Home Opinion UPDATED: Renewed Hope in a pressure cooker

UPDATED: Renewed Hope in a pressure cooker

18 min read

There seems to be interesting intersections between the meanings of the Latin phrase: “carpe diem” (seize the day) and the English proverb, “put the cart before the horse”, in communicating the nuances of human affairs. Curiously, the two musings hint at the knack of man for progress – advertently or otherwise. While the former speaks directly to improving one’s lot, advantageously; the latter adopts an intuitive speech mode to also sensitise motion – even if in reverse order. In other words, if carpe diem (literally translated as “pluck the day”) was coined to provoke prompt, rational response to the uncertainties of the future by taking advantage of immediate opportunities, the concealed wisdom of a disorderly “cart-before-horse profile” is suggestive of the importance of adequate planning as a prescription for efficiency and orderly conduct.

It is clarifying to note that as a recurring literary theme in the agrarian setting of the middle-age, proverbs, folklores and myths were employed to forge better understanding of socio-political and economic logjams. As such, other proverbs like , “make hay while the sun shines”, and “strike the iron when it’s hot” share a logical realm of reason with carpe diem. However, a figurative beauty of language was introduced by John Heywood, an English writer of the 16th century, in his work, A Dialogue of English Proverbs where he suggested an illogical “cart before the horse” mechanics of motion. The poetic spin on that expression was an absurdity that gave odd similarity to the act of “wearing shoes before socks”. Needless to point out that, Heywood’s powerful imagery, an irony, has since caught on as the synonym for disaster, disorder and preposterous action in individual/corporate undertakings and socio-political calculations.

It is therefore intriguing that the allure and instructive cadence of proverbs, idioms and other literary musings have become both analogous and defining of the paradox of the policy orientation and implementation of the evolving administration of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu. After scoring an ace” to hit the ground running”, it would appear that the administration’s trained focused to “seize the day” through courageous, well-intentioned economic policies such as fuel subsidy removal and harmonisation of the foreign exchange windows without fixing conditions-precedent is becoming its albatross.

As things stand today, hyper-inflationary tendencies that shot prices of food items and transportation through the roof in response to market forces appears to be taking the ‘Renewed Hope” of many Nigerians through the furnace of fickle fortune. When, one may ask, did the bonhomie that greeted the extemporaneous inaugural speech stoppage of the fuel subsidy begin to lose its oomph? Why is the virtually muted post-election grouse of a critical mass of Nigerians gaining its “we-told-you-so” voice back? Could it be that the inexplicable failure to activate a soft-landing gear of predictably bumpy policy ride has made the berth of these exigent policies a study in naive, egotistic or insensitive leadership?

The thing is, this new government started courting trouble from the get-go in its attempt to strike a delicate balance between an impulse-driven removal of fuel subsidy and the foresight-demanding provision of amenities to cushion its attendant harshness on the populace – in an orderly “horse-before-cart” fashion. While it would be cheap to suggest that an administration conversant with the seamy politics of subsidy removal simply glossed over the consequent negative impact on Nigerians, it bodes fair to infer an error of judgement that borders on taking the resilience of the masses for granted.

In playing the devil’s advocate, one might even argue that President Tinubu was driven by the patriotic zeal of a transformational leader that focused on a quick surgery to rid the nation of a terminal ailment. What with a petrol subsidy budget of N1.42 trillion in 2021, N4.3 trillion in 2022 and a half year appropriation of N3.6 trillion for 2023; roughly N560 billion every month and dwindling foreign exchange earnings.

It is also difficult to blink the fact that the NNPC Limited was losing revenue hand over fist through crude oil theft and subsidy bill to the extent that it had been unable to make remittances into the federation account for many long months. At the peak of the controversy surrounding his corporation’s alleged profligacy, NNPCL Group Chief Executive Officer, Mele Kyari sent shock waves in the media when he told a Senate hearing that the the company was not owing Nigeria, but Nigeria was owing it N1.3trn as at January 2023.

Perhaps a stronger justification to discontinue the fuel subsidy policy of previous administrations was solid in a World Bank Report titled, Africa’s Pulse: An Analysis of Issues Shaping Africa’s Economic Future. The document stated that our petrol import bill hit N5.2 trillion in 2022, the highest in six years, as the quest by the country to wean itself off imported fuel drags: which clearly fueled the economy of our neighbours remarkably over the years.

Another major policy shift of the administration with an enviable potential of attracting inflow of foreign exchange is the attempted merger of the rates at both parallel and official markets. With a pre-merger official exchange rate of N460/$1 pitched against a parallel market value of over N 700/$1, corruption and unimaginable forms of economic sabotage was the order of the day under the old dispensation. The naira is now being floated at between N740/$1, officially and N860/$1, unofficially, to deliver a greatly reduced exchange disparity and discourage insider-trading and round- tripping. Surely, these deft moves along with executive declaration of a State of Emergency on Food Security signified a purposive way out of the woods, at least until hope for tangible reliefs was fading fast and dragging far. Suddenly, the miseries of  ill- fed Nigerians at the base of the social pyramid increased as many had to resort to trekking long distances to beat prohibitive transport costs.

Let’s not miss the point that these inevitable economic ideals are replete  in long-term gains. But a lesson on how to “do the right things wrongly” began to put the nobility of the administration’s intention to test in the absence of short term measures to prevent or mitigate the bitterness of the life-saving economic pill the reforms portend.

At the approach of this fork in the road to economic wellbeing, a throw-back to the deficiencies or failures of General Olusegun Obasanjo’s Operation Feed the Nation in 1976, President Shehu Shagari’s Green Revolution (1980) and General Ibrahim Babangida’s Structural Adjustment Programme (1986) is worthy of appraisal.

Advantage of hindsight revealed that the rushed implementation of these bold economic projects, crushed their gains due to failure to factor in the vagaries of human nature. The history of socio economic change has always had to contend with complex human nature that hugs  pleasure in the short run and abhors pain even if it portends long term pleasure.

Since governments are always in a hurry to wrought a change, they, including the current one, fall flat in surmounting the human factor and other elements of nature. This is precisely why the Tinubu government is struggling to deflect accusations and suspicions of an attempt to “choke the poor” as it rolled out an N819 billion bouquet of palliatives .

 The gulf of distrust has widened in spite of the supplementary budgetary allocation, which provided N500 billion from which” poor families” could draw N8,000 per month for six months and the Ministry of Works and Housing will get ₦‎185 billion to alleviate the impact of the severe flooding experienced in the country in 2022 on road infrastructure across the six geopolitical zones.

Also, N19.2 billion has been allocated to the Ministry of Agriculture to ameliorate the massive destruction to farmlands across the country during the severe flooding experienced last year. In addition, N35 billion will go to the National Judicial Council; N10 billion to the Federal Capital Territory Administration for critical projects

The straw that probably broke the camel’s back is traceable to the fact that N70 billion was earmarked to support the working conditions of less than 500 “over-pampered” National Assembly members, while over 130million Nigerians below poverty line have to be content with N 500 billion. The allocation to the legislators accentuated by the non- reduction of the cost of running the government and lack of reliable social register made Nigerians seek a review of the N8, 000 for 12 million vulnerable Nigerians.

To vent the frustration of the masses, a new slogan:  “Let the Poor Breath” now reverberates. Even as some states are implementing quick-fix relief packages such as reduced work- days, payment of special allowances and  introduction of Compressed Natural Gas-enabled public transportation, the die seemed cast for a showdown with National Association of Resident Doctors and major Labour unions.

As a result of the recent hike to the pump price of petrol from N492 toN617 per litre, the Nigerian Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress are mobilising for an indefinite industrial protest at the expiration of a seven-day notice on 2nd August 2023. The snag is even if this “excuse” by Labour to play to the gallery were to take off, the whole exercise might end up, at best, as a symbolic act to underscore the President’s faux pas of putting the cart before the horse or, at worst , as an additional burden for long-suffering Nigerians to bear.

Whatever happens, it’s foreseeable that the will of the current government to keep the hope of Nigerians renewed would, like the purification process of gold, be passed through the furnace in the next couple of weeks. After all, “life”, according to Kevin Leman “is a pressure cooker and whether you remain serene or become stressed-out depends on how you handle that pressure”.

Perhaps, there’s yet time for this administration that could not have come at a more desperate time to take a step backwards like the proverbial ram, in order to achieve a power-packed head butt against heady national challenges.

Jenrola is a seasoned  journalist/communication consultant.

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