By Tahir Ibrahim Tahir Talban Bauchi.
Billions of dollars were expended in the development of critical infrastructure needed for economic growth and expansion. The most remarkable is the renewal of our Railway infrastructure with the Abuja-Kaduna, and the Lagos-Ibadan, as well as the Warri-Itakpe routes already in place, with plans of expansion all the way to Abuja. The Abuja-kaduna railway is also being extended to reach Kano and Katsina, all the way to the border town of Maradi in Niger Republic. The Kano-maradi leg alone is gulping 1.96 billion dollars, boasting of about 15 stations along the corridor, which would surely boost economic activities in the surrounding states of Kano, Katsina and Jigawa. It has taken all of a total of 8 years to reach this milestone, discounting the many years of the start and stop approach to the Abuja-kaduna route. The Lagos-Ibadan rail line cost the Federal Government 1.6 billion dollars.
Within the space of a month, we’ve seen the Warri-Itakpe, and the Abuja-kaduna rail tracks vandalised. The trains were derailed but luckily no lives were lost. These were clear acts of economic sabotage. The damage done to the tracks were just enough to derail the trains a bit from their tracks. The damage wasn’t enough to make a fortune out of the dismembered tracks, but of course a fortune would be made of bringing governance to its knees and causing an uproar over the safety of passengers on our railways. The picture painted is grim and to make matters worse, it is an election season, where the huge infrastructural projects are supposed to stand alone and speak for themselves; but alas, they have become a source of worry and disdain.
Another stagnant issue that has refused to go away is the scarcity of petroleum products, especially PMS. Even though the price of PMS kept soaring, it has been readily available over the last 7 years and the usual December scarcity became a thing of the past. Now it has gradually returned and it has come back with a vengeance. The big puzzle in the whole subsidy shenanigans is the volume of PMS consumed in the country. The actual figure has remained in the dark. During Maikanti Baru’s tenure as GMD of NNPC, the estimate was around 35 million litres. Today it screams 70 million litres. The Comptroller General of Customs, Col. Hamid Ali, (Rtd) made a case for the stoppage of supply of PMS to fuel stations that were situated 20 to 40 kilometres near our borders. Obviously PMS is being smuggled out of the country to neighbouring countries where marketers make a kill per litre of petrol. Nigeria is subsidising fuel for the rest of West Africa. Its marketers were denying the original beneficiaries of subsidy, and selling it to other countries who are happy to buy at whatever price, afterall, to them it’s at a fantastic price. Saboteurs are at work yet again and indeed it is during an election season. As Nigerians suffer the scarcity and the exorbitant price of PMS, marketers are making billions and saboteurs are resigned in contentment.
Another noble policy that has been hit by the sabotage train is the CBN introduction of new naira notes, and the maximum daily withdrawal limits for ATM cards and over the counter cash withdrawals. Even though the CBN had given a 3 months timeline, after which the old notes would cease to exist as legal tender, the new notes have been largely scarce, just like the PMS. Banks kept dispensing old notes. Reports abound as to how old notes were exchanged for new ones at a fee. As the deadline drew nearer, the commotion grew bigger. Coupled with a lot of other hardships that people were suffering, the new naira notes joined the fray and it has not been easy for the common man, and the not so common man too. The whole nation was in chorus for an extension of the deadline so that the scarcity of the new notes could be better handled. CBN had to do a lot of interventions, taking cash to nooks and crannies of the country which is a pointer that banks were at it again. It meant that the banks were not properly dispensing the new notes allocated them by the CBN. Luckily the deadline has been shifted by ten days and it is hoped that it can be further shifted to accommodate rural dwellers who are disadvantaged by the availability of banks in their areas, especially those ravaged by insecurity. The timing of the exercise has become somewhat of a problem, looking at the array of other issues bedeviling the populace, especially the price and scarcity of fuel. The policy is a fantastic one but not so with the timing. It has been sabotaged to make government look bad. The scarce money one would use to make purchases is scarce physically, even if you have it in the bank.
All these events are happening less than 30 days to the elections. They have crammed our economic space and suffocated our political discourse. They have made the build up to the 2023 elections quite messy, and perhaps even be indicators that voter turnout may be poor. These hardships caused by saboteurs have replaced the discussion over PVCs and preferred candidates, with those of survivalistic instincts. When Asiwaju cried foul over what was happening, he was spot on. He cannot watch on as his very bright chances of winning the 2023 elections are being eroded by fear, economic hardship amd sabotage. The sterling achievements of the government that are supposed to be used to canvass for votes are being obliterated by cowardice. If fuel was available, and the prices were not so exorbitant, it would be a plus for the government and for his party. If the new naira notes were available in all banking halls and ATM machines, the policy would be smooth and the government would be seen to be effective in policy implementation. If our rail lines were all active and functioning efficiently, people would be traveling safely by them, to their various voting destinations. They would all be fine closing remarks of the PMB administration where a few things that would make life easy are functional. As it is, governance is being sabotaged left right and centre and that is quicksand for the ruling party’s victory at the polls. The right lieutenants of the administration must wake up to their pledge of serving Mr. President and country, and make sure they finish on a high. Otherwise in just 3 months, the work of 8 years would all be flushed down the drain.
Tahir is Talban Bauchi.