By Gabriel Amalu
The recent hike in tariffs, of electricity and petrol, has added to the adversity wrought by the coronavirus pandemic upon Nigerians. As expected, the cost of food, transportation, and other social needs have gone up. For instance, the price of a loaf of bread has increased by more than 10 percent since the hike, from a price many could hardly afford before the increase.
To make matters worse, before the increase in the cost of bread, many breadwinners have lost their jobs. The costs of other staple food items have also gone up, so, many Nigerians go to bed without food. History reminds us that it was the increase in the cost of bread that led to the storming of the Bastille, which triggered the French revolution, in 1789.
Before the new hike, many small-scale businesses have closed shop, while those still operating run at half capacity. Now, with many of them running on generator, a number of the survivors will close shop. The businesses that took loans from finance houses may not be able to repay and that will affect the liquidity of the finance houses. The financial squeeze could spiral up to the banks, which finance the finance houses.
So, it is a tale of woes for the ordinary Nigerians and businesses. But there are no signs that the luxurious lifestyles of those in power have been affected by the economic and social hardship their misrule has plugged Nigerians into. One can say that the impact of their failure in governance have only affected the ordinary Nigerians, and without feeling the heat, there is the likelihood that the ruling elite may continue to cause the ordinary people greater hardship.
So far, short of expanding the tax nets, those in government appear clueless. Yet, the federal government officials keep talking about the ease of doing business. Not long ago, the federal government taunted the new Companies and Allied Matters Act, 2020, as the best thing that has happened to businesses in Nigeria. While the new law may have improved the legal regime, what can be achieved when the economic environment is most excruciating?
It is unfortunate, that despite promises, the federal government has failed to either build new refineries or repair the old ones, after five years of being in power. Like their predecessors, the officials are defending the price hike in fuel and electricity, as the best thing to happen to Nigeria. Yet there is no government roadmap to get Nigeria out of the shameful cycle of importation of fuel, while we export crude oil.
The federal government’s claim that Nigerians enjoyed the low cost of fuel, during the lockdown, is hogwash, and Nigerians are not buying it. In the social media, the joke is on the sympathizers of this government, as they are constantly reminded of the promises the ruling party made, before they won the election. One of the most disarming videos is that of the campaign against fuel hike, now trending in the social media.
In one of the videos, many pro-democracy activists are shown telling Nigerians to resist the fuel hike, under President Goodluck Jonathan. One of the videos has President Buhari, Ogbonnaya Onu, John Odigie-Oyegun, and a host of other party leaders, campaign against the hike in fuel price, amongst other punishing programmes. In several of the trending videos, candidate Buhari made promises that fuel import will stop, Boko Haram will be defeated, presidential fleet will be reduced, if he wins the presidency.
With the stirring failures, the legitimate question the Buhari government and indeed the ruling party should ask introspectively is why has the government been unable to deliver on many of their patriotic promises? There was no doubt that the government of Goodluck Jonathan was on the wrong path in terms of the corruption laden fuel importation regime, and the handling of the Boko Haram, amongst other malaises then plaguing the nation.
So, it was legitimate for Nigerians to seek an alternative government, which an austere and ascetic candidate Buhari represented. But after five years of the alternative regime, it is legitimate to measure the success level of the change agenda. Since, things appears to remain the same, even as the government works hard to change things, perhaps the challenge is more fundamental and structural than our leaders are willing to accept.
For instance, why is it that the much-advertised Petroleum Industry Bill, which all the regimes touts as a sector game changer, have not be passed, while it is easy to agree to remove the fuel subsidy? Also, what is the cause of the apparent failure of the privatisation of the electricity sector, despite the potential economic gains?
Again, despite the huge resources expended in the maintenance of the refineries, how come the refineries are still as moribund as they were under the former regime, which many describe as corrupt and inefficient? What could be responsible for getting the same result, from what is touted as different measures, or are we in a flux, not knowing what we are doing or what we are seeing?
The failure of the electricity sector should worry Nigerians, despite the promises to do things differently, by the Buhari regime. Of note, we recall that under President Olusegun Obasanjo, the late Bola Ige, boasted that he would conquer the sector, but failed abysmally. Again, under President Buhari, Babatunde Fashola, who boasted that any serious government can solve the electricity problem in six months, failed woefully when he was saddled with the responsibility to walk his talk.
Could it be that as presently structured, it is nigh impossible to gift Nigerians adequate electricity? Could it be that maintaining a national grid, instead of regional grids, amongst other reasons, makes stable electricity impossible? While we lack the capacity to generate enough, we are incapable of transmitting efficiently what has been generated. To show how incoherent the management of the sector has become, it is President Buhari that is ordering for mass metering after the obnoxious increase in tariffs.
Perhaps it is becoming increasingly obvious that Nigeria as presently configured cannot make any meaningful progress, even with the best intentions. Perhaps there is too much concentration of powers in the centre, and the absence of incentive to strive, amongst the federating units. So, can the nation make progress without confronting these structural challenges?
To make matters worse, the nation is already in a debt peonage, while it is facing an expanding war against Islamic fundamentalists, plus internal security challenges. Are we applying the same unworkable formula, and expecting a better result? Unfortunately, we are at the mercy of those who are luxuriating in our adversity.