BACKLASH: Time Has Started Counting

Abraham Ogbodo Copy

Abraham Ogbodo

FOUR years is not eternity. A week has gone since May 29, leaving us with 207 more weeks. It is not too proper to repeat the same mistake of time wasting that got us to where we are today.

Goodluck Jonathan was said to have wasted about three and half years planning for his re-election alone, and that by the time he returned to governance six months to May 29, it was already too late to make good impact.

In fact, if maintaining timelines vis-à-vis projections is going to be an issue, I suggest that one of the 15 presidential advisers already approved by the Senate to assist Buhari do the job be assigned the portfolio of time keeping as one wise new governor up north has already done.

For instance, nothing has been said about the lingering fuel scarcity. On this, I dare say there is something to learn from former President Goodluck Jonathan.

When he came on May 6, 2010, after the death of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, it was the same situation of non- availability of fuel. He did something drastic.

He decreed, even without any military background, the immediate payment of outstanding subsidy money amounting to hundreds of billions to importers of fuel and the unending queues in filling stations immediately vanished. But the case at hand may not be approached exactly the same way.

Before retiring on May 29, former finance and coordinating minister of the economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo had painstakingly looked through the books and hinted that the about N160billion extra money the petroleum marketers are asking for could not be supported by records and could not see why same should be released by the Federal Government.

The importers are, however, saying her records are wrong. Since it has become contentious, my candid advice is for President Buhari to stay clear so that he does not end up further enhancing the pockets of some people at national expense.

All the same, Buhari must do something, because silence or inaction is also not a way out of the persistent shortfall in domestic fuel supply.

People have mentioned complete deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry as the only way forward. This may sound tough and anti-people to a government that came to be on populist postulations, but it is the truth.

After months of sourcing fuel outside the official market, Nigerians have become pre-disposed to the total removal of fuel subsidy.

Why Buhari failed to cash on this good public mood to insert subsidy removal somewhere in his inauguration speech is difficult to understand. He chose instead to pamper the issue.

Hear him: “… the hitherto unending and seemingly impossible fuel and power shortages are the immediate concerns.

We are going to tackle them head on.” These were the same things he said when he was campaigning for votes.

Campaigns ended with the election, his victory and inauguration as President. It is now time for direct intervention not advocacy.

The President’s handlers should whisper occasionally to him that some of the lines and words that created waves before the election have lost their appeal and potency in the post inauguration setting. And so, instead of threatening to do things as if the campaigns had not finished, he should just go ahead and do the things and then wait for public appraisal.

Amid the official lethargy, the importers and marketers after causing Nigerians months of pains, suddenly decided to be nice.

They called a meeting of stakeholders last Friday where they promised to resume supply and clear long queues at retail outlets in the country by Saturday, June 13.

Their so-called outstanding subsidy money has not been paid, neither was it effectively discussed at the meeting, but they just want to be helpful to the new government.

They also promised that petrol on which much of the subsidy money is being paid, would sell at the official price of N87 throughout the country.

This is sounding too sweet to be true and I am advising President Buhari to be careful. It is not every glittering object that is called a precious metal. Fire glitters too. In the last one month or so, no Nigerian has bought fuel for less than N120 on the average and life has not stopped. It is almost like test running deregulation and it has proved very successful.

These guys called importers or marketers are not known to be charitable and their proposal to continue to give us fuel at N87 per litre is loaded with motives. They want the subsidy payment to continue, that is why they are still talking of selling fuel at N87 per litre when people have got used to buying it at even N300.

In 2014, the Federal Government budgeted almost a trillion naira for subsidy payments. In the current fiscal year, government, according to Okonjo-Iweala, had paid N500 billion in just five months, between December 2014 and April 2015.

At a time money is badly needed to prosecute the Change Programme, continued payment of huge sums to a handful individuals in the name of fuel subsidy does not make good macro-economic sense and should be discouraged.

These huge sums can be saved to finance important aspects of the Change Programme such as feeding of school children and payment of monthly stipends to old people. Part of it can also go into the comprehensive free education scheme.

Another key component of the Change Agenda is security and specifically, the defeat of Boko Haram and recovery of the kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls.

Early signs in this regard are reassuring, not minding the new approach of the insurgents to infiltrate urban settlements with female suicide bombers.

The military high command has been relocated from Abuja to Maiduguri. Europe and America, which had seen the Boko Haram as a solely Nigerian challenge, are pledging to help. Buhari himself was in Chad and Niger last week to rev up continued support for a cross boarder military coalition to tackle the insurgents.

Good moves! Oby Ezekwesili also seems prepared to move the headquarters of the Bring Back Our Girls Campaign to Maiduguri.

With all of these in place, nothing more will be required to finish Boko Haram and truly bring back the Chibok girls in the days ahead. President Buhari is also billed to be in Germany today where he will be discussing with leaders from the seven most advanced economies of the world.

In fact, he was asked ahead by one of the leaders to come to the meeting with a list of all the things troubling Nigeria. I want to believe that the President was able to do a good job of the listing in view of the challenge of having to do it alone without the support of a federal cabinet.

But just in case, the list should contain among other problems, corruption, fuel scarcity, insecurity, indiscipline, pipeline vandalism, poor social and physical infrastructure, etc.

In fact, the President should not misapply this golden opportunity to change Nigeria without any personal in put or local content. He should submit the APC manifesto of change and transfer the burden of causing change in Nigeria to the G7.

How lucky; his hard nut is about to be cracked for him by a benevolent spirit. Since everything will be handled by G7, we do not need to spend money on hiring ministers and other functionaries who will be paid for doing nothing. So much will be saved if the President continues till 2019 without a cabinet.

  • Agbaakin Majeobaje

    This is superbly thought out and well written, Abraham! From the G7 and before returning home, let Buhari give directive that the Oil Subsidy be promptly removed. Nigeria will not collapse without the subsidy. In fact things would have to get better and best without it. A few cabal cannot continue to hold the entire nation captive on the platform that they want to enrich themselves and their families alone. Oil Subsidy is PDP idea, APC should jettison it without any further delay. This is one of the changes we voted for. Anything short of that would be a repeat of the old songs under GEJ!!!!

    • Idorenyin James

      When gej wanted to stop subsidy, did u people agry to it?

    • nuppa

      Correction: Oil Subsidy is not PDP idea because the country has been paying subsidy for over 30 years.