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Saturday, 10 February 2024 07:34

[OPINION] Hunger Protests: Why Tinubu Can’t Govern Like Buhari - Farooq A. Kperogi

The biting hunger and unnaturally rising price spiral in Nigeria instigated primarily by the removal of petrol subsidies and the floating of the naira are threatening to spark off seismic social vibrations across the country. 

The spontaneous, hunger-induced eruption of seething communal anger in Minna over hunger in the land a few days ago, which inspired a massive protest by market women in Lokoja and smaller but nonetheless consequential protests by distraught citizens in Suleja, Kano, Osogbo—and counting— is a warning sign. 

President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s swift order for the release of “102,000 metric tons of various grain types from the National Food Reserve and the Rice Millers Association of Nigeria” to bring down the cost of food in the aftermath of these strings of protests suggests that he is aware of the danger that lies in the offing for him. 

 

Had the current president been Muhammadu Buhari and not Bola Ahmed Tinubu, chances are that the worst that would happen amid the adversity people are going through now would be suppressed, barely audible murmurs. It’s because Buhari is a political cult leader with a firm grip on his followers who worship him and surrender responsibility for their lives over to him. Tinubu has no such appeal.

A psychologist by the name of Steve Taylor came up with a concept he called “abdication syndrome,” which he said disposes people to invest total, child-like trust in a political figure, a cult leader, an opinion molder, etc. in ways that mimic how children idealize and idolize their parents as unblemished paragons of perfection. 

According to Taylor, “abdication syndrome stems from the unconscious desire of some people to return to a state of early childhood, when their parents were infallible, omnipotent figures who controlled their lives and protected them from the world. They’re trying to rekindle that childhood state of unconditional devotion and irresponsibility.”

Buhari is lucky to benefit from abdication syndrome in Muslim northern Nigeria, broadly conceived, which explains why he got away with murder for eight years. When he increased petrol prices by a steep margin in 2016, for instance, there were protests in Kano, Bauchi, and other places in SUPPORT of the increase and AGAINST people who planned to protest the increase. Nigeria had never seen anything like that before.

 

Even protests against the unabating descent of northern Nigeria into a theater of bloodshed and abduction on Buhari’s watch provoked counter protests from people who have abdicated the use of their brains in the service of Buhari.

Tinubu not only does not have the benefit of abdication syndrome anywhere in Nigeria, but he also has the misfortune of having to contend with a peculiar character of Muslim northern Nigeria: we feel the pain of, and react violently to, bad policies only when the policies are hatched and executed by people who have no filiation with our natal region.

It’s no surprise that the hunger protests against the Tinubu administration started from and spread in the North.

A powerful indication of Tinubu’s lack of firm emotional support base emerged when Osun, his state of birth where he lost the last presidential election to PDP’s Atiku Abubakar, became the first southern state to join the hunger protests. Should the resistance to his punishingly heartless neoliberal economic policies ignite a nationwide convulsion, the Southwest is unlikely to constitute itself as his bulwark.

In fact, I hazard a guess that should Tinubu’s unfeeling policies activate the sort of destabilizing national upheaval that we saw in 2012 during Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, the Southwest won’t be aloof. It is likely to join in.

 

And, of course, Tinubu is deeply unpopular in the Southeast, the South-south, and Christian northern Nigeria. In other words, Tinubu is essentially floundering into the most treacherous of social quicksands.

His only fortification against danger is not just good governance but compassionate governance. The release of thousands of metric tons of grains is a good first step, but it’s not nearly enough to stem the tide of mass rebellion that is brewing in the country. At best, it will only delay the inevitable.

The truth is that Nigeria can’t survive a total withdrawal of petroleum subsidies without an adequate, systematic, well-planned public transportation system. To do away with petrol subsidies, the government must first create conditions where car ownership and patronage of commercial transportation are a luxury.

Let’s take Canada as an example. Although Canada is an oil-producing country, it doesn’t subsidize the petrol consumption of its citizens. And it’s precisely because it has great public transportation that meets the transportational needs of its people.

 I met a Canadian here in Atlanta last year who, like most Canadians, doesn’t know how to drive because government-subsidized public transportation is the primary means of moving from point to point. Car ownership is a luxury, and people who choose to shun public transportation deserve the high price they pay for petrol to fuel their cars.

It’s the same situation in most of Europe. The availability of government subsidized public transportation insulates citizens from the effects of high petrol prices and obviates the need for petrol subsidies.

It is not so in the United States. Here, as I pointed out in many past columns, petrol is subsidized because most Americans have their own cars and resent public transportation except in such big cities as New York.

Without first building an efficient, government-subsidized public transportation infrastructure within cities and towns and between cities, towns and states, removing petrol subsidies will always result in the kind of mass affliction that Nigerians are going through now. 

 

That is why countries like Kazakhstan, Ecuador, Bolivia, Indonesia, and Brazil, which the World Bank and the IMF had forced to remove petrol subsidies, have backtracked and re-instituted subsidies. That is inevitable in Nigeria if the government wants to survive. 

Is Olayemi Cardoso Nigeria’s Worst CBN Governor?

I know awfully little about current CBN governor Olayemi Cardoso. I’d just assumed that to deserve being appointed the governor of the CBN, he must at least be minimally competent and conversant with economic policies.

But he is shaping up to be the most inept and least intellectually prepared for his job. It isn’t just that he is supervising the free fall of the naira through inconsistent policies, he also doesn’t seem to be able to explain to anyone what exactly he is doing, indicating he doesn’t know what he is doing.

On Friday, I watched Cardoso’s meeting with the senate where he couldn’t answer questions from senators without reading from a prepared script. "I object to this!” a senator yelled in response to Cardoso’s lifeless regurgitation of a prepared speech he obviously didn’t understand. “Let him go back and answer the question!"

Anyone who can’t respond to a question without reading a prepared text obviously has no understanding of what he is talking about. Albert Einstein famously said, “if you can't explain it simply then you don't understand it well enough." Cardoso’s case is even worse. He can’t explain it at all. It explains why the economy is in a mess and the naira is in a worse shape than it has ever been.

Cardoso’s most important qualification for the job appears to be that he was Economic Planning and Budget commissioner in Lagos when Tinubu was governor, but the job seems to be above his intellectual and experiential paygrade.

I know of no CBN governor in my lifetime (until Cardoso) who couldn’t articulate economic policies effortlessly. Even Godwin Emefiele had no difficulty defending his policies. You may question his competence or disagree with his policies, but he could at least clearly formulate thoughts about what he was doing. Cardoso gives me the jitters. Nigeria is in way worse trouble than it realizes with an airhead like that as CBN governor.

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