Tinubu administered austerity pills to Nigerians, when will he take his own dose?, By Ayomide Ladipo

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BY AYOMIDE LADIPO

Inheriting a deadweight job is a horrible place to be, but when one is not oblivious to such reality and still goes ahead to fight tooth and nail to get the job, one must be willing to make the tough sacrifices needed to succeed without complaints.

Just as former president Muhammadu Buhari contested four times for the presidency and failed largely
when he eventually got the position, Bola Tinubu is also toeing the line of his predecessor. In June 2022 at an event in Ogun state, Tinubu, in a fit of entitlement, described himself as the perfect, anointed candidate to be Nigeria’s 16th president. “Emi Lokan,” he proclaimed. The Yoruba phrase, which loosely translates as ‘It’s my turn’, eventually became an adopted mantra for his campaign for office. The line emphasised the widespread conception that he had been a kingmaker for years, and it was now his turn on the ‘throne’.

In February 2023, Nigerians went to the poll, and 8 million Nigerians made the life-long dreams of a 71-year-old man to become a reality. They earned him his ‘turn’ on the throne. In his inaugural speech, Tinubu was quick to yank off fuel subsidy – one of the last social benefits Nigerians enjoy, regardless of class. In one fell swoop, without a plan, he announced the removal of the scheme, stating that the nation could no longer afford it.

As an economic researcher who has familiarised herself with Nigeria’s budget and financial status, the statement rang true – although on paper. In the face of thinning revenues and increasing debts, Nigeria could no longer afford to subsidise petroleum for citizens. The funds could be better channelled into infrastructure development for critical sectors, economic experts and analysts rightly argued.

Our total revenue in 2022 was N5.3 trillion, with debt servicing taking 106% of it at N5.65 trillion, and subsidy cost for just the first six months of 2023 was N3.73 trillion. In the same year, the country operated a deficit budget of N9.33 trillion — total revenue at N5.3 trillion and total expenditure at N14.6 trillion.

While Nigeria is seeking to increase its revenue and address the country’s widening deficits, the only way to stay afloat is to cut the recurrent expenditure (cost of governance) and subsidies. But Tinubu has done the exact opposite and transferred the burden on Nigerians, with government spending getting fatter.
He has doubled down and appointed 48 ministers and created new SSA offices – the largest cabinet of any Nigerian democratic president since 1999. This government has made a habit of utilising public offices as a reward scheme for its loyalists and cronies to the detriment of Nigeria’s commonwealth.

However, what shines through is the president’s hypocrisy. On June 12, 2023, in his democracy day
address to Nigerians on the effects of fuel subsidy, he said “I feel your pain. This is one decision we must
bear to save our country from going under and take our resources away from the stranglehold of a few
unpatriotic elements. I will repay you through massive investment in transportation infrastructure,
education, regular power supply, healthcare and other public utilities that will improve the quality of
lives”.

In his Independence Day address to Nigerians on October 1, 2023, he said: “Reform may be painful, but it is what greatness and the future require. We now carry the costs of reaching a future in Nigeria where the abundance and fruits of the nation are fairly shared among all, not hoarded by a select and greedy few. A Nigeria where hunger, poverty and hardship are pushed into the shadows of an ever-fading past. There is no joy in seeing the people of this nation shoulder burdens that should have been shed years ago. I wish today’s difficulties did not exist. But we must endure if we are to reach the good side of our future”.

He is right, his policies have brought about painstaking hardship to Nigerians, we are currently enduring, but we cannot call them ‘reforms’, and we are yet to see the ‘repayment’ he promised.

Thirty-three days after his Independence Day “endurance” speech, he signed a N2.17 trillion supplementary budget that contained N5.8 billion for the purchase of vehicles for his office, an N5 billion presidential yacht, N10.5 billion renovation of his residences, and N1.5 billion for the non-existent office of his wife, Oluremi Tinubu. An amount worth renovating and furnishing 650 primary healthcare centres and 1,000 primary schools across the country.

Nigerians are experiencing the worst economic downturn ever, with a 31.5% food inflation, the highest the country has faced in the past two decades. Manufacturing giants are leaving, insecurity is ravaging the country, unemployment is on the rise, and there is no end in sight. Yet this government failed to take its own advice of endurance and cut down on frivolous expenditure.

On Monday, Tinubu presented a N24 trillion budget for 2024 to the National Assembly – Nigeria’s biggest budget ever. It is six months into Tinubu’s tenure, and the body language in Aso Rock has not communicated that this is a government that listens to its people, or even itself.

Tinubu, if there is any reflection you seek to do to evaluate your six-month performance, I’d advise that it be this – take your advice of asking Nigerians to endure. Swallow the pill of austerity you’ve administered Nigerians.

Resurrect the Oronsaye report and use it as a blueprint to guide your administration. Cut down the over-bloated cost of governance and take austere measures to ensure you feel the pain of living in Nigeria’s worst economy ever. Only then will you be able to ‘feel’ our pain and understand what is going on in the country today.

Happy six months anniversary.

 

Ladipo is the Head of Tracka, at BudgIT Nigeria. Tracka monitors public projects, provides civic
and budgetary education to communities, and promotes transparency and accountability in government expenditure. She can be reached at [email protected].