By Olabode Opeseitan
Dear Mallam Garba Shehu, as a concerned Nigerian, I read your press statement commending our President, Muhammadu Buhari (GCFR) for having the courage to deregulate petroleum prices at this critical juncture.
Virtually everyone who understands the significance of deregulation will agree with you that it is a policy in the right direction except that the circumstances and the conditions precedent are totally depressing.
The concern of many Nigerians who have criticised the move was predicated on the timing of a policy that would further choke an already overstretched populace, at least in the short run.
To refresh our memories Mallam, the price of petrol in 2015 when President Buhari took over was N87 per litre. Today, it sells for about N160 per litre. The exchange rate of naira to the dollar in 2015 was about N190. Today, it is about N470. Value Added Tax was 5%, today, it is 7.5%. Galloping inflation has substantially reduced the effective value of workers’ salaries. The tariffs or charges Nigerians pay for port duties, electricity etc, have gone up without getting commensurate services to the point that people are now wondering if the sole intention is to snuff life out of hapless Nigerians. The Customs, FIRS etc are declaring trillions of naira in revenue while businesses are shutting down. The people have been pauperised.
Since its inception, the Buhari government has introduced some commendable social welfare schemes and unprecedented infrastructural renewal but the impact pales into insignificance when you look at the widespread suffering in the nation.
The number of unemployed Nigerians in 2015 was 5.5 million. Today, it is 21.7 million, according to the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics. It is 28 million if you add the pool of under-employed Nigerians. According to the World Poverty Clock, the number of Nigerians living below poverty line (those living below $1.90 per day) grew from 43.1 million in 2015 to 102.1 million in 2020.
Worst still, insecurity has remained intractable.
Yes, Mallam, it is important for a leader to show courage. However, real courage would be to work more expeditiously on policies and initiatives that would move millions of our people out of endemic poverty.
Courage would have been to fix the refineries in the last five and a half years of the Buhari administration so that the impact of subsidy removal would not make life more miserable for the people.
Mallam Shehu, you would agree with me that if the petroleum refineries were made to run efficiently and they could meet local demands, even if the subsidy on petroleum products was removed, it would not be to the detriment of the Nigerian economy and the ordinary people on the streets who bear the brunt.
Can we also extend the subsidy removal argument to government officials and encourage our courageous President to remove the subsidised lifestyle of government officials? This means that as this policy is introduced, government officials will also use their salaries to buy all petroleum products, particularly for activities after office hours and anyone who violates the rules will pay a heavy price now or in the future. In that case, the social equilibrium is maintained. For now, it tilts disproportionately in favour of the rulers while the governed are gnashing their teeth in anguish.
Courage is also in pushing for the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill(s) and the electoral reform bill and assenting to the bills. When will Mr. President lead the charge on those germane issues?
Courage is in prosecuting the war on corruption without fair or favour because some people are already insinuating that many of the people jailed for corruption are those who do not have any godfather in government to run to.
Mallam Shehu, has the Presidency noticed that the clamour for Oodua Nation is quietly gathering steam in an unprecedented manner because even moderates have now been driven to adopt extreme views due to the rabid unfairness and forlornness they see in the land.
As an incurable optimist, I want to believe that President Buhari can still do a lot to save this country from the precipice. The revolution has already crystallised in the hearts of the people. It is only a matter of time before the trigger is pulled.
Please let our courageous President save this nation before the majority gets to the tipping point.
-Olabode Opeseitan is a concerned citizen.