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President Tinubu and his Father Christmas economics

This Father Christmas strategy must stop and it can only stop when the country is restructured. States must be severed from the umblical cord of the octopus and leviathan federal government.


By TUNDE AKANDE

When President Bola Ahmed Tinubu announced on the podium at his inauguration on 29 May, 2023, that fuel subsidy was gone, many were surprised that Nigerians did not raise dust. But it does seem the goodwill that attended the acceptance of that policy has been squandered as the organized labour, represented by the umbrella organization, Nigeria Labour Congress rolled out protests nationwide Wednesday, August 2. The initial reception of the policy has been explained by Nigerians’ preparedness to receive any government having been under the tyrannical government of Muhammadu Buhari who had suffocated them. Again, Nigerians are well at home with the ruin that Buhari’s policies brought to the economy and the common knowledge that the fuel subsidy is another name for the abundant rentier class in the nation to make money doing nothing. Tinubu acknowledged this but will not unveil these parasites or bring them to justice.

President Tinubu took his case directly to the people when it seems obvious that the negotiation which he initiated with the Nigeria Labour Congress was not making any headway. In a national broadcast on the economy recently Tinubu said he was not going to bog Nigerians with economic jargon but was going to speak to them in everyday language. He didn’t do this, because when Nigerian leaders speak to Nigerians the image of people they have is not of the poor but of what Tinubu himself called “elites of elites,” they hardly imagine the poor Nigerians, the real Nigerians who suffer the backlash of their misgovernment.

The reason is that leadership in Nigeria is about the leaders escaping poverty. Once this is done leaders in Nigeria stop to interact with the poor, they stop to have them in their imagination. Tinubu spoke many words which have no bearing with the psychology of the poor. Tinubu spoke plainly with his ilk. What for example is the meaning of “sustainable development” to the woman on the roadside selling pepper. The woman wants cheap “gari” pure and simple and she knows when it is cheap and when it is not. She wants education for her children and she knows when it is accessible and when it is not. She does not need foreign exchange and all the language of parallel market or floating naira or the removal of the governor of Central Bank means nothing to her. She is uncomfortable and that’s it.

She has been thinking that she voted wrongly since Tinubu was inaugurated and she wants an amelioration. When Tinubu says he will no longer fund universities again, she knows her children in those institutions will have to abandon education, except a miracle happens. The promise of education loan cannot reach her because she is poor and therefore she cannot play in a situation of cat and mouse race of the Nigerian system.

When Tinubu spoke, he spoke above the heads of Nigerians who voted for him. Tinubu did nothing than throw money away. He demonstrated that the subsidy removal is designed to make government rich again so that personnel of government will have money to spend. Tinubu is not ready to cut down on his fleet of cars and SUVs, he is not prepared to travel in commercial flights. He said nothing about reduction of cost of governance. He is not prepared to stay at home to fix the problems of Nigeria but he must junket all over the world.

Tinubu will give one billion naira loan each to 75 industries in some pre- selected areas at 9% interest. He aims to to revitalize these industries so that they will boost the economy and generate employment. Single digit interest loan is good and helpful but in the Nigerian context it will be money down the drain. Why? We have to know what killed those industries in the first instance. We have to know why so many of them relocated to Ghana. Until the problems of cheap electricity is looked into and solved there will not be any revitalization of industry. One billion naira looks good but if these industries have to continue to generate their own power the one billion naira will evaporate in little time and it may not be repaid since the industries may not make profit. The big manufacturers relocated to Ghana because Ghana has round the clock supply of electricity. Nigeria is abundant in natural gas which she is burning away. Let this gas be captured, piped to the major towns and cities as a matter of urgency and into these industries at subsidized rate to generate electricity and all the industries that relocated will be back. New ones from all over the world will join them.

Insecurity drove viable industries away from Nigeria. Nobody wants to risk his life in order to produce. Tinubu didn’t tell Nigerians what he will do to tame insecurity. No matter how cheap the loan is, insecurity will bring kidnappers and armed robbers on the trail of captains of industry. Peaceful environment is very essential. Who will produce in the east for example where armed robbers have taken over as IPOB and are disguising to rob the people and kill their businesses. Simon Ekpa must be tamed by all means legitimate. Since the fight against banditry began, no leader of those bandits have been arrested and yet they move freely among the people. They buy from the same market the people buy from.

Nigerians are interested to know what new security idea the Tinubu administration is bringing to the table. And Tinubu had better be warned not to dabble into the affairs of Niger whose kleptomaniac leadership has just been overthrown. Nigeria’s military is very weak at the present and will definitely be defeated in any war with any of these nations. Even the 1 trillion naira Tinubu has made from subsidy removal will quickly vanish if he engages in any war with nations who have removed their errant leaders. Any intervention can extend a military coup here also. It is high time government in Nigeria learnt to mind its internal affairs and consolidate at home. Nigeria must be the centrepiece of Nigerian foreign policy. We cannot afford to play big brother again except we want to deceive ourselves.

Tinubu wants to dole out money like father Christmas. 50 billion naira to Nano businesses, one of the economic jargons he said he would not speak to Nigerians but which he spoke. Nano business is one whose ownership is not formal and without business plan and probably no bank account. The electronic repairer down the street might not know he is a Nano business owner. And how this money will be distributed is yet to be known. Certainly it is going to be money for the boys who helped out in the campaigns. Like the 8,000 naira palliatives that Nigerians cried against, this one is also money down the drain because it will go to wrong hands. 50,000 naira will be given to 1,300 Nano business owners in each of the 774 local governments. 50,000 naira is not much in today’s Nigeria. Like the $800 million palliatives and the students’ loan scheme we don’t know the modality for distributing this money. The president also has “ordered the release of 200,000 MT grains from strategic reserves across the states and the federal capital territory at moderate prices.” How moderate is the price? Nigerians are doubtful that the grains will get to the poor who are now hungry. By the time the grains get to the market they may sell at higher prices than what grains sell for now because of layers of intermediaries and political exploitation.

There is no better place the defect of the strategy is more revealed than the approved Infrastrucral Support Fund for the states to “intervene and invest in critical areas and revamp decaying healthcare and educational infrastructure.” The Fund will also provide roads in rural areas to bring food produced to the urban areas. This is a mentality that reveal the federal government as too powerful and too big involving itself in what should not concern it. Were we to be a real federation and not the unitary system that we disguise as federal, the central government will never need to bother itself with all these. It shows that the central government is too rich, shows that Tinubu is having a windfall from the subsidy removal and plans to throw it around. Until the power of the center is trimmed considerably, until the componets units are made independent of the center, until each component unit learn to raise money for itself for it’s development, the economy of Nigeria will reamain tied to the whims of one man in Abuja who does not know what is happening in the componets units.

The Infrastrucral Support Fund is another money for the governors to steal or divert like many before it. Component units of the federation must learn to survive or perish. This father Christmas strategy must stop and it can only stop when the country is restructured. States must be severed from the umblical cord of the octopus and leviathan federal government.

Tunde Akande is both a journalist and pastor. He earned a Master’s degree in Mass Communication from the University of Lagos.

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