Demola Rewaju: We can’t afford to trust Buhari on this fuel price increase

The issue of trust has been brought into public discourse to justify the #OccupyNigeria movement of 2012 following the removal of fuel subsidy by the government of Goodluck Jonathan.

While the concept of ‘trust’ is a valid one in the engagement between government and citizens, it remains a hazy concept that is often guided by obscure standards and can be easily manipulated for or against government as was the case with the government of Goodluck Jonathan.

Having ridden into office as Acting President on the back of protests by the Save Nigeria Group, Goodluck Jonathan did not fulfil the expectations of that group.

They wanted him to use the awesome powers of the presidency to go after perceived enemies of the people but he refused. Following that, Dr. Tunde Bakare and Yinka Odumakin who had been the arrowheads of the group joined CPC and campaigned against President Jonathan but lost.

Yet they were relentless in criticising him and when the opportunity came, they took over the popular protests and turned it into a fullblown anti-Jonathan movement. It was a continuation of politicking in a way except that other factors such as a restless body of youths desperate to replicate the Arab Spring revolutions and the #OccupyWallStreet movement of a year before also made it easy.

Add to the mix the NLC which also had different ideas of its own and it becomes easy to see why everyone seems to have a different version of what really happened in January 2012. For some, it was about eroding the goodwill of the Jonathan government, for others it was a a generational struggle while for another set, it was simply about negotiating reduced fuel prices and ensuring palliative measures were put in place.

Armed with that historical perspective, the question of trust forces the matter into two separate issues – the trust of integrity and the trust of competence.

An argument can be made for Mr. President’s integrity in spite of evidence to the contrary: that he claimed to have borrowed money to purchase presidential nomination forms from his party while owning a house in Abuja worth about 2 billion naira; that budgeted funds for the presidency this year dwarf any ever under previous government; that he denied the campaign manifesto that fetched him roughly fifteen million votes and that he has surrounded himself with the most corrupt of his party men as ministers.

But trusting his competence is a different matter entirely and we cannot afford to transfer trust of integrity to competence.

The first mistake we must not make is to assume all that was said in favour of subsidy removal in 2012 and how events since then have justified and proved the wisdom of Jonathan’s decision still holds true.

That the argument for subsidy removal was valid in 2012 does not mean that what was proposed then is what is being proposed now. This government is simply yet to make any argument for fuel subsidy removal neither is it even saying that is what it is doing.

Remember that provision for the payment of fuel subsidy is not made in the 2016 budget (as seen from the proposals). Recall also that Ibe Kachikwu had said that fuel subsidy was no longer being paid the moment fuel prices were reduced by 50 kobo to 86:50 per litre.

We cannot therefore assume that it is the removal of fuel subsidy that has led to this fuel price hike especially when the President was not courageous enough to announce it or argue for it and the Vice-President calls it a reaction to fluctuating foreign exchange rates.

This move has been called liberalisation, subsidy removal, deregulation – we must not assume. Government should sit together and tell us what this is.

The second mistake is to assume that a competent team that understands the issues surrounding fuel subsidy removal. Muhammadu Buhari as a candidate insisted that there was nothing like subsidy – is he now convinced there is for the situation to warrant a removal?

The Jonathan team had dyed-in-the-wool capitalists like Sanusi Lamido Sanusi and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. They are no longer around to ensure that the deregulation process is carried out to achieve an expected end.

The removal of subsidy is a capitalist policy that works only in tandem with other capitalist policies. To implement it while retaining control in other sectors related to it is an invitation to catastrophe.

That was NOI’s strength – having served as minister of finance under Obasanjo, she knew the powers she needed and she had a President who was willing to give them to her. She was the Coordinating Minister of the Economy. She was in charge of every single aspect and her economic ideology was firmly capitalist, with a typical human face.

The Buhari economic team has no economist – and that is an irony in itself.

These two reasons are better explained in a recount of a minor event that occurred to me recently. With my family away on a small vacation, I mistakenly stepped outside my house with both house and car keys locked inside and needed a handyman to help with manipulating the door open. My usual guy is Femi who lives in my estate but he had proven unreliable in recent times but unwilling to go in search of another handyman on foot, I called him anyway and he promised to show up as soon as possible.

After ten minutes, I tried his number again and it was switched off – my worst fears about trusting him were coming to pass so I went in search of another one but as I returned with him, I met a smiling Femi at my door, he had unlocked it so I sent the other handyman away. Femi then launched into a respectful protest about why I should trust him now that if he says he would come through, he would come through.

The door lock was ruined and I asked Femi to fix it – which turned out to be my undoing. From a basic spring problem that led to him dismantling the entire handle of the door, Femi managed to spoil the whole thing. Now I need another handyman to work on it.

Trusting someone’s integrity and sincerity is not enough when it comes to some things, there is also the matter of trusting their competence or their ability to listen to advice. Bottomline: we may trust Buhari’s integrity but his competence is in doubt and he simply does not listen.

On fuel subsidy removal, you may trust him not to squander the money but he cannot be trusted to handle it effectively as a whole. The road to hell (I wonder who went there and came back) is said to be paved with good intentions. In other words: one can be sincere and also be sincerely wrong.

As a result of this, one year from now, we will witness another increase in the price of fuel or another long spell of fuel scarcity. Or both.

#SighBuhari

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Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

One comment

  1. From the way I see it, the way people have been mentioning Okonjo Iweala name in news and article just shows how remarkable and important she is. How many past officials have managed t stay in the news for this long? not even past presidents. He place in Nigeria is so important that people can’t help but mention her name. She is truly a rare gem and a woman of legacy.

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