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Nice to hear that the nationwide strike action threatened by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) over the removal of fuel subsidies, which would have begun today, has been postponed, Commonsense, which actually is nowhere common, appears to have prevailed. We thank God for little mercies! Let the NLC learn from the experience of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) whose eight-month strike action during the Muhammadu Buhari administration yielded nothing, although NLC may argue that it is not ASUU. Let the government on its part understand that an economy already cannibalised by Buhari and his wanton troopers will be worse off with a nationwide strike action. In the end, the issues that cause strikes, like those that cause wars, are ultimately resolved on the negotiation table after losses that cannot be reversed would have been suffered by the warring parties. This is being penny wise but pound foolish. And when two elephants fight; it is the grass that suffers.
Many will wonder why an NLC that threw caution to the winds when it declared open and brazen support for the Labour Party’s presidential candidate, Mr. Peter Gringory Obi, should kick against the removal of fuel subsidies by Tinubu. Obi had declared while campaigning that he would scrap fuel subsidies on his first day in office if he wins the election. Now, had Obi won the election and had he gone ahead to remove fuel subsidies, like Tinubu has done, would Labour leaders have pursued against Obi the same course of action they are now pursuing against Tinubu? Note that the NLC kept mute when Obi threatened to remove fuel subsidies during his campaign. We will never know what exactly would have been because Obi never won the election. It can be argued, also, that even if Obi, or anyone else, had won the election and had gone ahead to remove fuel subsidies, he or they would probably have approached the vexed issue differently and more tactfully than Tinubu has done.
Truth be told, Tinubu was surprisingly tactless and provocatively arrogant the way he went about the fuel subsidies removal. Surprising because this is not the Tinubu many had expected to see. What went wrong? Tinubu should not have included the fuel subsidies removal in his inaugural address, even if the removal was to come later in the day in an executive order or what-have-you. Tinubu’s inaugural address should have been stirring and soul-lifting; a soothing balm to a people mortally wounded and gasping for breath. Nigerians sought a soul-stirring speech like that of Martin Luther King – I have a dream – but Tinubu’s was drab, uninspiring and full of platitudes. Nigerians waited to have their patriotic zeal fired – like President JF Kennedy’s “Think not what America can do for you but what you can do for America – but Tinubu’s speech was long-winding and fell flat on its face. It was like William Shakespeare’s “all sound and fury, signifying nothing”!
The only significant thing about the speech was Tinubu’s removal of fuel subsidies and, in doing so, he was, again surprisingly, not man enough to own the decision, desperately trying, instead, to hide behind Buhari like a grasshopper hiding behind one finger! Tinubu’s men said Buhari removed fuel subsidies before he left office! What if he did? If you think that is not the right thing to do or that the timing is not right, can’t you reverse or tinker with it? Does it now mean that nothing that Buhari did while in office, right or wrong, will be revisited and or reversed? Why, then, did we have a change of government? Why can’t Buhari and his gang continue if their actions cannot be queried, questioned or reversed? Is this what Tinubu meant when he said he would continue where Buhari has stopped? But a continuation of Buhari’s legacies is the last thing Nigerians needed.
Nigerians need someone who will succour them and bind their wounds. They need someone who will empathise with them. Nigerians need soft words, not arrogant, harsh words that further demoralise them. Even if we have to put up with hard decisions, we need someone who will woo us, who will encourage us and pat us on the back all the way; feeling our pains and assuring us all will soon be well as he points us in the direction of light at the end of the tunnel. But, surprisingly, Tinubu was aloof. He acted insensitive. It is like he did not understand the country he inherited from Buhari. Tell Tinubu Nigeria is not Lagos, tell him! The Nigeria he inherited is divided like never before; the people are demoralised and angry like never before; they were brutalised throughout Buhari’s eight years in office; their standard of living dropped to an all-time low; and their sense of self-worth and confidence is nothing to write home about. They seek a lifting; they need a messiah, so to say, but, agonisingly, and, again, surprisingly, Tinubu fell far short of their expectation. Where, then, is the renewed hope that he promised? Rather than renew anyone’s hope, he dashed the little that we have left!
Am I against the removal of fuel subsidies? No! But I am against the timing. I am also against the attempt to hang it on Buhari. I am against pussy-footing: No, we did not! Yes, we did! I am against the lack of empathy. Tinubu should not have started his presidency this way. This is not how to compensate the people who voted for you. And don’t forget you are still before the tribunal! Why forget so soon that your election is, perhaps, the most hotly disputed in the history of this country? One or two months of “grace” for Nigerians to celebrate your ascension to the throne would have been okay. If eight years of relentless looting of Nigeria under Buhari did not kill the country, then, a month of grace from Tinubu will not kill it. Make the people happy. Show that you have the milk of human kindness flowing in your veins. In the interval, convey the meetings you are now hurriedly and belatedly holding with Labour and other stakeholders; firm up on the palliatives and new minimum wage you are now dangling in what looks like an after-thought. The political sagacity of Tinubu has never been in doubt. Since he announced his arrival on the country’s political landscape in the 1980s, Tinubu has left no one in doubt that he is a master strategist; he has so demonstrated in Lagos since 1999. On his way to the Presidency he left no one in doubt that he is a master of the game of Nigeria’s political roulette. So, what went wrong this time around? Why put the wrong foot first?
The day I was appointed editor of The PUNCH/Saturday PUNCH, the big story for the next day was the appointment made by military President Ibrahim Babangida of chairmen for the two political parties he was imposing on Nigerians – the National Republican Convention (NRC) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP), one “a little to the right” and the other “a little to the left”. When the story came out on the front page in my newspaper the next day, the names of the chairmen were swapped: NRC’s was given as SDP’s and vice-versa! Imagine the embarrassment! With PUNCH’s characteristic screaming headlines! I was on my way to the office when the Chairman called: “Have you seen your newspaper today?” I said, yes, I have. “It is sabotage. Sack them!” the Chairman said repeatedly! I got to the office and the place was like a funeral home. I summoned the Editorial Conference meeting and told them what the Chairman had said. One after the other they swore it was not sabotage but the ubiquitous “printer’s devil” at work. What do we do? They said I should plead with the Chairman to temper justice with mercy.
Virtually all the HODs and their assistants had their neck on the chopping block. Soon afterwards, the Chairman called to ask if they had all been sacked and I said no; that they swore it was not sabotage and had given an undertaking it would not happen again. The chairman asked: “And what is your decision?” I said my decision was to give them the benefit of the doubt; that I did not want to start my editorship wiping off the entire members of the Editorial Conference. There was a prolonged silence and then the Chairman said:”I see, I see, I see! Ok, ok, ok; if that is your decision” Those who claimed to know warned me that, that was ominous and I found it to be true afterwards! But I never regretted it. Many of those who would have been sacked that day later rose to important editorial and managerial positions in the same newspaper. There is a way to start a journey and there is another way not to start it!
Those who claim to know Tinubu should tell him to tread more carefully. Nigeria is not Lagos where he can gallivant and grandstand, imposing his fancies at will like the Lord of the Manor. Tell Tinubu not to break our heart or fall our hand, as they say! Not with all the insults from the Obi-Idiots!
*Former Editor of PUNCH newspapers, Chairman of its Editorial Board and Deputy Editor-in-chief, BOLAWOLE was also the Managing Director/ Editor-in-chief of THE WESTERNER newsmagazine. He writes the ON THE LORD’S DAY column in the Sunday Tribune and TREASURES column in New Telegraph newspaper on Wednesdays. He is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television.