Politics

Tinubu: Between Expected Economic Miracle, Mirage

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Against all expectations, it seems President Bola Tinubu's first anniversary in the next few weeks will be marked by an admixture of tears and cheers, if not a mirage, writes LAWRENCE OLAOYE

In a few weeks, President Bola Tinubu would roll out the drums to mark his first year in office as the 16th President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The President who took over power from his predecessor, former President Muhammadu Buhari having defeated his closest rival on the platform of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), former Vice President, made certain promises to the people. Most prominent of the promises included to “reform the economy to deliver sustained, inclusive growth; strengthen national security for peace and prosperity; boost agriculture to achieve food security; unlock energy and natural resources for sustainable development and enhance infrastructure and transportation as enablers of growth.” He equally promised to “focus on education, health, and social investment as essential pillars of development; accelerate diversification through industrialization, digitization, creative arts, manufacturing and innovation and improve governance for effective service delivery.

True to his campaign promise, the President, on his first day in office announced the removal of fuel subsidy with reverberating effects on people's livelihood. According to him, the subsidy regime was destructive and was only feeding the greed of an infinitesimal class reeling in corruption and opulence at the expense of the nation's economy which was heading down the precipice. With the fuel subsidy removal, the price of the commodity hit the roof; it became purely out of reach for citizens whose income had been stagnated in a country paying N30,000 as the minimum wage. Life became rough and unbearable. Prices soared and the nation has yet to be weaned from the consequences of the decision. Economy The President, in another groundbreaking reform, announced the unification of the foreign exchange policy bridging the gap between the official and parallel market rates of Forex. Though the President got commended on these two ambitious policies in some quarters, the attendant sufferings and deprivations endured by the public were unprecedented. Life became nearly unbearable as prices of goods and services skyrocketed; cost of transportation spiraled and prices of food went beyond the roof.

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While experts were unanimous in their belief that the subsidy regime could not be sustained because it had become a drainpipe for siphoning the nation's meagre resources by a privileged few, they argued that the process of the removal should have been better handled. They argued that the impact on the poor ought to have been assessed and addressed ahead of its eventual removal. To address the attendant sufferings accompanying the reforms, especially to bring down the cost of transportation with a view to addressing high cost of food items in the country, the President promised to deploy the Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) powered buses. Close to a year after the promise, the government has yet to deliver the CNG powered buses and suffering continues. As a palliative immediately after the removal of the subsidy, the President approved the release of N5 billion to each of the 36 states of the federation. It was meant to cushion the effects of the subsidy withdrawal on the people at the grassroot level. One year after, not many of the states have been able to deliver reasonable succour to the people who are daily wallowing in poverty and want. The government has also entered into negotiations with the organized labour on a new minimum wage for workers across the country. As a demonstration of its goodwill and commitment to workers' wellbeing, the President ordered the payment of N35, 000 wage award across board for six months to civil servants ahead of the conclusion of the tripartite committee on negotiation for the new minimum wage. The government equally announced a raise in pay to workers. Tinubu had earlier ordered increase in the salaries of university lecturers; members of the security agencies; health workers and others. The President recently approved an increase of between 25 per cent and 35 per cent in salary Increase for Civil Servants on the remaining six Consolidated Salary Structures just he okayed a raise of between 20 per cent and 28 per cent for pensioners on the Defined Benefits Scheme to same category. The President in March at the Leadership Annual Conference and Awards held in Abuja disclosed that the revenue accruing to the country had grown considerably making funds available for execution of developmental projects and socioeconomic interventions that would positively impact on the lives of citizens. He also disclosed that importation of petrol had dropped by about 50 percent.

“I have approved the disbursement of N200 billion, through three new special intervention funds established to support Nigerian businesses. “The first is a N50 billion Presidential Conditional Grant Scheme that will provide business grants and loans to traders, food vendors, transport workers, ICT businesses, creatives, and artisans. Verification of all submitted applications is ongoing, and disbursements will commence through the Bank of Industry as soon as this verification is completed,” he assured. The President equally disclosed at the conference that his administration had attracted $30 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) owing to novel reforms embarked upon by his administration. These investments he announced has been deployed into manufacturing, mining, oil and gas etc. Notwithstanding the gestures, the organized labour has maintained that these palliatives are just surface scratching the economic challenges being faced by the people. They insist that nothing could address the economic disequilibrium and displacement created by the sudden fuel subsidy removal than a commensurable upgrade in workers' salaries. They insist on payment of living wages and this the President has promised to do in his comments at this year's Workers' Day. Under his watch, energy crises worsened as the national grip collapsed more than six times, even as none of the nation's four refineries is refining oil, after several billion of naira have been pumped into it. Worse still is the growing number of companies either closing down or relocating from the country. Security On Tinubu's promise to strengthen national security for peace and prosperity, the government has left no one in doubt of his resolve to fight terrorism and banditry, especially in the troubled regions of the country. He has consistently invested in the military and other security agencies by improving and raising their budgets.

The troops have consistently been recording wins over the terrorists by neutralizing their arrowheads. The dreaded Boko Haram terrorists hitherto lording over the North-east have been considerably weakened while incidences of kidnapping, particularly in the Abuja-Kaduna highways axis have waned. But there seems to be an upsurge of criminal activities in the NorthWest and parts of Niger State which is currently under the siege of kidnappers. Farmers are reportedly being made to pay royalties to terrorists before they are allowed access to their farmlands; settlements are being razed and residents kidnapped in droves with billions of Naira demanded as ransom. Media reports have it recently that farming communities in Birin-Gwari Local Government area have paid over N400 Million as taxes to bandits for them to be able to farm and harvest their farm produce in the last two years. A former Managing Director of the Kaduna State Media Corporation (KSMC) and a community leader, Alhaji Zubairu Idris Abdulra'uf, made the disclosure. In another instance, early this year, Senator David Jimkuta, representing Taraba South at the National Assembly and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Social Warfare and Poverty Alleviation, stated that a security report has confirmed the killing of over 700 of his constituents from Ussa and Takum Local Government Areas in Taraba State within three months. He further said that banditry activities have destroyed over 50 villages in the local government areas. To address this, the government has made it a state policy never to pay or encourage ransom payment to the bandits. It has also announced the creation of Forest Guard Forces to secure the forest and dislodge the bandits from their hideouts. To enhance security, the government is considering the creation of State Police. There are indications that the government may soon send a bill for the creation of State Police to the National Assembly for consideration and passage. Involving the locals in security, it is believed would go a long way in checkmating criminalities across the country.

Even when critics and admirers of Tinubu's administration are unanimous in their assessment that the security situation in the country has recorded some notable improvements, it is, however, not yet Uhuru. Though a number of bandits have been arrested, observers believe that security agencies must be strengthened to be more proactive. Government must invest more on combat equipment and technology for them to always be steps ahead of the terrorists and bandits. Infrastructure On the promise to enhance infrastructure and transportation, the government in the last one year has ensured the completion of some projects it inherited from its predecessor just as it has initiated some other ambitious ones. For instance, the rehabilitation of the Port-Harcourt-Aba Railway tracks has been completed and commercial activities have commenced on the route. The government has also commenced the construction of the N15 trillion 700km Lagos-Calabar Coastal Road. Many projects, including roads and bridges, inherited from his predecessor are being diligently executed and are expected to be inaugurated soon. Abuja, the capital city, has begun to wear a new look with roads being resurfaced across the city. Street lights, hitherto in hibernation, have been resuscitated and the seat of power is gradually living up to its status.

Federal roads abandoned by Tinubu's predecessors are getting attention just as lethargic contractors handling them have now been jolted into the reality that a new Sheriff is in town. The President in fulfilling his promise of poverty eradication and youth empowerment chose to prioritize education, health, and social investment. These he considered as essential pillars of development in the country. To this extent, the President signed the Students Loan Bill into law. The law is aimed to enhance access to higher education for Nigerian students and ensure that no one drops out of school for lack of money to pay school fees. Notwithstanding the criticisms that the policy may be unsustainable, and that it has the proclivity for politicization, it is believed that its implementation would have huge impacts on the society in the near . It is unarguable that many citizens are currently undergoing pains with the policies introduced by the Tinubu's administration, especially economically. There are however assurances that life would become easier when the interventions and palliatives introduced by the government begin to percolate. Going by the assurances coming from the government and economic experts, some believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel should the President be consistent on the trajectory of these new reforms and deliver on all the promised palliatives. However, others see a mirage.


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