Tuesday, May 17, 2016

GUEST WRITER SERIES: Why Buhari is Nigeria’s luckiest President

Azuka Onwuka
Email: azonwuka@yahoo.com
Twitter: @BrandAzuka

With last week’s removal of petrol subsidy, President Muhammadu Buhari, again, went against one of the points that made him win the 2015 election. All through his campaign for the Presidency, Buhari had maintained that he did not know anything like subsidy in the petroleum sector and that subsidy did not exist.
But was Buhari right in removing the subsidy on petrol? Yes, of course. It had never made any sense to keep the subsidy running all these years, thereby making a few people rich at the expense of the nation. Therefore, Buhari should not cave in to Labour’s demand that the decision be reversed. The only problem is that Buhari opposed that same policy in 2011 when the debate was on as well as in January 2012 when the masses were deceived into protesting against it. If that subsidy removal was left to stand in 2012, the trillions of naira that were paid out from that year to this year by the administrations of Dr Goodluck Jonathan and Buhari would not have been paid. Perhaps, petrol would have been selling lower than N100 per litre today.
Throughout these years of subsidy, the only places where petrol religiously sold at the approved pump price were in central parts of Lagos as well as Abuja and some parts of Port Harcourt. So, only those areas enjoyed the subsidy that ran into trillions of naira. Other parts of Nigeria bought petrol as high as N200 or more per litre at a time these three parts of Nigeria were buying petrol at N86.50, even though it was a tug of war to get the petrol at N86.50 per litre. To get petrol during the petrol scarcity that lasted for months recently, a Lagosian took the extreme measure of stripping himself completely naked at a filling station, to send a message to even the security men at the filling station that his desperation had reached its apogee. His picture and video went viral.
During the 2011 petrol subsidy debate, the erstwhile Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and the Governor of Central Bank, Mallam Lamido Sanusi (who is now the Emir of Kano), sounded like a broken record as they went from one part of the country to another and from one TV programme to another, explaining why it was economically senseless to continue to waste our national wealth in the name of subsidy. Even the state governors like the current Governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole, and the then Governor of Lagos, Mr Babatunde Fashola (who is now the Minister of Power, Works, and Housing), supported the idea of removal of petrol subsidy. The opposing argument was that there was really no subsidy, that if the corruption in the system was removed, petrol would sell at a low price.
When the subsidy was eventually removed on January 1, 2012, there was opposition to it. The opposition parties of the Action Congress of Nigeria and Congress for Progressive Change as well as the Nigeria Labour Congress mobilised many Nigerians to stage protests across the country. At the Gani Fawehinmi Park in Ojota, Lagos, musicians were mobilised by the opposition parties to entertain the protesters for many days. Many protesters insisted that there was no subsidy and advised the President with their posters that read: “Kill corruption, not Nigerians!” Some people lost their lives during the protest. Eventually, the government budged and reduced the pump price of petrol to N97 per litre and still continued with partial subsidy.
There are some people who don’t want to accept that the 2012 protest against subsidy removal was wrong-headed. They argue that the petrol subsidy was resisted during the 2011 debate because of lack of trust in Jonathan. But that argument falls flat on its face. Jonathan was sworn in in 2010 as Acting President. So, he had spent just about one year in office. He had also overwhelmingly won an election early in 2011. There was no scandal against him. The only issue some people had against him was that he should not have contested the 2011 election because of the rotational arrangement the Peoples Democratic Party had. But his approval rating was high.
The removal of the petrol subsidy was another sign that Buhari as the President is coming to terms with the challenges of leadership. As Mario Cuomo says: “You campaign in poetry but govern in prose.” There is nothing bad with one changing one’s mind on a critical national issue. But there is something bad with one not acknowledging that one made a wrong judgment in the past and apologising for it.
It is also a sign that politicians and their supporters must draw a line between opposing the government in power and working against the interest of the nation. Much of what went on between 2012 and 2015 was not opposition to the government and party in power but opposition to the nation. A bad precedent was set that is being used against this present administration. It was, for example, embarrassing to hear the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, say some months ago that he never knew that trains were functional in Nigeria.
If Buhari was a student doing a four-year course in the university, this month would mark the end of his first year as well as 25 per cent of his continuous assessment. Each person is free to rate him. But the bottom line is that the Nigerian economy is hurting. And it is not because of the trite expression of “no pain, no gain” as many assume; rather it is because of what former President Olusegun Obasanjo said last week, which had been said last month by Oby Ezekwesili and Prof Pat Utomi, that Buhari is not good on the economy and foreign affairs. These three personalities supported Buhari’s Presidency. So they did not speak as enemies or detractors.
Buhari means well for the country but it takes more than meaning well to move the economy forward. He should accept the reality that he is not strong on the economy and foreign affairs and give more freedom to result-oriented experts to manage those two areas, while he focuses on national security, national orientation and anti-corruption fight that is non-selective.
Buhari should not stretch his luck too far. He and his party have broken many of their promises. Whether it was promising to declare his assets publicly but choosing to only give the public highlights of it, or promising not to have the office of the First Lady but having the office of the Wife of the President, or frowning on the number of aircraft on the presidential fleet but retaining all the aircraft one year after, or promising to pay the unemployed and elderly monthly stipends, or to feed schoolchildren once a day, or to provide three million jobs per year, or to provide electricity but ending up increasing electricity tariff without any improvement in electricity supply, or promising to belong to all but still treating some people as “97 percenters” and some as “five percenters”, or frowning on an exchange rate of N216 to a dollar in March 2015 but governing in May 2016 with the exchange heading towards N400 to a dollar, or promising to obey the rule of law as a reformed democrat but choosing the law court pronouncements to obey and the ones not to obey, President Buhari and the All Progressives Congress have done enough somersaults on national issues without apologising, but rather giving excuses or just keeping quiet as if nothing happened. This makes it look as if in politics, promises are not meant to be kept.
This luck will not last forever just like Jonathan’s “good luck” did not. Nigerians are patient with Buhari because they earnestly want to see a change in the nation’s fortunes. But that patience should not be exploited.

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