“Governments are best classified by considering who are the ‘somebodies’ they are, in fact, endeavouring to satisfy” – Alfred North Whitehead, 1861-1947
Since his first day in office, when he declared, prematurely, that “subsidy is gone”, President Tinubu has stumbled from one policy decision after another with the intention of dealing effectively and satisfactorily with the after-effects of subsidy removal – without success so far. Instead of providing relief, the Federal Government appears to be making things worse for just about everybody; including state and local governments.
Tinubu, so far, deserves credit for one thing; except for those newly appointed to plum jobs, his policies and actions have not discriminated on the basis of ethnicity, zone, political affiliation, age, gender or religion. Just about everybody in Nigeria today is miserable. Even two of my closest friends, as fanatical supporters of Tinubu before the 2023 election as I was about Buhari in 2011 and 2015, now voice all sorts of maledictions when his name is mentioned.
One, whose business has been wrecked by subsidy removal, is so bitter, tears fall from his eyes every time he recollects the money he spent during the campaign in his area to ensure Tinubu’s victory. He repeatedly asks me: “Dele, did we vote for this?” “Yes you did.” That was my answer; and it is the same answer for all those who failed to make the 2023 election a declaration of no confidence in APC as a ruling party.
However, before going forward with my deeply-felt complaint about “Tinubuism” – a novel sort of political leadership unfolding before us, permit me to make a few comments about a trending matter.
WHO IS GOVERNMENT ELECTED TO SERVE?
“It is the greatest happiness of the greatest number that is the measure of right and wrong [of a government]” -Jeremy Bentham, 1748-1832
Several philosophers, leaders and statesmen have attempted to provide us with an objective measurement of government’s performance. I strongly believe that Bentham’s idea – the greatest possible good for the greatest number of inhabitants of a country should be the criterion for determining if a government is moving in the right direction or not. This is particularly true of a democracy – which somebody else has defined as “government of the people by the people for the people”.
That is why we vote in democracies; instead of having governments imposed on us. In February 2023, Nigerians voted and a government has emerged. People and those in government need to be reminded that Bentham never said “only those who voted for the ruling party” – just the majority of the people. He knew that it is impossible for any government to please everybody. I also know, from researches and readings, before and after writing the quotations book, that every change of government (even when a political party succeeds itself) produces losers and winners. Some are elevated; others are downgraded in the cake-sharing which inevitably follows.
Because worldwide we live in an era of rising expectations, just as it is expected that a medical clinic would not add to its patients’ problems, people living in a country also expect that a government will not make their lives worse than before. Nigerians are not different. A presidential candidate, who was promoted as a miracle worker, should not be surprised if everybody expected miracles from the first day. When the newly-elected candidate courageously terminated a long standing corrupt atrocity, he built on the expectations.
That was why the immediate repercussions of subsidy removal caught the vast majority of citizens by surprise. So far, it has been all pains and no gains. Worse still, the benefits of subsidy removal are now appearing permanently elusive; and the palliatives are being extended to only the smallest number of Nigerians. The vast majority are being asked to bear the damage to their life styles indefinitely; while only workers in the public sector, less than three millions of 81 million workers, are being offered palliatives as if the rest of us don’t exist. Negotiations have revealed Tinubu and FG’s mind-sets: Only the NLC, TUC, PEGASSAN, ASUU etc matter. The rest of us don’t count.
The most obvious question is: Can a government which declines responsibility for providing subsidy relief for workers in the informal private sector expect those people to cooperate in helping to bring inflation under control? The answer is already being given in the open and supermarkets; where prices of food and other commodities are going to the moon.
Traders, transporters, carpenters, landlords and ladies, barbers and hair-dressers, business centers etc are taking care of themselves – while sending loads of curses and maledictions towards all the Government Houses. Nobody can tell traders not to hoard scarce commodities because the governments in office – particularly the FG – don’t give a damn about them. So, why should they listen to governments which have turned their backs on them after subsidy removal?
RMAFC ENCOURAGING GOVT BANKRUPTCY
“Functions: The body is charged with reviewing the revenue allocation formula every five years, fixing the salary of political office holders, public officers as well as monitoring the inflow of revenues into the coffers of the nation and blocking leakages” – Wikipedia.
The Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission was established by Decree 49 of 1989 to ensure, among other things, that governments pay serious attention to revenue mobilisation; that the President of Nigeria and his top executives don’t behave like drunken sailors on shore; spending recklessly.
That was why the framers of the decree, under General Babangida, placed mobilisation before allocation. I was privileged to discuss with one of the promoters of the Commission. They were keenly aware that, left to themselves, many governments would lose focus of revenue generation and concentrate only on the allocation or cake-sharing functions.
Unfortunately, the RMAFC has, since the IBB years, become a body only serving the interests of public officials with little regard for revenue mobilisation. Not once during Buhari’s ruinous eight years did the RMAFC raise the alarm that actual revenue each year was out of step with the salaries and others entitlements included in the remuneration package of public servants. Debt is not revenue; but the RMAFC allowed the FG operate as if money borrowed is revenue earned. Nigeria went deeper into debt because the country used debt to pay salaries. The nation was allowed to spend money not earned and which may never be earned by RMAFC which was not established to allocate debt.
It was therefore not surprising that the Commission recently approved increases in salaries and entitlements to various officials. We can all see the alarming result in the numbers of Ministers, Commissioners, Special Assistants and Advisers being appointed by the President and Governors.
Where there is no limit to the number of officials a President or Governor can appoint, a fixed percentage of actual revenue is already allocated to paying these officials – long before the funds are available. And, if the actual revenue collected is less than budget, the first planned expenditure that suffers is capital expenditure. That again explains why the infrastructure gap is getting wider each year – why there is hardly any part of Nigeria where there is no shameful infrastructural deficit. It also explains why there will be few investments.