THEWILL EDITORIAL: Tough Times Are Really Here

Muhammadu Buhari, President of Nigeria

SAN FRANCISCO, September 05, (THEWILL) – For Nigerians, tough times are finally here. Many saw this coming but only a few knew it would come this early, moreso, hitting us this hard and far right below the belt.

The sorry state the country has finally found itself had actually been speculated all the while and was predicted by those who really know.

However, all the warnings were dismissed with the wave of the hand by those who should have acted fast. Now, the hard times are no more starring us all in the face but are now here for all to see.

Those who felt there was no cause for alarm when it was being raised now have to tell us another story. Practically, all the sectors of the country’s economy is sick and there is no need to convince anybody any longer that Nigeria, really, is on life support.

Apparently out to satisfy the World Bank’s condition for a whopping $1.5 billion loan to support the 2020 budget, the Federal Government started implementing the much-anticipated deregulation policy of the downstream sector of the oil industry, among others.

The biggest blow was delivered recently by the Petroleum Products Marketing Company, the marketing and distribution arm of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, which gradually increased the ex-depot price of petrol first from N113.70 to N147.67 per litre and eventually notched it up to N151.56k, with the product selling for as high as N160 per litre at filling stations in the South West.

Unfortunately, the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency, which is responsible for the regulation of the prices of petroleum products in the country, has been silent on the development as it appeared to have finally left the pricing to market forces with the marketers now calling the shots.

From all indications, the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, which had struggled throughout its first tenure to decide on the unpopular subsidy regime in the petroleum industry, might have finally summoned the courage to put a stop to the practice, which had been a conduit for corruption for decades.

Though a good move, ordinarily, which Nigerians have praised, the government might have finally succumbed to the pressures from the Bretton Wood institution, which also recommended a hike in tariff for electricity as a condition for investment into the power sector.

Coupled with the attendant hardships that came with these decisions was the earlier devaluation of the Naira, twice, within five months, to meet another condition of the World Bank. Electricity tariff was also increased by about 70 per cent, all in a bid to meet up the conditions of the loan.

The resultant effect of all these and the earlier increase of the Value Added Tax from five to 7.5 per cent as well as other forms of taxation is the increase in the prices of goods and services, including food and transportation throughout the country.

However, all the increases, which translate into extra burden for the average citizen, are coming at a time Nigerians are still reeling from the impacts of the global COVID-19 pandemic on every aspect of life just like in other parts of the world.

Unfortunately for Nigerians, while citizens in other climes are being supported with various forms of assistance and palliatives, the much-flaunted schemes supposedly meant to assist the average Nigerian are being bungled and messed up by government officials.

Now, the Minister of State for Petroleum, Timipre Sylva, has dropped another bombshell as he has told Nigerians not to expect any palliative as a result of the recent fuel price hike.

According to the Minister, there is nothing the government can do to intervene in the new petrol price as he stressed that the recent hike was a direct fall out of the deregulation policy announced in the petroleum sector in March 2020.

“There is no going back on the deregulation policy in the downstream sector of the petroleum industry. It is a necessary economic policy. Successive administrations had desired to achieve deregulation without success. Some lacked the political will, while for others, the timing was not appropriate.

“But, there is a direct correlation of the price of the refined products to the crude oil price, as it is refined from crude oil. Therefore, when the crude oil price goes up, the price of the refined products and other derivatives go up, and vice versa,” he explained.

While THEWILL agrees with the Minister on the removal of subsidy because of its abuse over the years, we are of the view that the timing is wrong. It is very sad to note that none of the three refineries in the country are working at the moment despite the huge amount being spent on them every month even in their idle state.

We also feel that the hike in electricity tariff could also be justified but it is rather unfortunate that the authorities have failed woefully to ensure that the electricity distribution companies provide all their customers with pre-paid meters as required before the hike.

The discos are not also delivering efficient service that is commensurate with the new rates they are now charging as supplies still remain epileptic.

Moreover, we are worried that the overall impacts of all these increases will definitely worsen the plight of the average Nigerian, especially now that many people are still struggling to shake off the negative effects of COVID-19 on businesses.

We therefore call on the federal government to do all within its power to prove its sincerity by justifying the recent increases with transparency and accountability in governance.

Government must also cut all the perks and allowances paid to politicians and public office holders to drastically reduce the cost of governance in order to win the confidence of Nigerians on its policies.

The battle against corruption should not just be a cliché but must be fought to a conclusive end.