Lamentation and renewed hope
Nigerians are a people of great faith, defined in the Holy Bible as ‘the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen’. (Heb.11:1). Not yet seen, Nigerians hope for a country that works; a country governed by the rule of law; a country where justice, love and peace subsist; a country where the security and welfare of the people are the primary purpose of government; a country of equal opportunities for all.
The outgone government of General Muhammadu Buhari came on the heels of the people’s hope for change and he promised change. But for eight years, governance under Buhari’s watch was a demonstration of kakistocracy, characterised by crass ineptitude, nepotism, corruption, impunity and rudderlessness .
The government failed to deliver any good to the people, but left startling statistics of woes – debt burden of $108.2 billion ( Debt Management Office), two recessions and an economy in comatos, 53.4 % of youth unemployment, 20 million children out of school (UNESCO), 133 million multi-dimensionally poor and many Nigerians helplessly killed in the hands of bandits, killer herdsmen and Boko haram, estimated at not less than 63,000 for the ones reported. (Vanguard, May 20, 2023).
These are sadly the challenges before the Tinubu’s government for which he requires a crack team of think tanks from all walks of life – the academia, captains of industry, and less of politicians many of who are handicapped in their narrow view of governance, acquisitive and prependal.
There is palpable lamentation by Nigerians as a consequence of subsidy removal on premium motor spirit (PMS). De facto, the removal of subsidy was done implicitly by the Buhari administration by non-budgetary provision for it in the 2023 appropriation, but proclaimed by President Tinubu in his maiden address.
The understanding by some Nigerians at the time was that the removal of subsidy was contingent on Dangote Refinery coming on stream soon after it was commissioned by President Buhari in the twilight of his administration. Regrettably not a millilitre of PMS has come out of the refinery to date. Further, there are a few modular refineries in the country, two in Edo State, yet to receive crude for refining.
In all of this, the country is still import-dependent on the commodity, subjecting an already fragile economy to the elasticity and vagaries of international prices on PMS. For the ordinary citizen, life is brutish and candles are burning on both ends in the aftermath of depreciating income and astronomical increases in the costs of goods and services. The question is: was the policy on removal of subsidy right, yes. Was the timing appropriate, no in the absence of local production of PMS.
The fuel subsidy palliative by which 12 million Nigerians will each receive N8000 per month for six months shows how disconnected the government is from the realities of the economy. How mitigating is N8000 for any grade of poor Nigerians today? This disconnection is even more palpable in light of the extra-budgetary provisions of N70 billion to enhance working conditions of members of the National Assembly amid the hue and cry on the asphyxiating debt burden of the country. What of Nigerian workers, public and private whose salaries are no longer sustaining.
The elementary economics of increased finances of sectors of the economy with multiplier effects is plausible, but does not address the immediate concern of the workers which is to meet their basic needs which are now out of reach. The low-hanging fruit in this regard is unquestionably, realistic wage increases across board for workers.
The crises of under-funding of Federal Universities, indeed of public Universities in general and poor working conditions of academic staff are unsettled matters. For eight months the universities were closed and the Buhari administration was insouciant in spite of all entreaties to see the merit in the demands of members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
Now, the chickens have come home to roost. Tuition fee in Federal Universities is in the works and student loans scheme has been announced by the Tinubu administration. The students union, NANS has hailed the planned loan but with no clear idea of the limitations of eligibility and other matters thereto. The loan scheme should be such that would enable many students to access education by private Universities.
At the moment, the 148 private Universities together do not have up to 5% of students admitted into Nigerian Universities every year on account of un-affordability. Regardless of the loan scheme, the sacrosanctity of funding of University education by governments at all levels is not debatable, giving its pivotal role in human capital development and the immutable fact that no nation can rise above the quality of its educational system, in particular, University education.
This government urgently needs to resolve all outstanding issues of the crises in Nigerian Universities for which regrettably members of the academic staff in their patriotic commitment to quality education have been unjustifiably vilified and punished. The unpaid salaries and arrears of earned allowances due to academic staff should be released.
The alternative is to ask ASUU to ‘mind its business’ and hands-off University matters. No, this would be counter-productive and nugatory to the core mandate of the academic – teaching, research and community service – and to be guiding light to society. The Buhari administration’s attitude to University education was anachronistic, not be emulated by any progressive government.
To be continued tomorrow
Professor Eromosele is former Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta.
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