Buhari’s Tough Choices By Japheth Omojuwa
Going forward, Nigeria will have to swallow some bitter pills to heal itself of its current and impending malaise or it’d go crumbling down like a pack of cards. We must come to a place of realisation, that we either set this country aright and enjoy the fruits of its progress together or we continue in our ways and have it crumble on all of us. Those who think having houses abroad or having spare passports will exempt them from the shame of that happening should think twice again; as it is today, despite your foreign houses and spare passports, Nigeria finds a way to get to you, wherever you are, the world over. We cannot escape Nigeria altogether, we can only pretend to escape it. The incoming administration of Muhammadu Buhari holds the last card towards Nigeria’s future prosperity or God forbid, continued state of poverty.
We have indebted generations yet unborn– President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration alone has racked up $18bn in debts over the last four years – to get them started with being burdened with debt payments instead of wealth creation. We have been a very irresponsible country. We pay our lawmakers one of the fattest allowances in the world to make laws that have still not changed our general state of poverty in 16 years of sustained democracy. Our presidential fleet has about 10 jets, more than enough for our President to travel the world looking for investors to come and not invest in Nigeria. Ours is one of the most difficult places in the world to do business – see the Heritage Freedom Index – yet we annoyingly assume that investors will come just by meeting with our leaders abroad. Somehow, we assume that investors are jesters like us. We think they are about emotion and “beggy-beggy” attitude. We want them to come and invest here almost out of pity for us. Investors are rational; if you create the right environment, institute respect for property rights, de-emphasise the obsession with cronyism, drastically reduce the number of days it takes to register businesses, focus on making power available, commit to improving the transport network while developing new options of transport, we’d not need to go all out to look for investors, even the visually challenged investor would smell the reforms and dash to Nigeria to make gains. We have a market of 170 million people, you do not joke with that.
The fuel subsidy must go. There would be no better time to yank it off than now with much reduced global oil prices. It will come at a political cost to remove subsidies but that must be managed. Nigerians will not accept subsidy removal under any guise except public officials demonstrate their own readiness to make sacrifices. The people cannot continue to wallow in poverty while their leaders are getting “armed robber” salaries and allowances. A reduction in the pay of public officials must be done through the right channel, in this case, the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission. When this happens, Nigerians will not be in doubt about the fact that their leaders are making sacrifices. No matter how much we try to argue that petrol subsidies do not reach the poor, that argument will never connect with the poor. The Jonathan administration faced stiff antagonism when it tried to remove the subsidies but the attempt by the administration to do it was thoughtless. It was just going to yank it off, it had no plans what to do with the people’s reaction or questions. It immediately went back to what was supposed to be the drawing board and returned with SURE-P. That ended up becoming a pipe to generate campaign funding for certain elements. The SURE-P turned out a scam. It was as though, while corruption reigned supreme through the subsidies in 2011, the stealing was transferred to SURE-P for subsequent years.
Buhari should engage all stakeholders on this; Nigeria cannot continue to subsidise consumption while production suffers. The President-elect has a lot more believability than the outgoing President. I doubt anyone would accuse him of wanting to steal money, hence his attempt to cut the subsidies. Let us hope Buhari and his economic strategists are working something out.
If we make power work, we’d have freed up more production time and more resources to invest more into production. This simply means that we’d be automatically creating more jobs just by getting power to work. Some 50-60 per cent of the cost of production goes into generators and other sources of alternative power. The government claims it has liberalised the sector but how can you liberalise a sector without competition? We only have privileged companies holding sway in different regions of the country. Liberalisation is nothing without competition. That the players in the power sector were already in enough dire straits to require and get government bailout showed that this was nothing but a glorification of government control. The process of deregulating the power sector has not started and if it has, it has not really moved away from the old order of having consumers get burdened by one company. It was NEPA, then the PHCN and now consumers just have smaller versions of the old devil domesticated in the regions.
Education and jobs are connected because once you get both right, you automatically are fixing the prevalent social vices in the society. If children go to school, they are not likely to be available as tools in the hands of bad elements. That we currently have the world’s highest number of out-of-school children is enough cause to declare an emergency and that we haven’t declared an emergency on that front is an emergency in itself. We are killing the future by borrowing from it today but even worse is the fact that we are not even equipping the future we are borrowing from with the right education to help them pay the debts accrued by their irresponsible progenitors. Double “wahala”.
“Baba now that you are there,” the party of nonsense, incompetence and corruption should end. Our country is in dire straits and these are desperate times. Our people believe you, they trust you and your would-be Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo. They will be counting on you to take tough decisions that’d affect us all. They’d trust you to put the interest of Nigeria above your political and personal interests. They trust you not to put your second term ambition in the way of decisions that must be taken to set Nigeria aright. You saw their faces during the campaign tours; you already know those are the faces of hunger and poverty calling for your help. They have been through tough times and hard realities; they await your coming with high expectations. We know our country is a mess now, we know a lot of money has been stolen by a lot of people to make a lot of us poorer. Now is the time to make governance count for our people; now is the time to make that change happen. We hope to celebrate your legacy for decades to come. It will be yours to earn if you help Nigeria birth this much desired change. It will take making tough choices, you are a tough man; you can!
Omojuwa, a social media entrepreneur and political commentator, wrote this article for Punch via firstname.lastname@example.org