Ever wondered how columnists decide what issues to focus on when they write? Very often there are a myriad of pertinent issues begging to be addressed, yet every columnist is constrained by space and word count and the need to effectively communicate one’s point of view despite them. I call it, ‘The Columnist’s Dilemma’. I googled to see if it exists but was shocked to find it hasn’t been so named even when the situation is commonplace.
Two issues dominated my thoughts since last week and it seemed one would hold sway on this page today. In the end both lost to an issue I thought I was not going to revisit until a later date. Last week, I wrote about the reactive nature of the current administration’s response to subsidy removal. President Tinubu’s speech three days later could have passed for a direct response. It is the reason I am remaining with the post subsidy removal theme.
When I shared ‘Post Fuel Subsidy’ on X (née twitter), I said that a change management process of the post fuel subsidy regime was absent even though there was time enough to still get things right. The article itself addressed that position in detail. The most important person in that change management process — President Tinubu — spoke to the nation, addressing some of the concerns highlighted in the piece. That speech, though belated, was a necessity. And whilst those in perpetual opposition to everything-government might not see any good in it, the more objective ones agree that the president is going in the right direction on the matter.
It is often said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. This means, intentions are one thing; having the right people and the system to deliver them is quite another. In his speech, the president announced several prospective interventions. I particularly like that the monetary interventions are in form of soft financing and not grants. Handing out grants would have amounted to exchanging one form of subsidy for another, creating another category of elite who will feed fat and leave crumbs for the teeming majority.
As with every intervention ever embarked upon by government, there are people currently setting up systems to circumvent these policies. The president has shared the what and we the people know the why. The real challenge is the how. How exactly will the intentions of government be given effect? How do we identify and ensure that only deserving nano-businesses get the ₦50,000? I know the value of ₦50,000 to a nano-business because I have worked with partners to support such businesses. We worked with hundreds of companies and deciding who got what sum was a herculean task. In a country where data is mostly non-existent or dubious, your guess is as good as mine what ordeal those tasked with the assignment will face.
One would expect that the ’75 enterprises with great potential’ to benefit from the ₦75bn would be easier to identify but it is common knowledge that with anything perceived as a government largesse, there are no easy ways out. The loans disbursed during the covid lockdown are a recent reminder. The president’s speech outlining the programmes to cushion the subsidy removal effects are an essential part of the post subsidy change management process and I am willing to wager that the appointment of Mr. Ajuri Ngelale as the president’s official spokesperson is a part of it and an attempt to enhance the communication bit of the process.
A lot is being done. However, there is a consensus that there is a lot more to still do. The how of getting the job done — whether it is managing the post fuel subsidy regime or the general business of governance — will be the defining moderator of how the government is able to anticipate and respond to the needs of citizens. Crucial to this is the ongoing ministerial screening.
I share with many Nigerians, a serious angst concerning the, ‘bow and go’ tradition of the National Assembly. Listening to Wale Edun’s take on the economy, Dele Alake’s interventions and the little that Nasir El-Rufai was permitted to say about power, I wondered why the thought of jettisoning such an opportunity would cross anyone’s mind especially if according to the constitution, the primary purpose of government, (and the collective aspiration of the citizenry), is the security and welfare of the people.
No one loses. It is a win for the National Assembly because those who wonder about its utility given the portion of the commonwealth assigned to them, can see what their role in a presidential system of government is, and perhaps they can begin the onerous task of winning the hearts and minds of Nigerians. It is a win for the president because the public has a chance to evaluate his choices of members of his cabinet, because we are in dire straits indeed. It’s a win for the nominees because it gives them the opportunity to show the world something of themselves and their capacity. It is indeed a win for the country because we can form our own opinions of the candidates and begin to see if there is an alignment between campaign manifestoes and actual governance. Why deprive the country of the benefits of the exercise?
Everyone loses out in a game of mediocrities. Nigerians, nay the world, is watching keenly. There is too much riding on this for it to fail.
The other subject on my mind is the potential money spinner Nigeria is ignoring by not paying more attention to its tourism industry. My thoughts were inspired by a conversation with Nigerian fashion entrepreneur, Sandrah Tubobereni of TUBO, in which we talked about her experiences in Japan and how they could be replicated in Nigeria for great economic gain. The conversation was as interesting as it was essential, and I hope to return to the subject soon. I guess it’s less of a dilemma if you manage to say something about everything. Wrong.
This article appears in the THISDAY Newspaper of 4th August, 2023