From Èmilókàn to Ẹníkànlómọ̀

The subsidy removal “gunshot” released by President Bola Tinubu on May 29, 2023 continues to have penetrative effects on the lives and livelihoods of Nigerians. This is because there was no concrete plan on how to mitigate the impacts of this policy chokehold ahead of its implementation. Due to this, Nigerians have now been migrated by the èmilókàn bus driver, who mouthed àwalókàn to attract ‘passengers’ for his electoral success, to the eníkànlómò bus stop, where post-subsidy removal hardship deals indiscriminately with all ethnic groups, religious adherents and political party supporters. The three concepts of èmilókàn, àwalókàn and eníkànlómò provide a useful analytical compass to interrogate the current hardship being faced by Nigerians.

When candidate Tinubu thundered in Ogun State while campaigning to become President, he deployed these concepts to neutralise the conspiracies against him and to attract sympathy from Nigerians. In the concept of àwalókàn (it is our turn), candidate Tinubu strategically deployed àwa (we/us) to factor his Yoruba constituency to own his ambition as Yoruba ambition. Since no one aspires to be the next in turn to suffer, people associated with this construct and thought it would land them in a more clement state of affairs. The second was the popular èmilókàn, where he narrowed down who was the most qualified out of the “awa” to become the President. Eníkànlómò, a word used in this piece to convey the shoe wearer’s perspectives, is relevant to explain the current state of things and how Nigerians are coping in a post-fuel subsidy removal era. Usually, a ‘driver’ gets the best seat in a vehicle and may not understand or appreciate the concerns of passengers when they complain about his poor driving judgement, rough driving, and over-speeding. This seems to be the posture of this government. The President, as the Chief Driver of the country, and his team need to understand that the lives of those in the vehicle they drive matter.

From N195 to N500 and now N580 to N617 per litre, the hardship is weighing more on the ordinary people because the implementation of the subsidy removal was sudden, but the Tinubu government had prepared for this. What the man of ‘renewed hope’ did not touch or prepare for was the nature of assistance to cushion the effects of this policy until the Nigerian Labour Congress and other pressure groups threatened strike and protest. President Tinubu, like his predecessor, assumes that subsidy removal is in the interest of the country and that the masses should continue to bear the consequences of a ruling class who cannot hold their ‘comrades’ to account. They are not thinking about the local refining of petroleum products or ensuring that our refineries work. They prefer the tortuous route of inflicting pain on the masses. Like the police who arrest suspects and ask the court to grant it custody of the accused pending the conclusion of investigations, the framework to reduce the negative impacts of the post-subsidy regime is still being considered almost two months (55 days) after the government has fully implemented the policy and the price of petrol continues to rise. The Federal Government watches as the so-called market forces disrupt other component units within the system. They seemed to have forgotten that it is their responsibility to have a peaceful and orderly society. Government needs to reduce the level of vulnerability of Nigerians.

The unintended consequences of this inaction to provide timely succour will be grievous unless the federal and state governments act fast. There may not be physical protests on the streets because those who normally organise protests are now in government but it should not be ruled out as a possibility. Nigerians may hit the streets when they have no hope of surviving to see the next day, like what happened during the naira redesign/scarcity saga. In the coming days, people will start ‘protesting’ with newer dimensions of corruption and extortion in offices, commitment to work and service delivery will reduce and those who ‘mobilise’ them will get normal services rendered to them.

Private Schools have already informed parents of plans to increase fees from next term. Tertiary institutions are doing the same. The parents whose salaries have been stagnated are still expected to bear and pay for this increment. Teachers in public schools cannot concentrate on imparting knowledge efficiently due to the huge expenses they are now forced to bear due to the removal of subsidy. There will be more children out of school because poor parents will prefer to feed their children with the little they have rather than spend it on expensive transportation. You may not understand why people will make such decisions until you wear their shoes. Many small-scale businesses will pack up and the big ones will have to lay off staff to stay in business. The unease of living in Nigeria index is becoming unbearable, not to mention the unease of doing business.

On the home front, domestic violence may increase and children may become underfed. Those planning marriages may postpone them for now. This will increase the population of eligible but unmarried people. Relationships are likely to suffer more break-ups because there will be rising unmet needs. More people will likely enter the already congested unemployment market, and poverty will take a new turn. When poverty and unemployment increase, expect more crimes. Churches and mosques will not be spared the social conditions of their members. These scenarios are better imagined than experienced, but I tell you, many are in these situations already. Governments need to act fast.

In my country, the rich suffocate the poor behind the camera, but in front of the camera, they activate care dramaturgy, mouthing let the poor breathe! How will Aduke, a university worker who spends N1,200 daily to come to work, cope when she earns less than N70,000 in a month? She said to me, “ko ka oju e mo Sir”, implying that it is no longer adding up. I spent the same amount to and from school when my car developed a fault. The artisan co-passenger in the car I boarded complained how two litres of petrol he bought didn’t last him two hours. When someone said that the price of the petrol may likely rise to N3,000 per litre as it is going, my mechanic, èsé Wàhidì, said the person should stay far from him because he may be used to ‘make money’ if that happens. This is the level of frustration. èsé Wàhidì told me that what pained him is that gaari, the common man’s food, has now become the big man’s food. According to him, one could drink gaari to neutralise hunger while waiting for the main food before subsidy removal. He said if you drink gaari in his house today, you have eaten. He said that he would neither allow anyone to visit him in the house at this time nor allow anyone to stay for days.

That President Tinubu directed that grains and fertilisers be released to 50 million farmers and households is good but not enough. These are farming communities under the siege of criminal herders, insurgents and bandits who demand ransoms before people can access their farmlands. Many investors have abandoned their farms due to kidnapping and ransom payments. These people need security and accountable distribution of grains and fertilisers before we can begin to ease food insecurity. Subsidised public transportation by the federal and state governments will facilitate movements and help at this time. You can’t go to work and give 100 per cent when you work for an uncaring government. If electricity is fixed, the amount diverted to purchase petrol will reduce and the business community can breathe again. The handshake between the executive and the legislature is clear. In its supplementary budget, this government provided N70 billion for National Assembly members as “support allowance” and N40 billion to buy 465 Sports Utility Vehicles. But for the masses, it is taking the Tinubu presidency close to two months to collectively design an impactful framework with labour unions to mitigate post-subsidy removal hardship.

If we are not careful, suicide, depression, mental health problems, as well as criminal collaboration will rise. Those who are tired of the situation and can raise funds will JAPA. President Tinubu needs to rise up and review his policies that will debase humanity. Governments at all levels must rise up to the occasion and display the capacity to reduce the vulnerabilities of the people. Mr President and state governors need to work for the goodness and happiness of the majority of Nigerians and not only for those in their political party or as political officeholders alone. People are the cornerstone of democracy and their well-being must be attended to quickly by a responsive and responsible government. In this post-subsidy removal era, eni-to-kan-lo-mo (only those who wear the shoes, know where it pinches).

Dr Tade, a sociologist and lecturer at the University of Ibadan, wrote via [email protected]

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