By Nnanke Harry Willie
It is said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. But that step must be in the right direction otherwise one would be going a thousand miles away from the desired destination.
For Bola Ahmed Tinubu the very first step into his presidency was the almost gleeful announcement of the removal of fuel subsidy. “No more fuel subsidy, fuel subsidy is gone” he announced with a flourish just moments after being sworn into office.
For a candidate whose campaign mantra was “Renewed Hope”, this bold step was interpreted by his supporters as a class act of courage as they believed President Tinubu had finally moved against a very powerful cabal that had fed fat from the fuel subsidy scheme and rather morphed it into a fuel subsidy scam.
Never mind that the same Tinubu had fought studiously against it in 2012 when President Goodluck Jonathan also summoned enough ‘courage’ to remove the same ubiquitous subsidy. But was hope truly renewed with this step? And was it indeed a bold or a faltering step? Is hope being renewed at the first level? The jury is out on this!
The fuel subsidy removal was further justified by Tinubu’s team who reminded Nigerians that even Peter Obi had said that he too would remove fuel subsidy immediately if he took office. Peter Obi has however since come forward to say that he would have handled the issue differently and also provided appropriate explanations on what the savings from the removal would be used for as well as providing appropriate cushions for the citizenry.
The IMF, World Bank and other multilateral institutions however also joined the chorus of how wonderful a decision the subsidy removal was. Nigerians are however not smiling at all. In fact, presently, Nigerians are reeling in agony. It is becoming clearer that stealing of the subsidy payments was the problem and not the subsidy program itself. Unfortunately, hopelessness is setting in.
Just 2 days after Tinubu’s announcement of subsidy removal, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited (NNPCL) did the unfathomable and jacked up the pump price of petrol from N185 per litre to a dizzying band of between N488 and N550. The vital product is, however, selling for as high as N600 in some locations. Unbeknownst to President Tinubu, the cabal had just taken the first step to fighting back!
To trust NNPC, as presently constituted, over fuel and oil matters is say the least rather unfortunate as their data, actions, inactions, and conduct have remained questionable over the years.
This is the same NNPC that had twice during the regime of immediate past president Buhari announced that they had removed fuel subsidy each time they surreptitiously increased the pump price of fuel. Indeed, in 2021 after increasing the pump price to N165 per litre NNPC came back months later to claim some expenditures on what they initially termed under-recovery, then later used the term NNPC value shortfall.
Subsequently, the April 2021 FAAC report, for instance, showed that after deductions such as JV cost recovery, pipeline management, pipeline repairs, value shortfall among others were made, the total sum available for payment from total revenue of N156.4billion was approximately N16billion.
Petrol subsidy payments gulped a whooping N1.43 trillion in 2021, shrinking revenue accrued to the federation account to N542 billion, a shortfall from the projected N2.51 trillion. The projected subsidy costs has since jumped up to over N4 trillion.
Meanwhile, in 2022 after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, while all other oil-producing nations of the world literally smiled to the bank, NNPC again began some uncanny songs of lamentation. NNPC shocked Nigerians when they told us that Nigeria was unable to benefit from the windfall because 50 percent of what was being produced was being stolen by oil thieves. Indeed, Nigeria was making huge losses we were told!
This was so cavalierly announced that people initially believed that it was a joke. But the reality sank in as NNPC consistently maintained that there was precious little to present to the FAAC for sharing by the various levels of government.
NNPC is also yet to explain to Nigerians why Nigeria is still importing petrol and other refined products while government-owned refineries have been in a constant state of turnaround maintenance, while Dangote has during the period built the world’s largest refinery from the ground up.
NNPC is also yet to explain to Nigerians the details of the crude-for-fuel deal and how all other refined products that are accruable from the crude oil are accounted for.
I cannot imagine any other country where these scandalous claims and acts would be made and those in charge of oil production and security would continue to sit pretty in their offices. But that was what happened and is still happening.
With the foregoing, President Tinubu’s show of courage ought to have been directed at the cabal at various levels that have held the country down for so long, starting with the oil and gas cabal, especially those that have infiltrated the NNPC.
This is indeed a fair expectation as Tinubu as a presidential candidate had accused ‘a cabal within Buhari’s presidency” of causing fuel scarcity and forcing upward pump-price adjustments weeks before the election in order to stop him from winning the elections. It is therefore curious that rather than deal with the cabal he so identified, now that he has the tools of the presidential office, he got sucked in and fell into their trap.
Every single Nigerian with half a brain knows that what has kept Nigeria down is systemic and endemic corruption in all spheres of our national life and since oil and gas is apparently where we have been generating our most income and spending the highest budgets, a microscopic overhaul of all policies and activities in that sector should have been the logical first step towards journeying to our desired destination of economic prosperity.
Good policies have so far been very serially and easily abused and bastardised because of a general consensus by the greedy hawks to game the system at every turn and extract as much as possible from every obvious and remote opportunity in Nigeria.
Every discerning Nigerian, including this writer, believes that the astronomical increase in fuel prices is wreaking havoc on the economy, inflicting pain, suffering, and disillusionment for the majority of Nigerians. The pain is made worse that Nigerians have not been told what to expect in the short and medium term as from all indications, President Tinubu had not discussed this with his inner circles before making his pronouncement.
Incredibly, over one month after, President Tinubu is yet to tell Nigerians how his administration intends to turn the economy around. How, when and what to expect as benefits for the gruesome sacrifices Nigerians are presently going through. These sufferings have been compounded by the equally astronomical devaluation of the Naira and are about to be further worsened by a pending hike in electricity tariff.
There is galloping inflation across the board: transportation, food, medicines and so on. The unfortunate thing is that President Tinubu appears to still be in celebration mode. What with his recent victory lap in Lagos and Ogun state. He seemed to have forgotten so soon that he was roundly rejected at the polls by Lagosians over whom had governed directly and by proxy in last the 25 years.
Only a quick and sustainable fix to Nigeria’s corruption monster which will automatically affect all aspects of life in Lagos and Nigeria will earn him the adulations, love and respect he obviously craves. Nigerians will be mighty glad if Tinubu shows true courage to reign in these monsters that have held us down for so long.
President Tinubu will do well to make haste while he still has the opportunity to do so since the election petitions against INEC’s decision that he won the presidential election are still being stoutly pursued by Peter Obi and Atiku Abubakar, the Labour Party and Peoples Democratic Party candidates respectively.
Nnanke Harry Willie is Publisher of BRANDPOWER