President Bola Ahmed Tinubu PHOTO; Twitter
• Decry Delay Of Interventions, Repair Of Refineries
• Pregnant Mothers Skip Antenatal Care Over High Transport Fare
• CLO: Current Hardship Orchestrated To Punish Nigerians
Exactly two months after President Bola Ahmed Tinubu removed subsidy on petrol and said the decision would free up money for education, regular power supply, transport infrastructure and healthcare, Nigerians have started lamenting that they are yet to feel any positive impact of the policy.
Among their complaints is that life has rather become more miserable for them. They criticised the president for ‘foisting an anti-people economic policy’ on the country.
Tinubu had during his inaugural speech at the Eagle Square on Monday, May 29, after he was sworn in as Nigeria’s 16th president, stated that the 2023 budget made no provision for fuel subsidy, adding that subsidy payment was no longer justifiable. He promised that his government would instead channel funds into infrastructure and other areas to strengthen the economy.
However, two months after, Nigerians have assessed their lives and concluded that they were far better off two months ago, as it was becoming increasingly difficult for them to attend to their needs and those of their loved ones.
They urged the president to either reverse the policy immediately or fix the nation’s refineries for local refining of petroleum products to bring the pump prices within the reach of the average citizen.
Coordinator of the Arewa Defence League (ADL), Murtala Abubakar, who spoke with The Guardian in Kaduna, said the policy had thrown thousands of families in the northern part of the country into severe hardship.
“A lot of our members who are professionals, artisans, traders, civil servants and businessmen can no longer afford three square meals because of the decision of President Tinubu to remove subsidy on fuel at a go.
“It is unfortunate that the government that is supposed to ameliorate the suffering of Nigerians is imposing more hardship on us. Imagine the situation we now find ourselves. Instead of the government to go after those who stole subsidy funds, bring them to book and make them to return the money they stole, the government is leaving them to go away freely and imposing hardship on the citizens.
“In a sane society, the subsidy thieves are supposed to be behind bars by now. But this government is shielding them away from prosecution and from returning the money in their possession, which they stole.
“Go to the streets of Kaduna, there are more beggars. People are also selling their properties for survival. People can no longer afford essential foodstuff because the prices have skyrocketed and their income is stagnant,” Abubakar said.
A trader and businessman, Alhamdu China, who operates a barber’s shop in Barnawa area of Kaduna, said the removal of fuel subsidy had affected businesses in the state.
“Even the barber’s shop that we are operating is no longer breaking even because our customers are no longer patronising us. This is because we had to increase our prices as a result of high cost of petrol, which we use to power our generators.
“The government should help us, because we don’t have other means of survival apart from this work we are going. And we have to feed our children, pay school fees and also cater for our domestic needs. This removal of fuel subsidy has killed businesses, and is even sending many people to their untimely graves.
“Go to the hospital, you will see that the number of sick people have increased. And where is the money to buy drugs and food? The price of everything has increased. The government should help Nigerians and solve these problems of poverty and hunger in the land. They should repair our refineries and make them work to make the price of fuel to come down.”
Amina Mustapha took her 15 months malnourished daughter to the Primary Health Care Centre (PHCC) in Duguri, Alkaleri Council of Bauchi State to get the Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF), a life-saving essential supply item that treats severe wasting in children under five years, but was told that the food was out of stock. The thought of a fruitless journey overwhelmed her as she was contemplating the next visit. Her community, Yalo, is about 25 kilometres from Duguri and she boarded a truck conveying goods to the area to be able to visit the health facility.
“I will need N1,000 for okada (commercial motorcycle) back home or wait till evening when people will be returning from the market,” she told The Guardian. Her daughter was ostensibly hungry and crying but Amina was helpless. “I will trek because my baby is hungry and I don’t have any money on me to feed her,” she said when asked to attend to the crying baby.
A staff of the clinic, Yahaya Duguri, told The Guardian that most of the patients, particularly pregnant women and nursing mothers, were skipping their antenatal care and immunisation schedules due to high transport fare.
“Their number has reduced compared to what we normally record. Most of them are complaining about the hike in transportation fare. You know most of them are from neighbouring communities. They have to hire a bike,” he said.
The situation is not different at Yelwa Domiciliary PHCC in Bauchi metropolis. One of the auxiliary health care providers, Umar Mohammed, said: “Before, as early as 5:00am you will see so many of them here to pick numbers because of the crowd. Sometimes we attend to more than 300 women. This is about 9:30am and we have less than 150 of them.”
According to him, many of the women lament the high cost of transporting themselves to the clinic. Hanatul Luka was seen at Bayara General Hospital with her antenatal care card arguing with a commercial motorcyclist over the sudden hike in fare.
“Things are really hard. I came here for antenatal with my last N500. I only drank pap this morning. Now, this N500 won’t take me home. This is a distance that I used to spend only N250. How do I come next time for the next antenatal?” She lamented.
Ruing the situation, the Executive Director of the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), Ibuchukwu Ezike, said it was wrong for anyone to believe that the current hardship in the country is a result of the removal of fuel subsidy.
To him, the increase in the pump price of petrol is not a result of removal of fuel subsidy, because there has never been a subsidy on fuel in the country. He said the current hardship was orchestrated to punish Nigerians.
“CLO does not belong to the school of thought that believes that petroleum products are subsidised for Nigerians since after 1989 when the Maj. General Ibrahim Babangida (rtd) junta removed the subsidy on the commodity. The Nigerian students under the umbrella of the radical National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the radical press, Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), human rights associations and left organizations then came together to oppose the withdrawal of the subsidy and criminal increase in the pump prices of these products.
“The prices were not increased irrationally, the government introduced some programmes that cushioned the grave effects of subsidy removal from petrol. The protest was tagged anti-Structural Adjustment Programme (Anti- SAP) protest of 1989. Anti-SAP buses were provided for workers, students, professional associations like the NBA, NMA, farmers’ unions and the general public, while there was no increment in school fees, prices of foodstuffs, rents and household goods, but there was increase in salaries of workers. Since that period, there has not been any incident of re-introduction of oil subsidy in Nigeria, rather what we started witnessing was the collapse of oil refineries in the country and the shipping of crude oil out of the shores of Nigeria to be refined in countries where our corrupt and ruthless rulers were said to have built refineries. It was also this time that an independent marketers union was erected to do oil business on behalf of the members of the thieving civilian and military political classes. During this period, the government started paying them for shipping crude oil overseas, and the cost of refining and shipping the products back to Nigeria. This money, known as subsidy, is paid to the marketers and not to the Nigerian people who, thereafter, make returns to our wicked and unconscionable rulers.”
Ezike lamented that the increment in the pump prices of petroleum products had resulted in astronomical hike in the cost of living.
“In fact, everything is adversely affected and the standard of living has gravely fallen. There are increasing cases of social vices like prostitution, armed robbery and joblessness as private employers that can’t cope with payment of staff salaries and allowances and maintenance of offices have downsized their staff strength. The list is inexhaustible,” the CLO official said.
A communications expert, Dr. Maxwell Ngene, while commenting on the situation in the country, stated that Nigerians had witnessed unprecedented hardship, noting that, “it has also led to food inflation, devaluation of the naira and low purchasing power.”
According to Ngene, who is a lecturer in the Department of Mass Communication, Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT), the last two months has brought Nigeria and her people to their knees.
“Nigerians are very angry and frustrated about the policy. It has led to the worst economic mess ever witnessed in the country since independence. Unfortunately, it portrays the president as an unprepared, unpatriotic, unresponsive and incompetent leader who does not care about public opinion. Since the removal of fuel subsidy, the country has witnessed unprecedented hardship occasioned by food inflation, devaluation of the naira, poor purchasing power, youth restiveness, intolerable living conditions, unemployment, widespread violence and criminality.
“The more troubling thing about fuel subsidy politics is that critics say that it is a scam orchestrated by the power elite. Those who are indifferent also see it as a policy unlikely to benefit Nigerians in the long run. This group of people thinks that the government will mismanage or steal whatever financial gains would stem from it. There’s not just a trust deficit but also a complete collapse of trust. The people do not trust the leaders. What is even more worrisome is that the extremely poor households are the worst hit in a nation that prides itself as the giant of Africa. The salary of civil servants no longer has meaning. The unemployed school leavers seem to have lost hope in the government and the nation. Most of them are now resorting to doing anything, including engaging in criminal activities just to survive.
“The solution, for me, is to revert to where we were before the removal. Efforts must be made to refurbish our ailing refineries and new ones built. If Aliko Dangote can build a refinery, there is no reason a country like Nigeria cannot do so,” Ngene said.
In an open letter to President Tinubu titled, ‘Your Withdrawal of Fuel Subsidy by Fiat was Heartless, Reckless and Ill Informed’, which was made available to The Guardian, yesterday, a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Lagos State, Dr. Adetokunbo Pearse, said those who believed that the President would run a gregarious administration based on his experience as a former governor of Lagos State for eight years and his much celebrated political sagacity had been proven wrong with the policy.
Pearse berated President Tinubu for removing the fuel subsidy “without discussion, without negotiation and without consultation”, adding that “the devastating effects of the subsidy removal is that every aspect of daily life will be impacted adversely due to astronomical increase in cost of living.”
According to him, the President has not only unleashed economic hardship on the people “but you have set the nation into panic mode.” Also, the Lagos State Chapter of the Labour Party (LP), yesterday, lamented the effect of fuel subsidy removal on Nigerians, saying the Tinubu administration was clueless on economy management.
The state chairman of the party, Dayo Ekong, who noted that more people are slipping into abject poverty, bemoaned the level of inflation and devaluation of the currency in just two months Tinubu has stayed in office.
Ekong, in a statement, disclosed that the party was working to help youths and other vulnerable groups acquire requisite skills that would stand them in good stead in the society.
“Lagos State Labour Party, in alliance with our national body, expresses shock over the hike in price of petrol by this insensitive administration of Tinubu/APC. The government takes delight instead of making life easy for the people.
“We sympathise with the masses who bear the heaviest brunt of the obnoxious price hike and assure that the LP Presidential candidate, Mr Peter Obi, will bring succour to Nigerians when his mandate is recovered. It is just for a while.”
By Lawrence Njoku (Enugu), Seye Olumide (Ibadan), Saxone Akhaine (Kaduna), Rauf Oyewole (Bauchi) and Kehinde Olatunji (Lagos).
By Lawrence Njoku (Enugu), Seye Olumide (Ibadan), Saxone Akhaine (Kaduna), Rauf Oyewole (Bauchi) and Kehinde Olatunji (Lagos).
The Guardian Newspaper Nigeria