Tinubu’s Yuletide Philanthropy

by admin


As the 2023 yuletide approached, Nigerians living away from home who love to celebrate it with their kith and kin across the states had night fevers over transportation cost which had hit the roof with the inception of the Tinubu administration and his pronouncement on fuel subsidy removal.

Then, President Bola Tinubu came up with his free train ride and 50 percent rebate on transportation for those wishing to travel. Now, the major cities in Nigeria are Lagos and Abuja, perhaps Kano and Kaduna, although terrorism and banditry has depleted the army of internal diasporans in the north who see Christmas as a festive season.

The festivities are presumably over as the New Year Day has rolled by. Let us count the beneficiaries of this scheme likely to gulp quite a sum from the nation’s coffers. Certainly, the rosy side of the Tinubu yuletide largesse would be felt, not in the holiday makers who were supposed to benefit from it but in the hangers-on to the government who had been fortunate enough to handle the scheme. Surely, they would be smiling broadly to the banks with money made from backhand in the business.

And there would be no evaluation of the programme to see if it was worth the while; how it was handled, whether the funds mapped out reached their destination and stuff like that, all in the character of Nigeria. The new millionaires created right after the programme would be singing the praises of Asiwaju as a benefactor while less fortunate others grumble.

Meanwhile, from reports so far, travellers from Abuja had a fair share of the 50 percent bus fare rebate to Lagos and other western states at some of the designated bus stations while those travelling to the East had nothing and no explanation was given. Besides, in the eight years of the All Progressives Congress (APC) administration under former President Muhammadu Buhari, the government did not consider it necessary to extend railways to the East. That means holiday makers to that region, from whatever point they would be moving, would not benefit from the free train ride. Air travellers were already exempted from the federal government bounty. Are they not Nigerians entitled to the public purse? Again, what about travellers from towns, or bus companies not captured in the scheme. All these groups have been automatically excepted.

This is exactly how politicians and their not-well-thought-out policies create imbalance in the allocation of amenities and subsequently promote acrimony among the disadvantaged. And when the disadvantaged cry marginalisation, they get more punishment rather than pacification.

This act exposes a nagging anomaly in our governance which has always been the mixing of politics with what we see as philanthropy, or just the good nature of politicians occupying positions.

The disturbing dimension of using public funds for somewhat philanthropic acts have been with Nigerians to the extent that it has become the norm, even as it fans the embers of the corruption we dread so much. On face value, many would be quick to commend the president for that free train ride and 50 percent transport rebate as an immediate term measure, but fall short of condemning the slipshod implementation of otherwise good policies.

Did we need to allow such astronomical rise in fuel prices that steeply shot up the transport fares? Various approaches to the issue of subsidy removal were suggested, such as the fixing of refineries and the establishment of modular ones before the removal, because it would be scandalous that an oil producing country such as Nigeria had no functional refinery. All was ignored by the powers that be.

I guess it’s all in line with the politicians’ method of keeping the masses poor enough to feel the god in the politician who appears once in a while to show them “love,” like the brave snake that saves a fish from drowning!

The pattern in Nigeria has been that some politicians use these so-called philanthropic acts to fleece the people on rising to power. They gain the people’s confidence as they are assumed to be altruistic and incapable of indulging in corruption.

As soon as they lay hands on the public funds, they turn to tigers, feasting on the wealth of the people. We saw it in the school feeding programme of the last administration, as well as other programmes said to have been handled by the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs.

Some state and local governments build a few houses for a few indigent families, using public funds and claiming it is an extension of their philanthropy. Meanwhile, the money used for such philanthropy are usually inflated and unaccounted for.

Tinubu’s propensity to play God is known. To those who don’t know, recall the campaign days, how he counted a census of individuals he had built up as millionaires, how he chastised Ndigbo living in Lagos for repaying him with evil after all he had done for them, and made it a major campaign point. Match this with his reluctance to consider any other means to cushion the effects of fuel subsidy removal than the so-called palliatives and paying cash into accounts of selected Nigerians.
It is immoral and unjust to use state funds for the benefit of handpicked members of the society under the guise that they are indigent. This is because everyone is entitled to state funds regardless of whether the one is considered rich or poor. It is more so when the president or governor does it for political advantages.

However, under a statutory welfare programme in which the qualifications of beneficiaries are clearly spelt out, such gestures can be justified. And that is the way it goes in advanced democracies.

To use state funds arbitrarily in exercise of philanthropy amounts to impunity. It opens doors to corruption, deviousness and inequity.

But most unfortunately, Nigerians have come to cherish, accept and look out for handouts from governments, even though these handouts have had political strings attached to them. To most common men, the big men in government are classified as good when they have high propensity to dish out public funds in such veiled acts of philanthropy.

It amounts to the personalisation of governance, which is equally reflected in appointments which are usually avenues to compensate political allies instead of fielding competent hands that achieve feats for the nation. In various states, a governorship candidate emerges in a dominant political party because one godfather looming large from a corner has willed it so. Appointments are made on considerations of consanguinity or party loyalty. This situation lays bare the fact that nepotism, cronyism and tribal sentiments have, therefore, been the underlying factors of our serial failures in administration. A chief executive who, in violation of the rules of Federal Character, surrounds himself with his kinsmen and cronies gives an impression that he took power for parochial purposes rather than for the general good. That act breeds tension and flux in the polity. Sadly, the nation has a long day in waiting for a change of this disgusting pattern created by the upside-down federalism we have as our political framework.

New entrants into politics do all within their powers to acquire wealth enough to enable them to distribute largesse to a cross section of the voting population. To them, it is part of the wooing process. The dire implication of this phenomenon is that it elevates the feudal system which substantially negates democracy and merit. And we cry about money politics, votes buying and the sort.

Knowing that the system permits the use of money rather than competence in convincing potential voters, the big politicians, as has been pointed out, have perfected the art of keeping the majority of the people poor until the day of elections. There again, poverty becomes an instrument to manipulate the masses.

Because Nigerians have long been subjected to extreme poverty, even though the country has been blessed with enormous human and mineral resources, many of us have carried on with the thought that philanthropy is an integral part of governance and politics. Perhaps it explains why politicians jostling for elective positions are often asked the question, “What have you done for us?” And when this question is asked, it is always in reference to material things.

We are always attracted to those politicians who donate transformers to our communities, give us scholarships, and spray cash on us. It never crosses our mind to question their means of livelihood. It is easy for us to dismiss good hands who mean well for the state as “stingy” because he or she is unable to spray cash and material things. The politician is weighed by how much rice, vegetable oil, salt, clothes, or noddle packs that he or she was able to distribute to the members of the electorate.

Indeed, we need to shift from the politics of palliatives to the pragmatic approach to nation building. Happy New Year.

Dr. Odu can be reached through dirimrich2018@gmail.com.

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