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Nigerians flay Tinubu’s comment on ‘powerful persons looted our treasury’

Tinubu proposes N2tn recapitalisation of Discos, tariff review

On Monday morning, precisely the last day of July 2023, the scheduled address by President Bola Tinubu at dusk became a public discourse on the streets of Africa’s most populous country. The headline was displayed on the scroll of various broadcasting television stations and it trended on different online news platform.

While Nigerians eagerly awaited the Commander-in-Chief to deliver a promising message, which was considered as timely in light of the planned protest by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), and percieved to be a pacifying remark having lost touch with the previous government, the Organised Labour unions were gearing up for the nationwide protest.

Although his address was subsequently seen as a step in the right direction and applauded for some of the key points in the speech, especially the proposed plan to fund manufacturers and micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, the citizenry has raised eyebrows over the president’s statement that a few individuals had over time benefited from the nation’s coffers under the pretense of subsidy.

This disclosure has reawaken the citizens’ push for a probe on persons who leveraged on fuel subsidy to enrich themselves. Pundits are of the view that since the president has all the powers, then it is not just to tag those who benefitted from the fuel subsidy at the expense of the citizenry as “group of individuals,” the culprits should be named, arrested and possibly prosecuted.

Tinubu had, in his national broadcast, titled ‘After Darkness Come The Glorious Dawn,’ said “For several years, I have consistently maintained the position that the fuel subsidy had to go. This once beneficial measure had outlived its usefulness.

“The subsidy cost us trillions of Naira yearly. Such a vast sum of money would have been better spent on public transportation, healthcare, schools, housing and even national security. Instead, it was being funnelled into the deep pockets and lavish bank accounts of a select group of individuals.

“This group had amassed so much wealth and power that they became a serious threat to the fairness of our economy and the integrity of our democratic governance. To be blunt, Nigeria could never become the society it was intended to be as long as such small, powerful yet unelected groups hold enormous influence over our political economy and the institutions that govern it.

“The whims of the few should never hold dominant sway over the hopes and aspirations of the many. If we are to be a democracy, the people and not the power of money must be sovereign.

“The preceding administration saw this looming danger as well. Indeed, it made no provision in the 2023 Appropriations for subsidy after June this year. Removal of this once helpful device that had transformed into a millstone around the country’s neck had become inevitable,” Tinubu said.

According to him, “In a little over two months, we have saved over a trillion Naira that would have been squandered on the unproductive fuel subsidy which only benefitted smugglers and fraudsters. That money will now be used more directly and more beneficially for you and your families.”

However, his statement didn’t go down well with Nigerians, particularly the opposition party, who immediately criticised the president and described the broadcast as “uninspiring, deceptive, and a waste of time.”

Phrank Shaibu, Special Assistant on public communications to Atiku Abubakar, the 2023 presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, said the president delivered the speech so as to convince the organised labour to shelve its planned nationwide strike scheduled for Wednesday, August 2.

Shaibu, in a statement, pointed out that the president’s address was an afterthought, saying “After removing petrol subsidy without a clear plan that would have ameliorated the sufferings of the people.

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“The speech is deceptive and a complete waste of time. Tinubu’s speech was hurriedly put together in order to dissuade the suffering masses and the organised labour from embarking on protests. Rather than apologise for removing subsidy without providing a cushion for the poor, he went about accusing subsidy thieves of being behind the current suffering. If he is sure of this, why hasn’t he arrested them?

“Tinubu also lied when he claimed that he had for years been an advocate of subsidy removal. This was a man who in 2012 described petrol subsidy removal as ‘the Goodluck Jonathan tax,’ and sponsored protests in Lagos State. After he dubiously got to power, he lacked imagination on how to address the issue and then removed the subsidy but without a plan.”

The aide wasn’t the only one peeved by the address on subsidy thieves. Matthew Edaghese, a legal practitioner, who shared his thoughts with BusinessDay, said the president has all disciplinary tools at his disposal and should not only name and shame those guilty of looting the subsidy fund, but also prosecute the offenders.

According to him, the president is accountable to everyone to protect the interest of the people of Nigeria, including the resources of this country. He is the commander-in-chief and not the reporter-in-chief.

“We live in a society where you have to apply reasons to take decision and respond to action. I wonder why the president will tell us that there are thieves and yet he couldn’t tell us what he has done to the thieves.

“He cannot tell us he has found thieves and he used the word ‘powerful’. Is he suggesting that those thieves are more powerful than the commander-in-chief? If so, then he has lost control of the country to criminal gangs and that is a ground for resignation if he cannot function.

“You cannot hang on there and tell us that there are people who are powerful, and they have committed crime against the nation and the people of Nigeria. And, all you could do, as the commander-in-chief, is to tell us that the thieves exist and the stealing happened. He fell short of mentioning what consequences should be meted on the thieves and what action he is prepared to take against the thieves.

“He is announcing to us that this is our problem but he has refused to tell us what the solution will be. So, that itself is a very strange thing to hear from a president. We expect him to say, we have finally found the thieves and we will bring them to justice.

“Did we elect him to become the newscaster, reporting issues to us? No! We elected him as a president of this nation to lead us, and leadership means responsibility. So, if he is afraid to take responsibility and make decisive action, then he is not fit to be there as the president. It means we are not represented as a people. Is that what he is suggesting that he cannot lead the nation and enforce the laws of this country?

“He swore to an oath of office to defend the constitution of this country which include punishing people who have committed crime. He is the executive president and not a ceremonial president. He has all the powers, he should order immediate arrest and prosecution of those thieves he has so identified. Anything short of that, he is as guilty as the thieves. He is an accessory after the fact.

“Criminality involves those who participate, and those who shield them from justice. They are all criminals. Is he shielding the criminals? Does he expect us, as private citizens, to go and arrest the criminals and prosecute them? Is that what the law of Nigeria suggests?” Edaghese queried.

“He has the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), police and Department of State Services (DSS). What are those agencies for if not to enforce the laws against violators? How much more this serious crime against the economy of this country.

“He should stop using the word ‘group of individuals’. He should use the word thieves. Those who commit crimes are called criminal suspects. The word ‘individuals’ suggest they are above the law and cannot be called by their names and titles. Do you call armed robbery suspects, individuals? The answer is no,” he added.

Moses Onodua, a public affairs analyst, told BusinessDay that since he is aware there are some persons who looted the country’s economy through subsidy, then he should take the bold step to recover all that had been lost.

“It is good news that during the president’s broadcast, he firmly affirmed that fuel subsidy existed unlike in 2012 when himself and members of his party openly castigated Goodluck Jonathan that fuel subsidy is a scam by his government.

“It is the expectations of Nigerians that now that he has accepted fuel subsidy is a reality and he has identified the looters of the treasury through subsidies, why did he not list the looters so that we all will know our common enemies?” he queried.

“Sincerely speaking, I appreciate his courage to remove the fuel subsidy. His announcement of the huge amount of money saved because if the fuel subsidy removal is heart-warming and encouraging. He must continue this momentum and these money must be channelled to other productive areas such as roads, heath, education, infrastructural development.

“His broadcast was silent about measures he will take to recover the billions of Naira these looters have taken from our commonwealth.

“The address fell short of my expectations and I’m sure this is applicable to many Nigerians. It is very curious that President Tinubu addressed the nation on the serious issue of fuel and not a single word on our refineries and how to fix them was mentioned,” he said.

Another concerned Nigerian, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Tinubu may be speaking tongue-in-cheek as he may be unable to go after the oil thieves.

“It is not surprising that Tinubu said the cabal was powerful because of obvious reasons. We have a government, yet people are bringing in vessels to siphon our oil in a country that has all manner of security. Is it not laughable? A president lamenting like an ordinary man with all the powers and instruments of authority at his disposal. When he is having an open relationship with some dangerous non-state actors, does he have the courage to fight criminals?”