US Judge delays release of Tinubu's CSU records after his appeal
Bola Tinubu

By OBINNA EZUGWU

It’s been three months and a few days -the milestone 100 days – since Bola Tinubu took office as Nigeria’s president, and within this period, Nigerians, who had endured harsh economic outcomes under the eight years of President Muhammadu Buhari, have been made to face even harder times. Petrol prices have tripled; university education has become unaffordable for many, cost of living has gone haywire, and the dollar now dances on the brink of N1,000 with attendant impact on inflation.

On the political front, the poor handling of Niger Republic coup has battered the reputation of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), chaired by Tinubu, even as coup fever continues to spread in the region, with yet another coup happening in the Central African country of Gabon last week.

Many have expressed sympathy for the new president, pointing out that he inherited a depressed economy from Buhari, his predecessor. Speaking in a interview last week, Charles Soludo, governor of Anambra State, noted that Tinubu inherited an economy that was practically a “dead horse standing.” Few would disagree, but the other argument is that Tinubu cannot isolate himself from the blame, being an integral part of the Buhari’s APC government, even as his policies have since worsened the economic situation.

July inflation surged to 24.08%, a 129 basis-point increase compared to 22.79% recorded in the previous month, and the sixth consecutive increase in the headline index this year.

The country’s GDP also slowed to 2.51 per cent in the second quarter of 2023, a 1.03 percentage drop from the 3.54% in the corresponding quarter of 2022, driven by slack in the real sector, which dipped 2.20% year-on-year, and a whooping 14.98 per cent quarter-on-quarter.

“The removal of subsidy and naira floating caused demand destruction, which is why we’re seeing the drop in GDP growth,” noted Kevin Emmanuel, economic analyst and co-founder of Diary Hills, on Arise TV at the weekend.

Tinubu had, as many have said, hit the ground running upon taking office, for good or bad, and the impact has been telling. The withdrawal of fuel subsidy, which he announced off the cuff while delivering his inauguration speech, has led to price of the product more than doubling from less than N200 per litre to N617 per litre, while the decision to float float naira saw the local currency slip to as much as N950 to the dollar, before recovery to eventually settle at N920/$.

In the streets, people say they are struggling to get by. Cost of transportation and goods have risen astronomically in the past few weeks, and so has the number of both street and ‘corporate’ beggars.

“Only God can save us in this country,” lamented Iya Oropo, a store owner at Ojodu, Lagos.

“To eat now is a problem. My shop is becoming empty because I don’t have money to buy goods. Each time you go to the market, prices have risen and your money can’t buy anything tangible. It’s hard.”

When the president announced that fuel subsidy “is gone“, and within the same week the CBN floated the naira, many hailed the moves as taking the bull by the horn, and a testimony to his ability to take tough decisions.

But 100 says down the road, the jury is out. The decision had been taken hastily, without proper planning in terms of how to cushion its effects, and amid growing discontent among the populace over the rapid rise in the cost of living, the president, fortnight ago, seemingly returned subsidy through the back door.

“What is obvious is that the president is struggling to operate at the national level,” says Chidi Anthony, Abuja based lawyer and policy analyst.

“He is yet to understand that Nigeria is not Lagos State, where his words are laws and his decision is final. He doesn’t understand that the national scene is different, and every decision you make has far reaching impact. You cannot be announcing subsidy removal so casually at your inauguration speech for example.”

There was strong argument among economic analysts that the corruption- riddled subsidy regime, which cost the federal government a whopping N4.9 trillion ($10bn) in 2022, and N3.9 trillion ($7.5bn) up until June 2023, in a country spending over 90 percent of revenue on debt service, had to go.

But many had suggested that policies be put in place to ensure that the impact of its withdrawal is minimized, even as some argue that the important thing would have been to tackle the corruption associated with the regime, as opposed to withdrawing it entirely.

“I feel bad about subsidy removal,” noted Prof. Iyorwuese Hagher, a one time presidential aspirant on the platform of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP).

“The elite created a vehicle to share money without working for it. The money that was being paid out as subsidy was largely fraudulent and to entirely remove that subsidy that was being doled out and debit the citizens is unfair. I wish the government will listen less to those Bretton Woods Institutions from New York and read the citizens’ hungry faces more.”

Tinubu’s predecessor, Muhammadu Buhari, weary of the overwhelming negative impact such removal could have on the economy, deferred it to Tinubu, who didn’t hesitate to yank it off.

And perhaps basking in the euphoria of kudos received for being bold enough to withdraw subsidy, the new administration would, one week later, float the country’s currency, the naira; a decision that again received applause from policy analysts.

But like fuel subsidy withdrawal, floating the naira has had very negative impact on the economy. The naira tumbled in the open market to a record N950 to the dollar – while the official importers and exporters (I&E) window remained within N760+ – before recovering to N850 following threat by the acting governor of the CBN, Folashodun Shonubi, to clamp down on speculators using means he failed to disclose, but later depreciated to N920/$.

“In every functional society, the government helps the poor and the middle class. The United States subsidizes petrol consumption with up to $50 billion per annum. That’s why petrol is cheaper in many parts of America today than it is in Nigeria. With a minimum wage of at least $1,500 a month, Americans are paying less for petrol than Nigeria with a minimum wage of $60 per month,” Kperogi argues.

“America also has unemployment benefits for people, who lose their jobs; free money for food (called food stamps) for the desperately poor and the unemployable; free money for citizens, permanent residents, and other legal residents during recessions so people can spend money to regenerate the economy; free medical care for the poor and the aged; and so on.

“It’s only Third World countries that the IMF and the World Bank recommend soulless, conscienceless, laissez-faire capitalism for and, because our leaders are sadists and mean-spirited and many followers are clueless and ignorant, they embrace their self-immolation with smiles and pride.”

Recently, state oil firm, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) Limited announced that it had secured a $3 billion emergency crude repayment loan from the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) to ‘support the naira and stabilise the foreign exchange market.’

The choice of NNPC in this case being probably informed by the fact that the CBN is already hobbled, amid recent revelation that it owes Goldman Sachs $500 million, JP Morgan $7 billion in securities lending, and another $6.3 billion owned in foreign currency forwards, which are forex obligations it needs to make to foreign investors; which is feared to cost the country 40.7 percent of its entire foreign reserves currently standing at $34.1 billion.

The promised $3bn, which was an indication of the government’s revert to pegging exchange rate, appeared to have brought momentary reprieve to the battered naira, but with weak production base, and oil production still impacted by massive theft, it has proved to be inadequate.

“Nigeria can’t afford a peg,” argued Kalu Ajah, an economic analyst. “Nigeria can’t afford a float. Both are “die” but with the float you can decide to cut back on expenses and survive. A peg means you want to borrow to keep up with the Joneses.”

Students Loan and Hike in Fees

President Tinubu had also in June, signed into law the Access to Higher Education Act, 2023, otherwise known as Students Loan Act, which is meant to provide interest-free education loans for Nigerians willing to acquire tertiary education.

The Act, which establishes an Education Loan Fund to help Nigerians fund their higher education, while they pay in instalments two years after completing their participation in the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme, was initially hailed by some observers.

But the scheme – meant to kick off this September albeit with modalities still vague – has guidelines that already disqualifies many, who might be needing the loan, even as federal universities and colleges have hiked fees astronomically, meaning that many could be forced to abandon education altogether.

For instance, those eligible for the loan are those, whose family income must be less than N500,000 per annum, while they must provide, at least, two civil servants, as guarantors, who must meet specific criteria, such as being a level 12 civil servant with, at least, 12 years of service, or a lawyer with, at least, 10 years of post-call experience.

“One thing you notice about this administration is that policies are never thought through before they are unveiled, it’s a kind of trial and error,” says Anthony.

“You cannot be introducing students loan that is meant to assist the indigent, but at the same time, asking them to provide level 12 civil servants as guarantors. Again, when you say families that earn N500,000 and above are not eligible, what you have said is that a family that earns N500, 000 a month is not eligible. But we all know that that amount is not able to sustain any family for a month, let alone, train their children.

“Now, we have a situation, where schools are already charging close to N200,000 per session. What you are simply doing is forcing as many people out of school.”

Recently, the management of University of Lagos (UNILAG) confirmed an increment in fees of the undergraduate students of the institution.

The students of the institution previously paid N19,000 but the management fixed new fees at N190,250 for students studying medicine, while for courses that require laboratory and studio, students are to pay N140,250.

The management explained that the increment in fees had become imperative given the prevailing economic realities of the nation and its obligations to its students, staff, and service providers.

Similar increments have been made by other universities, including federal government colleges, whose fees were hiked from N45,000 to over N100,000, with many students already fearing that they might have to drop out of school.

“What will happen is that the majority of students, whose parents cannot afford it (the fees) will pull out of school in anger and you know what that means, they will fight the society back.

“But let us get the correct information first before knowing the next steps,” warned Emmanuel Osodeke, president of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) when the act was signed into law in June.

Pains Temporary

Tinubu has, however, maintained that pains of his reforms are temporary, encouraging Nigerians to look beyond that and have faith in his government’s ability to reverse the trend.

“Fellow Nigerians, this period may be hard on us and there is no doubt about it that it is tough on us. But I urge you all to look beyond the present temporary pains and aim at the larger picture. All of our good and helpful plans are in the works. More importantly, I know that they will work,” he said in a nationwide broadcast in July.

“Sadly, there was an unavoidable lag between subsidy removal and these plans coming fully online. However, we are swiftly closing the time gap. I plead with you to please have faith in our ability to deliver and in our concern for your well-being.”

Cabinet and ECOWAS/Niger quagmire

The back and forth policy on the economic front is only one aspect of many rash decisions the Tinubu administration has made in its first three months.

Indeed, even his appointment of ministers was shoddily done, such that one of the nominees, Maryam Shetty only learnt that her nomination had been withdrawn while waiting at the National Assembly complex for screening.

Yet, at the end of the screening process that saw 48 nominees screened, the Senate confirmed only 45 of the 48, with Nasir El-Rufai, former Kaduna State governor; former deputy governor of Taraba State, Senator Abubakar Danladi, and Stella Okotete from Delta State, failing to be cleared because they had, as Senate president, Godswill Akpabio, claimed, security reports that had to be sorted out.

Regardless, security clearance are typically obtained before nominees are forwarded to the senate.

“The embarrassing but totally preventable flip-flopping of the Tinubu administration is becoming truly unsettling,” wrote Farooq Kperogi, U.S. based professor of journalism, in response to the withdrawal of Shetty’s nomination.

“I don’t recall if there is any precedent for this kind of embarrassment. Why was her name announced when the president hadn’t made up his mind that he wanted her on his cabinet? The public ridicule she has been subjected to can’t be redeemed by any compensatory appointment.”

Indeed there’s been hardly any decision taken by the president within his first three months that hasn’t been mired in one controversy or the other. And ultimately, it’s been three months within which period the country nearly went into a military confrontation with Niger Republic; and university education becoming unaffordable for millions.

In yet another blunder, many say, could have had telling impact on not just Nigeria but the entire sub-region, ECOWAS, chaired by Tinubu, had in the immediate past of the military intervention in Niger, issued a one-week ultimatum to the junta to return power to the democratically elected president, Mohamed Bazoum, or face military action.

More than a month on, tension appears to be dampening. The junta snubbed ECOWAS, and the regional body, determined to maintain its relevance, had threatened war. But with the junta standing its ground, amid support from other military regimes in Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea, the body appears to have eaten the humble pie; a development that could potentially dent its reputation.

News continues after this Advertisement

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here