opinionBy Donatus Emmanuel Ochenelo
When leaders fail to keep their promises to make life better for the people, they may naturally face a cynical and skeptical public.
Disillusionment is always the outcome of disappointed expectations. In fact, if leaders cannot keep their promises, they must be ready to contend with credibility challenges, especially where there are huge resources to make a big difference in the lives of the people. The size of a country's resources is not enough unless the leaders selflessly and sincerely use national wealth for the larger good of the people.
Petroleum subsidy withdrawal has become a matter of controversy because the ordinary people are not seeing the results or benefits of the proceeds from the policy. This lack of results has created a credibility problem for the governments in the country.
Nigerian masses don't trust their leaders because of the failed promises to transform subsidy withdrawal proceeds into better life for the people. Instead, the policy benefits or enriches a few avaricious businessmen. Good governance is about producing results and not rhetoric or sugar-coated promises to produce a Nigerian utopia for the people.
With sincerity and results being achieved, however, the government can disarm a critical public attitude. When the late General Sani Abacha withdrew petroleum subsidy and increased the price of petrol per litre to just N20, we subsequently saw huge and impressive results being achieved through the activities of the Petroleum subsidy Trust Fund (PTF), which was credibly led by General Muhammadu Buhari.
The PTF had made a mark and, despite the malicious decision of former President Obasanjo to scrap the fund and discredit Abacha's legacy, the intervention agency had set a standard yet to be broken by subsequent governments.
Thanks to PTF intervention, public hospitals and schools had witnessed remarkable improvements. For the first time, Nigerians had access to safer and affordable drugs at public hospitals. Public schools that were once reduced to pathetic state of dilapidation also witnessed impressive improvement under PTF.
Before the PTF intervention, students and pupils in public schools were taking lessons in classrooms without roofs or desks. In fact, the situation was, in some cases, so bad that pupils and students had to take lessons under the shades of trees!
As one argued previously, the success or failure in the implementation of subsidy withdrawal policies by successive governments depends largely on the sincerity and commitment of each of them. Former President Obasanjo raised petrol price per litre to N75 but, at the end of the day, it was difficult to say how the proceeds of the policy benefitted the ordinary Nigerians. In fact, even the so-called 18 billion dollar debt relief did not bring the much promised improvement in the quality of life for the ordinary Nigerians.
With this credibility burden, the then (Obasanjo) administration spent eight years in office, leaving Nigerians ever skeptical of the perceived benefits of subsidy withdrawal.
Even when the former Obasanjo administration scrapped the PTF out of malicious motives and transferred its resources to the ministries and departments of government, the condition of public infrastructure got rapidly worse. As a result, all the arguments put forward to justify the scrapping of the PTF were defeated by subsequent realities, thanks to the inability of the government to either match or dwarf the performance record of the PTF.
The late Chinese Premier, Mr. Deng Xiaoping, argued that it does not matter whether the cat is black or white, provided it catches mouse! In other words, substance is more important than form. Despite the fact that General Abacha was a military ruler, no fair-minded Nigerians can dismiss his positive legacies with a wave of hand.
He initiated Nigeria's railway modernization project for the benefit of low income Nigerians, which was intended to improve Nigeria's transport sector. Although former President Obasanjo halted the railway projects, claiming that the cost was too high, he eventually re-awarded the same projects at a greater cost to Nigeria. The whole idea was to discredit any good thing Abacha ever did for Nigeria.
However, it is impossible to obliterate public memory of good performance. Good results cannot be demolished by malice. These legacies are still there for anybody to see. Abach's PTF only had N60 billion in its coffers but it achieved better results than government ministries within a short space of time.
In 2001, for example, the Federal Ministry of Works was allocated N300 billion but it didn't significantly change the conditions of federal roads. In fact, former President Obasanjo publicly admitted that he was ashamed of the conditions of federal roads.
Governance is, therefore, beyond the huge resources allocated to ministries. Instead, what matter are sincerity and the commitment to use public funds efficiently. The government bureaucracy had fought against the PTF for selfish reasons and when the PTF was finally scrapped, Nigeria found itself back to the same rot that led to the creation of the agency by the late General Sani Abacha administration. Insincerity always reveals its ugly face and shames those who take delight in it.
The outside world is always shocked at Nigeria's level of poverty and under-development. As the sixth largest oil producer in the world, how does one explain the paradox of our poverty? Despite the corruption attributed to his administration, the late Abacha had managed subsidy proceeds better than his enemies or critics. And since his death, corruption has grown worse and bigger.
If Abacha was ever the problem, then why is Nigeria still reeling under the crushing weight of corruption? The passage of time exposes hypocrisy so soon. Today, Nigerians are ready to be more forgiving of Abacha's weaknesses than tolerate the hypocrisy of his critics. Despite the vilification of Abacha's memory, his record of performance remains unmatched.
-Ochenelu, an advocate of good governance lives at No. 34, Panama Street, Maitama, Abuja.