You probably know what “419” means unless you’re not from Nigeria. It’s the section of the Criminal Code that deals with fraud and obtaining property under false pretences, also known as the “advance fee scam.” In today’s news, the Nigerian government may have pulled off a massive scam for the ages, which even Yahoo boys would applaud. The FG has proposed suspending the removal of the fuel subsidy.
What’s the gist?
In November 2022, the Minister of Finance, Budget, and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, announced that Nigerians should prepare for the removal of fuel subsidies by June 2023.
[Zainab Ahmed / Businessday]
Fuel subsidies are a type of price control that makes fuel cheaper for consumers. The government pays the difference between the actual fuel supply cost and the consumer price, thus subsidising fuel.
This policy has generated a lot of controversy over the years. Businessday says fuel subsidies have consumed at least ₦7.3 trillion under President Buhari’s administration. What makes this funnier is that Buhari once claimed fuel subsidies were fraudulent, leading to the Occupy Nigeria protest in 2012. Ten more years of this expensive experiment led Buhari to see the light finally—or so we thought.
What happened next?
On April 6, 2023, Mrs Ahmed announced to Nigerians that we had secured an $800m grant from the World Bank. As we would later discover, this wasn’t a grant but another gbese.
But even more important was the reason for this loan. It was meant to be a palliative, distributed to 10 million households considered to be most vulnerable, to cushion the effect of the subsidy removal. So imagine the shock of Nigerians to learn that the National Economic Council (NEC) on April 27 proposed suspending the planned removal of subsidy by June because “it is not a favourable time for the action.” A rather convenient revelation to have after collecting $800 million.
It’s giving 419. We wonder how the World Bank is feeling after hearing this news.
What else should I know?
As Buhari’s government is winding down, we’re seeing cashouts at an unprecedented scale. We could point to the coming population census, which was initially budgeted for ₦198 billion but has now ballooned to ₦869 billion. There’s also the incredible tweet by the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, where he announced that he “commissioned” ten firefighting trucks at the cost of ₦12 billion.
We’re using this medium to beg Buhari to have some pity on Nigerians. Because at the rate his administration is going, 419 would become yesterday’s news, and we’d be forced to add a new number to the Criminal Code — the emergency number 911.