March 7, 2021
BRASS TACKS

Maryam Shettima’s take on Fuel Subsidy Removal

BRASS TACKS
with Suleiman Uba Gaya
suleimanuba1@gmail.com
0803 567 6295 (Text Messages Only)



To start with, I know Maryam Shettima, and if anyone is looking for any young Nigerian who has worked her heart out towards the re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari in last year’s presidential election, Maryam is it. She is the elegant face of the Buharists, or the Buharideens, as supporters of Nigeria’s current President are usually addressed.

Maryam is a passionate believer in one Nigeria, who also sees President Buhari as the one leader who could bring that about. Using the platform of #WeBelieve, her own creation, Maryam, also a social media activist, mobilized millions of young Nigerians across the 36 states of the Federation to vote for the President.

In this note she sent to me, passionate Maryam disagreed totally with those faulting Mr. President on the removal of subsidy that has seen price of the commodity jerking up lately. Excerpts:

Mr President is in the eye of the storm recently for bravely realising the inevitable expungement of the fuel subsidy in Nigeria, brave due to the extreme furore and knee jerk reaction by some gullible and credulous Nigerians, who are convinced that, this decision is most inhumane and anti masses. Yet, conflictingly, deep within their minds, they are secretly relieved in knowing that the removal is an absolute necessity. Also, they are not unaware of the fact that, Nigerian masses are neither directly nor indirectly benefiting from the obsolete policy. Thirdly, put them in the same position and the same condition, they would not be any different.

The term subsidy means a sum of money granted by the state or a public body to help an industry or business keep the price of a commodity or services low. For decades, Nigeria had a policy to subsidise petroleum product, especially on PMS, which is one of the most consumed petroleum products in the country. This, over the years, has become a thorn in the flesh of our National Economy, due to blatant abuse and corruption by many beneficiaries as would be outlined later. Experts in the field consequently argued that Nigeria can actually do better by removing the subsidy regime in petroleum, and instead, putting the money to use by developing other sectors with emphasis on health-care, infrastructure and agriculture.

For the past two decades, after democratic governments took over from the military in 1999; this topic has been a major bone of contention. The three past Nigerian leaders had a long and onerous battle with Nigerians, in an attempt to convince the Nigerian masses that subsidy is merely an exploitative and self-serving mechanism some unpatriotic elites use, to deprive the nation of its hard earned resources. This battle proved to be a hopeless one….almost!

Why does any attempt by the government to right the wrongs of subsidy hit a brick wall? Did the subsidy regime truly help in providing enough gasoline to our vehicles and industries? Who are the major beneficiaries of the subsidy idea and Why are they averse to the policy being abolished? Most importantly, what are the benefits Nigerians stand to gain in the eventuality of its removal? These are some of the questions, that are begging to be explored on this topic.

Going back to memory lane, in 1999 the price of petrol in Nigeria was N11 per litre, by 2015, despite the subsidy, the price had skyrocketed to N145 per litre, an increase of over 15 times the initial 1999 rate! Coupled with that, the incessant scarcity of petroleum in a country that parades itself as the sixth largest petroleum exporter all these years, is awfully disturbing and beyond shameful.

In reaction to this quagmire, experts like Malam Sunusi Lamido Sunusi: Former Nigerian Central Bank Governor, and former Emir of Kano argued, that the subsidies on petroleum products succeeded in making Nigeria the only oil exporting country that does not enjoy the benefits of increase in the price of crude oil in the international market. According to him; firstly, he reasoned we needed to fix the price of petroleum products ourselves, but then, we do not refine these products! How can you fix the price of a product that you do not produce? We produce crude oil but regrettably the price we fix is for refined products.

Thus, suffice it to say….we are fixing the price of what we never produced, as a result, we end up paying enormously for NOTHING. The money meant to improve other more deserving sectors, now is monopolised by a few individuals, consequently deepening the fissures of poverty in the country. This plunged us in a bleak situation whereby while the rich are getting richer; the poor actually keep getting poorer.

Malam Sanusi Lamido is not alone in this argument, Former Minister of Finance; Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala also in a nine paged document, presented to the Federal Executive Council in 2011, similarly leaned toward the same direction of thought, as carried by Vanguard Newspaper of 25th December 2011:

“During that briefing to ministers, Okonjo-Iweala, in a document, titled, BRIEF ON FUEL SUBSIDY, (by) Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the coordinating Minister for the Economy / Honourable Minister of Finance explained the key facts about subsidy, what fuel subsidy is all about, deregulation of the downstream sector benefits for deregulation), why the subsidy was going to be removed, pointing out that it was a major fiscal and financial “BURDEN” on the nation, those who benefit from the subsidy as well as the relationship between subsidy and the Federal Government of Nigeria’s budget, among other things”.

From her point of argument, the former minister laboriously, and convincingly, pointed to the fact that, the benefit of subsidy’s removal far outweighs its stay. The policy is nothing but waste of resources and a huge needless economic scam in the name of making the products cheaper for the masses. On the final analysis, if government budgeted N10 for subsidy the masses only get a meagre fraction of Kobo out of it, while some subsidy elites are smiling to the bank with the rest. This systematic siphonage of our common wealth by a few subsidy elites can be clearly seen, if we are to consider the 2018 NEITI report alone, which stated that Nigeria spent about N722.3 billion on fuel subsidy! In healthcare, this amount can build 6 world class standard hospitals each in one of the six geopolitical zones of Nigeria.

The money also if carefully invested on energy sector, can provide our country with over 2000megawatts! This can give a tremendous boost to power generation and lead to massive industrialization, which would in turn provide employment opportunity for millions of “qualified” yet jobless youths in the country. In the area of Agriculture, the money can guaranty food security in Nigeria, and improve farming and other agro allied products in the country.

Interestingly, this same amount of money could also build Ten Dams with modern irrigation facilities, which would also improve agro business in Nigeria, and launch Nigeria in the league of major exporters of Agricultural products for the inexhaustible foreign consumption.

It is both curiously perplexing then, how some politicians who maximally exploited subsidy removal as the cardinal principle of their campaign, now turn back to be its major adversaries! The former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and the PDP Presidential candidate in the
2019 elections happens to be one of these. He was quoted recently, attacking President Buhari’s decision on the removal and argued thus on his Twitter handle:

” Federal Government finally withdraws the fuel subsidy and price fixing bazaar that had been rife with corruption and stalling investment. This is something patriots have been calling for and for which I was demonised “

Even the Chief political adversary of PMB, from the above statement, believes the policy is corruption permeated, which every patriotic Nigerian must fight to a standstill. Subsidy removal will at least have two major advantages, killing one major form of corruption and also encouraging investors to put their money in the sector. These at the end of the day, will witness more refineries built in Nigeria, provide job opportunities for our teeming unemployed youths, and would translate to a source of income for more projects development, in transportation , healthcare , housing, and many more sectors.

Dr Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, a two time governor in Kano State and former Minister of Defence also kicked against the President’s unpopular decision on subsidy. However, if we are good students of history we could remember vividly how in 2011, during fuel subsidy removal’s nationwide protest, the same governor ordered for the shooting of the protesters in Kano. According to him, the idea is ill-timed and inhumane, but like the Chairman of Nigerians in diaspora acknowledged, much as the idea is painful, coupled with Corona Virus pandemic and a slump in the global economy, still agreed the decision is unavoidably necessary. As far as the oppositions are concerned the only right time for the removal is when they are in power, as long as as they are out of it, no time will ever be right!

As far as “WE” are concerned, it is a welcome idea, Nigerians need more focus on developing projects, they have no or limited luxury of enjoying as a result of subsidy regime, the wise and far-sightedly man, took the painful decision, not to further the harsh economic conditions Nigerians are in, but to alleviate their suffering, fight corruption, improve, lay out and solidly set the stage for more infrastructures, and a solid foundation for National Economic growth. There is no way we can stop fuel smuggling across our boarders with the current pricing system. The subsidy removal will bring more investment in the sector, government will get more income for projects implementation, and in the long run, prosperity and progress will reign!


Akwaza’s killing: What is Governor Ortom thinking of?

In his trenchant criticisms of the Nigerian Army since the killing, last week, of Terwase Akwaza, who the Ortom Administration once described as the most dangerous criminal terrorizing Benue and neighbourong states, one wonders whether Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State has ever come across this famous saying attributed to former Senate President, Dr. Chuba Okadigbo (of blessed memory), to the effect that “If you are emotionally attached to your tribe, religion or political leaning to the point that truth and justice become secondary considerations, your education is useless, your exposure is useless. If you cannot reason beyond petty sentiments, you are a liability to mankind.”

Two days ago, at the iconic Unity Fountain in Abuja, some youths leaders from Benue, Nasarawa and Taraba states addressed a press conference in which they commended the Nigerian Army over the killing of Terwase Akwaza, on whose head the Government of Benue State once placed a hefty bounty of fifty million naira.

At the joint press conference, the group expressed total confidence in the troops and encouraged them to “continue to defend our people from the other Ganas and their political allies that are still out there.” The statement was signed by three of its representatives, namely Comrade Kifasi John, Comrade Ibrahim Kabir Dala and Comrade Agbara Thomas Abeda. They also promised to pay a visit to the headquarters of Operation Ayem Akpatuma III to appreciate the troops for all their efforts and commitment.

The group noted that the people of the three states will not forget in a hurry, how Akwaza and his criminal gang engaged in unprecedented acts of terrorism, including killings, banditry, cattle rustling, rape and industrial scale sacking of entire villages and farmsteads. The leaders also condemned the use of ethnic slant to glorify evil in the land, saying that those who expressed opposing views are evildoers, killers and mercenaries against the people of Nigeria.

I wonder how Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom feels right now, at a time more and more Nigerians are condemning his attitude since the killing of this industrial-scale terrorist. How did the Governor feel when he read the following post that has now gone viral all over the social media? It goes as follows:

“Nigeria has very big problem! Honestly!

People support their own criminals and murderers, it doesn’t matter that they are the ones that are the major victims.

The military yesterday killed the most dreaded killer in Benue State, and possibly the North Central, Tarwase Akwaza, popularly known as Gana. I saw the pain and distress it caused Gov. Ortom, who lamented that Gana was coming for SECOND AMNESTY before the military laid ambush and killed him.

SECOND AMNESTY!

Well, I thought that Ortom was alone in this pain until Uzordimma Enzo Nzeribe drew my attention to a post made by one Benue indigine, who said he had so much respect for the military, but had lost that respect because of the extrajudicial killing of Gana. He too explained that Gana was coming for SECOND. AMNESTY. I feel like crying! SECOND AMNESTY! After Gana had been granted the FIRST AMNESTY and properly settled by Ortom government.

I noticed that many other Benue indigines that responded to the post were equally sad that Gana was killed. They never tried to claim that the atrocities said to have been committed by Gana were lies; no attempts whatsoever to exonerate him, but they just think their own murderer should not have been killed. They quickly pointed out that even repented Book Haram are being granted amnesty.

This argument sounds good. “Since you are granting amnesty to Boko Haram, grant our own mass murderer his SECOND AMNESTY.

I came to tears. Tarwase wrecked havoc in Benue and Taraba. He was a devil who killed, raped, made villages desolate. His major victims were not Igbos nor Yoruba, they were Benue people. And those who are sad today that their own murderer has been killed are Benue indigines.

Nigeria!

I remember many Igbo people lamenting that Evans the kidnapper was being tried because he is Igbo. These people wondered whether government would try Evans if he were a Fulani. Yet, in all his escapades, Evans didn’t kill a single Fulani man; all those he killed in the course of his job were prominent Igbo men.
But as Igbos, we needed to protect our own murderer.

What has really happened to this nation? Is there any hope at all with out shocking attitude?

Why can a people willingly and wantonly cut their nose just to spite their face?

God, I wish for my nation.”

Someone even went as far as saying that now that Governor Ortom is so pained with the death of the most wanted terrorist, he supported Dr. Obadiah Mailafiya, who sensationally alleged that a northern governor is the commander of Boko Haram. While I personally will never believe that Governor Ortom or any other northern or southern governor for that matter, is the commander of Boko Haram, it goes without saying that our leaders need to be very careful and consider every word before uttering it out.

For millions of Nigerians, and especially those responsible and patriotic youths from Benue, Taraba and Nasarawa states, “there is no pain so great as the memory of joy in present grief,” as Aeschylus would say. For Governor Ortom and his band of supporters of the expired terrorist, I will advice them to take solace in the words of Ted Kennedy, who said that “my father taught me that even our most profound losses are survivable, and that it is what we do with that loss – our ability to transform it into a positive event – that is one of my father’s greatest lessons.”


Bichi: A Salute to Two Years of Restoration and Reinvention

I have never met Yusuf Magaji Bichi, the incumbent Director General of the Department of State Services (DSS), but he remains one Nigerian I am very passionate about. As a journalist, I am a disciple of Charles Groenhuijsen, the famous Netherlands-born global journalist and author of forty years standing, who emphasizes on the need for the media to celebrate those carrying out what he aptly called silent revolution. He believes that whereas the media has a duty to hold leaders to account, that duty should also extend to encouraging them to do more when they get it right.

Since his assumption of office two years ago, specifically on September 14, 2018, following his appointment as DSS boss by President Muhammadu Buhari – another person who only met him after the appointment, Mr. Bichi has spared no efforts in returning civility, integrity and core professionalism to Nigeria’s secret police, in a manner that defies expectations.

Despite misgivings from some quarters about the performance of the DSS under DG Bichi, (an indication that no human being is ever perfect), the facts on ground point to a credible leader who has continued to break new credible grounds without seeking accolades. Under Bichi, the DSS is carefully discharging its constitutional responsibilities very effectively. Operational gaps are being filled, and the Service is poised to play its role, in concert with other security services, in enthroning a peaceful and harmonious Nigeria, in line with the vision of President Buhari.

While I was thinking of deploying this whole page to celebrating Mr. Bichi for his unprecedented achievements, my senior, Mr. Nnamdi Ezirim, a retired operative of the DSS and presently a researcher and public affairs analyst, made my task easier by penning a beautiful article on Bichi’s legacies. I am pleased to reproduce the piece, hereunder:

It was the contemporary African writer, Okey Ndibe who, in his celebrated novel, Arrows of Rain, declared that: “A story that must be told never forgives silence”. Indeed, silence in the midst of giant strides, is not only a disincentive to leadership, but also disservice to the public.

It is with that consciousness, coupled with the urgent and compelling need for society to restore the lost culture of celebrating deserving public servants, that this piece seeks to ‘spy’ into the activities of the Department of State Services in the last two years (September 14, 2018 till date).

This is with a view to situating the secret service within the context of what it was pre-September of the aforesaid year, and what it is today under the administration of Alhaji Yusuf Magaji Bichi (fwc).

As a reminder, Bichi was appointed Director General (DG SS) by President Muhammadu Buhari, on September 14, 2018, to bring back the glory of the Service, which was literally breaking under the weight of public opprobrium, occasioned, as it were, by what many had considered ignoble outings.

Like a scene from a horror movie, the world had watched with bowed heads, as hooded personnel of the State Security Service invaded the National Assembly on Tuesday, August 7, 2018, to stop parliamentarians from accessing the hallowed Chambers, to conduct the business of lawmaking and legislation.

That singular action, described variously as odious in form, and tactless in content, will definitely remain a sore point in the political history of the Nigerian State.

There was also manpower gap, especially at the lower cadre, with attendant effect on operational and other activities of the foremost domestic intelligence agency of the country.

Concerned about these and others, and recognising the centrality of the SSS in internal security dynamics, President Buhari took the wise decision of appointing the spymaster, a fellow of the War College (fwc), Buchi, as the new helmsman at the ‘Yellow House’.

In appointing Bichi as the new DGSS, President Buhari seemed to have rightly negotiated a deal with renaissance, reformation and reinvention, as events of the last two years have shown.

A statement from the presidency announcing Alh. Bichi’s appointment had said: “President Buhari has approved with effect from the 14th of September, the appointment of Yusuf Magaji Bichi (fwc), as new Director-General of the Department of State Service.

“The appointee is a core secret service operative.
“He attended Danbatta Secondary School, the Kano State College of Advanced Studies and the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, where he graduated with a degree in Political Science.

“The new Director-General began his career in the security division of the Cabinet Office in Kano, from where he joined the defunct Nigerian Security Organisation, the precursor of the present DSS.

“Mr Bichi has undergone training in intelligence processing analysis, agent handling recruitment and intelligence processing in the United Kingdom, as well as strategic training at the National Defence College”.

It added that: “The new DSS boss comes to the job with skills in intelligence gathering, research analysis, conflict management, general investigation, risk and vulnerability operations, counter intelligence and protective operation and human resources management.

“In the course of his career, Mr Bichi has worked as the State Director of Security in Jigawa, Niger, Sokoto and Abia states.

“He was at various times the Director, National Assembly Liaison, (National War College), Director at National Headquarters in the Directorate of Security Enforcement, Directorate of Operations, Directorate of Intelligence, Directorate of Inspection and Directorate of Administration and Finance”.

True to type, the spymaster hit the ground running, as is often said in the Nigerian parlance, by causing deliberate reorganisation in the areas of operations as well as intelligence gathering, administration, human capital development, infrastructural development among others.

With his carefully assembled management team, the DGSS recognised the fundamental role motivation plays in organisational development, and accordingly, gave approval for massive recruitment of personnel. The well-trained personnel have since been deployed in respective State Commands and other formations across the country.

Against the backdrop of events of the past, the Bichi-led management placed heavy reliance on the immediacy of attitudinal change in the organisation, and among officers and personnel, with reorganisation and refocus as the ultimate gains.

Conscious of the need for optimal productivity, the Kano-born spymaster approved massive promotion of deserving personnel for that subsisting year, while also granting special promotion for personnel, who had remained on the same ranks, for a period exceeding the minimum period.

Also deserving of commendation on the part of the DG, is approval of conversion exercise for Guards, go-ahead for the immediate implementation of the Service’s harmonised salary structure.

Worthy of note also, is the upgrading of the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), to the National Institute for Security Studies (NISS), by virtue of the Establishment Act (2019). By that development, the NISS has now been brought at par with policy-formulating institutes like the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), and the National Defence College (NDC).

Further, the importance of training and retraining of personnel, amidst the dynamics of society, has continued to be prioritised, as witnessed in the continuous participation of personnel in several training programmes within and outside the country.

Apart from investing hugely in procurement of operational vehicles, technical equipment, platforms and wherewithal-enhancement tools, the ‘humility-personified’ DG has not compromised his desire to meet the shelter and accommodation needs of staff.

It is, therefore, not surprising to find the construction of residential quarters, side-by-side with the purchase of additional building blocks scattered all over the country.

As if that was not enough, the ‘oga at the top’ approved medical financial assistance to sick personnel, not forgeting others with challenges that may appear overwhelming.

In addition to the aforementioned, is the go-ahead for the prompt payment of benefits accruing from pensions, and enhancement of claims payable to next-of-kin (NoK) of personnel, who have paid the supreme price, to ensure the sanctuary and inviolability of Nigeria.

Unlike in the past, transfer of personnel is no longer punitive, but strictly driven by necessity, even as there now exists “accelerated promotions and monetary rewards to personnel who have excelled in various special operations”.

To all intents and purposes, joint operations with sister agencies, may well be enjoying unparalleled recognition, more so that the distinguished fellow of the War College, never ceases to emphasise the importance of inter-agency synergy and collaboration.

Being a man that recignises excellence, dedication and selfless service to the organisation, Alh. Bichi reintroduced the DGSS Award Ceremony, aimed at rewarding “deserving staff who have contributed in ensuring that the Service effectively and efficiently performs its statutory functions”.

In the face of the security challenges, occasioned by terrorism/insurgency, banditry, herdsmen/farmers clashes, cyber crime among others, the Bichi-led management has continued to refocus and reevaluate operations, thereby making them more intelligence and knowledge-driven.

To be sure, priority is now given to acquisition of critical, actionable and relevant intelligence that has the capacity to help in confronting what appear as daunting security challenges facing the country.

In all of the foregoing, one is tempted to say that the 19th century American essayist and philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, had the “Reiinventor” in mind, when he said: “If a man can write a better book, preach a better sermon, or make a better mousetrap than his neighbor, though he build his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door.”

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