I watched in horror as President Bola Ahmed Tinubu at his inauguration on 29th May 2023, rather flippantly, announced the removal of fuel subsidy without having any plans that would mitigate the resultant pain on citizens. One would have expected that before taking such serious policy decisions, he would study the financial status report of the country, assemble his cabinet and consult widely particularly with his national security team on the policy’s national security implications.
Those that know his antecedents say that this semingy rushed policy announcement was not accidental but a premeditated plan to roll out these bitter pills before assembling his cabinet after which he would direct them to go and convince their people to accept the painful policy that they had no input in enacting.
There is a real concern that President Tinubu’s government will be run by a shadowy few with his cabinet having little or no input in the formulation of important policy matters. This dictatorial style of governance which to me smacks of contempt for the people, is said to be the way he ran Lagos state as its governor.
This singular policy action has exposed either President Tinubu’s inexperience at the national stage or crass arrogance or both. It is obvious that he is advised by some elitist, shadowy, armchair theoretical economists who know absolutely nothing about the sufferings of our people.
These armchair economists were clearly acting out a script handed to them by the World Bank which has been pushing for this type of shock therapy to Nigeria’s economy without regards to the consequences on its citizens. My suspicion was partially confirmed by the presence of the Bank’s representative in Nigeria sitting next to the Chairman of the newly created fiscal and tax policy committee at its maiden press conference given at no less a venue than the Presidential Villa.
The World Bank representative was effusive in praising President Tinubu’s economic policy describing it as being bold and timely. This painful policy is a lethal prescription handed down to Tinubu by the World Bank.
This policy is nothing but a cocktail of impulsiveness, chaos, hubris, and incompetence which has negatively impacted the lives of all Nigerians. The immediate and debilitating rise in the cost of living resulting from the removal of fuel subsidy debunked the official propaganda that only a few Nigerians and citizens of countries neighboring Nigeria benefited from the subsidy.
No one doubts that the current fraudulent “subsidy” regime is unsustainable but, the timing and the rushed and poorly thought through approach is wrong. No country, no matter how strong it’s economy can withstand the shock of a combination of sudden removal of fuel subsidy, currency devaluation, increase in energy prices, excruciating debt burden, astronomical rise in inflation, very high interest rates and increase in the cost of living. Other shocks are, shutting down of businesses and massive layoff of workers, hunger in the land, hopelessness and the real possibility of citizens unrest in a country beset with multiple existential security challenges.
President Tinubu in his desperate bid for legitimacy from his masters in the West, seems uncaring about the immediate and far reaching negative impact this reckless and impulsive policy on fuel subsidy removal and massive devaluation of the Naira is having on the citizens or Nigeria, a country that is heavily import dependent.
In a country with 65% (133m) of its population in multidimensional poverty, he has added millions more in one fell swoop, healthcare is more inaccessible now than ever, millions more children have been added to the 20 million children already out of school. Most importantly, there is real hunger in the land, a bag of Maize, the most common food staple in the north, now sells at N60,000 (at N1,300 per Mudu) which is way out of the reach of the average citizen. In many of our villages, no one can give you a change for N1,000. This is how poor our people are.
I watched a heart-rending viral video that depicts the daily sufferings of our people all across the country. It was taken in Katsina town showing a mother of four children aged between 3 -10 years whose husband had abandoned them and left town because he could not feed his family. This single mother of four young children would go out daily to find food for her children. Unfortunately, she got hit by a motorcycle that fractured one of her legs.
The family went hungry because she was unable to pay for healthcare or go out to bring food home for days. In the video clip, this mother and her 4 children looked severely malnourished (Marasmic) as one would see in refugee camps in a war zone. She is the lucky one because her story was told to the world. There are millions of Nigerians, mostly women and children, in much worse situations.
The President’s response to this self-inflicted suffering he brought on the people is like that of a drowning man flailing his arms and gasping for breath. His nonreassuring national broadcast was full of lamentations, complaints and empty promises with numbers that just didn’t add up. A simple example is when he said that he had directed the release of 200,000 Metric Tonnes of grains from strategic reserves to households across the country not knowing that the federal grain silos are literally empty.
The government’s plan on rolling out palliatives is a case study of voodoo economics that will not make any meaningful impact on this self-inflicted pain. Tinubu’s government hasn’t learnt any lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic when state governors were given money and foodstuffs which they hoarded in warehouses and used for their political campaigns. This is exactly what will happen to the N5b and five trucks of rice given to each state especially with the looming possibility of a rerun of the Presidential election.
How more insensitive and disconnected from the sufferings of the people can our politicians be? I wondered aloud. At a time when millions are groaning under excruciating economic hardships, the National Assembly just allocated N40bn for buying 465 exotic and bulletproof cars for their members and principal officials, and N70bn as ‘palliatives’ for new members.
Our leaders should be very very worried by the complete silence in the country in spite of the excruciating difficulties people are going through. Millions of Nigerians cannot feed, commute, pay school fees or afford basic necessities of life. It does not seem like these leaders care about the pains they have inflicted on the citizenry these two months.
A wise man once said that “democracy means nothing to a hungry, angry, insecure, homeless and unemployed citizen”.
I urge all men and women of conscience to raise their voices and call on President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to as a matter of urgency abandon this disastrous economic policy.
SILENCE IN THE FACE OF EVIL IS ITSELF EVIL.
Usman Yusuf is a Professor of Haematology-Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplantation.