The recent inauguration of the President Bola Ahmed Tinubu-administration is coming at a time of great distress when the lives of Nigerians have been reduced into soft targets for terror groups determined to destabilise our country. Just last weekend, nearly 100 persons were killed in attacks on towns in Sokoto and Zamfara States. The initial respite many had thought had come to stay was suddenly shattered short as these criminal elements resuscitated their murderous instincts on defenceless civil populace.
The Sokoto and Zamfara attacks are coming on the heels of change in the baton of power that culminated in the swearing in of Asiwaju Tinubu amidst disputations over his electoral victory. Even as citizens hang their forlorn hope on the “renewed hope” mantra as promised by the new president, not a few are seeing these attacks as early wake-up calls on the new administration to make hay while the sun shines.
It’s not in doubt that Nigeria under former President Muhammadu Buhari was a nation that was confronted by monsters of death and massive destruction that led to the decimation of many communities. While many communities were turned into soft shooting targets for these murderous gunmen, the man who had promised to deal with insurgency that had almost overwhelmed the administration of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government, led by President Goodluck Jonathan, proved a crippling failure in guaranteeing the safety of lives and property while he ruled for eight years.
As Buhari’s exited power on 29th May, citizens were still apprehensive of the spiraling insecurity that had turned life of the ordinary Nigerian short and brutish. Threatening clouds of unpredictability and fear of disintegration have enveloped the country as separatist groups like Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) continue their agitation for a divorce from a marriage that has turned them into a subservient partner in the Nigerian Project. Not even the entrance of Mr. Peter Obi’s presidential contest has calmed frayed nerves. The increasing level of insecurity before and after the 2023 polls has remained a cause of serious concerns.
With last week attacks on Zamfara and Sokoto, and the continuous assaults on North-central states, among others, the delay by the new administration in coming up with strategies to combat the activities of these criminals is emboldening their murderous instincts. There is an urgent need for PresidentTinubu to point the direction of his government regarding the way and manner he wants to tackle insecurity. The initial gait he had displayed early in the first week of his administration can only be sustained only if he can appoint a new National Security Adviser (NSA) to be followed by appointment of new service Chiefs and heads of other security agencies.
The delay in the appointment of a new NSA reveals a disturbing trend, with supporters of potential NSA candidates drumming up support for their preferred candidates. While the appointment of a Northerner as NSA in the past has done little to secure the lives of Nigerians, especially citizens living in the North, there is no harm in appointing a candidate from the South, if need be, to coordinate security agencies for an effective battle against insecurity.
It is commendable that the president last week warned security chiefs and heads of security agencies to avoid working at cross purpose. However, if the past is anything to go by, this order can only be implementable if the administration appoints a strong and effective NSA that can breathe down the necks of security chiefs who in the past allowed personal interest to override national interests. The president must be told loud and clear that the lives of Nigerians living outside urban centres matter, and the earlier he reviews the security machinery and inject fresh minds with ideas, the better for the nation.
It must not be lost on Asiwaju that for insecurity to be combated headlong, victims of attacks must be involved in the fight against insurgency. In many of the communities where these terror gangs operate, the local populace knows where these terror groups take cover, and can launch an assault on them, with the cooperation of security agencies. Past government’s handling of the problem has made many see the government as a willing accomplice. It is sad that a government that swore to protect citizens sat back and did little to safeguard the lives and properties of people. Sadly, ahead of attacks on communities by terror groups, sometimes security operatives would storm targeted areas and seize dane guns, thereby turning lawful but defenceless people into sitting ducks for easy slaughter and decimation.
Last week in an area located in Niger State, a video clip went viral showing the mercilessness of a murderous group that kidnapped people, mainly the aged. In a heart-rending manner, the gunmen commenced shooting the legs of abducted old persons, with a warning that if ransoms were not paid, the worst was yet to come for them. This can only happen in Nigeria where lives mean nothing and ransom. If the renewed hope as promised by Tinubu is not to become forlorn, then, something fast must be done.
Last week, a reader of this column called to complain that my last week column seems to have justified the withdrawal of oil subsidies. He angrily told me that my views were not in consonant with the public pulse. Another sent me a text, stressing that ending the subsidy regime was not in line with public acceptability. One fact stood clear: withdrawal of oil subsidies will lead to increase in prices of goods and services.
Before being elected as president, former President Buhari had described oil subsidies as an embarrassing scam. Despite promising to build one refinery every year in his first term , the Buhari administration spent whopping sums of $19 billion for refinery maintenance that never produced a litre of oil throughout the period he was in the corridor of power. More worrisome, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) quickly transmuted into a private company even before the controversy over its refusal to pay billions of dollars into the Federation account was resolved.
For the NNPC that superintends over four comatose national refineries and continues to pay billions of Naira as salaries and allowances for indolent workers of refinery workforce, one wonders how it can enthrone efficiency in the oil sector. In the last decade or so, the oil sleeping giant of a corporation has always been involved in paying trillions of naira to about 145 oil marketers, many of whom cannot substantiate claims of fuel imports. If the Tinubu-led administration agrees to pay N3.6 trillion as budgets for oil subsidies from January – June 2023, then, the country would need to set aside a humongous amount of over N7 trillion for a single year.
Most nations provide subsidies on energy and other sectors. Even in developed economies, governments are known to provide subsidies on oil. In the case of Nigeria, we are where we are because of the endemic corruption that has destroyed transparency in national sectors. For NNPC to buy 20 percent equity shares in Dangote Refinery, while its refineries are down, amounts to enthronement of inscrutable failure.
With the momentary respite that came the way of the proposed strike called by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) this week, the Federal Government should review the turnaround maintenance of the refineries to ensure their resuscitation. It is not a sin for Nigerans to buy oil at subsidised rates. It is pure falsehood that the nation’s fuel daily consumption is 80 million litres. One finds it incredible that even when the 30 million litres as claimed in the past was still being debated in the past, the NNPC went ahead to jack up the daily consumption of fuel by almost 200 percent.
There’s no gainsaying the fact the days ahead will bring more hardship for Nigerians. We can’t simply resort to a complete withdrawal of oil subsidies due to the government’s inability to control the greed of some oil marketers who are determined to destroy the nation’s economy. There is a need for a forensic audit of the oil sector in the last two decades in order to ensure those who shortchanged the sector are made to face the full wrath of the laws.
I hope that President Tinubu will quickly review the circumstances surrounding the withdrawal of subsidies and the cascading corruption that has trailed the management of the oil sector under NNPC. While poor citizens are not responsible for the smuggling of subsidised oil to neighbouring countries, the government must do everything to cushion the harsh economic realities for Nigeria as a result of the subsidy withdrawal. President Tinubu should come up with clear policies to protect the poor from the greed of these unconscionable oil goons.