By Abimbola Adelakun
On Tuesday, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, announced the Federal Government’s plans to remove fuel subsidies by mid-2022. To justify the fuel subsidy removal, Ahmed echoed the same old criticism of the subsidies being unsustainable. To couch the effect of the hardship sure to follow, she added that they would be giving a N5,000 monthly grant to 30 to 40 million poor and deserving Nigerians. We need not waste time debating which class of Nigerians should qualify as “deserving,” given how much their shabby economic policies have depreciated the quality of life. Things have been so bad that almost 90 percent of the entire country would deserve any relief program.
Unfortunately, their proposed N5000 monthly allowance is merely another talakawa policy. It will cost the government a lot of money but will ultimately achieve nothing. In the past six years, this regime has introduced several talakawa policies such as the Conditional Cash Transfer that led Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to distribute N10,000 in the market; the N-Power scheme that pays N30,000 stipend to youths to enhance their skills; the school feeding project, and the Special Public Works programme touted to potentially employ 774, 000 youths throughout the country. None of these talakawa programs have alleviated poverty; they have merely deepened it. The N5,000 transport grant will not be different.
On the surface, the talakawa policies of the present administration seem like welfarist programmes for the economically disenfranchised, but what they do is legally transfer money from the public purse to the corrupt class. What eventually trickles down to the poor are the crumbs that fall off their table. That is why the country slid from endemic poverty to multidimensional poverty. Let us face it, the hardship that confronts Nigerians is not the kind that is resolved by flinging a few thousands of naira in the direction of the most insolvent. Nigerians were systematically impoverished as a consequence of the hare-brained ideas of a leadership whose ideas of economic reform barely transcended shutting down the borders and banning everything in sight. To dig us out of the hellhole they pushed us requires more than adding another N5,000 cash transfer to a growing list of inchoate and incoherent economic policies. What we need are policies that will build a conducive environment for entrepreneurial initiatives to thrive and ultimately regenerate the economy.
You only need to look at the rising figures of unemployment and inflation in Nigeria to see that these welfarist ideas are not only costing Nigerians heavily, but they are also achieving poorly. The unemployment last released by the National Bureau of Statistics shows that much. Bear in mind that the official figures such as what the NBS publishes only tell a part of the whole story of the diminishing quality of life. The fact behind the figures is that Nigeria is successively breeding generations of almajiris, people who have never known a life without poverty. All they have ever experienced is failing social infrastructure, dysfunctional governance, and social disenfranchisement. These are not problems that a N5,000 handout can solve.
First, what is the logic behind removing a supposedly unsustainable fuel subsidy only to introduce a transport grant that is just as unaffordable? At a public forum in July, the same finance minister stated that fuel subsidies gulp as much as N150bn monthly. According to her, much of the benefit of the subsidies does not even go to the average Nigerian. The prime beneficiaries are the fuel marketers who buy the subsidised fuel only to retail it higher in neighbouring countries. She proposed that Nigeria could spend the funds on infrastructures like education and health rather than keep losing it to marketers’ schemes. Merely months later, she proposes a cash giveaway that will cost the government between N150 and N200 billion!
If the argument is that Nigeria can no longer afford fuel subsidies because the heavy cost deprives us…