Political leaders and private sector players in Nigeria have asked the incoming administration of the president-elect Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu to immediately restructure the country and remove the controversial fuel subsidy in the interest of most Nigerians.
They also called on Tinubu to convene a national discourse to agree on the serious issues threatening the peaceful co-existence of Nigerians for national peace and economic security.
Those who spoke on the burning national issues yesterday were Anambra State Governor Chukwuma Soludo and his Kaduna State counterpart, Nasir el-Rufai, Khalifa Sanusi II, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the chairman of Coronation Capital Mr. Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, the country director of World Bank to Nigeria, Dr Shubham Chaudhuri and director, Carnegie Africa Programme, Dr Zainab Usman.
They spoke at a policy conversation and book presentation event jointly organised by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Agora Policy.
First, it was Soludo who said Nigeria had failed to realise its full potential because its current political structure is not productive. For Nigeria to have economic diversity, Soludo said “the speed and sustainability, then institutional change is key.”
Recalling a quote from the All Progressives Congress (APC) manifesto of 2015 where it promised to halt the dangerous drift of Nigeria to a failed state with a plan for post-oil economy in Nigeria through restructuring of the country, devolve power to the units and eliminate unintended paralyses of the centre, Soludo said the party failed to deliver on the promised competitive and compassionate federalism – restructuring. “From 2015 till now, it hasn’t happened.
“They put their finger on what the problem is. There is an optus, largely inefficient concentration of everything at the centre,” he said, adding that if power was not devolved to the units by way of true federalism, “many of these things about diversification are completely whapped.
“If we don’t tame the politics, if we don’t produce what I call productive politics, rather than consumption-oriented politics that has dominated over time, we are not going to be able to achieve both speed and sustainability,” Soludo stated.
On his part, Governor El-Rufai said for Nigeria to have an ideal system that would enable the citizenry agree on certain things that affect them and work on them no matter the consequence, “we have to go back to that political settlement of 1954/55 and devolve more power responsibility and revenues to the states, and narrow the size and scope of the federal government – things that it can do very well on behalf of the federation and leave most of the responsibilities to the states!”
El-Rufai said the biggest impediment to formulating and implementing sound policies is the nature of Nigeria’s politics. According to him, Nigeria is practicing a political culture that has no regard for public service, driven by pursuit of personal interest and most of the time, self-enrichment or enrichment of my state or my ethnic group.
“It’s a toxic political culture that has developed. And until we find a way to address it as politicians… it has to start from politics and politicians,” he said.
While expressing the hope that the new government would open the space for the kind of conversations that lighten the burden on Nigerians, El-Rufai recommended that the conversations should cut across party lines.
“Let us agree as Nigerians what are our most serious problems and what we need to do to address them no matter how painful and agree. Then, we can move forward,” he stated.
Like Sanusi, Mallam El-Rufai expressed concern over the failure of the current administration to end the fraudulent oil subsidy regime that has taken the country resources in the most untransparent manner.
El-Rufai chaired the APC committee on restructuring that gave wide ranging recommendations on how to move Nigeria back to the original political settlement of 1954, which were not implemented by President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration.
“We all agreed to remove the subsidy and the framework on how to distribute the revenue. All the governors agreed that we must remove it. The president said no,” El-Rufai said and lamented Buhari’s failure to remove the controversial petrol subsidy programme.
He now says lack of political will of the Buhari-administration was responsible for failure to restructure Nigeria and remove subsidy on petrol. In 2021 alone, Nigeria spent over N1.2 trillion on payment of subsidy claims, whereas N200 billion was voted for building of all federal roads in the country.
“If you don’t have the political settlement, it dumps proper consensus. Political leadership matters. If you don’t have political will to take unpopular decision in the short time,you will live to regret it. We need to look at our problem and be pragmatic about the solutions. And then we should agree across political divides, focus on. You need leadership. You need a competent team, and you need to communicate to people, what you are doing,” the Kaduna governor said in a panel discussion at the Abuja event yesterday.
On his part, Khalifa Sanusi II said it makes no economic sense for the federal government to continue to waste state resources on subsidy payment, saying the country was simply going bankrupt.
He therefore called on Tinubu to ensure he appoints competent and highly qualified people to help him run the country.
“We have never had a fuel subsidy; we’ve had a hedge; a naked hedge. In finance, the worst step you take is a naked hedge. For a product whose price you do not control, the Nigerian government has an unlimited pocket. It will fund the difference. This is stupidity! You are heading to bankruptcy. It’s bankruptcy. We were walking in with our eyes open. We can’t ignore that.
“If I have a new government on May 29 that tells me I am going to continue paying this subsidy for the next three years, I am going to say you are not serious. I am going to close my eyes and wait for the next election in 2027 because we are going to be here in 2027 to talk about the same thing,” Sanusi said.
He said what is needed is to prepare the minds of Nigerians. The former governor of Central Bank of Nigeria said the decisions need to be taken from day one, with Nigerians made to understand that without these decisions, freeing up fiscal space, they would never have the investments in human capital to diversify the economy.
By the implementation of the subsidy regime, Sanusi said those who claim to be helping Nigerians are actually destroying their future and the education of their children. “They are taking away from you the opportunities to have power as a factor of production,” Sanusi said/
He however acknowledged that it’s difficult to have those conversations.
Also, Mr. Aig-Imoukhuede said Nigeria has three options: fiscal consolidation by removing the subsidy and tightening its national budget, debt restructuring and massive private sector investment – as quick interventions to reposition the economy.
He also called on the incoming government to drive its appointees with a private sector approach for better result delivery. He said if every minister and other appointees of government are given private sector targets, the right results would be achieved.
In that same way, the World Bank director (Chaudhuri) said Nigeria needs transformational leadership and engagement, political solution and consensus among the elites to be able to achieve the desired growth and development.
“The trust needed to drive the Nigerian economy is within the elites. Until there is a collective trust among the elites,” it would be difficult, Dr Chaudhuri said.
Earlier, the founder of Agora Policy, a policy think tank, Waziri Adio said Nigeria’s economic performance has been uneven and below par. He said the Nigerian condition has been well documented and well theorised.
“But Nigeria’s uneven and subpar economic performance is not just about theoretical constructs, or just a mere academic exercise or just a set of raw or stylised data. It is about lives lived and not lived. It has flesh and blood implications for all of us, especially for most of our citizens. And it has political, social and security dimensions that reverberate within and beyond our borders,” he stated.
He also stated that development, the sustainable variant, is not a naturally-occurring phenomenon. It is created.