It is commonly accepted that the success of any group of people, depends largely on the quality of leadership of that group. Perhaps the starkest proof of this, is in the leadership of nations. A review of countries generally perceived as successful is often linked to great leadership, particularly at critical times in their histories – United States of America: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Franklyn Roosevelt; Singapore: Lee Kuan Yew; China: Deng Xiaoping; United Kingdom – Sir Winston Churchill etc.
The success attributed to the leadership of these giants of history is that they had a clear vision, communicated their vision in no uncertain terms taking the decisions that would eventually actualise their objectives despite the misgiving of certain groups at the time, with the end result being that the people in their respective nations, ultimately had a better outcome for their lives both on an individual and collective basis and the benefit of their leadership survived well beyond their natural lives.
The fact that the system of governance under which these leaders flourished differed from one to the other i.e. presidential democracy, parliamentary democracy, communist meritocracy is an indication that the system of governance is not the critical factor but the quality of leadership.
Nigeria requires such leadership to address the myriad of complex issues it confronts at the moment. Leadership that has a clear vision, presents that vision to the populace, pursues that vision until it accomplishes it for the benefit of the people and the economy in the long term. However, a look at the recent handling of the de-regulation of the downstream petroleum sector throws up several critical issues for resolution by government.
The government had previously announced both to the populace and the international community that one of its major economic achievements was the successful de-regulation of the downstream petroleum sector. This was largely welcomed by economic watchers, industry operators, global financial groups and knowledgeable citizenry. This decision of government commended by investors, would attract investment into Nigeria to build refineries and derivative industries, earn foreign exchange, create job opportunities for the youthful population in the country, guarantee security of petroleum product supplies and drive up safety standards in that sector and associated sectors of the economy.
It therefore came as a great surprise when the Minister of Labour announced recently that the Federal Government had negotiated a N5 deduction on fuel prices with the Labour Union. Whilst this no doubt will receive a chorus of praise from the Labour Unions and other uninformed people on the subject matter, it raises questions as to the leadership capacity of the Government.
If the announcement of the Minister of Labour is correct, then it means that Nigeria will soon be back to the era of petroleum subsidy. The Government which had spent over N10 Trillion Naira in the twelve years up to 2018 and a whooping unbudgeted N1.1 Trillion Naira on petroleum product subsidy in 2019 alone cannot genuinely wish to continue to manage the economy this way. This manner of opaque, unplanned and unmanaged expenditure does not represent the best use of limited resources and it opens the door to misuse of scarce public resources.
Consequently, this decision of the government opens the door to huge loss of revenue from Government coffers at a time it is most ill-equipped to make such expenditure, with the need for huge resources requiredto address the economic recession exacerbated by the COVID-19 Pandemic.
The arbitrary negotiation between government and labour, arriving at a deduction of N5 a litre fails to take into consideration the upward trajectory of international price for petroleum products coupled with the downward direction of the value of the Naira. The approach or methodology of negotiating petrol pump prices between government and labour without the involvement of investors will further deplete whatever investor confidence we had left as a country and will set an unprofessional precedent that will be difficult to step away from or set aside when indeed pump prices will need to rise. In essence, government having announced a policy objective and itemising its several benefits, indeed taking a decision and closing the subject matter, has proceeded to re-open the subject matter under short term pressure, without taking into consideration the long-term implications.
This dramatic flip flop of the government makes it impossible to achieve the benefits of its previously well considered and accepted position. It is either the government has a clear vision of what it seeks to achieve for its populace or not; it is either the government has the leadership credentials to be consistent with its policies or continues to reverse itself on progressive decisions it has previously taken; the government must consider the long term interests of Nigerians over that of a few civil servants who personally benefit from the status quo and unguided labour leaders who by the very nature of their calling, could not know better.
This is a critical juncture for Nigeria and its citizens must look up to government, in the belief that the ultimate individual and collective benefits of the citizenry drive its decision making. Dramatic policy reversals in a clear case as this, where the previous decision to de-regulate and eliminate the opacity and avenues for corrupt enrichment, inefficiency and poor accountability occasioned by a subsidy regime, demands leadership. The de-regulation of the petroleum industry must be immediately and urgently re-introduced, otherwise the government can wave good bye to any serious investor, who have a crude evidence of unhelpful policy inconsistency of government.
• Christian Okon is a policy analyst