COVID-19 pandemic continues to force many changes in governments around the world. Social and economic changes altering the status quo have remarkably been part of everyday doings of governance across governments. Some of these changes are long overdue, others are bitter pills needed to quell the surge of the pandemic.
In Nigeria, the Nigerian National Petroleum Commission (NNPC) has announced an end to the fuel subsidy regime, a fight that has lasted for years without end. Fuel subsidy gulped millions of dollars in public funds yearly; creating infrastructure decay as such funds would have been directed toward much needed facilities.
While it is believed to be a way to alleviate economic hardship in Nigeria, as many businesses and households depend daily on fuel to power electricity, it is also believed to be a cartel, a major source of illicit funds among politicians and petroleum marketers in the country.
In 2019 alone, Nigerian government spent N780 billion on oil subsidy, an enormous sum sizable enough to revamp the health sector or other infrastructural projects lying in decay.
Nevertheless, calls by concerned individuals and organizations to remove the subsidy had sounded on deaf ears. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), repeatedly urged the Nigerian government to yield to the clamor to remove fuel subsidy totally, but it was as good as the rest.
So it came as a surprise when the NNPC announced on monday that fuel subsidy is no longer a part of government’s business from now going forward. Though in response to the plummeting oil prices, the government has reduced petrol pump price to N125, and subsequently, N123, the free fall of oil price brought the inevitable to bear. The impact of Coronavirus brought oil prices down below $20, basically removing the subsidy without further debate.
Not long after, President Muhammadu Buhari approved the temporary employment of 774,000 people who will engage in sweeping of streets, markets and clearing of gutters for a period of three months. This is part of the Special Work Programme (SWP), announced by the federal government back in February, but has been elaborated to accommodate more states and workers in the country.
According to the announcement made by the federal government on Tuesday, the SWP will require no certificate or skills from applicants.
“The SWP beneficiaries have been engaged to carry out clearing, cleaning of streets, markets, schools, drains etc. and also maintenance of rural feeder roads. No skills or formal education are required for the SWP programme,” government’s statement said
The pilot states according to the announcement are: Edo, Ebonyi, Ekiti, Adamawa, Kwara, Katsina and Jigawa. And the scheme is targeted at unemployed Nigerians, and will kick off during the dry season in rural areas.
But the recent update by the special adviser to the president on media, Tolu Ogunlesi disclosed that the scheme has been extended to every state in Nigeria.
“President Buhari has now approved that this programme be extended to all 36 states and the FCT from October to December 2020. It will result in the employment of 774,000 Nigerians, (1,000 per a LGA) Funding will come from the new COVID-19 Crisis Intervention Fund,” the statement said.
Though the job is billed to last for three months, it will offer many people the chance they never had for long. Moreover, the sudden expansion of the programme to 36 states of the federation is as a result of donations in support of COVID-19 intervention programme.
There is also a move by the government to address the health sector challenges by upgrading hospitals to meet current health crisis demands.
As the impact of coronavirus rattles the government to wake from its leniency, forcing changes advocated for long to take effect, many Nigerians are expressing optimism that the wind of change will blow toward another critical area – restructuring.
The need to practice true federalism has been on the table of debate for some time now. In 2014, former president Goodluck Jonathan heeded the call for a national conference called Confab. The objective was to reach a consensus on how to move the nation forward from ideas shared by representatives of every region in the country.
In the end, the most talked about ‘way forward’ is regionalism or true federalism. Jonathan lost his reelection bid, and his chance to implement the reports of the Confab.
Ever since then, there have been talks to restructure Nigeria and allow each state to develop with its resources while paying taxes to the federal government.
The possibility of restructuring has appeared impossible until now, but it seems, with the oil revenue in jeopardy, many believed that a broke federal government would have no choice than to let each state generate its own revenue.