editorial, it was noted that the crude oil to be used by Dangote Refinery for its take-off was imported. So, if the production begins next month as promised, there is hardly going to be no difference with respect to the present price.
Amidst this, there was a conflicting and unconfirmed report that the NNPCL was shopping for customers to come and buy its crude oil. Should this be true, the implication is that the country is very far from resolving many social and economic challenges that resulted from the removal of fuel subsidy. In fact, it’s hard for many not to key into the narrative that subsidy is back through the back door with the clear and available indices!
Given this, we suspect that the oil mafia have succeeded again in scuttling and sabotaging every step and initiative being taken by the government on issues relating to a new dawn desired in our oil and gas industry. However, we shall not take excuses for non-performance. This is the reason we insist that President Tinubu has started the war, so no retreat, no surrender!
In this wise, the President should and must realise that the commitment given by his Minister of State for Petroleum Resources (Oil), Heineken Lokpobiri, that the Port Harcourt Court Refinery and Petrochemical Company would come back to life in December this year must be his bond. The same goes to the Kaduna Refinery and Petrochemicals Company Limited, which the Minister also promised on October 28 that with the ongoing quick-fix exercise, the facility would be back on stream by the end of 2024.
We wish to reiterate that there is no amount of measure, number of initiatives taken by the government that would resolve the present excruciating economic hardships that would deliver any meaningful impact if our refineries remain moribund. Once the refineries work, not less than 50 percent of our economic woes have been resolved. It’s therefore high time this government faced the battle and conquered it without hesitation.
Another critical area the President must urgently look into is the stability of the Naira. Recently, the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Wale Edun, hinted that the country was expecting “about $10 billion inflows in the nearest term”. The reason for this new initiative, Edun explained, is to help clear foreign exchange backlog and stabilise the naira. The country, this time, needs every move that will make life meaningful to the common man. As a consuming nation, the ravaging naira instability has taken its toll on industrial activities, cost of food and all household items. Consequently, the purchasing power of Nigerians has become abysmally low, while daily survival has been very difficult.
Apart from this, the President should realise that we are still faced with several challenges. The trajectory of the huge cost of governance is a contradiction to an administration that runs a wobbling economy. For instance, it is callous, insensitive and misleading to see a legislator aspiring to ride in a N160 million SUV in a country where millions cannot afford a meal! And there are 469 of them. As the President settles down properly for governance, we urge him to review the cost of administration by the executive and the legislature. We wish to remind Tinubu that he has once given his words that he would engage the National Assembly leadership on this onerous assignment. It is only when this is done that Nigerians will believe that truly, the political class and masses are on the same page.
In the same vein, this administration must look into the timeline for its short, medium and long term economic recovery policies. A good example here is that Nigerians should be told in specific terms when will the four refineries in the country be back on full stream. Presently, a fleet of Compressed Natural Gas buses have arrived. How long would this last as palliative to cushion the effects of fuel subsidy removal? Again, the President has announced a temporary increase of wages for the federal civil servants. It has been agreed that this will last for six months. But what happens after then? The increase won’t impart long term effects anyway. And this is the reason we have insisted that working and able refineries are the backbone of our economy. Still on timeline, the language should not always be: “We will do this and that, but at this time, will do this and at so so time.”
Things have really fallen apart in Nigeria. Hardship is much and the rich are also crying! It is not funny at all. What is facing Nigeria presently is beyond inflation. We’re confronted with stagflation. There is hunger and anger in the land. No wise political office holder should take this for granted. We urge the President to consider and be mindful of public perception and mass reaction.
As the President has offered, all hands must be on deck for us to move forward. The Organised Labour should be wary of its historic clamour for wage increase, which has never added up over the year. There are no serious and lasting economic benefits in wages increment without fixing the fundamentals such as the refineries and power sector. The Unions should change their focus by assisting the government to deliver on the mandate as workers are the engine room of every democracy the world over. Ours have ended up largely as clogs in the wheel of progress over the years.
Similarly, the Academic Staff Union of Universities should also back down from its traditional demand for government handout. This is the time to support and join the conversations that would encourage creativity, innovation and moves that will stimulate our tertiary institutions to become real academic communities and most essentially real research centres.
For the opposition, we’re for continuous criticism, but that should be done with a sense of responsibility and with the spirit of nation building. We appeal that such a needed role should be healthy. We don’t want distractions.
Now that the tone for the real work has been set, let the opposition, the labour, the academicians, the Civil Societies, media, captains of industry, traditional and religious institutions as well as other critical stakeholders join President Tinubu in the drive to move the country forward.