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General News of Thursday, 8 June 2023


No honeymoon for Tinubu

President Bola Tinubu and First Lady, Oluremi Tinubu President Bola Tinubu and First Lady, Oluremi Tinubu

A minimum of 100-day honeymoon for a new president is the norm all over the world. But, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who was sworn in last week Monday, is already feeling the heat of presiding over Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation. Tinubu, who contested the recent election on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), set the ball rolling for a series of activities when he indicated in his inaugural address that the subsisting subsidy on the premium motor spirit (PMS), otherwise known as petrol, can no longer be sustained in the wake of the country’s dwindling resources and that his administration intends to re-channel the funds into better investment in public infrastructure, education, health care and jobs that will materially improve the lives of millions. The Federal Government has been spending about N400 billion monthly or N4.8 trillion yearly on petroleum subsidies, a gesture that has been widely described as unstainable.

But President Tinubu’s statement on the subsidy has thrown the country into confusion, as the development has led to the announcement of an upward review of the price of PMS to as much as N520 per litre in some parts of the country, from about N195 before the May 29 inauguration of Tinubu, by the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation Limited (NNPCL) last Wednesday. The ripple effect in the short term, according to experts, is that Nigerians will face hardship because the price of the commodity affects the cost of transportation and indirectly the price of other commodities transported by road.

The challenges facing the country have been mounting since the era of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), which was voted out of power in 2015. It was precisely for this reason that the former ruling party, now the main opposition party, was kicked out of office; because it failed to plan adequately and effectively. Eight years after, the country is not yet out of the woods, socio-economically and the newly inaugurated President Tinubu has vowed in his address to rejig the policies of his predecessor in office to improve the living conditions of Nigerians.

Aside from the removal of the subsidy because it has become a drainpipe on the coffers of the government, other challenges facing the country are massive unemployment, poverty, insecurity and corruption in high places. Besides, the country is more divided than it ever was and many young Nigerians have lost hope that things would ever get better and are leaving the country in droves. These are some of the tons of challenges the Tinubu-led administration has inherited from the immediate past one led by Buhari. The new administration, according to observers, must also find a solution to the unresolved negotiation with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the rising debt profile, the power issue, healthcare and the economy generally.

Austin Aigbe, a political analyst, predicted before the inauguration that there will be no honeymoon for the incoming administration, as a myriad of challenges in all sectors of the economy is waiting to be sorted out. Aigbe made the assertion on a Raypower current affairs programme, ‘Fact File’, recently when he spoke about some of the challenges the new administration will inherit from the Buhari-led government.

His words: “There is a hurricane of challenges in all sectors of the Nigerian economy — in governance, in education, in infrastructure development and practically everywhere — there seems to be a myriad of challenges; insecurity has taken a frightening dimension; the educational system is almost on the verge of collapse, today we are in Sudan trying to ferry Nigerians back home — many of them went there to acquire education because patronising our numerous universities have become a challenge.

“Similarly, when Russia attacked Ukraine, many Nigerians, including students were displaced and could not complete their educational programmes in that country. In many countries in the world, you will find Nigerians trying to pursue one educational programme or the other because of the challenges of pursuing their desired goals at home. It is almost a total system breakdown, which has thrown up the buzzword, ‘japa’ that epitomises the exodus of Nigerians abroad in whatever guise. If we zero in on the challenges of insecurity, economy and corruption alone, we will realise how complicated the challenges have become. Take insecurity for instance; from the Boko Haram insurgency in the Northeast when former President Buhari took over, insecurity is now a national phenomenon and no part of the country is at peace today.

“If you look at the Southeast today, the region is a shadow of what it used to be. Before President Buhari took over in 2015, the Southeast was a haven and you could move around any time of the day. Today, you can’t move even Imo State, not to talk of travelling from that state to another state. Travelling from Imo to Enugu or Abia is a big challenge. If you are travelling to Abia, for instance, you have to encounter about 20 military checkpoints along the way. Even the Southwest is not an exception. In a single day, armed men went into a church in Owo, Ondo State and slaughtered scores of people.

On what the Tinubu-led administration can do to tackle these challenges, Aigbe said it is important to understand the nature of challenges confronting the nation before offering a solution to them. He said: “First of all, I will assume that the new administration understands the challenge. But, principally, what is the challenge? The problem in the Northeast emanated from some marginalisation. If the issue had been dealt with, what we are seeing in the Southeast will not have arisen. So, the new administration must prioritise a system of administration that is fair and truly owned by the people. I know that not all Nigerians voted for him, but he should see himself as a president of only those that voted for him.

“Unlike what President Buhari said at the beginning of his administration in 2015, Tinubu should see himself as a president of all Nigerians, irrespective of the region that gave the bulk votes that brought him into power. From an economic perspective, if the Tinubu administration addresses the economic challenges squarely, it would pull out an army of unemployed youths who are now on the other side into productivity. As it is often said, the idle mind is the devil’s workshop. When we engage people in productive endeavours, they are likely not going to have time to engage in destructive activities.

“The new administration must focus on rebuilding our economy, to strengthen the value of the naira. We should desist from being a country that depends on the importation of goods for survival; we must convert the energy of our youths into production. All over the world, diversity is a strength; ours should not be an exception. We must not be a consuming nation where every Tom, Dick and Harry comes to dump all manner of goods. We can change this ugly narrative. Look at Benue State for instance; it has virtually become a slaughterhouse because of insecurity. But, it can truly become the food basket of the nation, rather than a haven of insecurity. If we solve the insecurity problem, that of the economy and corruption would be automatically solved.

Johnson Chukwu, an economist, is not comfortable with the idea of removing the controversial petroleum subsidy. He said: “There is nothing like petroleum subsidy. Any time government wants to raise internal revenue, you will start hearing about the removal of petroleum subsidies. This is a ploy usually adopted by the political elite to hoodwink the common man into making sacrifices for the nation. They are not ready to cut their jumbo salaries and allowances that make up a large chunk of the country’s revenue. Rather, they usually want the poor masses to pay for the privileges that they are enjoying.

“To be able to succeed where the Buhari administration failed, the Tinubu administration must tackle the perennial issue of power generation to ensure the availability of power. The major problem facing the country has to do with revenue because while the cost of governance is growing, the revenue to fund the growing expenditure has been shrinking. This is why the immediate past administration relied heavily on borrowing to survive. Between January and November last year, Federal Government’s total revenue was about N6.5 trillion, while expenditure for the same period was about N12.8 trillion. Out of the amount, N5.24 trillion was for debt servicing.

“The reason why our debt servicing obligation has been increasing is because of the increasing resort to borrowing to cushion the shortfall in revenue. The issue of dwindling revenue has to do with the drop in crude oil output in the Niger Delta. The country’s crude oil production has been hovering between 1.2 million to 1.5 million barrels per day, which is far below the 2.2 million barrels per day that the country used to churn out. The new administration has to deal with the revenue issue.

“The Tinubu administration has to deal with the issue of the revenue accruing to the country, as well as that of the reduction in expenditure. That’s the elephant in the room. The administration has to look seriously at the issue of the drop in revenue generation and the increasing recurrent expenditure. So, it is imperative to start looking at other sectors that can generate huge revenue for the country. Sadly, every government in the last couple of decades has paid lip service to the idea of the diversification of the economy. I don’t expect this new administration of Bola Ahmed Tinubu to be different.

“But, since we are currently in dire straits, the new administration should start with the low-hanging fruits, which is optimising crude oil production by producing as much as we used to do in the last. Ordinarily, oil-producing countries like ours are not having revenue challenges at the moment. Nigeria has a huge reserve of gas but unfortunately, we have not built liquified natural gas (LNG) streams to supply gas to other parts of the world. With the outbreak of war between Ukraine and Russia, Europe and other parts of the world are struggling to get a gas supply. So, we ought to be reaping bountifully from our natural endowment.

“As a result, one of the things the new administration should work on is attracting investment in the oil and gas sector, especially in the area of exploiting our abundant natural gas deposit. The next stage should be to ensure that we add more value to the primary commodities we produce before they are exported. For instance, refining our crude oil before they are exported will earn us more foreign exchange and create more jobs for our teeming youths that are currently roaming the streets.

“But, to achieve this objective, we must also sort out the challenges of power supply, transport infrastructure and logistic infrastructure. This should be our medium-term goal. In the short term, let us optimise production of crude oil for export, as well as build gas exporting terminals and gas treatment plants so that we can earn revenue from exporting gas to the world market.”

On his expectation from the promise of the new administration on power, he said had over the years learned to take with a pinch of salt promises made by politicians because they hardly materialise. He said: “This is because I have been disappointed over time in my adult life when I had huge expectations that such promises will materialise. For now, I deal with what is on the ground. When Nigerians clamour for light, they are right; we cannot develop our economy without enough energy supply. Nigerians are very resourceful and entrepreneurial. If we have enough energy supply, I believe the level of productivity will be huge. So, I share the sentiment of the average Nigerian because what we need to increase our productivity is sufficient energy supply.”

Richard Elesho, a public affairs analyst, is also advising the new administration to do things differently to achieve success in sectors where the Buhari administration failed. He said Tinubu is inheriting a divided country and that the biggest problem in the land is insecurity. He said: “A two-decade-old insurgency in the Northeast blending into amorphous banditry in other parts of the North and organized criminal groups in the South are signs that the largest concentration of black people is on life support.

“The Centre for Democracy and Development in a report says not less than some 30,000 strong, gunmen split into 80 groups are operating as bandits, dispensing fear, tears and death to an already traumatized population. Gunmen regularly kill, maim and abduct people on the highways and sometimes from their houses or offices. Students, the clergy and personnel of the security agencies are prime targets in many parts of the country.”

Elesho advised the new administration to introduce unorthodox measures to defeat insecurity and restore the dignity of man. He added: “The number one focus of any government should be the security of lives and property. Safety has taken flight. We can no longer sleep with our two eyes or travel freely without fear of gunmen. The new government must work hard to restore peace and security. Things were not like that before now.”

Elesho said Nigerians are hungry and are crying for help because agriculture or food production has suffered as a result of the worsening security situation. Farmers, he added, can no longer visit their farms for fear of Ak-47 carrying herdsmen.

He said: “Prices of food and other items have gone up exponentially, making life very difficult for people. The trend must be reversed by the next government.”

On the challenge posed by the recurring issue of petroleum subsidy, Elesho advised President Tinubu to try and fix the refineries before ending the subsidy regime to guarantee a regular supply of the products. Quoting a report by Musa Ohiare, an energy expert, the public affairs analyst charged Tinubu to pay attention to gas and solid minerals.

He said: “Our country is blessed with vast mineral deposits. We have more than 32 of them, which are either not being explored at all, or under-developed. The same goes for gas. We have more gas than oil. Why can’t we convert these to wealth?

“The moribund steel complexes in Aladja, Delta State and Ajaokuta, Kogi State need to be brought back to life as a matter of urgency. This will partly create thousands of jobs and take idle hands away from the streets.”

Jide Ojo, a political analyst, is optimistic that the Tinubu administration will hit the ground running. He believes that given Tinubu’s antecedents as a career politician and master strategist, he can survive the political intrigues that will surface in the course of governance, “since he was able to survive those that confronted him during the electioneering period”.

He said: “Political intrigues happen in two phases: in the electioneering period and during the period of governance. Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu happens to be a veteran politician and a political strategist. When you look at his track record, he has a survival instinct. He was able to survive the onslaught of former President Olusegun Obasanjo by being the only politician that was able to win his governorship election in 2003 when the Obasanjo factor swept all other politicians in the Southwest region off their feet.”

On how Tinubu will be able to cope in office, given the barrage of challenges facing him as Buhari’s successor, Ojo said the good thing is that the incoming president is well prepared for the task ahead, unlike some of his predecessors in office. He said: “The good thing is that he has the prerequisite experience as a former federal legislator and state chief executive. He also has a running Vice President that is also well prepared for the challenges ahead. So, they have their jobs well cut out for them. First of all, they have a good manifesto, which is well documented and so they can be held to account if they renege on their promises. They also have their party manifesto, which is the manifesto of the APC. When it comes to the brass tacks, the bottom line is that Transition Committee was set up even before the February 25 election. Now, it is the same APC that is transiting to another APC government. So, it will be a seamless transition; in terms of documentation and information, he will not be lacking in that direction.

“In terms of political will, the incoming President Bola Tinubu has acquired enough exposure and experience to face whatever challenges that will confront him as the number one citizen. The Transition Committee would have documented what needs to be done, in the ongoing projects in the power sector, for instance. All he has to do is to look for competent people to work with, as he alluded that he is going to form a government of national competence, rather than that of national unity. A government of national competence is the key word here; not that of political jobbers. All he has to do now is to look for competent Nigerians in the country or the diaspora, within the ruling party or on the opposition who can add value to his government.”

To tackle some of the above problems, Ondo State’s Rotimi Akeredolu said President Tinubu must take the issue of power devolution seriously. Akeredolu, also the Chairman of the Southern Governors’ Forum, reaffirmed the need to transfer authority to the states since it was too excessively concentrated at the federal level.

The governor who made the remarks at the 59th Founders’ Day Anniversary Lecture, Award and Endowment of the Adeyemi Federal University of Education, Ondo, said one of the challenges facing the country’s growth is over-concentration of power at the centre.

Akeredolu who was represented by his Special Adviser on Union Matters and Special Duties, Mr Dare Aragbaiye, objected to the country’s current constitution, which gave the Federal Government a great deal of power, and insisted that the federating units must be able to direct local development.

He also suggested that Tinubu should ban the importation of all items, which could be produced in the country, adding that luxury items should be taxed heavily for the country to bounce back economically. He said: “The Federal Government must divest itself of the overwhelming but self-imposed duties for the country to breathe.

“The states must be encouraged to explore their domains and be creative. The Federal Government must ban the importation of all items which the country is capable of producing. The taxation on luxury goods must be heavy.”

He stated that every state should be free to explore its areas of strength for the benefit of the indigenes and inhabitants, and states should not be reduced to pathetic beggars in a federation, as the situation is at the moment.

He said: “The new administration has its job clearly defined. It is inheriting not only a heavy backlog of disaffection and complaints from the citizenry from all parts of the country, and it has sold its campaign on the promise of renewed hope.

“This points to its readiness to address existential issues, which bedevil the country at the moment. The expectations are high but the obstacles which have been erected to militate against progress are enormous. The tasks are going to be arduous but not insurmountable. The president and his team, as well as the governors in the states, must be courageous to confront the problems headlong.

“The states must be allowed to operate fully without hindrance as is the case from federal agencies which encroach steadily on their sphere of influence. The states should control their resources and pay taxes to the Federal Government. Proceeds from sales tax and value-added tax must be distributed according to contributions.

“Any state, which feels incapable of proceeding as a socioeconomic cum political entity, may seek to join others. The states must be allowed to assume their full identities. They are no junior partners to the Federal Government. They enjoy coordinate powers.”

The immediate past Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom believes the country’s insecurity challenge is surmountable if President Tinubu can avoid sacred cow treatment in confronting the menace that has uncountable losses to the nation and her people.

Ortom said former President Buhari would have done much better in tackling insecurity but for his selective approach to tackling the issue.

He said such a strategy made some individuals and groups of people a threat to the country’s peaceful co-existence.

Ortom, who made the revelation recently on Arise TV Morning Show, said the past administration would have achieved much more if Buhari had listened to him.

He lamented several security breaches in Benue State that led to the avoidable loss of lives and properties of Nigerians.

The immediate past Benue governor, nevertheless, expressed optimism about the capacity of the Tinubu administration to curb the insecurity in the country.

A former Sokoto State Deputy Governor Mukhtar Shagari is also in agreement that President Tinubu has what it takes to transform the country. The PDP chieftain, however, urged Tinubu to engage the right people to tackle the challenges facing the country.

Shagari said no matter how lofty the ideas of a leader might be, without the right set of people it would be difficult to implement those good visions.

He advised Tinubu to initiate a government of national unity and bring on board those that have what it takes to understand and interpret the issues and who have the integrity to implement the visions of the president-elect for the country.

He said: “In 2003, former President Olusegun Obasanjo brought in many who were not part of his party and that helped him a lot.

“Politics aside, I believe Tinubu can choose the right people because he has demonstrated that. He has to because the issue is about Nigeria. The issue is about our peace and inclusiveness. The issue is about peace and progress for our country.

“The issue is doing the right thing. If the president does the right thing, then the development of the country will be faster. A lot of people were discussing the newly commissioned Dangote Refinery in Lekki. Many said that the project was able to come to the limelight because of the plan Tinubu had made and left behind in Lagos.

“So, one can easily say without fear of contradiction, Tinubu has that ability. With the right team, Tinubu will do a lot for this country. It is the right people and team that will help him to achieve so much. He can still do what he did in Lagos in Nigeria.”

Shagari, however, warned Tinubu to be wary of sycophants in the government.

His words: “Tinubu should be careful of sycophants. He must take the issue of security very seriously. He must look at the economy and wage war against poverty in Nigeria. He has to look at the unity of this country. He must find another source of information about what is going around.”