The Price Of Change

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With or without human input, change must inevitably come. It is the only constant event in all human endeavours. The big question is not whether change will occur, but how prepared are we for the change?

What will be the price we must pay for the change? These two questions are basic, relevant and fundamental. Nigerians have never been ready to change their negative ways simply because the few elite in our society dictate the pace of corruption that has manifested into the nation’s malignant cancer, capable of eroding our very existence. Change has come, and we must accept it now or perish altogether.

Simply put: Nigeria is broke. There is nothing the president or anyone can do to bring immediate relief or reprieve to all, if we cannot endure the gradual process of change that will naturally lead to a better future. To go back to the previous syndrome of reckless spending would amount to a total collapse of the system. It’s time to pay moderate price, while the system is being restructured. It will not be easy for both the rich and the poor, but this is the only path available to economic recovery.

Earlier in the week, petrol was unavailable and in every part of the country. Prices of fuel and other commodities skyrocketed. Unemployment is in excess of 40 percent of the population’s workforce, and electricity is tenaciously unstable. But who is to blame?

As for fuel, the storyline was this: the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) had actually imported 18 ships loaded with fuel. The ships/ fuel tankers had berthed at Apapa port, but since the NNPC has no tank farm, it approached the independent marketers with storage facilities to support the effort of the government, but the marketers declined, except subsidy was restored. The President was arm – twisted into restoring fuel subsidy. But prior to his approval, the nation was, and still is in hell due to lack of petrol.

This selfish action of the independent marketers subjected the whole country to weeks of hardship. This is the nature of things in our country. A person or group of persons can hold the whole nation to ransom for selfish reasons– an aberration anywhere else.

President Muhammadu Buhari took over the leadership of Nigeria barely one year ago. He inherited a gloomy economy that remains fragile, and virtually unchanged. It is absolutely true that government is a continuum and, unhealthy policies from a previous administration must be amended to foster economy development and prosperity. The dire situation of Nigerians can’t miraculously change overnight. But with oil cartel that is more powerful than the rest of the country, what should the government do? To me, the next line of action by this administration is to find ways to render the fuel mafia obsolete in the system. Easier said than done?

Nigerians are impatient, especially if there is no visible path to economic recovery that will alleviate people’s suffering. The 2016 budget is being tossed like a football between the executive and the legislature, despite glaring malaise in the system. This is also an added uncertainty to the lame-duck economy. Again, who is to blame?

I stand by the President’s cautious approach to handling the current socioeconomic issues in Nigeria, but there must be a leeway that will bring hope to the common man on the street.

I am always wondering what would have happened if the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) had won the 2015 Presidential election? What would have been the state of the nation now? For those whose proffered solution is to encourage a thriving corrupt system, whereby the few fortunate citizens would steal and spread their ill-gotten wealth on our faces, should please think again. Nigeria would have ended up in a state of anomie by now. Boko Haram would have taken over more than one-third of the country. The high level of insecurity would have led to some separatists agitating for their own country– just like the almost resurfaced Biafra.

The path to a new Nigeria, with a pleasant hope for the future must take its unpalatable course. This is what we are witnessing now, but it requires patience, dedication and support for PMB’s government. For those who can’t bear the brunt of the situation, impatience will usher in more crises as blame game will not solve anything.

This is the time for reality check, but for a country that one- year -ago was conspicuously raining with illicit funds, stolen by politicians and showered on the citizens to win votes, the current economic crunch will seem unbearable.

The President has his own portion of the blame: it is true that these crises did not originate from his government, but he can invite more citizens of impeccable track records, especially in economics to establish an adjustable template to follow. Critics of this administration are having a field day because Buhari has refused to shift part of his responsibilities to a team of sound economic minds that should be reviewing the stages of progress made at intervals. PMB has also failed to inform the nation on, regular basis, the progress and impediments encountered so far. Without telling Nigerians the hurdles and triumphs, everyone will be guessing, while the uncontrolled social media blast negative vibes across the spectrum.

There is no future for Nigeria if we rely on oil to move the nation to the next stage. No oil dependent country in the world today is finding it easy.

Diversification from oil has become an absolute necessity. While countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain with huge foreign currency reserves are bleeding profusely to meet budget deficits because of low prices of oil, Nigeria with very little reserves cannot wait any further for manna to fall from heaven. We must turn the table now; switch our hope from oil and diversify the economy. At the same time, a litre of petrol cannot feasibly sell for less than N100. It does not make economic sense for this government to keep running a populist programme of subsidy that will add more drag to a weighty situation.

But the transformation will naturally take us through tough times, which is what we are experiencing. The challenge for this government is how to carry the majority of the populace along. The process requires patience from everyone (unfortunately it does exist in our DNA). Already, we are becoming bewildered or disillusioned with how everything is slowly evolving. People are unsure of what the true intention of this government is, how it intends to allay their fear; what will happen next since the most arduous scarcity of fuel emerged.

The simple answer to all these negative feelings lies in direct communication between Buhari’s government and the citizens. It is the government’s responsibility to enlighten the society of its intent and programmes. If PMB leaves Nigerians to guess on the next line of action of his government, the negative social media’s rhetoric by the opposition will escalate.

Change must bring hope, not hopelessness. The current fuel situation will breed more political and security problems if it is not arrested immediately. The most effective way to alleviate the issue is to liberalise fuel importation by allowing more companies free hand to import petroleum products to the country. The Directorate of Petroleum Resources (DPR) should quickly improve its oversight functions to avoid bad fuels that will pollute the air. Since there is no foreign exchange to be allocated to importers at official rate, government should allow market forces to decide the price of a litre of fuel. With competition, prices will surely fall.

After years of waste, it is time to pay the ultimate price of change.

Capt. Daniel Omale

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