Protest in the streets is a wake-up call for the president that the people are not getting relief, writes Bolaji Adebiyi

There were more troubles during the week as protesters took over Ibadan streets on Monday over the rising cost of living. There had been previous ones in Minna and Kano. Mercifully, the protests of prevalent biting hunger by the people have been peaceful. Perhaps that was why Godswill Akpabio, president of the Senate, could afford to be flippant about an otherwise serious matter while addressing the Upper Chamber on Tuesday, saying the demonstrations were sponsored.

Although he has always been known to be garrulous, having mounted the exalted seat of the president of the Senate, some frivolity ought to be beyond him. The contemplation that Nigerians are incapable of thinking by themselves except negatively influenced by others is a rampant oddity among public officials, particularly politicians, which must be cured one way or the other. The good thing though, is that Akpabio and his likes are not deluded by their delusion to fail to respond to the demands of the protesting citizens upon whose mandate they live a parasitic life.

So, the spiraling street protests should be the wake-up call President Bola Tinubu needs to review the effectiveness of his administration with regards to the implementation of not just critical policies, but also his directives. Without a doubt, the government and most social analysts envisaged the adverse effects of the petrol subsidy withdrawal and single-window foreign exchange policies, hence the alleviation measures that were rolled out even if half-hearted. What may not have been envisaged is the poor or failure of delivery of the palliative measures.      

For instance, recognising the hardships in the land, the president in a nationwide broadcast late in July last year rolled out a series of short-term measures aimed at ameliorating the pains of his economic reforms. It included releasing 200,000 MT of grains for households; 225,000 MT of fertiliser and N200 billion for farmers to cultivate maize, rice, wheat, and cassava; N75 billion for 100,000 MSMEs; N50 billion for Nano businesses; N75 billion for manufacturers; and N100 billion for 3,000 gas-powered buses. If anyone was in doubt that it was either these measures were not implemented or that they had failed to achieve their objectives, the demonstrations and deafening cries of hunger would have cleared that doubt.

The question, therefore, is what happened? Which officials and ministries were supposed to carry out the presidential directives? Did they, do it? If yes, where is the implementation report, showing who got what, and the evidence of the impact on the targeted vulnerable people who have now taken to the streets? These queries are necessary because following the initial protests the president directed some key ministers to review the development and take remedial measures. It would be useful to let the public know what precisely stood in the way of these reliefs. Whatever it is, the president needs to take his officials to task on the need for not only efficient but also rapid delivery of policies and programmes, particularly those aimed at cushioning the negative effects of his economic reforms.

Unless the president dealt with this obvious administrative gap, his over a trillion-naira provisions targeted at impacting the people directly in the 2024 fiscal estimates would remain illusory. His N100 billion consumer credit scheme, N65 billion mortgage support facility, N100 billion agriculture fund, N100 billion school feeding, N500 billion anticipatory wage awards, and N400billion conditional cash transfers would just remain well-intended but a mirage.

The other area of concern that the president must address is the underperformance of state governors. One of the arguments for the removal of the petrol subsidy was that it would free funds for the provision of social infrastructure, including roads, education, and health. Indeed, huge funds have been saved since June last year. The Federation Account allocation for the first-month sans subsidy swelled to N907billion from the previous month’s N786billion. The trajectory has been upwards. Twice, the three tiers of government shared over a trillion, N1.783 trillion in November and N1.13 trillion in December. In most months over 50 per cent of the funds went to the states and local councils. The rate of increment has been mammoth for some of the states like Ekiti with 94 per cent.

In addition to the humongous increase in federal allocation, the states have received palliative support from the federal government. Akpabio in his scandalous comment earlier cited revealed that the states had received around N35billion relief from the federal government. Earlier this week, Tinubu released another N2billion to each of them. It is doubtful if the people would have been on the streets if these funds were judiciously applied by the governors. What is more saddening is that not only have the governors frittered away the funds for the states most of them have also confiscated the allocations for their councils which were paid into their Joint Allocation Accounts as required by the 1999 Constitution as altered.

Meanwhile, when the demonstrators took the streets, it was on the president’s head that they heaped all the blame for their excruciating pain. Although the Constitution does not confer regulatory authority over the state governors on the president, it has become crucial, in the wake of rising public discontent, for him to exert some measure of political pressure on them to utilise the resources of their states for the benefit of their citizens. At least, let them emulate one of their own, Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State, who on Thursday rolled out some relief measures. Some categories of staff will now work three days a week to reduce transport costs, reinstating also, a 25 per cent subsidy for transportation. One hundred trailers of rice would be distributed to vulnerable households even as Sunday markets where some selected goods would be sold at subsidised rates would be reopened.

If more states do their bit and let their local councils to breadth the possibility exists for the lessening of tension in the polity as the pangs of hunger are likely to reduce. Of course, the substantive issue of deploying states’ resources for the benefit of the people would be the permanent cure for removing discontent among the citizens.

Adebiyi, the executive editor of Western Post, is a member of the Editorial Board of THISDAY Newspapers       

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