Local Solutions for National Issues

Anthony Kila writes on the need for the Governor AbdulRazaq AbdulRahman-led Nigeria Governors Forum to complement palliative measures being put in place by Federal Government to cushion the effect of the removal of fuel subsidy on the citizens in their respective states.

Dear Governor AbdulRazaq AbdulRahman,

You are getting today’s epistle by virtue of your role not just as Governor of Kwara state but mainly by the position you occupy as Chairman of Nigeria Governors Forum.

The missive is addressed to you in the hope that through you all other Governors of the federation will be informed of our considerations on the state of the nation and with you other governors will endeavor to take some proactive measures that will help us find local solutions to national issues. Il

It must be said here that there is in our public discourse a general tendency to focus heavily on actions of the national government and lightly on state governments.

The “why” is easy to understand but that does not make it right. Today’s missive is also a contribution to change tone and theme of our public discourse on national issues.

What is the state of the Nation today?

We have a country of confused and helpless citizens who find themselves dealing with high cost of living, low levels of income, scarcity of essential goods and services and filled with uncertainty about what will come next. Let’s use  personalized examples so we are very clear about what we are talking about.

The national minimum wage in the country is  N30,000 so a person that earns N50,000 should be considered or at least factually categorized as earning above minimum wage. The problem is that with the way things have gone in the past two months, that lucky person is now likely to need (thirty thousand Naira) N30,000 to get to work and back home 20 days a month. The situation gets worse and more complicated when you factor in the fact that most items (such as food and drink, house rent and electricity, education and healthcare, etc.) are even costing more which means our lucky above national minimum wage salary earner that has less disposable income after tax and transport now needs to deal with higher prices.

Why are the people confused? Let us face it, most people, even the ones that did not vote for the candidate that became president, did not see this kind of hardship on the horizon. The prevailing mantra amongst the less partisan and more practical Nigerians and observers, till about two months ago, was that any government will be better than this one. May our tomorrow be better than our yesterday. Why are the people helpless?

Let us face the situation we find ourselves was not caused by the people and the kind of problems we are facing are not what individuals can tackle themselves.

Can we blame people for the way they voted? Maybe if you insist on doing that but this is not a time to blame, it is a time to build.

It is my view that the best way to solve the national issues we are facing is to build our way out of problems and I propose we start from local solutions. Rather than wait on the Federal Government to pronounce national policies that will solve the problem in the country, I recommend that States and their local government should lead in finding solutions to their problems.

The cost of transportation has radically gone up because the federal government has removed the petrol subsidy that has kept prices low and stable for a long period of time. I don’t want to jinx anything but rarely do prices go down in Nigeria once it goes up. An effective and efficient way to deal with this increase in price is to vary and reduce the demand of petrol. Let each state encourage the supply and usage of mass public transportation, across the country.

We do not have enough train services.

At CIAPS we estimated that the whole of Nigeria needs about 10,000 new buses that can take people to schools, work and to the markets. That is slightly more than 12 new buses per local government in the country. Some local governments will need a lot less while some will need a lot more. Each state should do their own sums and find out their specific needs. It easy easier to deal with issues when you are talking about providing hundreds of buses or thousands of anything. The best way to provide and manage these bus services is not for state government to turn to transportation companies but to invite private companies and individuals that are already in the trade or intend to join the transport business come into their states to provide the service.

The state (government) just needs to set standards and provide fiscal incentives, work with finance institutions to provide funds.

If well managed, a transportation revolution can be carried out zero cost to state governments.

One thing we have learnt quickly is that gas costs less than petrol for transportation. Another means of reducing the cost of and demand for petrol we need is to increase the use of gas for transportation. Most existing vehicles do not have the facility to use gas but luckily it is possible to quickly convert and amend them to gas powered vehicles.

To make a substantial move from petrol to gas transportation, we need gas filling stations and people who can convert petrol powered vehicles to gas powered ones.

Most petrol stations have enough space and other facilities to serve gas, they just need to be activated. What the country needs is more technicians that can help convert existing vehicles to gas powered vehicles.

At CIAPS we estimated that whole of Nigeria needs about 5,000 new technicians that can convert and manage gas powered vehicles. That is slightly over six technicians per local government. Some local governments will need a lot less some will need a lot more. Each state should do their own sums and find out their specific needs then work institutions and other centres that can train people that will convert and manage gas vehicles.

The federal government has declared a state of emergency on food security. Let each state governor come out with a plan detailing what they produce or can produce in each of their local governments and what they need to secure this production.

Join me if you can on twitter @anthonykila to continue these conversations.

-Kila is Institute Director at CIAPS. www.ciaps.org.

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