The removal of fuel subsidy was the last thing many Nigerians anticipated to hear during President Bola Tinubu’s inaugural speech on May 29, 2023. It was an unpleasant awakening.
Prior to the announcement, petrol stations throughout the country had purposefully hoarded their products for obvious reasons. Following the announcement, fuel prices increased immediately by 150 to 200 percent across the country. Many citizens are enraged, and it was expected.
However, this is not the first time the Federal government is taking a shot at this issue, even, as it is laced with tissues of controversy. The Goodluck Jonathan administration had attempted to remove the fuel subsidy but perhaps lacked the courage and political will power to do it. In the past, Nigeria’s monthly fuel subsidy payments were within the region of a whooping N400bn. But, finally this monster has been done away with.
The general consensus, however, is that subsidy removal will help end the syphoning, smuggling, and stealing of Nigeria’s Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) to other countries in the African continent. With this continuous theft and illicit trade along the borders, the country bleeds, economically, leaving the entire citizenry in utter impoverishment.
While Nigerians are struggling to exactly understand what their economic tide will swing to, the Federal government emphasises that its present action in removing the subsidy will impact positively on the lives of the people. The resources which would have enriched a few people will be ploughed back into infrastructural projects, public healthcare, funding of the educational sector and other public services.
Stakeholders, public analysts, as well as the government are of the view that while this policy may be difficult, initially, Nigerian economy will improve as the petroleum sector which had hitherto been under serious monopoly will be free from the claws of the shylocks. Products will become readily available.
However, people are quick to argue that aside from fuel theft and subsidy cabal, the mountainous overhead and heavy burden of governance are also bleeding tissues of the economy. Amid all economic permutations, the fate of the common man still hangs in the balance.
Sadly enough, the generality of Nigerians are not being carried along in the whole process. There are divided opinions for obvious reasons. While those who believe in the policy are ready to exercise patience and see how the development turns out, others are not sure of government intentions and purposes.
Tough Times, New Frontiers
These are certainly tough times for the entire citizenry. Prices of foodstuff, services, toiletries are going out of the hands of the ordinary Nigerian. Cost of living has hit the rooftop. Many people can’t afford three square meals anymore. Food items that were the staples before and some basic needs are now categorised as luxuries. Public transportation has become so expensive.
The country has recorded the highest inflation rates. While these harsh economic realities will, no doubt, become part of people’s lives, the key words on the lips of many Nigerians are survival and adaptation.
Their elasticity and resilience have further been stretched. These challenging times are reenactments of the 2020 COVID-19 period. The ‘New Normal’ is adjustment. What you cannot afford, you must have to let go.
All over the nation, people are adjusting to a new lifestyle. Lagos residents are quick to cut down the excesses of luxury movements from one point to the other. Priority is now given to only things that are very important. You can only go to places that are really important, too. People trek long distances to cut down the expenses of commuting to and from work and from different destinations every day, while others have resorted to working from home having realised that it is more productive to work from home.
Alternative modes of transportation have become a common sight on the roads as people ride bicycles, motorcycles and tricycles. It is a trend now for car owners to manage to drive their vehicles to a safe neighbourhood, park the car and commute in public transport to their place of work or business.
The “New Normal”
Some state governments like Edo and Kwara States have perfected strategies and initiatives to ameliorate the effect of the current hardships and the high energy cost implications faced by their citizens in the wake of the fuel subsidy removal.
The Edo State government last week announced the reduction of official working days for civil servants from five to three days a week.
Workers will now work from home two days every week. Gov. Godwin Obaseki said his government will stand by the people of Edo State and do everything possible to reduce their sufferings.
Apart from that, the plight of parents, teachers and pupils are also in the government radar as their commuting to school will be reduced. The government is working on deepening the EdoBEST@Home initiative to create more virtual classrooms, thereby reducing the cost of commuting on parents, teachers and pupils. The Edo SUBEB will provide details on this initiative in the days ahead.
In the same vein, civil servants in Kwara State, last week rejoiced over the pronouncement by Gov. AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq that they would only be working for three days in a week. All these are the new normal and adjustments towards the current realities.
In addition to the reduction of the official working days for civil servants, Governor AbdulRazaq has also approved the deployment of government buses to support movement of students and workers in public tertiary institutions within the Ilorin metropolis and its environs. It is the second phase of the measures being put in place by the Kwara State government to cushion the effects of high energy implications on the people.
The government promised that it will continue to offer immediate support for the people of Kwara State in the face of Nigeria’s transition to the post-fuel subsidy regime, exploring more avenues to ease the people while growing the economy in a sustainable way.
Malam Dauda Lawal of the State Universal Basic Education Board and Ramat Ajia of the Ministry of Education thanked the Governor for his thoughtfulness in reducing the number of working days. They described the measure as helpful, humane and a welcome development.
The state chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Comrade Murtala Olayinka noted that reduction in working days to just three days is a welcome development as it would reduce cost of transport for civil servants.
Nigerian youths have shown ingenuity in different capacities in order to meet the challenges of the 21st century and shape the future. There are records of several innovative skills in different spheres of human endeavour. It ranges from mechanical fabrications to medical discoveries and others. People have been known to fabricate motor cars, building aero-planes from metal craps. Sadly, these efforts do not often see the light of the day or go further than the creative radius for lack of enabling environment or government support.
About 10 months ago, in Borno state, a young University dropout, Mustapha Gajibo successfully manufactured electric vehicles to the admiration of former governor Zulum who donated 5 mini-buses and some financial aid to him. With this feat, Gajibo became the first to produce such vehicles in Nigeria and Africa. Leadership Newspaper reported that the young entrepreneur who started this venture in 2017 also builds tricycles and generating sets, all made locally.
Few days ago, the internet was awash with a video of a young Nigerian man who has successfully converted a fuel-powered generator to use cooking gas.
The man (@kingsolya) revealed that a 2kg cylinder of gas would power the generator for 12 hours.
With sincerity of purpose to combat these current challenges in the face of the subsidy removal and quest for renewable energy, this is a clarion call for the government to harness these potentials, harvest the inherent benefits and shake-off shackles of technological weakness.
Need to cut down on cost high of governance
Nigerian masses have always paid the price for any government policy. From arbitrary tax increase to high cost of transportation and everything indicated by market forces. The people often bear the brunt.
Whether we like it or not, the fuel subsidy removal policy has come to stay. Whether the government ploughs the proceeds back to infrastructural development for the betterment of the citizens is a different ball-game entirely or whether there is policy summersault is also a story for another day. No previous government has ever had the courage and political will to reduce the huge baggage of expenditure from the bourgeois size of official portfolios leaving the economic implications on the door steps of Nigerian tax payers.
Consequently, the recurrent expenditure of the federal government currently stands at over N8 trillion, according to details of the 2023 budget resulting in over 400 per cent increase in nine years.
In the budget, the National Assembly got an allocation of N168 billion. Available data shows that the cost of running the government will take a large chunk of the N10.4 trillion revenue of the federal government for the year 2023.
Little wonder, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank (AFDB), in his speech at the inauguration lecture, implored the Tinubu administration to look critically at the cost of governance, saying “it is way too high and should be drastically reduced to free up more resources for development. Nigeria is spending very little on development.”
Much is being seen in terms of sacrifices from the people. The question is, what will the government and political class pay as their own price? Even though Dele Alake, the media aide to President Tinubu had promised that the present administration will “cut down the huge cost of governance.”
Ekeoma Phillip, a Calabar-based civil engineer recalls how disappointed people were recently in Calabar when they saw a member of the newly inaugurated cabinet on the streets of the state capital in a convoy of about 12 luxury vehicles.
“I personally felt like stoning them. You can imagine the quantity of fuel being used by 12 big vehicles, all for one person. It is sad. We are talking about the high cost of living and that our people are suffering. It is obvious that these politicians do not feel for the masses and it is sad. In fact, government officials should reduce their expenses. They are killing the people,” he said.
Fabian Okpambo, a quantity surveyor says: “Is it only the masses that would pay the price for the economic growth of the nation? So far, the government has regaled Nigerians with how well they can sacrifice to move the country forward.
“Are government officials and the politicians not part of this journey? You cannot be a leader without making sacrifices to win the war. The situation we are in currently is like war. All hands must be on deck to win the war. Our politicians need to cut down their life of luxury. Their salaries and allowances are enough to pay millions of Nigerian workers’ salaries. It’s unfortunate how they bleed this nation dry.”