“‘Nigerians are being deceived on the issue of fuel subsidy. The federal government takes out fuel for refining, only to come back and talk about removing the subsidy. That is nonsense and an attempt by a clique with the PDP led federal government to siphon the proceeds to be realised from the removal of oil subsidy”. – General Muhammadu Buhari (2012).
Before I buttress my argument on cash handouts to the poor that will cost the government N2.4 trillion a year ($5.8 billion) in a bid to replace fuel subsidy more than what government subsidises petrol, let set the record straight. There is no administration in the history of the country that carried out several welfarist policies like President Buhari’s. They nclude: the Conditional Cash Transfer in the market; N-Power that pays N30,000 stipend to youths to enhance their skills; financial bailout to all state governments; hundred billions to anchor brower and Covid-19 financial support to households.
Recently, the National Economic Council (NEC) said President Buhari has approved a fresh N656 billion Bridge Financing Facility for the 36 states as each state will receive N18.2 billion. The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Alkali, said the support was to help state governments to meet their financial obligations, especially the previous budget support facility due for repayment.
However, the list of the federal government’s support programmes is inexhausive all aimed at alleviating pains to the strata of the society and create social safety nets for the impoverished and vulnerable. But these programmes have had little or no impact on the target beneficiaries. Even with the subsidy regime in the oil sector getting on with daily lives is pretty difficult for the ordinary Nigerians, considering the skyrocketing prices of goods and services in addition to the alarming unemployment rate.
There is no logic for the federal government to spend more than what it spends on subsidy on the so called palliatives, which is a scam. Nigerians argue that the supposed benefit would amount to a colossal loss as the expenditure would be higher than the 2021 subsidy expenses, which is like selling dogs to buy monkeys.
In 2012, President Goodluck Jonathan administration attempted to remove fuel subsidy but Nigerians and members of then opposition All Progressives Congress, APC, now the ruling party, opposed the decision, accusing the then Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, adminstration of planning to siphon the proceeds realised. PMB made Nigerians to believe that oil subsidy regime is the most corrupt system in the country and most confused policy.
In May.2016, then State Minister of Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, announced the removal of subsidy on petrol, fixing the new pump price at N145 per litre from N86.50 and later to N165, one year after the coming of the administration to power. The minister said subsidy had been removed with its current pump price at N165.
The progressive administration pledgedthat it would free Nigeria from being forced to subsidise the lavish lifestyle of the elite at the expense of ordinary Nigerians. But the administration has continued to do even worse than what it opposed previously.
Even when it was announced that it had withdrawn the policy in May 2016, it has been confusion galore, as the federal government keeps paying huge subsidies after several announcements of “full deregulation”. In spite of the announcement of fuel subsidy removal, Nigerians remain confused as to who subsidises who because GMB had made poor Nigerian to believe there was nothing like subsidy in its totality but a SCAM.
How can N5,000 will alleviate hardship of anyone, considering the exorbitant prices of foodstuffs and general high cost of living. Even for those opportune (workers) things are pretty tough given the meagre minimum wage talks less of millions of unemployed.
There is, therefore, theneed for the administration to think wisely not to introduce new subsidy regime in disguise. Does the Buhari government want to scrap fuel subsidy because the nation’s budget can no longer bear the financial burden? Why the policy shuffle, always one step forward, and two steps backward?
I am skeptical of this cash transfer N5,000 because it’s not a solution. How can this cash support reach target beneficiaries in a nation where millions don’t have bank accounts? Government should adopt a more sustainable long scheme that would transform lives like those of Togo and India which helped these countries’ poor.
As a matter utmost urgency, the federal government should rescind the policy of reducing the importation of food. There is no prescription that every nation has to meet its food self-sufficiency needs from domestic production.
Lastly, those in the corridors of power and the perceived messiah should figure out on how to improve the citizens’ well being, strengthen the economic policies that will allow foreign investors to come. They should reduce the high cost of governance which will save more money than petrol subsidy.
With untold hardships in the country it is clear that the progressive change is not forthcoming to the expectations of Nigerians..Instead of progressive transformation the daily survival has become an uphill challenge as the people are languishing in extreme hardship.
Is the Buhari government fantastically confused?
Ahmad writes from Kano.