To say the last one hundred days have, for all intents and purposes, been some of the most dramatic in the history of Nigeria would not be an exaggeration. The inauguration of a president is normatively dramatic enough an event but the inauguration of President Bola Tinubu went haywire with his infamous off-script proclamation that “fuel subsidy is gone!”
And just like the snap of a finger, the country went into chaos mode from which it has yet to recover. This century of days in office culminates with the Appeal Court delivering a judgement on the petitions against President Tinubu’s election filed by his opponents in February’s election and the labour union embarking on a two-day warning strike over the rising cost of living.
Of course, there would be tensions on such a day but the reality is that it was hard to envisage any dramatic outcome from the tribunals. All previous Nigerian elections have been contested in courts, all but one—when in 2015, Goodluck Jonathan exemplified uncommon grace by conceding defeat and moving on with his life, saving the country a lot of wahala. None of those elections have been overturned. Following this tribunal, it was honestly hard to see substantial enough grounds for this one to be any different.
Like all new unions, especially one between a new president and an old country, a period of adjustment discomfort is to be expected. In between, there should be periods of adjustment bliss—moments of gift-giving, kind gestures and graceful considerations. Nigeria has had none of that in the last hundred days. As far as honeymoons go, this one has been one giant horror show, mostly for the country’s suffering masses.
That ad-lib by President Tinubu minutes after he was sworn in was phenomenal. It changed the mood of the country and caused the already fragile economy his government inherited to take on the character of an epileptic animal, with unpredictable movements in all sorts of directions.
The economic haemorrhaging has not stopped but continued in a different direction, inflation has skyrocketed at frankly alarming rates. Not many Nigerians can afford to fuel their cars, and not many can afford to eat or pay their children’s school fees, which have been upwardly reviewed by schools to match the rising cost of everything else. Earnings have been shrinking. The naira, too, has been haemorrhaging against the dollar, mostly due to the government’s decision to float the naira exchange rates.
The reality is that some of the tough policy choices the president has made, like floating the naira and streamlining the exchange rate, and hacking off the subsidy, have always been expected. The problem is that the government went into it, from zero to sixty, without any mechanism to streamline the effects. My inclination to be harsh on this honeymoon horror show is however tampered by the reality that most of the problems we are facing today have been long in the making.
The Buhari years have not only been a waste, but they have indebted the country with both fiscal and economic burdens that we will have to bear for years. The dual exchange rate was designed and sustained for the simple purpose of enriching the former president’s friends and families but it caused incredible profligacy in the system where the country was haemorrhaging billions to subsidise the corrupt enrichment of a selected few. (There is a reason haemorrhaging is being repeated in this column and it is because it is the word that best describes what has been happening.) The irony was that this was all happening at a time when Nigerians were being asked to make sacrifices and the threat of fuel subsidy removal was being dangled over the country until it became inevitable. Yet, in the eight years of that government, no definitive plans were put in place to prepare the country for the inevitable cessation of petrol subsidy, even when that government tried to sneakily have the subsidy removed shortly after it had left office. Where does that leave us? Here, President Tinubu who ploughed into the subsidy bridge of strings with a hatchet, slashed first and then asked questions later. Now, whatever plans are being made to contain the impact of the subsidy removal are being made up as we go along. It is sort of like building an aircraft while flying it. The substitution of subsidising petroleum products for subsidising poverty does not seem like a very well-thought-out policy. Handing out bags of garri and salt to Nigerians will not cushion this hardship.
Already, this government has inherited the consequence of the profligacy of the previous one. One of Buhari’s last act as president was to request a N22.7 trillion naira loan that eventually pushed the country’s debt profile to N77 trillion. As of June 2015, when the old general took charge of the country, the debt profile was at N12.12 trillion naira. Again, borrowing to pay your way out of debt does not seem like a wise policy. Not forgetting the legacy of the highest unemployment rate in the country in 20 years that he bequeathed. Nigerians will have to pay the price for those wasteful years.
Yet, it falls on President Tinubu to stop this, to end the chaos and profligacy. However, if there is any clear intent to stop this, other than the haphazard subsidy removal, it has not been obvious, yet. This government has followed Buhari’s abhorrently large cabinet of 44 ministers, which stupendously underperformed by the way, with another of 45. If the country’s constitution is anything to go by, we could end up with some 70 or so ministers because constitutionally, each state is supposed to have at least one person in the cabinet. Again, unsustainable. Some decisions and appropriations by the government have not indicated any intent at sincere cost-cutting and frugality on its part.
So, while the vast majority of the problems the country and its hapless citizens are facing today are the direct consequence of the previous government and its wasteful non-policy, this government’s slash-and-burn approach has exacerbated things.
Something must change and that change must happen now. The honeymoon is over. It is time to climb out of this bed of thorns and make a considered decision that will mitigate the hardship of the people and set the country on a path to recovery. A bad start must not doom us to a bad end.