Let’s keep hope alive, by Ehi Braimah

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The story that is on every lip and also trending widely is that “life is hard.” It is indeed true.
The times are tough and Nigerians are no longer smiling due to unbearable economic hardships. Who will protect the vulnerable and long-suffering masses who are struggling daily to eke out a living? Who will cover their “nakedness”?

President Bola Ahmed Tinubu told us that becoming the president of Nigeria was his life-time ambition. I don’t see anything wrong with that statement of purpose but the challenges of the moment will test his leadership skills.
I have written in previous articles that he has the capacity, courage and experience to lead the country.

Now is the time to walk the talk. However, I agree with commentators who say that it is still too early to criticise the Tinubu administration that is less than 60 days old.

But Mr. President needs to act quickly in order not to lose his goodwill with Nigerians. What are the issues again? The rising cost of petrol and expensive foreign exchange rates have created a new “economic bubble” that we are not used to.

Once the pump price of petrol goes up, there is always a multiplier-effect on the prices of other goods and services. School fees, transport fares, cost of foods and medicines, house rents and electricity tariffs, etc have all gone through the roof.

It is public knowledge that efforts are being made to re-set the economy but it will take some time for the benefits to kick in. Critics argue that the “bitter pill” being forced down the throats of Nigerians ought to have been “sugar-coated” to minimise the impact of the dire economic situation that has enveloped the nation.

Palliatives that are now being discussed, according to the critics, should have been in place before the petrol subsidy was removed. I think that is a fair point, but Nigerians are suspicious of palliatives in its form, scope and implementation – in much the same way they believed fuel subsidy was a huge fraud – or “organised crime” as Peter Obi put it – that was beneficial to the rich and exploitative to the poor.

Prof Farooq Kperogi, one of my favourite columnists writing from his base in the US, criticised, the removal of “subsidies” which he described as “anti-people policy”. In America where Kperogi lives, he argued that subsidies on petrol and agriculture are retained and sustained, otherwise they could become highly toxic political issues.

I am sure Kperogi knows that subsidies in Nigeria are stolen and the thieves get away with their loot but it is not so in America where every cent is accounted for. That is the huge difference. However, I agree with him that subsidy is not a bad thing but it is the mismanagement that is bad.

The mere fact that people have not poured out in the streets protesting the removal of subsidies – in spite of the economic pains – does not mean we have swallowed the “religious dogma” envagelised by the World Bank and IMF.

To the best of my knowledge, no “ideologue” has been garlanded with medals since the removal of petrol subsidy and unification of the exchange rates (I&E window and parallel market rates) neither is Nigeria a lackey of the World Bank and IMF.

Prof Kperogi, whether we call it “neo-liberal economics” or the “reign of market forces,” Nigeria is broke (from many years of non-stop egregious looting of the treasury) and there are no easy answers to the deep-rooted economic problems that have festered over several seasons.

The situation today is dire and different from what led to the SAP riots of the 1980s. Nigeria is poorer today than 30 years ago because our commonwealth has been stolen by the “elites” during that period at the expense of the poor and there are usually no consequences.

Every now and then, we receive “Abacha loot” from the US. The money that the late General Sani Abaca “saved” for us must have been in billions of dollars! You will agree with me that he was not the only one who looted our treasury, but we are yet to receive similar repatriation of stolen funds by others from Europe and America because they are still alive.

I agree with you that our poor people have been pauperised severely by the thieving mob, parasites, bootlickers and rent seekers of Nigeria. It explains why you support the need for subsidies but when there is no money in the treasury to pay for subsidies, what do we do? Ask NNPC Limited CEO, Mele Kyari, and he would tell you that the federal government is owing the corporation over N2.8 trillion.

Gong by the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA), petrol subsidy had become illegal after February18, 2022. All the appropriations made by the Buhari administration in the 2022 and 2023 budgets were not backed by funds which explains why NNPC is being owed.

Nigeria is not a poor country but the poor are getting poorer because they have been subsidising the rich. What does it even mean nowadays when we say Nigeria has the largest economy in Africa when people are dying of hunger?

Different cycles of leaders have failed us since the days Nigeria borrowed money to IMF. You described these leaders as “unashamed sadists” because they “derive contentment from seeing others writhe in pain.”

I am equally as concerned as you in this matter because Nigeria’s revenues since 1960 does not match our growth and development. Ideally, our per capita income should have been higher that of China and Singapore by now, just to cite two examples. Each time we take two steps forward, we take 10 steps backward.

Even Dubai with eye-popping skyscrapers which our looters who hide under the demonising shadow of “elite conspiracy” travel to is a city that grew out of a desert in less than 30 years! Public officers and civil servants who own prime properties in UAE, especially Dubai, know themselves.

Can you really blame the followers whom you described as “unthinking, self-immolating masochists” because they “obtain joy from the suffering inflicted on them by their leaders” who come and go through revolving doors of shame that recycle them?

Is it possible to obtain joy from suffering that is the result of years of neglect caused by lack of visionary and purposeful leadership? In a country with over 130 million multi-dimensionally poor people, these “followers” have always resorted to self-help to survive because they believe that they are “on their own” – help does not come from those who preside over their affairs at the local council level or subnational government or the federal government.

They are easily recruited by politicians and thereafter sing their praises and pay obeisance to them. The poverty cycle continues and the net is expanded to admit more poor people yearly.

How much did Nigeria spend on petroleum subsidy payments until it was removed or is it a no-go area? If that probe is ever commissioned, the findings will perhaps be the biggest revelation yet on how the “organised crime” was perpetrated.

In order to break the poverty cycle, President Bola Tinubu has promised Nigerians that he would renew their hopes to achieve a new and better life. In the process, good and bad decisions would be made. For example, the N8,000 cash “subsidy” targeted at 12 million “poor and vulnerable” Nigerians was withdrawn because it was a rushed “quick-fix” that would have been counter-productive.

The long-term gains that would come after the short-term pains is the “hope” that Nigerians really need, but the optics from Abuja must be right. What do I mean? 1.) the Tinubu administration must be sincere in all its policy choices and implementation; 2.) this sincerity will breed trust that is badly needed at this time; 3.) display of transparency and accountability in government spending and block all the financial leakages; 4.) the poor can no longer subsidise the rich, and 5.) fairness, equity and social justice must be the abiding principle of the administration.

President Tinubu needs these “five pillars” to succeed and finish well. However, in my own reckoning, the president did not need more than 30 days to announce his list of ministers with their respective portfolios attached.

But I have come to know that things are not usually what they seem, and Nigeria is always a hard nut to crack. I do not envy any president who sits in Aso Villa; it is always the case of the more you look, the less you see.

I suspect that the “vested interests”’ and “middlemen” who are professional lobbyists have been at work tinkering with the ministerial list and it would appear they successfully boxed President Tinubu into a tight corner.

Even if that is what happened, I am still willing to give Mr. President the benefit of the doubt, and I am confident his presidency will thrive.

What is important is that we cannot give up on Nigeria, no matter the challenges that we face. In order to keep hope alive, we must work together to solve our problems. The signs are there that the economy will bounce back.

*Braimah is a global public relations and marketing strategist. He is also the publisher/editor-in-chief of Naija Times (https://ntm.ng) and Lagos Post (https://lagospost.ng).

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