By OBINNA EZUGWU
Hailed by many for ‘hitting the ground running’ in the first two weeks of his administration, within which period he removed fuel subsidy and floated the naira, the honeymoon appears to be already over for Nigeria’s new president, Bola Tinubu, as the impact of his policies begin to hit home.
Labour has risen up in arms, even as the street is filled with masses already gritting their teeth amid spiking cost of living.
The argument for subsidy removal had become compelling long before the former Lagos State governor began to appear in the picture as a potential president. And within the eight years of his predecessor, Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, subsidy more than doubled – from January 2023 to May 2023, subsidy totalled N1.828 trillion, 55 percent higher than the amount paid in the corresponding period of 2022 – with telling impact on an economy already reeling from high debt burden.
Economists were largely unanimous in their agreement that subsidy needed to go for the economy to survive, and thus Tinubu was commended for having the courage to remove it, what his predecessor appeared incapable of doing. But a little less than two months down the road, the impact have become unbearable, and many have begun to ask questions, especially as it becomes evident that the administration has no programmes to cushion its effect.
“Nigerians cannot endure this suffering for too long,” declared Stesia Ogbu, a fresh graduate in Enugu. “People are hungry and angry. Simple things are no longer affordable, it may just be a matter of time before protests start.”
From an average of N535 per litre in the initial days of subsidy withdrawal, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) limited last week, further hiked the pump price of fuel to N617 per litre, with a number of independent marketers selling for as much as N700 per litre. Transport costs, which had doubled since the withdrawal of subsidy, immediately got even worse, even as businesses are battling to stay afloat on account of high energy costs.
Yet, those, who expected compassion from the administration were in for further shocks, as it soon became clear that electricity tariff would also go up by as much as 40 percent. The new tariff was originally intended to take effect from July 1, but the regulator, the National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) halted it following an outcry by Nigerians.
But information available to our correspondent indicate that the hike will eventually take effect, even as Distribution Companies (DisCos) are still pushing ahead with their bid for Federal Government’s approval for the new tariff.
“The current tariff is not sustainable, so it has to be reviewed. It’s just a matter of time,” a management staff of Enugu Disco, who craved anonymity told BusinessHallmark.
The hike in energy cost has worsened the already double digits inflation, which came in at 22.79% in the month of June, a 0.38% points increase from 22.41% recorded in the previous month.
“Everything is expensive!” chorused some protesting Northern women captured in a video that trended online on Friday.
From school fees to food items and everything in-between, Nigerians are dealing with spiking costs daily, what many have captured as ‘Renewed Shege,’ a mockery of the President’s Renewed Hope campaign slogan.
“I supported Tinubu, but this is not what I expected,” said Taiwo Idris, a building contractor in Lagos State. “People are suffering. There’s no money and everything is now too expensive. It’s sad to say, but I already regret supporting Tinubu.”
Like Idris, many of the president’s vocal supporters on and off social media have begun to express regrets, and optimism is gradually giving way for mass discontent.
“Lessons will be learnt has now changed to lessons has been learnt,” noted Inibehe Effiong, @InibeheEffiong, lawyer and rights activist. “Is Mr. Tinubu aware of the suffering and hardship in the country?”
When towards the end of President Buhari’s listless eight years of office, during which time inflation hit the rooftops, insecurity spread across the country, corruption grew wings and the economy in six and sevens, Garba Shehu, his spokesman declared that Nigerians would miss his principal when he leaves office, long suffering Nigerians, who wanted him gone, dismissed the submission as a bad joke. But less than 60 says under Tinubu, Shehu’s remark for many, is already sounding like prophecy foretold.
“We fervently prayed to never miss Major Gen. Muhammadu Buhari. Regrettably, the man is already missed less than two months after handing over the country’s leadership to President Tinubu,” said author, Muhsin Ibrahim @muhsin234, “Capitalism, especially in a country like ours, is awful. May God save His creations.”
For the new president, things are unraveling quickly. His inability to find solution to the predictable fallouts of such decisions as fuel subsidy removal, and the lack of action plan for his students loan programme, amid hikes in school fees for both secondary and tertiary education students, have changed the narrative from an action president to an unfeeling, aloof leader without clear policy direction.
Last week, amid uproar over the further hike in the price of fuel, news broke to the effect that the government had increased the school fees of new students into Federal Government Colleges, otherwise known as Federal Unity Colleges to N100,000, a 122.2% hike, when compared to the previous fees of N45,000.
This was contained in a circular from the Office of the Director of Senior Secondary Education Department of the Federal Ministry of Education, with reference number ADF/120/DSSE/I, dated May 25, 2023, and addressed to all Principals of Federal Unity Colleges.
The circular titled, “Approved fees/ charges for Federal Unity Colleges (1st Term) for new students,“ and signed by the Director of Senior Secondary Education, Hajia Binta Abdulkadir, stated that new students are expected to part with ₦100,000 instead of the previous N45,000.
“The latest fees/charge increment will affect virtually all aspects and activities of the school, including tuition and boarding fees, uniform, textbooks, deposit, exercise books, prospectus, caution fee, ID card, stationery, clubs and societies, sports, extra lesson, insurance, et al,” it read.
“Please be informed that the ministry has approved only the under-listed fees and charges for all Unity Colleges.’’
The increment came despite earlier opposition from parents under the aegis of Nigerian Parents Forum, who had in June 2023, appealed to President Tinubu to prevail on the Federal Ministry of Education to reverse the over 100% increment on fees paid by Students in Federal Government Colleges or Unity schools.
The group had described the increment as arbitrary, insensitive, ill-timed and inconsistent with President Tinubu’s promise of welfare programmes to help Nigerian parents cope with the economic challenges posed by fuel subsidy removal in the country.
Yet, while outrage raged over the unity schools fees, the management of the University of Lagos, announced hike in fees of the undergraduate students of the institution, which confirmed earlier speculations about impending hike in fees in public universities.
According to the new fees, while the students of the institution previously paid N19,000, the management has fixed new fees at N190,250 for students studying medicine, while for courses that require laboratory and studio, students are to pay N140,250.
As the fees and tariff grow, so does mass anger. And for Tinubu, he may already be pushing Nigerians to the wall, with potentially unpleasant consequences.
“The Nigerian economy has been plunged into serious crisis with hunger, suffering killing people,” noted Dr. Sam Amadi, analyst and former Chairman of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC).
”Tinubu’s so-called hit-the-ground running is to be running bare foot and zig zag without direction. No proper policy plan, just trial and error.”
The increase in fees has particularly miffed many because the president had suggested that the essence of withdrawing subsidy is to make more funds available for human capital development. But while subsidy is gone, households are having to bear heavier cost for training their wards in school.
“The point of removing fuel subsidies is to have more investments for Human Capital Development ( Education). Removing Fuel subsidies and increasing the price of education is a sign Tinubu has ZERO policy direction. It’s also a wickedness and borderline satanic,” noted William Ukpe, a social media commentator.
“Education is the largest leveller of opportunity in Nigerian history. Nothing has created wealth for Nigerians like education, not even the slave trade. We would all suffer the consequences of this, don’t worry, keep supporting madness.”
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, last week rejected the policies and vowing to review it’s position regarding them. NLC president, Joe Ajaero, said they are no longer part of the negotiating committee of government, which seems to have been set up to legitimize the harsh and unplanned policies of government. The committee had been set to work palliatives to the subsidy removal.
Earlier last week, the president dropped his idea of cash transfers of N8000 to 12 million households, which had been roundly condemned by Nigerians. This was further compounded when the National Economic Council, composed of the governors, and presided over by the vice president, also rejected it, with Kaduna state governor, Uba Sanni, describing it as a scam.