• Urban dwellers resort to trekking
• Families cut back on non-essential expenses, trips, adjust other lifestyles
By Enyeribe Ejiogu, Christy Anyanwu and Agatha Emeadi
Nigerians from all walks of life are still reeling from the shock wave of triple and in some areas quadruple increase in price of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) otherwise called petrol, which blew across the country within hours of the announcement made by President Bola Tinubu, in his inaugural speech after his swearing-in as the 16th President of Nigeria on Monday, May 29.
Tersely, President Tinubu had declared with a magisterial tone of finality: “The subsidy? It is gone.” The declaration took everyone by surprise, except members of his inner caucus and the speechwriter who did not leak what was about to be announced.
The media and the country were caught off guard. The aftermath began to roll across as people reacted in anger, shock and for many, resignation, apparently believing that it was bound to happen as the outgone Muhammadu Buhari administration had passed the buck for a final decision regarding subsidy to the succeeding Tinubu government, which wasted no time in biting the bullet as it felt that what must be done just had to be done without the foot-dragging and vacillation that characterised the Buhari administration’s handling of the subsidy issue.
“I always knew it was going to happen at some point considering how much money was being sunk into subsidy,” said the General Overseer and Lead Pastor, Evangel Pentecostal Church (Worldwide), Pastor Iheanyi Ejiogu, adding, “I also feel it was not the best of timing considering what Nigerians have just been through.”
You can always trust profiteering petrol station owners and their equally unscrupulous attendants, who innately love to take advantage of any bad situation as an opportunity to make money.
President Tinubu who announced the policy decision had not yet returned to his seat in the glass enclosed VVIP section of the Eagle Square after delivering his address, when petrol station operators quickly adjusted their meters, and raised the pump price of petrol from the previous average N195 to as high as N500 and N600 per litre in some parts of the country.
Instantly, transport fares shot up the next day like a rocket. By Thursday morning, Mr Ugochukwu Ibezim, a journalist who resides in Ikotun, and had scheduled to attend a training workshop at the American Corner, a facility of the United States Information Service located within the premises of former Concord Press at 42 Local Airport Road, Lagos, was faced with a decision to cancel attending the workshop.
The normal fare on the route that runs from Ikotun through Canoe Bus stop, 7/8 Junction on the International Airport, NAHCO bus stop to Old Airport Road to Ikeja, which used to cost a total of N700 doubled to N1,400.
Realising that the return trip would cost the same amount and make a nice hole of N2,800 in his pocket, Ibezim said that he really struggled with the decision to go ahead after considering the parlous situation of his finances at the material time.
“Honestly, I simply found it difficult taking the decision to attend that workshop. For some reason I decided to still attend though it made a big hole in my pocket. I guess the only consolation was that the experience was educative and beneficial.
“I learnt about how to combat disinformation and misinformation in media practice through fact-checking using various emerging digital tools. To that extent, the fresh knowledge cushioned the pain of spending N2,800 on transport fare as one was facing a critical squeeze of family needs on available funds,” he said.
On the return trip through Ajao Estate to Ejigbo, a discussion on President Tinubu’s inauguration speech ensued among the passengers in the commuter bus.
One of them, Kunle Ogundeji, said: “We are in for the worse season! Nigerians have passed from Buhari’s eight years of pain to Tinubu’s era of agony. Is this what Nigerians bargained for? Is this the renew hope he promised Nigerians during the campaign for the 2023 presidential election? One would have expected the government to make necessary preparations to cushion the pain of removal of subsidy before announcing this policy.
“Instead, he threw it out just like that. You know, he used to say that power is meant to be used. And sure enough he used his enormous powers to announce cancellation of subsidy, though he emphasised that the Buhari administration made no provision for subsidy in the budget his administration inherited. For workers whose wages have remained stagnant for more than five to seven years, how will they cope with the huge inflation which subsidy removal policy will cause? That is the major problem for me. I have two children in the university and two others in senior secondary school. Soon we will get into JAMB season again. This is too much for families.”
As if taking up the baton from Ogundeji, Michael Ude asked: “What then is the essence of leadership in Nigeria? Is it to be frustrated in phases? From botched introduction of the new Naira notes to this subsidy removal agony. The most painful part is that the prices of goods and services were affected almost immediately.
“I had to go to Obalende a day after the announcement of the removal. From Airport road, the drivers of the regular 14-seater buses that used to convey passengers from 7/8 bus stop to Obalende/CMS at a cost of N600 per passenger raised the fare to N800 in the morning hours. On the return journey, there was a drizzle of rain in the evening at Obalende. Claiming that they queued for long to buy petrol at a higher price in that area, the commuter bus drivers further increased the fares from N800 to N1,000.
Kamourudeen Adisa, a driver whose route is Airport-Obalende-CMS explained that it used to cost him N14,000 to fuel his vehicle at the old price of N184. With the new price of N488, how could anybody still expect him to charge passengers the previous fare of N600, he rhetorically queried. “Of course, I will increase my fare, that is why I charge N1,000 per passenger,” he explained.
At Ejigbo, interstate commercial bus hub from where several bus companies operate services to Edo, Delta and states in the Southeast, fares have risen from the N17,000 it was last week to N26,000 on Thursday. A pioneer driver of a transport company that operates from the hub, Mr Ameh, popularly known as Jahman, while reflecting on the impact of the subsidy removal, told Sunday Sun: “We are in for bad times. This morning, only three 14-seater vehicles left the bus terminal unlike before when we normally dispatched eight to nine buses on a daily basis to various parts of the country. Most of the passengers that came to board vehicles to the Southeast were shocked by the new fare. Many of them who could not afford the high fares simply cancelled their journey and went back home. The ones that swallowed the bitter pill had urgent and very important reasons to travel home.”
Nigerians, who reside in sprawling urban environments like Lagos, Abuja, FCT, that stretches to Nyanya and Karu, Nasarawa State and Ibadan, daily commute long distances in multiples of kilometres, sometimes as far as 40 km, to get to work or trade in certain markets, have been most affected by the sudden, steep rise in transportation costs.
For many, cutting off commuting is definitely out of the question. But for others who can determine their movements, whether as commuters or use their own vehicles, Pastor Iheanyi, as he is fondly known to members of EPC (Worldwide) and friends around the globe, has this advice: “The change I would make in this kind of situation would be to either minimize my unnecessary movements, or think up ways to multiply my income so it can take the changes into consideration. But generally, I would advise that people minimize movements, look for alternative transportation, consider doing remote jobs and if possible, join a carpool where resources are aggregated and used communally.”
A hair stylist in Surulere, Lagos, Evelyn Ararume, expressed pain over the agony unleashed on the citizenry. Noting that times are really hard now, she said: “The fuel subsidy removal has affected the cost of transportation which has rocketed up and thereby making the price of foodstuff to also shoot up. I live in Lawanson area of Lagos. The bus fare from Lawanson to Yaba has jumped up more than 100 per cent, up to N300 from N150, which we paid on Thursday. But the main issue is the fact that there is hike in food items. Yesterday (Wednesday), there was no tomato in the markets in Lawanson and Idi-Araba.
“I wanted to cook jollof rice, but tomato was very scarce. I saw four tiny ones for N200. I had no choice and bought it like that. In fact, what I cooked as stew was essentially diced and blended carrot. I served the family carrot stew. For us, it was like returning to the COVID-19 period when we learnt to eat carrot stew. I told my daughter and my mum who is staying with me that they have to adjust to the new reality in Nigeria.
Mrs Maryanne Nwosu, who also resides in Lawanson but has a shop where she sells Adire and other fabrics in Shitta area, also in Surulere, told Sunday Sun that she rides the popular commercial tricycle called Keke to her place of business every morning. But the sudden increase in the price of petrol has jacked up her expenditure on transportation.
“I used to pay N100, but since the removal of the subsidy since Tinubu administration came in, the fare has gone up to N200 – that is the amount I pay now to get to my shop. To cope, I now make sure I leave my house early and trek to Masha and then get to Shitta which is close to Masha,” Nwosu said.
A gym coach, Uchenna Agu, said that life is getting tougher and tougher, but added philosophically: “I told myself I would not have hypertension because of Nigeria. For instance, as a coach, I planned to replace my canvass shoes this week. But with the situation on ground, I have to back out of the plan. I have all my old pairs of sneakers in a cellophane bag, and I am taking them to a cobbler, to repair all of them. The situation is not really good. I have had to cancel going to Tejuosho Market to buy new bed sheets to replace the old ones in the house. In fact, given the situation on ground, I have told my security guy to look out for an Obioma man (an itinerant tailor) to patch the bed sheets. I have to re-strategize to avoid going through stress because of this policy.”
General Manager of Kudos FMCG Distribution Logistics Limited, Mrs Akudo Ibezim, revealed her own cost control strategy, saying: “I told everybody in my home to brace up for shorter hours of running our generator at night. Thank God we bought rechargeable fans when public power supply was unreliable, for use at night. During the day with the new price of fuel, everybody should learn to use hand-held raffia fan.
“The type sold by mallams are wide, firm and move more air than the tiny Chinese electric fans women love to carry around in their handbags. The era of running generator in the afternoon just to put on fan has gone. And if any person in my house does not like the ban, that person can go to court!
“Can you imagine the dislocations to lifestyle which this policy will cause? Whatever be the case, we will adjust. We, Nigerians, have the best shock absorbers in the world. Haven’t you seen how our Tokunbo cars endure the terrible state of our roads, and they still keep moving? We will survive this hardship. Our God is very much on the throne and this country is still very important to Him.”
As if living out the biblical account in 1 Kings 12, where King Rehoboam said that his father had ruled with whips, but he himself would rule with scorpions, it would appear that the government has unleashed the scorpion of subsidy removal to sting the people with very high prices of goods and services.