Fuel Subsidy: Time To Decide Whether To Empower Tiny Few Or All Nigerians

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Over the years, one thing has been very clear about Nigeria and its leaders: we do not lack good ideas and initiatives. What is lacking is courage and political will to do the right thing at the right time.

This is why I commend President Bola Ahmed Tinubu for having the courage to confront this fuel subsidy palaver headlong. Courage is leadership. Leadership is courage.

We have been moving around in circles since 2003 or thereabouts over this same issue. For instance, in the 90’s even when government pegged the price of PMS at N20 per litre, it was sold for between N70 and N150 across the country.

Incidentally, the same argument being advanced by those opposed to the removal of subsidy some 15 years ago is the same argument they are putting up today.

Unfortunately, the idea of using half of the country’s budget to subsidise for a vocal minority in our midst is no longer economically sustainable. Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, a former CBN Governor and incumbent Anambra Governor lent credence to the above fact in 2015, shortly after the presidential election, when he said fuel subsidy that was being funded with tax payers’ money only benefits a negligible few. While describing it as a fraud, he urged the Buhari’s administration to remove it if it must make real progress.

Prof. Soludo may have made the suggestion because in the buildup to the 2015 presidential election, former President Muhammadu Buhari as candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), promised to sanitise the oil sector, which provides Nigeria with about 95 per cent of its foreign exchange earnings and which invariably is the lifeline of the country’s economy.

While the former President tried his best with regard to reforming the oil sector, President Tinubu should be encouraged to carry on from where Buhari stopped, rather than trying to blackmail his government to beat another retreat by reinstating the already removed fuel subsidy which might invariably spell doom for the country in the long run.

Before Prof. Soludo, another ex-CBN Governor and the 14th Fulani Emir of Kano, HRH, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, had been at the forefront of the advocacy for the removal of fuel subsidy.

He had posited that, “to continue borrowing trillions of Naira and subsidising current consumption is to ask our children to pay for our comfort today. Stable economies are sick. There are dark clouds on the global horizon; it is easy to take unpalatable economic decision today that may be politically in order to secure the future; the universities have roles to play in this debate. We have to face the fact that we simply cannot continue to live above our means. If we do not take that decision, our children are going to face a difficult situation that the future of our country will be involved in.”

In the buildup to the 2011 presidential election, March 2011 to be precise, I covered an event where HRH Sanusi as CBN Governor told an audience, which included the then President Jonathan and his vice, Namadi Sambo, in Kaduna, that the economic policies of the Federal Government were killing Nigerians.

He told Jonathan and Sambo pointedly that they needed to decide whether to continue to empower a tiny few or empower the entire country.

At the Kaduna event for instance, the former Kano Emir argued among other things that once there was the right economic policies for a country, every part of the country would benefit, adding that “some of the states in the North are poorer than Niger, Chad and Cameroon. I have always said that if you have the right economic policies for the nation, every part of the nation will benefit.”

He further noted that agriculture was 42 per cent of Nigeria’s GDP and the bulk of the arable land in Nigeria and the bulk of agricultural products come from the North.

“So, why is there a higher incidence of poverty in the North, which accounts for 42 per cent of GDP?” he asked.

In supplying the answer, he said, “It does not need a genius to know that we do not have the right agricultural policies and the problem is that agriculture in the North remains production. It is a problem that is consistent in our economic programmes.”

Barely six months after the inauguration of the then President Jonathan, November to be precise, HRH Sanusi, still as CBN Governor, warned us on the dangers of retaining the fraudulent fuel subsidy, when he said, “It is a very difficult time in the world today and economically for policy makers. It is important for every Nigerian to remember that we don’t live in an island. We continue to have an economy that remains vunerable to movement of economic goods and prices. We therefore cannot ignore that. European countries are groaning under the weight of sovereign debts. Governments are falling under like a pack of cards.

“The low bond sales of Germany, the strongest economy in EUROPE, sent a warning signal about the future of the Eurozone. India has been under inflation for about one year and high rate has not brought it under control, Brazil is grappling with huge deficit problem; the world faces a risk of double economic recession with the implication for the price of oil, government revenue with the implication for macro, economic stability.

“It is important to call on the academic community to play a role in the extremely difficult and painful economic decision that needs to be taken now in order to avoid disaster in the future.”

For us to still be talking about fuel subsidy 12 years after this warning is an indication that we appear unprepared to progress as a country.

He went further to say, “It does not mean that government lacks sensitivity to the pain it will cause. But It is a recognition of the consequence of not taking the decision now which will be a Greek-type economic situation in a few years time.

“I have been advised to stop talking about subsidy because it is unpopular. But I will never shy away from being part of the economic decision that has been taken on the basis of what is best in the long-term interest to the economy.

“Since 1960, the prospect of Nigeria as potential world power was being made, for now, we are at a point where we stop talking about those potential but realising those potential”.

That was HRH Sanusi 12 years ago. Must we continue to run away from our challenges and postpone the doomsday?

Truth is, one of the reasons former President Buhari’s Economic Team may not have done as much as Nigerians expected, is largely because there was a member of his kitchen cabinet who does not believe in the Economic Team. At least, I am aware that from outside, he did everything to frustrate the one put in place by the late President Yar’Adua. If he could do that from outside, just imagine when he had the yam and the knife.

If, therefore, the current administration must make the desired impact, which we all want to feel, it must avoid the idea of going back and forth over policy decisions. It is on this note that I wholeheartedly endorse the removal of fuel subsidy by the immediate past administration and the reiteration of same by the current administration. It is either now or never!

Omipidan, a journalist and Public Affairs analyst writes from Ile Olorisa Compound, Eyindi, Ila Orangun.

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