Saturday, 9th December 2023

Fuel price increase and the people’s anger!

By Ayo Oyoze Baje
21 July 2023   |   3:47 am
“It is a grave violation of the public trust and constitutional oath of office for members of the National Assembly to unjustifiably increase their own budget at a time when over 137 million poor Nigerians are living in extreme poverty...


“It is a grave violation of the public trust and constitutional oath of office for members of the National Assembly to unjustifiably increase their own budget at a time when over 137 million poor Nigerians are living in extreme poverty exacerbated by the removal of fuel subsidy.”
– Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project ( SERAP) ’s deputy director, Mr Kolawole Oluwadare.
Can we call it Tinubunomics? That is the first pertinent question. If it is not too early in the day to say so perhaps, we can identify some of its features so far. It is indeed, characterised by snappy, policy decisions on the economy, without waiting for the outcomes of consultations with the stakeholders.

But how do we explain the sudden removal of fuel subsidy in an oil-producing country with four comatose refineries, without the cushioning palliatives, put in place? Do you put the cart before the horse? No! It should not be so. What about the introduction of tuition fees for students in the federal universities, polytechnics and colleges of education when hundreds of thousands of parents are finding it difficult to feed?

Though a scholarship scheme is being promised for the indigent students, how many of them would benefit? And how many would have the wherewithal to fulfill the conditions stipulated for qualification? Yet, that is only part of the pains, their parents are going through. Let us go back to the telling effects of fuel subsidy removal.

The move has led of course, to the exponential increase in the cost of the pump price of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), from N185  per litre to N550 per litre and currently to N617per litre! This has snowballed into a scary inflation rate of 22.04% – the third consecutive increase in 2023. But Nigerians deserve a far better deal from our political leaders, do we not? There comes in the palliative.

On the surface of it, the federal government’s decision to share N500 billion to 12 million vulnerable and poor Nigerians, at N8,000 per month for six months comes with the aim to stimulate activities in the informal sector. But what makes more sense- to provide the enabling environment for businesses and industrial production to thrive, or to throw money at persisting poverty-related problems? In fact, many Nigerians are asking why the focus has shifted from getting our refineries or the modular ones to work, instead of doling out peanuts to the poorest citizens of the country, who are voiceless victims of poor governance?

Obviously, many Nigerians are not in sync with the federal government‘s recent decision on the palliative. There was also an instant condemnation by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the Trade Union Congress (TUC) as well as the National Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institution Employees (NUBIFIE).

It would be recalled that the TUC had proposed N200,000 as the minimum wage for the civil servants, instead of the unjustifiable N30,000 currently being paid.  The negotiation was still on the table but the government went ahead to announce the palliatives! So, why the hasty announcement? That is the million-naira question.

Though a news item is trending that President Tinubu has put a hold on the palliatives as announced, for a review, another questionable and infuriating news item is that of our lawmakers-from both the Green and Red Chambers- planning to spend (or is it waste?) N110 billion on self- aggrandizement. The breakdown shows that N70 billion is for ‘support allowance’ in the budget for 306 new lawmakers, and N40 billion allocated to buy 465 Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) and bulletproof cars for members and principal officials! Can you believe that? Are they not aware of the suffering in the land? Is it because the labour union has apparently lost the teeth to bite?

On its part however, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) expressing deep concern about the absurdity has to remind the lawmakers of Section 18 of the Constitution of Nigeria (as amended). It has therefore, advised the government to channel the N110 billion to get the out of school children back to school to enjoy quality education delivery. But what is the long-lasting solution to the huge cost of governance and anti-people policies?

One of the root causes is traceable to the humungous cost of accessing political power in Nigeria. After paying huge sums of between N40million to N100 million for presidential nomination forms by aspirants, as well as the cost spent on political campaigns the tendency is to get into the corridors of power to openly enrich oneself. These issues have to be quickly reviewed drastically downwards. Something else has to be done.

Faced with an economic situation similar to what Nigeria is currently going through, the then President Barack Obama of the United States of America (USA) allowed previous tax cuts for the wealthy to expire. That was in 2013. By doing so, he allowed the top income tax rate to rise from 35 percent to 39.6 percent. Taxes on dividends and capital gains also rose. Eventually, a tax on investment income, included in the Affordable Care Act, took effect that year.

Perhaps, the President Tinubu-led administration could borrow a fresh leaf from that initiative. Tax the rich Nigerians to stabilse the economy instead of punishing the extremely poor Nigerians with sundry rise in cost of goods and services.