Tinubu’s palliative package must not be deviod of transparency and accountability – Abubakar

Apr 24

In every sane clime, there is always a form of institutionalised “social safety net” for the vulnerable due to chronic socio-economic inequality in almost every human society. It, most often, comes in the shape of institutional subsidies or palliatives. With the benefit of hindsight, subsidy, especially that of fuel, with the way it’s being handled in Nigeria, the major beneficiaries are the people who are, by virtue of their being civil or public servants, saddled with the responsibility of administering the scheme. They position themselves and their cronies to be beneficiaries, at the detriment of both the target segments of the populace, and the government of the federation. It ended up aggravating the situation it is intended to alleviate.

The corruption oozing out of every subsidy scheme in Nigeria is so stinking that Nigerians, for the first time, refuse to oppose the government’s move to remove it. Recall that President Bola Tinubu announced the removal of subsidy on petrol (the last subsidised petroleum product) within his first few hours of assuming duty as the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on May 29, 2023. It (fuel subsidy) is now like a wrap of sweet off the palm of a leper that no one wants to associate with or be seen to be associating with. No thanks to the pervasive corruption that has tainted every attempt by governments, at all levels, at providing succour to the downtrodden. Such attempts, in both the distant and the recent past, have ended up further enriching members of the ruling class and ironically, further pauperising the people whose sufferings they were meant to alleviate.

What necessitates the need for subsidy, as said earlier, is the yawning gaps between the earnings of the people in the different socio-economic strata. Subsidising essential goods or services that are critical to meeting the basic existential needs of everybody in the society is, therefore, one of the ways by which a serious government bridges or reduces the standard of living gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots”; in the language of Marxists. But things that work so seamlessly elsewhere come to Nigeria and get turned upside down and made to look like rocket science.

Subsidy, especially that of petrol, is designed to relieve the poor of the burden of having to pay exorbitantly for essential goods and services, which costs are affected by the pump price that would ordinarily be beyond their means. That is if the prices were left to be determined by the market forces of demand and supply, as advocated by the neoliberal economics school of thought. But in this instance, it aggravates the socio-economic condition of the poor. Meanwhile, some selected few, among the political elites became so stupendously rich that the next three generations of their family would have to be superlatively extravagant to be able to exhaust their fraudulently accumulated wealth.

So, when it comes to operating a scheme that will provide succour to the common man in Nigeria, the ruling class has not covered themselves in glory. Nothing is too small for them to pilfer. A very horrible example was when, sometime around 2017, the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia donated about 200 tonnes of date fruits (Dabino) to the federal government of Nigeria for distribution to Muslims in the country. Nobody knew, up to this moment, how the donated fruits found their way to the market in parts of northern Nigeria, where the target beneficiaries are mostly residents. The federal government, then, threatened to investigate the matter (with a view to prosecuting the culprits, I guess). But from that time, mid-June 2017, to this moment, nothing has been heard about the purported investigation. Nobody has been indicted, up to this moment, let alone, prosecuted or convicted. Events have, expectedly, overtaken it like many other similar cases before it and everybody has moved on.

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Another example was when protesters, during the #EndSARS riot in October 2020, broke into warehouses where some prominent politicians were hoarding noodles and other palliatives meant to cushion the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic. In some states, relief materials meant for distribution to the victims of the flooding that happened about a year before that time were locked up in warehouses while the daily life struggles of the victims continued. They were merely waiting for the next disaster to happen when the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) would dole out another consignment of relief materials that would go the way of the previous ones — warehoused somewhere ready to be distributed as stomach infrastructure during the electioneering season. So, it took some vandals to expose all that during the (#EndSARS) protest.

I won’t bore you with the description of the cesspool of corruption that the recently removed fuel subsidy became before President Bola Tinubu sounded the death knell for it in his inaugural speech on May 29. It (the fuel subsidy) especially under the immediate past two administrations of Goodluck Jonathan, and Muhammadu Buhari would go down in the history of this country as the most opaquely implemented socio-economic intervention public policy.

Furthermore, the Buhari administration came up with numerous social intervention programmes that were marred by corruption and lack of transparency. Programmes like the National Home-Grown School Feeding Program (NHGSFP), Trader Moni, and Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) among others were such initiatives. Under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, the school feeding programme purportedly continued to run while children were out of school in 2020, during the lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some people said, perhaps, it could have been an e-feeding programme as no one ever saw any ministry official, or any agent of the government for that matter, distributing or delivering food under the scheme to any pupil in his neighbourhood in the states where the programme was implemented. Remember, the programme never took off in many states but the minster in charge, Sadiya Umar Farouq, was never able to give a satisfactory explanation to Nigerians on how she managed to pull that through – feeding millions of pupils while they were not in school yet no ordinary Nigerian witnessed it. This is one programme that gulped several billions of naira of public funds.

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Another very mysterious social intervention policy of the Buhari administration is Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT). So far, I am yet to come across any Nigerian who says he is/was a beneficiary or knows anyone who has benefited or is benefiting. That is as surprising as much as the criteria used to determine who is qualified to be a recipient were devoid of transparency – that is, if it ever happened, to start with. The process, without mincing words, serves only the needs of the ruling class rather than those of the poor masses it was purportedly designed to assist. It was merely a conduit pipe through which public funds were siphoned.

The story of Sure-P under the Goodluck Jonathan administration is not different. The Nigerians who can claim to know how it went, apart from those put in charge, are the anti-graft agents who investigated the scheme when the immediate past administration came on board. I doubt if anybody was ever indicted, prosecuted, and convicted for the way and manner the funds disappeared. A report surfaced about two days ago that the Jigawa state governor, Umar Namadi, on Monday, paid a surprise visit to the General Hospital in Dutse, the state capital, where he caught health workers selling drugs that are meant to be given to children under five for free”.

These are the kind of attitudes among some public officers who have positioned themselves as clogs in the wheel of progress, as far as subsidies or palliative packages are concerned.

Under a regime of zero subsidies, the federal government is expected to save trillions of Naira per annum. This fund, the president has promised, to invest in sectors where it will have meaningful impacts on the well-being of the general populace. It is, therefore, imperative at this juncture to call on President Bola Tinubu not to allow whatever palliative measures his government has for the masses to go the way of the aforementioned programmes under his predecessors. It must not be devoid of transparency and accountability. Nigerians must not only be told how money is spent but also see how, where, and know when it is spent.

The spender must also be ready to give an account, unlike in HGSFP, CCT, and other social intervention schemes. It must not be business as usual. It must not be made a “food-for-the-boys” affair. Even if he cannot probe the can of worms his administration inherited from Buhari’s, for obvious reasons, he should not allow the one(s) he is going to come up with to travel the same route, as the ones before. Nigerians, presently, are not interested in “meaningless” statistics because the majority of us do not understand them. All we understand is what we feel in our pockets and by implication, our stomachs.

Now, social media is awash with a report that “as a result of zero subsidy for fuel, the federal government has been able to save ?400 billion in four weeks”. This sounds like in the early days of Buhari’s first tenure in 2015 when they would say billions of Naira have been saved as a result of weeding out “ghost workers” from the payroll. Yet, nobody knew what they did with the saved money. I do not know how true this latest report is but assuming it is true, the federal government must choose wisely, its areas of intervention. It must be where every Nigerian, whether rich or poor, connected or not, will stand an equal chance of benefitting. That could only be achieved if the money saved is invested in sectors like health, education, agriculture, a robust and affordable public transport system, and infrastructure like roads and rail transport system. This is the type, the common man would not require a note from a senator, governor, minister, or any highly connected political chieftain before he can access the benefits.

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Going forward, if the government must subsidise anything, it should be production and not consumption. Subsidising consumption, especially of goods not being produced locally, is creating jobs outside the country while killing local industries and shooting up the already high rate of employment. It also configures the mentality of the people to always feel entitled to consuming such goods, regardless of whether it is ostentatious or not. It encourages a life of extravagance and discourages thriftiness. That is a recipe for economic disaster like we are currently sleepwalking into but are trying to steer the ship of the Nigerian state away from.

The president must avoid the temptation of going for the low-hanging fruit of reducing the instrument of governance to mere tokenism like cash handouts, packets of Indomie, repackaged 10kg bags of rice, and other freebies, popularly known in the local parlance as “stomach infrastructure”. Prices of goods have gone up by about 300% yet income remains constant. Nigerians are currently groaning and gasping for breath. “The poor should be allowed to breathe,” according to the president himself. The consequences of his first set of executive actions are asphyxiating the people. He, therefore, needs to come up with policies that will mitigate these effects in the manner described above so as to allow the poor to breathe.

The 36 state governors must also ensure that they follow suit in their respective states by adopting a similar or better approach than the one deployed by the federal government because they’re closer to the people at the grassroot than the federal government is. I am confused as to whether or not to include the local government because that tier of our federalism has been completely swallowed by most of the 36 state governors. They have been weakened to the point of non-existence. They have been financially emasculated and are, therefore, rendered socio-economically effeminate. But those few, out of the over seven hundred of them that are allowed some breathing space, must endeavour to run a transparent administration, that is people-focused.

Source: TheCable.Ng

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