Fuel Price Increase And The Question Of Leadership In Nigeria (Part 3) By Anthony Ubani
PAINS AND PALLIATIVES
Respected Pastor and General Overseer of the fastest growing church in the world, Pastor E. A. Adeboye recently made this instructive comment in reference to the fuel price increase: “let me tell you the truth, the problems we are facing now in Nigeria is global not just Nigeria alone…” The reality is that we have serious economic challenges. These challenges are not unique to Nigeria. They are global in nature. The policy responses in Nigeria and in other climes are such that they will cause citizens real pain and discomfort. The question therefore should not be whether to protest or not to protest. Our attention should be focused on constructive choices that will help alleviate the painful effects of the surgical economic operations that are been diligently carried out to save the Nigerian economy and restore it to good health.
The fuel price increase policy scenario is akin to a doctor performing a real life surgery on a patient. The surgery is painful but absolutely necessary to save the life of the patient. So the patient rather than choose to mobilize his family to protest the surgery because of the pain it will potentially cause him, makes a wiser and more informed choice of asking the doctor what palliatives he can apply to mitigate the pain of the necessary surgery. The doctor, in turn, recommends a full anesthesia or an induced coma, both of which have the effect of dulling the pain the patient would have felt in the course of the surgery. The truth is that there is no gain without pain. For Nigeria to come out of the present dire economic situation, it must make tough choices that will cause temporary pains. The current fuel price increase is one of such difficult decisions. The alternative is to bury our head in the sand, pretend that all is well and continue to live recklessly beyond our means until the nation goes burst. We can choose to play to the gallery and adopt populist actions or take the bitter pills today that will ensure that our tomorrow will be better than our today.
In this regard, I am of the humble opinion that the conversations around the fuel price increase should shift from threats of protest to strategic negotiations about the range of palliatives that should be executed. The degree to which they should be executed. The categories of Nigerians that should be targeted. The sectors of the economy that should be prioritized. How long should these palliatives be in effect? What type of management structure should be put in place to ensure transparency, accountability and continuity? These are the kinds of serious questions labour, civil society and Nigerians should be asking. Partly because, again, we cannot forget too quickly, how in the aftermath of the Jonathan administration fuel price increase, promises of palliatives were dangled. Branded buses were quickly displayed for Nigerians to see. Shortly afterward no one saw or heard anything about those buses or palliatives again till date. The funds warehoused in Sure-P was so brazenly embezzled by PDP hawks, so much so that Nigeria’s Mr. Integrity and then Chairman of Sure-P, Dr. Christopher Kolade, had to hurriedly resign his appointment in other to save his reputation and good name. So, Nigerians have good reasons to demand transparency, accountability and continuity in whatever palliative measures that are eventually approved.
Good enough President Buhari has already moved ahead of the conversation by announcing a range of potent palliatives and proposals under consideration. For those who make the point about the pain the fuel price increase will impose on Nigerians, they should, in some measure, be comforted knowing that a princely sum of N500 billion has been appropriated in the 2016 budget to execute government’s palliative program. This then is a good opportunity for them to leave the place of protest, and commence scrutiny of the proposed palliative measures with a view to robustly debating and enriching them.
For the purpose of clarity, the proposed palliative measures include but are not limited to: direct payment of N5000 monthly to one million extremely poor Nigerians for 12 months as provided for in the 2016 budget; direct provision of soft loan – cash for market women, men and traders, including artisans and Agric workers – targeting 1.76million Nigerians for whom conventional collateral will not be required; payment of between N23,000 to N30,000 per month to 500,000 unemployed graduates who would be trained, paid and deployed to work as volunteer teachers, public health officers and extension service workers among other responsibilities – the training will also technology devices; training of 100,000 artisans; at least 5.5 million Nigerian primary school children – starting first in 18 states – three per geopolitical zone – would be fed for 200 school days under the free Homegrown School Feeding Programme; 100,000 tertiary students in Science Technology Engineering & Maths – STEM will partake in a N5.8 billion education grant, etc. These palliative measures are expected to come on stream in a matter of weeks to help alleviate the suffering of Nigerians. In addition, government is open to giving consideration to new palliatives and is already giving serious consideration to increasing the minimum wage in Nigeria to an amount not less than forty thousand naira.
The compelling thing about the President’s palliative measures is not just that they target ordinary Nigerians and critical sectors like education but also that the funding for these palliatives was already included in the 2016 budget that was submitted in 2015. This shows that this is a government that pays more than lip service to planning. It also demonstrates that the fuel price increase was not a knee jerk reaction. It was a carefully thought out and planned policy action. That is the kind of leadership that inspires confidence from citizens. Again, the importance of building trust and confidence in the leadership matrix cannot be overemphasized. The Buhari government understands this point very well and that is why Vice President Yemi Osibanjo goes a step further to reassure Nigerians that “President Buhari appreciates the pains Nigerians are feeling now, he knows what is going on and I want you to know and we know that he is an honest man, who is determined to make sure that the common man in this country enjoys the dividends of democracy.” In any leadership context, HONESTY is an invaluable value. That is the Buhari advantage and the only qualification Nigerians need at this difficult time from their leaders.
THE COURAGE TO LEAD
The fuel price increase should be seen as just one component in a comprehensive root and branch reform taking place in the oil and gas sector in Nigeria. A reform calibrated to rebuild and restore the years eaten by the locusts. Those who voted for change in the hope that Buhari will come in and wield a magic wand and all of the damage inflicted, over the years, on the economic and political integrity of Nigeria will simply disappear got it all wrong. Change is a painfully long process that requires courage, time, consistency, determination and focus. Nigerians will certainly reap salutary economic and political benefits. But it will take a while for the dividends of the tough decisions of today to yield fruit. The good news is that the journey towards national rebirth has commenced slowly but surely.
Many have refused to come to terms to the grim reality of the scope of the damage that the previous administration wrecked on Nigeria’s economy. That denial and the tendency to play politics with anything and everything are partly responsible for the inability of some to appreciate the seriousness of the moment and the significance of the fuel price increase in the wider scheme of economic rebirth.
Did President Buhari and his team get it all right in this fuel price increase matter? Absolutely not! More than a few Nigerians have expressed genuine concern over the lack of concord among’st government officials in communicating a single vision of the fuel increase policy. Issues have also been raised about the failure of the government to avail Nigerians the opportunity to debate the policy before it was announced. However, these are not fatal failures and are not sufficient grounds for anyone to deny this government the support it needs at this critical juncture.
Pray, how can any patriot who claims to love this country continue to support a policy (fuel subsidy) that is consciously rigged to criminally put billions of dollars annually in the pocket of a few crooked elites while impoverishing millions of hard working Nigerians? Fortunately for Nigeria, a leader with the courage and political will to take concrete steps to bring to an end this age-old scam emerges and a few lift up their voice to say ‘we no go gree.’ What exactly is labour and their co-travelers disagreeing with? Is it the freeing up of precious resources to provide social security interventions to the vulnerable amongst us and build critical infrastructure that Nigeria needs for her economy to recover? To be clear, this is not just a fight for the sustenance of fuel price increase. It is more that. It is a principled battle to restore hope in Nigeria and beat back the negative forces of sentiments, deceit, hypocrisy and corruption that have, for far too long, manacled the destiny of Nigeria and confined her citizens behind the gangrened gates of grief.
The sordid revelations that have come out since June 2015 about the depth of corruption that went on in Nigeria and the true state of our economy has left many speechless but also wiser. Having removed the veil, Nigerians and indeed the whole world now know that Nigeria was living on borrowed time and if the PDP had won the 2015 election, it would have spelled unimaginable disaster for Nigeria. Today, by the mercies of God, Nigeria has dodged the bullet and we now have a President who has the courage and character to lead. A President who in the words of the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Bulus Lolo, “ is the leader that we and the international community have been waiting for and Nigeria is today viewed globally in a different light.”
The appeal, therefore, is for those who are planning the mother of all protests against the fuel price increase to have a rethink and give Nigeria a chance to make progress. This is not about any political party, individual or group. It is about Nigeria. Nigeria has within a short time suffered an alarmingly high plethora of violence, crises, corruption and upheavals. It is time to end the dissipation of useful energy and focus our collective strength squarely on exploiting the opportunities of today for the purpose of building sustainable pathways to a bright and beautiful future. The hope, prayer and expectation, therefore is for government, organized labour and Nigerians in general to come together in a historic and patriotic effort to midwife the birth of a new Nigeria built on the purified platform of integrity.
That said, it must be underscored that the charge of leadership and follower-ship, as we stand poised on the threshold of national rebirth, is not to exhibit scapegoats and not to point accusing fingers or to resort to reactionary activism but to match our passions to the perpetual possibilities of progress.
A New Nigeria is Possible. Believe!