President Bola Tinubu who only last Monday took the oath of office held out high hopes. In fact he styled his campaign “hope” which many insist was done after the pattern of late MKO Abiola, who won the presidential seat but didn’t live to take office. Abiola was an acclaimed welfarist. So, if Tinubu saw reason to imitate him it meant he intends to run along similar lines.
But as things stand it would seem Tinubu has chosen to start by running against hope. He has his soul deeply buried in the ultra-conservative political culture. This group knows how to make citizens drink the hemlock even when it is so bitter and may carry death in it. Tinubu the one time liberal democrat had hardly savoured the sweetness of ascending the country›s highest office, yet to constitute a cabinet before venturing into an area even angels have been very careful to thread. Before policy review and agenda prioritization he took on the vexed issue of oil subsidy even from very wrong perspectives. Very hasty.
In an off the cuff statement, Tinubu long known to oppose removal of subsidy without adequate alternatives told the country the issues surrounding the very controversial oil subsidy done with not by him but by the outgone administration under the headship of General (rtd) Muhammadu Buhari by way of the 2023 Appropriation Act, which contains no provisions for subsidy. «Subsidy?» he said, with a tone of finality, «It is gone.» His audience was taken aback with glances that seemed to say «just like that, at this point in the life of a new administration»? Tinubu appeared unperturbed. He didn›t seem to know if anything was wrong with what he was saying, he was not in the best position to know or had just said; after all it has been the desire of those who ran the country into financial difficulties to have a distant person commit the «murder» of more citizens.
This rapacious oligarchy has brought us into a quagmire by the way they ran the economy and have been looking for an anchor; straws on deep sea to hold on to for momentary survival; it hasn›t been an easy effort. We all know this much. Having thrown up Tinubu he must return the favour by acting quick. That is the bomb that went off. Those who heard him trigger this weapon of mass destruction knew many things were wrong with his voicing out so quickly on a very controversial subject matter without the benefit of settling into the onerous task he chose for himself.
What Tinubu didn›t appreciate and still doesn›t appear to take in would be the fact he and his administration had been set to walk with open eyes into burning furnace and that the instrument when on fire does burn terribly. Our President had hardly finished his address when at the speed of light the entire country began to vibrate. The market reacted with marketers shutting down operations and when they resumed many hours later, the pump price had quadrupled. Soon scarcity set in, causing long queues across the country. With it came loss of economic manhours, and this is not inclusive of psychological trauma and social dislocation. We are not a statistics driven country then we would have seen the cost of tardiness in our operations.
Entire citizenry was in shock. The majority couldn’t believe a new government yet to settle down would be given a tiger for pet. Nigerians couldn’t believe that President Tinubu, given his experience and much vaunted democratic credentials, could accept to begin his administration on a sour note. The regime knew it had recorded a misstep when hours into the avoidable pains its officials, including the President began to say the subsidy removal wasn’t going to take immediate effect. Even if it were to be so, which isn’t, doing away with democratic principles especially the absence of dialogue and provision of palliatives has resulted in lots of demages already.
As noted earlier there are many things around this. One of them is the question of setting aside democratic norms in all of this. Actually nobody can say what Tinubu’s stand on the matter has been, especially recently. When President Goodluck Jonathan was on the seat, Tinubu was against the removal. Shortly before the presidential election in February he began to change lines. If he had appeared in the more popular debates organised for candidates during the campaigns, perhaps the citizens would by now have something concrete to hold about his thoughts on this matter. He avoided all debates. Lack of clarity is what has given way to negative spontaneity. Acting hastily on critical public issues often ends up leaving the larger society with unintended consequences, many of such inflicting pains on a massive scale and creating huge dislocations in diverse dimensions. Sane democracies hate inflicting hardship on citizens for any reason whatsoever. Hence state policies must be well thought out.
The strong point being made is that finer aspects of democratic principles require a leader to inform and then explain to the people all matters of state governance and questions that may surround them before running to implement. Even if Tinubu or any other of the candidates had pledged to do away with subsidy during the campaigns, in power they are still required to seek the citizens› understanding and buy-in. This is democracy, it is different from tyranny. In autocracy the vision of one individual usually transforms to national aspirations and eventually state policy. It is the chief cause of disorder, disasters and conflict in Africa.
Government should consult, run the statistics and explain how it intends to make the product available, give tentative projection on price fluctuations and a clear explanation on how it entails to cushion negative impacts, if any. Tinubu didn›t see the need to do this, he came to it when the damage of not thinking through serious issues began taking a toll on his legitimacy. This wasn›t good. Buhari got away with it because religious flavour which was so thick in the horizon gave him cover; besides with the help of the South Western axis of his alliance they had successfully taken hold of the popular Lagos press and the civil society movement. Technically, they killed vibrant opposition. The atmosphere is no longer the same. Those who helped Tinubu would be watching from a distance. Their interests and Tinubu’s are not same. This alone means many things in real political terms. Tinubu ought to know he won›t have the religious advantage and cult-like followership that Buhari had.
The next fallout from this development would be that of the phenomenon of dissonance in public administration. This was very prevalent in Buhari›s administration. Those who gave Tinubu power are hell bent on bringing into the Tinubu era the same terrible procedure. We saw two state agencies begin to fight themselves publicly. When President Tinubu was saying he didn›t intend to withdraw subsidy immediately, his deputy, Kashim Shettima had already granted a press interview where he insisted subsidy must go. It is absurd, huge abnormality to have a deputy stand at variance with his boss. Some of us have been viewing Tinubu’s deputy with the third eye, he may turn out to be the president›s albatross.
Shettima may turn out to be the force that would tar the administration. This subsidy controversy will throw up more than we had known or were told. Let›s be on the watch out. Be that as it is, it is clear so many interests have been built around our fuel supply chain, unfortunately many of them selfish. There is too the conspiracy theory of refinery and oil subsidy, this is outside the huge scam subsidy has become to the country. What can be said is that the subsidy should go. There should be an end to phasing, let it go.
Where those pushing this right case differ with the rest of us is in the process. Remove subsidy and many more citizens would enter the circle of vulnerability. Inflation would climb and dislocations would increase. The question is what is to be done. It is these reasons and perhaps more majority Nigerians want to see a well planned out process. They want to know who will be doing what in the supply change. They want government economists to enlighten on the trend that would likely follow. They are asking if it is only about the Dangote Refinery. Won›t the country establish modular refineries across the country?
These are valid expectations for which citizens should have answers. We must tell Tinubu this for his own sake. He has a responsibility to be his own man. It is not how long but how well. Barely into power, and yet to form a cabinet, taking a position on such a critical matter tells a story that is not good. Coming after he had said he would lead on behalf and not rule, this seem to confirm earlier fears he was likely to follow his first line of thought which was to continue from where President Buhari stopped. Buhari treated Nigerians with whip, going after that example would mean beating Nigerians already battered with scorpion. No leader with sound mind would choose to walk this lonely path.