Fuel Subsidy Removal, Naira Devaluation: Who Says President Buhari Does Not Listen to Advice?

PRESIDENT BUHARI SPEAKS ON DIASPORA DAY . President Muhammadu Buhari broadcast to the Nigerian in Diaspora on DIASPORA DAY. JULY 2020. PHOTO; SUNDAY AGHAEZE.

The bitter and sweet policies of gradually abolishing fuel subsidy regime and guided floating of the naira might have taken a long time in coming-nearly six years.  But as the saying goes, it’s better late than never.

And with the above mentioned current developments in the monetary market and in the petroleum products retail sector, President Muhammadu Buhari has obviously softened his earlier hard stance against naira devaluation and elimination of fuel subsidy- two critical factors in the economy that have been distorting the development fundamentals of our country.

Keeping in mind that the late chief of staff, CoS to the President, Mallam Abba Kyari had midwifed the assemblage of a coterie of academic eggheads, seasoned technocrats and financial consultants that got inaugurated as the new presidential economic advisory committee in replacement of the Vice President, Yemi Osibanjo led team which had been in that role since the inception of this government, my prediction may not be dismissed with a wave of the hand.

However, by virtue of the fact that l don’t have my name plate in any of the doors in Aso Rock Villa corridors of power, l can’t confidently lay claim to knowing fully well whether it is the new presidential economic team that has helped in shaping president Buhari’s new thinking about eliminating fuel subsidy and naira devaluation that has seen the pump price of fuel go up and naira exchange rate spike. But a gut feeling tell me that the presidential economic advisory team may the wind beneath the new wind blowing in the economic firmament.

The august body led by professor Doyin Salami, a don at Lagos business school, along with professor Chukwuma Soludo, ex CBN governor, and Mr Bismarck Rewane, a financial consultant amongst fistful of other professionals, was charged with the responsibility of crafting sound and viable economic development policies for our country.

Given that the economic ship of state of Nigeria seemed to have been drifting  like a rudderless vessel being tossed up and down in the ocean and at the mercy of violent waves exacerbated by the current crude oil price volatility and COVID-19 induced global economic meltdown, the formation of the presidential economic management body of experts to steer the ship away from the hazard, was a timely initiative.

Although such a formidable and astute  team of managers of the economy should have been instituted at the inception of the administration six years ago,president Buhari  in his wisdom prioritized anti corruption war by inaugurating the professor Itse Sagay led Presidential committee on anti corruption which in my view has been hurting instead of helping Nigeria. The foregoing assertion is underscored by the fact that it’s the committee and the EFCC that have been de- marketing our country through the numerous mind boggling and mostly unsubstantiated claims of monumental corruption that it keeps alleging against Nigerians which precipitated the flight of capital out of our country . The crystallization of the damage that the crying of wolf, where there is none, by members of the presidential anti corruption committee and other agencies of govt , especially the ministry of Information that was cloaking Nigeria and Nigerians with the toga of corruption, culminated into the labeling of our country and people as ‘fantastically corrupt’  by former British PM, David Cameron when he was introducing president Buhari to queen Elizabeth on the sideline of an anti corruption conference held in London on May 12, 2016.

In an article titled “Which is Hurting More, Corruption or Collateral Damage From Fighting I?” that l wrote and published in Thisday Newspaper of July 25, 2016 and also widely shared  on online media platforms,  l denounced what can simply be illustrated with the act of a husband calling his wife a prostitute in the presence of his neighbors which is license for  the neighbors to call her worse name than a whore .The referenced  piece admonished Govt against making only anti corruption the fulcrum and Centre piece of its development policy or raison dete of the administration by making a song and dance of corruption in Nigeria simply because diplomats and international agencies in our country will send the negative fallouts back to their home countries or offices and which would negatively color the perception and influence the policies of their home countries towards Nigeria  . So the motive of my essay was to draw  the attorney on of authorities to the peril and dire consequences of taking its anti corruption war to an absurd extent as highlighted above .

Below is an excerpt from the referenced article:

“Some of us have literarily been at President Muhammadu Buhari’s ‘throat’ over what we deem to be economically, socially and politically rough methods and procedures that the president has been adopting in combating corruption in Nigerian and the catastrophic effects on the nation. Apart from the evidently obtrusive anti-corruption war, another clog in the wheel of progress is the knee jerk and pigeon hole policy initiatives that have led to failed expectations of positive outcomes, as opposed to unleashing a holistic policy package, which could have addressed all identified economic, political and social challenges harmoniously in a timeous manner, without equivocation and thus yield the desired socioeconomic liberation of Nigeria”

“By now, it must be clear to all, as it has become incontestable that, it is the economic, social and political fallouts of the brutish pursuit and tunnel vision of eliminating corruption at all costs by this administration that is the culprit for the unprecedented hardship currently putting the nation’s economy on a lockdown.

The fiasco that the economy has been plunged into is reflected in the imminent recession now confirmed by both the IMF in its World Economic Outlook, WEO report and the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN via Governor Godwin Emefiele’s recent testimony to the Nigerian Senate.

Other incidents or events signposting the fact that Nigeria and indeed Nigerians are in dire straits are:  social upheavals in the northeast triggered by Boko Haram terrorism resulting in millions of families being consigned to living miserably in Internally Displaced People, IDP camps; renewed Niger Delta militancy focused on bombing oil facilities that have crippled oil/gas business and damaged the ecosystem and environment very badly; the recent increasingly violent crimes popping up in the suburbs of Lagos and in fact, across the country in the form of kidnappings and violent attacks on defenceless people by bandits disguised as Fulani herdsmen”

“As glaringly disruptive and debilitating as the effects of the anti-corruption war have been on the hoi-poloi, whom the president is ostensibly protecting, nobody has considered a change of tactics to ease the pain on the less privileged members of society. This implies that our leaders may be oblivious to the reality of how, cruel, grueling, and dreary life has become for the average Nigerian in the past year.

In the light of the growing and palpable despondency being foisted on the populace, following the economic woes in the country fueling the emasculation of the common man, the rhetorical question elicited by the circumstances would be: which is more hurtful, corruption or the collateral damage of fighting it?”

“On a scale of balance, the simple and rational answer would be that corruption is more harmful, because it is debilitating and virulent like HIV/aids, Ebola virus and cancer disease combined, but in fighting the malaise, authorities should be careful not to inadvertently throw away the baby and the bath water, otherwise, the collateral damage could be equal, if not more devastating, as we are currently witnessing in Nigeria”

It is so gut wrenching that the piece written four years ago, still rings true today.

With the compound word re-looting rapidly attaining the status of a popular part of the lexicon of Nigerians as the circus show featuring the Ministry of Justice and the EFCC evolves  , l’m vindicated in my argument four years ago(2016) that the foremost financial crime fighting agency, the  EFCC and the presidential committee on anti corruption, were inflicting more harm on  the economy as opposed to adding value if indeed the EFCC is guilty of relooting what has been recovered by looters.

The opening quote in the chapter titled “Corruption and the Unending Fight Against It” in my forthcoming book LEADERS , LEADING and LEADERSHIP: MEDIA INTERVENTIONS BY A PUBLIC INTELLECTUAL (1999-2019) features a remarkable quote by Jose Angel Gurria , current OECD Secretary-General and it goes thus:

“Integrity, transparency and the fight against corruption have to be part of the culture. They have to be taught as fundamental values’’

The message conveyed in the quote above is that curbing or stopping corruption can not be a 100 meters dash or fought in a manner that the fire brigade combats an  inferno. Rather it has to be driven like a cultural change matter. And the philosophy of slow and steady wins the race seems more appropriate in that regard.

I’m not unaware that presidents have tenures of two terms of only four years each.  As such they often want to impress their support base by hastily concluding court processes so that they can claim that they are the ones that jailed thieving politicians , who more often than not are actually their political enemies. Also the case of such political  leaders as well as the heads of the EFCC ascribing  messianic powers to themselves by taking pride in reeling off the list of politicians jailed and the assets and funds recovered under their watch is another bane of our country’s approach to fighting corruption since independence. Given the lessons above , Aso  Rock villa must recognize the aforementioned drawbacks inherent in the current system or style of fighting graft in our country and make amendments accordingly.

For instance, I can imagine that since it’s establishment in 2003 , the EFCC has not founded or supported any Anti Corruption clubs in our various institutions of learning where it could have commenced the much desired anti corruption cultural change in our youths . No wonder youths now prefer to make the likes of Hushpuppi, the alleged internet fraudster,  their role model instead of Tony Elumelu of Tony Elumelu Foundation , TEF or Herbert Wigwe of Acess bank or any other youth that has acquired wealth through genuine hard work and entrepreneurship.

As my unsolicited advise and that of other well meaning members of the commentariat were unheeded  , Nigeria suffered the first economic recession in 25 years from 2016 of which it is still partially mired and still trying to pull itself out from the hole.

Happily, six (6) years after ascension into Aso Rock villa , president Buhari’s Govt has now done what some of us have been clamoring for, establishment of a Presidential economic advisory team, and entrusting the experts with the responsibility of pulling the economy back from the brinks and unearthing the parts that have already sunk into decay from the abyss is now achievable goal.

Do the current changes in the petroleum products / pump price and foreign  exchange markets go far enough to engender the much needed changes?

Not at all.

That’s simply  because , a lot more needs to be done to reform or change the economic landscape so that the subsidy removal in both petroleum products import/sales and naira exchange rates would not hurt the critical masses so badly.

It is in the light of the above that the wisdom in the wise counsel of converting problem into promotion comes into play.

Owing to the leadership chaos and confusion that have enveloped the  country , the ruling party, APC has been in political hot water even from among its supporters arising from the slew of financial scandals cascading from the vila to the ministries , departments and agencies , MDAs that are besetting the party that before its ascension to power prided  itself as being on a mission to wipe out corruption in our country.

After practically decimating rival political parties , particularly the former ruling party, PDP members by arraigning or jailing most of them (particularly its former spokesman Olisa Métuh and a couple  of ex governors) on account of corruption, it was sheer hypocrisy that barely two years into its first tenure, its greatest achievement is that it had surpassed the former ruling party’s record of corruption.

And this is underscored by the fact that between 2015-18, at least half a dozen serving cabinet members and then secretary to Govt , SGF as well as head of security agencies including Nigeria Intelligence Agency, NIA, were indicted for corruption. When one adds the frightening skeletons  allegedly being exhumed from the vault  of the EFCC -the nation’s anti corruption agency which is being subjected to scrutiny or undergoing assizes by the retired Justice Ayo Salami led panel , then the ruling party’s loss of moral justification to continue to pride itself as anti corruption party becomes fully manifest.

By way of clarification, as a crisis manager, l prefer not to be like an ostrich that buries it’s head in the sand without realizing that the rest of its body is exposed.

 It is against that backdrop that l’m calling a spade what it truly is, by diagnosing what’s ailing us as a country with the hope that it would be a sort of wake up call for the ruling party, APC  and the powers that be in Aso Rock villa.

Having come into full circle with its anti-corruption war which has apparently completely muzzled the  opposition , it has now literarily turned its guns against its self.  I would argue that what can be described as internal introspection that started by targeting erstwhile opposition members in the APC whose hands are not clean and cross therefore carpeted to the ruling party for protection four years after exhausted the initial target . When it was done with that category, the anti great agencies finally started baying for the blood of APC’s core members because the EFCC , DSS and NIA had become like tigers whose riders would later become prey when they get off its back . That’s evidenced by the embarrassing schisms that have now gripped the numerous govt agencies-EFCC, NDDC,NSTIF, and National Assembly , NASS whose members are indicted or under investigation.

Strangely, rather than being driven by any altruistic value, the movement or internal inquest or assizes of APC led Govt seem like self propelling and a natural cause of action.The good news is that they may end up being for our country.’s common good.

Now, it may appear like a spin to some people , but justice minister,  Abubakar Malami’s recent statement on NTA late on Friday night as reported by The Nation newspaper , is so far the best explanation given by Govt for the ongoing  investigation of the EFCC that has unearth a lot strange stuffs. According to The Nation newspaper, the Attorney General of  the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, stated during the NTA interview that “ the ongoing probe of the leadership of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is a plus for President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption policy”

“He dismissed the fears in some quarters that the probe was a vendetta against the EFCC leadership.

The newspaper report quoted mr Malami aa stating  that :

“It is, indeed, a plus. It goes to establish the tradition for which this government is known; a tradition of no fear or favour as far as investigating corruption cases are concerned or corruption allegations or issues,”

“It is indeed a plus that has reenacted, reinforced and reestablished a tradition by which the government of President Muhammadu Buhari is known, which tradition is to the effect that no allegation of corruption can be swept under the carpet. So, it is, indeed, to my mind, a plus and not a blow,”

Although the justice minister’s comments at first appear to be incredulous, but when put in context,  it is plausible because real corruption fighters prove themselves to be who they claim they are by first of all starting the clean up from inside their own stable.

That’s in line with the dictum ‘ charity begins at home’.

At this moment in time that most Nigerians are searching for answers to the avalanche of malfeasance and a slew of investigations of MDAs with the overwhelming effect on the polity , l guess Nigerians might as well take the attorney general’s word at its face value and wait to see how the internal probes which he claims signify that president Buhari is not covering up the misdeeds of his associates, pan out.

Perhaps , just like president Buhari has allowed market forces to determine the pump price of fuel without subsidizing it so that the cost would be lower , and by allowing  the naira to float without massive CBN intervention which is also a form of subsidy, the plethora of ongoing probes could be indicative of the fact that mr president may also be allowing justice take its course and as such any member of his Govt or the ruling party accused of financial impropriety or indicted for fraud would face the law.

That’s just my understanding based on my studied assessment of events as they are unfolding.

And the belief is justified by the fact that being in his second term and one year into his four-year tenure, president Buhari may not like to exit power with his image as an incorruptible leader besmirched.

As such he would like to allow the law to take its course against those that have infringed and have cases to answer.

If my analysis and prediction prove to be accurate, then there is no hiding for the rogues currently taking cover in the shadow of the Buhari name with what may turn out to be false immunity when he turns them in for the long arm of the law to catch up with them. If he could do so with lbrahim Magu, the erstwhile blue-eyed prince of his inner court and tzar of the EFCC, then what President Buhari could do with any other cabinet or party member found culpable is better imagined.

With no slam-dunk evidence so far, Magu may scale through the inquisition unscathed, so I’m holding my breath.

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