Joshua J. Omojuwa urges the government to address the issue of petrol subsidy

The next government is going to be a very unpopular one. There is no scenario where the government that succeeds the Buhari administration will be popular. If the government turns out to be mediocre, well, it’d easily become even less popular than its popularity at inauguration. If it goes on to do what it must to do to lift Nigeria out of its economic doldrums, the immediate outcomes of those decisions will leave a lot of pain and anger in their wake. Amid such pain and anger, logic would take the backseat, so arguments for the future benefits of those decisions will not land as intended.

Nigeria’s 5.5 percent tax-to-GDP ratio is one of the lowest in Africa which itself collectively holds the world’s lowest tax-to-GDP ratio. According to the OECD, the African average is 16 per cent. A lot has been said about Nigeria’s historic lack of priorities in public expenditure. Successive governments have mouthed their willingness to fight corruption, and everyone knows that corruption continues to be the prevailing reality in our government and economic system. What ought to be at the centre of these conversations but has not been is the fact that, more than anything else, Nigeria has a chronic revenue challenge. The ‘oil rich’ country myth has helped to deceive a generation of people into thinking theirs is a rich country. Potentially rich in many ways of course, but abundantly poor.

I am tired of breaking the numbers down so won’t do so again here, just take it from me without the numbers this time; we do not have money. The fact the EFCC and our politicians battle over billions of naira in court every other day does not make us rich. If you collected all the money they stole and put them back in the national coffers, we would still be a poor country. Our politicians aren’t stealing from a big basket, they are stealing from a small one. What makes it look big is that when a few people steal what belongs to hundreds of millions of people, no matter how small that sum is for those millions of people, it becomes a lot when a few thousand rogues share it amongst themselves. That we have a corruption challenge is made worse by the fact that we do not even have enough without the corruption.

Two major moves the next administration would need to do has to involve reordering our national scale of preference and expanding the country’s revenue base. We would have to decide whether to keep feeding our vehicles cheap fuels or help to use that money to fuel the transformation of our national infrastructure and education. It is tragic enough that this country is poor, it is a layered tragedy that the little it is stolen but it becomes a multidimensional tragedy when the little left is then spent like the country has its priorities in an inverted position. The NNPC reportedly spent $10b on fuel subsidy in 2022. That’s about 10 times the sum of money I have read the National Population Commission needs to carry out the census.

Pick the budget, select any item you consider important – education, infrastructure, science and technology, etc. – and you would find that none of them comes close to the sum we literally burning into carbons every day. One common disease every Nigerian government the last two or three generations have suffered from is to mouth their commitment to the things that matter whilst spending on matters that they are certain keep the people in line e.g. the price of bread and garri can go up every year, the cost of education may continue to increase with inverse proportionality to its value but the fuel subsidy? It is the one thing that guarantees the people’s red eyes will be directed at the government. For the sake of the country’s future though, the government and the people must come to a position on fuel subsidy. The onus then lies on the government on how to manage the transition. That it must go has long ended as a debate.

One thing every Nigerian who’s travelled abroad will never not let you know is that we far behind on many fronts when it comes into even Asian countries. It is human nature to see good things and wish that you had them back home. We automatically desire those fast trains in Beijing and expansive train stations in Berlin, we’d love to have some of those road networks in Adelaide, want the peace and safety of Oslo and would not mind the kind of airlines and airports the likes of the UAE and Qatar have made the new travel experience. When they are not oil-rich, they are countries that have delivered sophisticated economies that designed ways to recover taxes from their people’s productivity. We are not oil rich – we are not, just divide our oil wealth with our population, compared to the numbers Saudi Arabia, Norway or Qatar have to divide with – and we are certainly short on recovering taxes from our even lower productivity. The journey is long.

But the journey must start, and it does not appear that Nigeria has started because we have prioritized political exigencies over the sort of governance that delivers value. It is why our children are stuck with teachers who can barely read and write let alone teach the children to. If that is not the case, why is it always a controversial issue when a governor decides to test teachers? There are good teachers of course, but if they were in the majority, tests for teachers would not be the controversial issue it always is.

Ours is a diseased country. Sick on many fronts. We can neither party nor worship God our way out of these issues. If we could, we would not have them worse, decade after decade. About time we settle in for the bitter pills we need to address them.

Omojuwa is chief strategist, Alpha Reach/author, Digital Wealth Book

Related Articles