Abdulsalami on state-of-the-nation: Poor Nigerians can’t bear trauma of fuel price hike

General Abdulsalami Abubakar

Ex- Head of State General Abdulsalami Abubakar (retd) has warned against any fuel price hike, saying such a decision would push Nigerians into further poverty.

The former Nigerian leader, who also said the nation was at the crossroads, noted that the rising unemployment among youth could cause a conflagration far worse that the EndSARS.

Abubakar spoke in Abuja Thursday at the 19th Daily Trust Dialogue themed: ‘2023: The Politics, Economy and Insecurity.’

There are speculations that a litre of fuel could rise to N302 or thereabout, a development that has continued to generate reactions from Nigerians.

Of recent, there have been some controversies over the planned removal of the fuel subsidy regime.

While Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning Zainab Ahmed declared that with the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) now in place, fuel subsidy would go in June, Senate President Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan said President Muhammadu Buhari told him he never directed the removal of fuel subsidy.

Abubakar weighs in  

Weighing in on the planned removal of the fuel subsidy at the dialogue, Gen Abubakar cautioned against the proposed increment in the price of fuel.

He argued that the development would push millions of Nigerians into abject property; and called on the federal government to tackle the rising unemployment in the country.

The former head of state, who chaired the occasion, said insecurity in the country was worsened by the dire economic situation, stating that over 80 million Nigerians were still caught up in the needless poverty.

The former military leader said: “On top of all these, fuel prices are expected to rise significantly in the coming months as announced last November by the NNPC. When this happens, as the government has planned, it will push many millions deeper into poverty. Young people and women are the demographic groups most affected by the country’s dire economic outlook.

“For example, estimates by the National Bureau of Statistics show that while the national unemployment rate stood at 33% by the end of 2020, unemployment for young people between ages 15 and 34 years was 10% higher at 42.5%. If not carefully managed, the frustrations of these groups could easily boil over into a national conflagration worse than what we saw months ago during the EndSARS protests” he cautioned.

Insecurity

On insecurity, Abubakar said the Boko Haram insurgency, banditry, violent secessionist agitations, kidnappings and abductions of travellers across many states, had overstretched the security forces, lamenting that the epicentre of insecurity in the country had shifted from the northeast to the northwest.

He said: “Nigeria is once again at a crossroads. Insecurity remains the single most difficult challenge for our country today. The Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast, banditry in the northwest, violent secessionist agitations in the southeast, kidnappings and abductions of travellers across many states all continue to fester in the land.

“Added to these, ethnic, religious and communal conflicts are rearing their ugly heads again in many parts of the country. All of these have greatly challenged and overstretched our security forces. These challenges have caused thousands of deaths and millions of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Nigeria over the past 13 years. 

 “According to the Global Conflict Tracker compiled by the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), some 350,000 persons have been killed and three million displaced directly or indirectly in the conflict in the northeast since 2009. Also, a report by Beacon Consulting, a Nigerian security risk consultancy here in Abuja, Nigeria recorded 574 cases of kidnappings and 431 confirmed fatalities in security incidents that cut across 29 states and 96 Local Government Areas in December 2021 alone. About 75% of the kidnappings and 57% of the fatalities occurred in the North-West. 

“This is clear indication that the epicenter of insecurity in the country has shifted from the northeast to the northwest. A major cause of the insecurity in Nigeria is the proliferation of all calibre of weapons in Nigeria in particular, and in the West Africa sub-region generally.”

 2023 elections

On his take on the forthcoming 2023 general elections, the former Nigerian leader who also chairs the national Peace Committee (NPC), cautioned politicians to guard their words and deeds ahead of the polls, describing 2022 as very crucial.

“…All of these developments make 2022 a very crucial year for the country and its people. This election year calls for statesmanship and patriotism. It calls for restraint among all politicians in words and deeds. And above all, it calls for serious social and economic programmes that would help pull Nigeria out of the woods,” he said.

Sultan

In his intervention, the Sultan of Sokoto Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III said politics and national development were too important to be left to politicians alone.

The Sultan said all well-meaning Nigerians must come together and find solutions to their numerous problems, as nobody has all the answers to the world’s problems.

Sultan said: “Let’s close ranks and come together to see what we can do to move this country forward in peace and prosperity.

“I am one of those who so much believe in dialogue and I believe there cannot be too many dialogue sessions not only in this country but across world because people see us everywhere talking to one another. That is the best way of resolving issues.”

The monarch added that when they speak of such issues, leaders should understand they are not challenging them but rather reminding them of what the masses want from them.

“Leadership is a trust from God the Almighty and they must account for it when they meet Him. And that is how bring people’s problem to those in power. And when we do that we are happy that we told them the truth,” the monarch added.

 Atiku

Also, a former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who spoke briefly at the event, said the civil war experienced in the country was not as worse as the current level of insecurity in the country and expressed the optimism that it would be surmounted by good leadership.

To this end, he urged Nigerians to vote for leaders that would do their bidding in 2023, adding that politicians alone can’t govern the country without the support of other critical stakeholders.

 Baba-Ahmed blasts govs

In his own contribution, a chieftain of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, said  90% of present governors in the country have no business being anywhere near power.

Baba-Ahmed, who is NEF’s director of advocacy, said his submission was based on the fact that most of the governors in Nigeria were not prepared for governance when they found themselves thrust into power and therefore, had nothing to offer the people.

“Some Nigerian governors, I will say 90% of them don’t have the preparation, the background and the competencies to govern. They have no business being anywhere near power,” the NEF spokesman said.

“We have the wrong people wielding power over people that are desperate for new and effective leadership, a development that was not good enough.

“What is it that makes it impossible to reduce the powers or to regulate the powers of governance and restructure the country? But this is a word that is anathema to a lot of people in power today,” he added.

Baba-Ahmed also called for the restructuring of the country, insisting that what the country needed now was to put the federal system on the table and ask “what is wrong with the system?”