Will Tinubu’s Nationwide Broadcast Stave Off Brewing Trouble? -1

By Bola Bolawole

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The “honeymoon” enjoyed by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu is over – two months into the life of his administration, which has a lifespan of four years (48 months) in the first instance. While he is yet to fully form his government, Tinubu is already fighting fires on many fronts; his problems, unfortunately, are majorly self-inflicted. His “subsidy is gone” bombshell is one while the floating of the Naira is another, two nagging issues that the president tried to address in his nationwide broadcast last Monday. While only a few misguided elements – the major beneficiaries of the bottomless pit of corruption called fuel subsidy and political partisans still sulking and bellyaching about Tinubu’s emergence as president – will fail to reason with the superior argument for the removal of subsidy as it was operated by the Muhammadu Buhari administration, Tinubu erred in the way he went about the removal. The understanding of Nigerians was that the subsidy had been budgeted for up to the end of June but Tinubu announced its removal in his inauguration speech on May 29th, thereby denying Nigerians the enjoyment of an already-paid-for or already-budgeted-for subsidy of one month. Let him tell us if this is not the case! Was the subsidy not budgeted for up to the end of June 2023? Yes or no?

We have heard that subsidy removal was not even in Tinubu’s prepared inauguration speech but that he veered off course to blurt out the “subsidy is gone” three-word syllable of trouble that threw the whole country, including Tinubu’s die-hard supporters, off balance. Victory, which many were bracing up to celebrate, immediately turned into ashes in the mouth of millions. Mournful! The price of petrol immediately shot through the roof, which the people were not prepared for. But for the fact that Nigeria is not a country where “People Power” is potent, that alone was enough to have driven millions of protesters into the street to shorten Tinubu’s reign. Tinubu himself was not prepared for the consequences of his speech. It was obvious he leaped before he looked; he spoke before putting on his thinking cap and, in so doing, he placed the cart before the horse. The one-month period of grace (June) that Buhari gifted him before subsidy is removed would have enabled him to adequately explain to Nigerians his plans for our comatose refineries, map out strategies to cushion the effects of subsidy removal and arrange the so-called palliatives but, inexplicably, he threw the opportunity away. He was hasty in his approach to a very sensitive issue; perhaps, feeling or sensing that procrastination may give room to influence-peddlers, beneficiaries of padded subsidy payments and political foes to pile pressure on him to keep subsidy going, he reportedly summoned the courage to bell the cat right from Day One. Very well! He must now summon the same courage to face up to the consequences. Newton’s third law of motion says action and reaction are equal and opposite!

Floating of the Naira is the other action of the president that has caused Nigerians a lot of pain; in plain language, the president devalued the Naira by demanding that both the official exchange rate and the black market exchange rate be merged. Allowing market forces an unfettered reign, the black market rate will only climb down for the Naira to appreciate in value when our productive capacity is enhanced; in the absence of that, it is the official foreign exchange rate that will travel upstairs to sojourn with the black market rate, which is why the official market rate has been chasing the black market rate since the float-the-Naira order was given. Like the hike in fuel price, the effect of floating the Naira is felt directly in people’s pockets: While prices are skyrocketing everywhere, the value of the Naira in their pocket depreciates on a daily basis and their income, where they have any, remains the same. This is double or triple whammy! Here again, Tinubu acted hastily. He had not gathered the levers of power in his hand; he had not availed himself of the opportunity of listening to the critical operators in the sectors concerned; and, from what we can see, he had no immediate response to the consequences, intended and or unintended, of his action. Hence, he is fighting fires when prevention would have been better than cure.

Tinubu removed the CBN governor; applause! But now they are having problems prosecuting him! Putting facts and figures together to present foolproof evidence in court if you must have a good case does not come easy; it takes time and a lot of hard and diligent work. It cannot be approached flimsily. An American-styled special investigator has now been named to probe the CBN; perfect! But that should have come first and evidence unearthed would have been handy for speedy and diligent prosecution of whosoever. I have it on good authority, however, that Tinubu may soon embark on unannounced visits to the comatose refineries to see, firsthand, how fast work there is progressing. Great! That will fire the confidence of the people that their president is actually holding the bull by the horns. If Tinubu, like Buhari before him, awards himself the Petroleum ministry portfolio, I will expect him to take a cue from his Chief of Army Staff and lead from the front. He will have to relocate his office and shuttle between Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna where the refineries are located. Getting the refineries functioning again is the greatest task of the moment that will make or mar Tinubu and his government.

Tinubu’s nationwide broadcast is great PR; well done! The president spoke directly to Nigerians over and above the head of Labour leaders preparing for a so-called nationwide strike. Did he take the wind off their sail? Time, as they say, will tell! Do I have confidence in our Labour leaders? No, I don’t! Time and again, they have used us to negotiate for their own selfish ends. Once their pockets are stuffed, they back down and break our heart! They have to find their lost mojo! They must rededicate themselves to the cause of workers! The struggle or death!

I like the way Tinubu begs and pleads with us – unlike what operated under Buhari. Tinubu’s style is more agreeable to me than Buhari’s but when you ask us to persevere and be patient, the question we must ask you is, for how long? And how are we sure you are on the right track of solving our problems? Grandma taught me that when you know for how long you are required to persevere and be patient, it makes the task easier to accomplish. Scripture says expectations that drag before they are fulfilled cause the heart to become weary and despondent. So, tell us how long it will take for us to enter the glorious dawn you talk about; when shall we see the light at the end of the tunnel? Six months? One year? Two years? Tell us!

Again, people are worried that instead of holding the bull by the horns and tackling problems head-on, we run away from them and, in so doing, inflict needless pain on hapless Nigerians. From available evidence, fuel subsidies became untenable and unsustainable because of the massive corruption weaved into it: Round-tripping, smuggling of the product across our borders; falsification of records, etc. If these criminal activities are curtailed – and diligent effort is made to make our refineries work at whatever capacity – the cost of subsidy would not have become as prohibitive as it did.

But here, we run away from problems and the problems, rather than leave us alone, follow us to wherever we bury our head in the sand like the ostrich! So, running away from corruption in the police force, we created the EFCC and others like it but what do we have today? Be it EFCC, ICPC, CCB, CCT, NDIC, the hunter has become the hunted! What we greatly feared, like biblical Job moaned, has come upon us big time. Are our land borders the longest in the world? What about China or America? Everywhere, nations make efforts to secure their borders; China built its famous Great Wall; President Donald Trump mulled the idea of building a wall along the US – Mexico borders but the best Buhari could do was assign God the task of securing Nigeria’s borders! Visit my hometown, Owo, you will still find relics of the walls and moats that my ancestors constructed to secure the ancient town’s borders.

Tinubu’s nationwide broadcast is timely not only because it comes ahead of the threatened nationwide strike by a politically-compromised Labour but because there is silence like that of the graveyard out there right now. Many Nigerians are perplexed and nonplussed at the turn of events. Their pocket –and not necessarily Labour – tells them that all is not well. They cannot see any hope anywhere, not to talk of one that is renewed. Like the biblical Jews of old, Nigerians stand facing their own Red Sea, with Pharaoh and his Egyptian army in hot pursuit. The Israelites murmured against their leader, Moses, just like Nigerians today murmur against Tinubu. Such is the burden of leadership! Suddenly, the Buhari years – which, without doubt, were years of the locusts – appear tempting, just like a return to slavery in Egypt was to the perplexed and distraught Israelites. But should Nigerians contemplate going back to Egypt, as it were? (TO BE CONTINUED).

  • Former Editor of PUNCH newspapers, Chairman of its Editorial Board and Deputy Editor-in-chief, BOLAWOLE was also the Managing Director/ Editor-in-chief of THE WESTERNER newsmagazine. He writes the ON THE LORD’S DAY column in the Sunday Tribune and TREASURES column in New Telegraph newspaper. He is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television.

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