National leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, yesterday commended Nigerians for voting former President Goodluck Jonathan-led Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) out of power.
Asiwaju, who stated this in his keynote address at the 10th memorial anniversary of the late Bala Usman, a politician and former lecturer at Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, in Kaduna yesterday, also called on President Muhammadu Buhari to remove the subsidy on fuel without any further delay.
Asiwaju told the gathering that the curtain would have been lowered on the nation’s future if the people had made the mistake of re-electing the Jonathan administration.
He noted that “the last (Jonathan’s) government had become threadbare of ideas. Its reaction to our challenges was more of biased reflex than of careful thought. They intended to rope the people to mast of austerity then command that we ride out the storm.
“Their hope was that the storm would quickly pass. They forgot that economic storms are mostly man-made. Thus, it takes man to unmake them.”
Tinubu, who observed that Nigeria needed economic liberation, said “before we can free our economy, we must free ourselves of the economic myths consigning us to our current predicament.
“To achieve this objective, we must return to Dr. Bala Usman. Confronted by the harsh realities of dwindling national revenue occasioned by crashing oil prices, saddled with collapsed infrastructure and an abused and wary citizenry, Nigeria demands a new paradigm.
“Here, I must give the Nigerian people their due. They had a stark and important choice to make during the 2015 election. They could have re-elected the government in place. This would have been the easier thing to do.
“In matters of state, the easier thing to do is rarely the better one. Reelecting that administration would have lowered the curtain on our future.”
He described President Buhari as an earnest leader who seeks to give Nigerians the lives they deserve by giving them a vibrant economy and security.
“My faith in his commitment to help the people is deep and abiding,” he said. “I believe he is on the right path and will continue to follow it.
“The task before us is grave and daunting. With oil prices having declined so steeply, the question becomes how must the federal government shape fiscal policy so that we achieve optimal economic production and employment under the given circumstance?
“The voices of old conservative mainstream economists will try to convince us that there is but one way to go: austerity now, austerity forever. They will state that the people must tighten their belts then lift themselves by their own bootstraps.
“However, they do not realise that the people will choke should they tighten that belt any tighter and that most of them cannot pull themselves up alone because they could never afford to buy any boots to strap.
“This austerity advice might be right for another time and place. However, it is the wrong medicine for Nigeria here and now.”
He recalled that last year, he published an open letter he wrote to then President Jonathan, saying: My critique of his economic policies was informed by the fact that the Nigerian economy had entered a critical stage. His government was set to foist austerity on the people. This equated to taking the lash to their economic future.
“Although, we were in the throes of an election, I thought it vital that we offer even our opponent the best advice we could give because he was our president at the time and our overall welfare was in the balance. His failure would be our deepening poverty.
“The positions I held then remain relevant. Let me recall my opening statement. I said, ‘No matter who is in power, we must do whatever is in our capacity to do to steer the nation away from economic woe. The people have suffered too much hardship already.’
“I submitted that Nigeria’s economy was as if in chronic depression. ‘After viewing the statistics, most objective economists would conclude Nigeria is mired in a long-term, secular depression. Forget the rosy GDP numbers. They signify a great economic and financial segregation between those who have and others who have not.
‘If we continue with the policy preferences of the current (Jonathan’s) administration, the haves shall become the “have–mores” and the “have-nots” shall become the “have even less….
‘The vast majority of the claimed GDP growth has fallen into the laps of those who are already enjoying obvious luxury. The rest of the people are left to gaze at the enormity of the income and wealth chasm separating them from the cabal orchestrating the discordant political economy.
‘While a small group flourishes, the rest of the nation subsidises their economic bounty. A tight confederacy rides an economic sky-rocket while the bulk of the people languish in the swamp. For one group, the economy is effervescent. For the other, it is catatonic. Nigeria is one nation with two economies,’ ” he recalled.
Tinubu explained that he opposed austerity because it would compound, not alleviate, the economic weakness.
“Indeed, as best exemplified in the Euro zone since the 2009 global financial crisis, austerity has not solved the dire economic weakness of the nations that employed this sickening remedy at a time when economic demand has already slackened.
“Austerity weakens aggregate demand, deflating an economy already fatigued and against the ropes… Jobs and commerce disappear. Debt climbs. Deflation turns a noble but poor household and neighbourhood into a committee of beggars and street urchins….
“Austerity undermines our economic pillars and breaks the spirit of the people… If you desire a nation of thralls, by all means continue this bleak path. If we want a nation of prosperity and economic justice, a different course is our due.”
Tinubu also noted that there are too many demons in the subsidy system for the hell to be turned into heaven. “It is better that we remove it,” he declared.
The APC national leader said if Bala Usman were alive, he would also call for immediate removal of the subsidy, adding, “What I have said here is more than talk. It is a call to action.”
Bala Usman was the Head of Department (HOD), history, at ABU in the early 70s, and was later appointed Secretary to the State Government (SSG) under the administration of former governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa in the late 70s.
Tinubu said, “In a perfect world, I wish we could sanitise the subsidy regime and thus continue with it.
“However, I have reached the conclusion that there are too many demons in the system for that hell to be turned into heaven.
“It is better that we remove it, not for the austere purpose of saving money but to use the money more wisely that we might better save the people. Let us begin a process of a thoughtful, but decisive subsidy phase-out.
“While this is occurring, we should simultaneously phase in social programmes benefiting the poorest, most vulnerable among us. Programmes such as transportation subsidies, school feeding, improved basic medical care and coverage for the poor, and potable water projects are some of the things that can be done with the same funds.
“This way we can undertake this massive expenditure, confident that the fruits will go to the hungry, not the already too well fed.
“End the fuel subsidy. Subsidize the people instead – Subsidize the people instead!”.
Earlier in his welcome address, Malam Nasir El-Rufai extolled the late historian, saying, “He cared about ordinary people and spent his life fighting for the common man.
“He gave everything he had, his intellect, his resources to advance the life of the downtrodden in Nigeria, this is why we are very proud of him,” he said.
Present at the occasion were Governors Akinwumi Ambode of Lagos State, Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai of Kaduna State, Aminu Bello Masari of Katsina State, Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State and the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Muhammad Sanusi II, among other dignitaries.