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Lack of Respect: How Our Politicians Speak to Us, By Jibrin Ibrahim

We now know that the so-called national leader of the All Progressives Congress, (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu wants to be the President of all Nigerians. We know because he told us that he has informed President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday of his ambition to contest for the position of president in 2023. Maybe in the future, he would talk to us as citizens and voters. Maybe we will matter in the future. What is interesting however is that his reason for wanting to be president is that he has always had a lifelong ambition to be Nigeria’s president. In a sense, he was being brutally honest, it is not about what he believes be could do to improve the lives and livelihoods of Nigerians. It is all about his personal ambition. Maybe all people who go into political competition are self-centred and ambitious. Nonetheless, they tend to have the decency to tell the people that they are contesting BECAUSE they want to serve the people and improve their lives rather than fulfil personal ambitions for their self-aggrandisement. It might not even be that they are decent, they are simply being respectful because they know the people have the franchise.

The Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, told Nigerians on Tuesday that the President has not told anyone that there would be removal of fuel subsidy. In a populist declaration, he argued that subsidy could not be transferred from governments to citizen’s responsibility. He also expressed doubt over the reported consumption of 100 million litres of Premium Motor Spirit (petrol) per day in the country, which is what we pay subsidy for. He said he was glad to inform Nigerians that Buhari had not told anyone to remove petroleum subsidy. President Buhari’s Finance Minister had however repeatedly said since her press conference in October 2021 that the government could no longer sustain petrol subsidy payments, which currently stand at about N250 billion monthly. She had pointed out that the Petroleum Industry Act has a provision that all petroleum products must be deregulated. In the 2022 budget, whose passage was superintended by Ahmed Lawan, and signed into law by President Buhari, the provision for subsidy ends in June this year when subsidy ends. Ending fuel subsidy is therefore a core policy of the Buhari Administration today and it is enshrined in law.

The issue is that Nigerians are getting ready to resist the removal of fuel subsidy and the NLC has already announced a series of actions in that regard. Senate President Lawan did say in his statement that: “Many of us are very concerned with the recent agitations, protests and many citizens were so concerned, our constituents across the country are very concerned that the federal government will remove the petroleum subsidy. And for us, as parliamentarians, as legislators representing the people of Nigeria, this must be of interest to us.”

Clearly, what is happening is that having failed to address the fuel subsidy issue over the past seven years, the Government is realising that one year to the next general election is not the most auspicious time to do it. In that case, they should show us some respect and say after listening to complaints from Nigerians about the further hardship the removal of fuel subsidy will cause, that they are reviewing the policy. It is disrespectful to citizens to claim they never said they would do it while we all know that it is already in the budget being currently implemented. Let us not forget that current Government policy is that they would be paying N5, 000 monthly to the very poor as transportation subsidy, because fuel subsidy would end in June this year.

Another big item in the news this week is the big “Rice Show”; the official unveiling of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)/Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN) Rice Paddy Pyramids in Abuja. It was essentially, a one-hour “photo op” that was conceived to show that the President has through his policy measures significantly increased rice production in the country. To do that, trailers were sent all over the country to ferry paddy rice to Abuja so that the President could be photographed with a lot of rice behind him. In a normal country, the statistics office will simply provide production figures. Nigerian politicians think photo tricks are more effective. It is a bad idea. The contract to bring in and to return the rice was a waste of money. Many of the comments I saw from Nigerians expressed doubts whether it was indeed rice in the bags displayed. What they did was to try to copy the idea of groundnut pyramids, which at one time was a sign that we were producing a lot at some point. The irony was that the famous Kano pyramids were not “photo ops.” The trains were simply not coming in frequently enough to transport the deliveries supplied by Licensed Buying Agents so they were stacked up to wait for trains. The idea of bringing in one million bags of paddy rice to the national capital for a photo shoot and return them the States for milling simply ridicules us as a Nation.     

The Governor of the CBN, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, who organised the “photo op” contract was of course keen to highlight the successes recorded in the implementation of the CBN-led Anchor Borrowers’ Programme (ABP). He announced that the country had been able to significantly reduce rice importation from Thailand by over 99.83 per cent within the past seven years. There is no doubt that the programme has indeed increased rice production in the country even though currently, insecurity is cutting back at the success. The problem with this success is that rice imports to Benin Republic have increased almost to the same quantity that imports to Nigeria have declined. It does not need a genius to work out that in spite of the almost two-year closure of the borders with our neighbours, smuggling continued at essentially the same rate. Everybody knows it because we can all see the same Thai rice that is no longer “imported” in all our markets. This is confirmed daily by Customs raids on markets to seize foreign imported rice. It is disrespectful for Government to sink all this money into a photograph that is supposed to wipe out our knowledge and memories of Thai rice we buy in our markets daily. 

What is annoying to us, Nigerian citizens, is that Government views and treats the policy arena uniquely as a space for propaganda and information manipulation rather than a genuine conversation space on action steps to address national problems. That is why the focus is on optics rather than facts. I do wish that our governments try to treat us with more respect. It’s sad that they do not know we are adults who know what they are doing and have the power as citizens and voters to place or remove them from power; or do we?

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