We hear ‘’strong man’’, and the visage of a rotund, bumbling African dictator in Khaki and jackboots comes to mind. But permit me to appropriate the word and re-contextualise it for the purpose of this column. In my context, a ‘’strong man’’ embodies discipline, audacity, courage, and character. Nigeria needs a ‘’strong man’’ as president in 2023 – one who is not afraid to be unpopular by taking critical reformist decisions and actions.
The times are perilous. Nigeria needs a sanitiser, a vacuumer; one who is not afraid to dare the undared.
Some people say: “We need strong institutions not strong men”. I agree. In Nigeria’s case, we need strong men to build strong institutions. Any dauntless leader willing to reform Nigeria must be ready to be unpopular because the status quo will fight back — and will do so ruthlessly.
Nigeria needs a leader who can take bold decisions like removing subsidies on petroleum and electricity for instance; vacuum the tax system and make heads roll. The argument for subsidy retention is an emotional one that discounts the filth in the system. Nigeria is a quasi-socialist country; a highly subsidised country. Corruption thrives partly because of the regime of subsidies.
Virtually every essential commodity or service is subsidised and does not reflect true value. The subsidy regime is clearly unsustainable. Kerosene, which is the common energy of the poor, was de-subsidised; diesel as well, yet petrol which sells for about N600 per litre in Ghana – an oil-producing country — is scandalously buffered. Who does this benefit?
The NNPC said it spent N541.65 billion within six months in 2021 on petroleum subsidy. Between 2017 and 2020, the corporation is projected to have spent over N1.53 trillion on petroleum subsidy. The reality is that the current price of petrol in Nigeria does not reflect its actual value vis-a-vis the prevailing global market value.
But if the poor can afford a basic commodity like kerosene which sells for N400 per litre without subsidy, why should petrol mostly utilised by the middle and the upper class be N165 per litre? Who does the subsidy regime serve? The masses or some industry leviathans and wolves?
Muhammadu Sanusi II, Emir of Kano (2014-2020) and former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), rightly described the subsidy regime as a scam. He said: “The first problem is by assuming that we are an oil-rich country. This has been a big joke for me. I remember in 2011 when we were talking about the subsidy debate when President Jonathan rightfully wanted to remove fuel subsidy. I said to people, you are producing two million barrels for 160 million Nigerians. That is one barrel for 80 people. Saudi Arabia produces one barrel for three citizens. These people need education, healthcare, infrastructure, electricity, telecommunications and agriculture from that one barrel that 80 people share. Then, you decide that what they need more than anything else is cheap fuel. That doesn’t make sense. It only made sense because there are many people who control the levers of power and are making millions and billions of dollars from the scam that is called fuel subsidy.”
The Jonathan administration tinkered with the idea of removing petroleum subsidy but quaked under an avalanche of protests – possibly sponsored. The Buhari administration is dilly-dallying on the subject now, and perhaps to preclude another round of insurrection, it has pigeonholed de-subsidising petroleum. But for how long must we tread on this primrose path? Nigeria needs a president who will defy all odds and take action for the common good even if that enterprise will result in short-term discomfort.
Also, the federal government spends N30 billion monthly on electricity subsidy. Some analysts say this is one of the reasons the industry players are reluctant to scale up their services — because of ‘’free money’’. We have to de-subsidise to survive.
Really, any serious Nigerian president will have to enforce discipline at all levels and spectrum of the social and national life. Lee Kuan Yew did it in Singapore as prime minister. He was fierce, daring and unafraid to take tough decisions.
The children of the status quo will cry, “tyranny and oppression”. But it must be done. We cannot make progress this way. Nigerians are intolerably undisciplined. However discipline will have to start from the top. The ‘’strong man’’ who wants to lead Nigeria must himself be disciplined. He must lead by personal example. Discipline must be seen in his cabinet, approach to governance and even in his personal life. We cannot compromise on discipline.
It is that bad. I returned from a trip to the country about a week ago, and right from the nostril of the airport I was pestered for money by nearly all airport staff, including the cleaners. It is tragic. Nigerians are inveterately undisciplined. We want the best of services, but we do not want to pay tax; we beat traffic stops, discard refuse on the road, and demand and give bribes. We are just ungovernable.
In 2023, Nigeria needs a ‘’strong man’’ as president to discipline the undisciplined, and to take bold decisions for the common good.
By Fredrick Nwabufo; Nwabufo (Mr OneNigeria) is a writer and journalist.