OpinionOPINION: Kenyan Finance Bill Riot: Warnings To President Tinubu To Move Fast

OPINION: Kenyan Finance Bill Riot: Warnings To President Tinubu To Move Fast

July 09, (THEWILL) – The Kenya Finance Bill protests, widely known by the hashtag #RejectFinanceBill2024, was a series of decentralised mass protests in Kenya against tax increases proposed by the country’s Government in the Finance Bill including tax on bread and what was called “eco tax”.

The hashtag #REJECTFINANCEBILL2024 gained prominence over the weekend of June 15, with many calling for protests to press their case. On June 18, ahead of the Finance Bill’s second reading in Kenyan parliament, thousands took to the streets. The protesters called for countrywide street action to urge legislators to rethink.

While it is encouraging that the Kenyan President, William Ruto, offered a string of concessions to defuse tensions, in its initial response, the government veered between repression and accommodation.

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As unemployment remains high and prices of essential goods rise, there was an outrage over the luxurious lives of the president and other senior government officials just as we have in Nigeria. Grilled on live television on 30th June, Ruto said he had heard the protesters’ demands for fundamental changes in management of public funds and promising budget cuts on travel and hospitality for his office in line with some protesters’ demands.

He also promised to scrap unpopular budget lines such as funds dedicated for use by the president’s and deputy president’s spouses.

As he said, “authorities would consider a ban on public fundraisers (known in Kenya as harambees), where politicians make large cash donations ostensibly to support social causes. Critics view these events as occasions for politicians to dole out dubiously acquired funds as a form of political patronage. However, the Kenyan President could not offer a clear timeline for carrying out the cost-cutting measures and other reforms he has promised given widespread scepticism about his sincerity.

The government’s stepping in with a national address to explain what went wrong and what should be done to halt further degeneration of the already bad situation had some clear lines that’re rare in the manner Nigerian government officials respond to genuine agitations by the citizenry.

Three takeaways are obvious from the Kenyan government statement as delivered by the Vice President, Mr Rigathy Gachagua, who stood in for his boss, President Ruto.

Firstly, it was noteworthy that rather than take the diversionary route of blaming the failure of Intelligence like we often do in Nigeria, the Kenyan vice president was very specific in holding the head of their Intelligence Agency accountable. This is a pure contrast of Nigeria’s repeated failure to sanction heads of security Agencies including, military and police commanders for embarrassing security breaches including kidnapping, banditry and other terrorists’ attacks recorded under their watch.

There is hardly any doubt that the Kenyan government will sanction the head of the security Agency and many more persons that will be identified as unfits. If roles were to be reversed, you would by now have seen the clueless heads of Nigeria security Agencies, military and police commanders with their retinue of staff blaring sirens around town.

In fact, some of them would have been visiting scenes of the security breaches like we saw after the Abuja-Kaduna train attack or the Kuje prison attack. Everybody would have blamed the failure of Intelligence without pointing a finger at anybody. Besides the security operatives (at every level), the DPO, Area Commander, Commissioner of Police and the designated military Unit or Formation Commanders in whose Area of Responsibility (AoR) the breach occurred would have all walked away without any sanctions or consequences. It does not happen that way in other countries. It is always either those responsible throw-in the towel by resigning or are shown the way out.

Secondly, the Kenyan vice president did not stop at holding the head of the national security accountable, he went further to highlight the ills of the Agency. He was very clear that mediocrity had taken over merit; a classical drawback of the entire Nigerian security architecture.

Security business is not an all comer’s affairs. A situation where thorough breed professionals are sidelined for political or ethnic expediency always spell doom for security business. There are too many dead woods in our security architecture. These people are too well known but nobody dares to call them out like the Kenyan vice president did. You will not believe that despite the pressing security challenges we are facing; not one DPO has a contingency plan on how to checkmate breaches or how to contain or react to a breach with a quick-action response.

Thirdly, the vituperations of the vice president must also be viewed as an attempt to shift blames, which is very typical of African leaders (rulers). It is a well thought-out reaction to douse the heat and take some pressure off the government.

Security operatives are not decision makers, so cannot take all the blames for the Finance Bill that triggered the Kenyan civil disobedience. The government should tell the world why President Ruto’s did not properly assess the policy before contemplating the roll out. His expression of anger at the dereliction of duty on the part of security operatives is ‘damage control’ at its very best. The government; just like the security Agency have their blames too. Of course, we all know too well that government/leaders in our continent are never wrong.

The background given is to serve as a huge lesson to our President, Bola Tinubu and those running the Nigerian government with him. The tension in this country is building up to boiling point and we have to watch it because it’s almost at that point and the Kenyan incident would be a child’s play if it happens here.

Can anyone boldly and convincingly say that President Tinubu has been thoroughly assessing anticipated negative impacts of his “policies of hardship” before rolling them out and enforcing same down the throat of the ordinary Nigerians that can no longer breathe as rightly remarked by the flippant Senate President, Godswill Akpabio?

How many of these not-well-thought-out policies can we count? Is it the fuel subsidy withdrawal public announcement only to be secretly reintroduced few weeks after at multiple rates higher than what it was before May 29 2023? Is it the plethora of taxes and tariff hikes that have skyrocketed the prices of every basic commodity in the markets?

Now in Nigeria, a likely fierce nationwide protest is brewing in our setting. And its publicity and recruitment campaign is spreading like wildfire on the internet. Tagged #Endbadgovernanceinnigeria, “#ENDBGIN”, the proposed nationwide civil disobedience is being propelled by young Nigerians who are feeling disappointed and betrayed by the government in the manner they have ran the affairs of the nation without due thought on the welfare and wellbeing of the citizens especially the youths and the other vulnerable groups.

The question is: What’s the Nigerian government doing to nip it in the bud by genuinely addressing some of the issues the would-be protesters are raising?

The faceless and leaderless would-be protesters have stated their demands to include: An end to anti-people policies, over-taxing and electoral fraud; End to the subsidy scam and reversal of fuel price to below N300 per litre; reversal of tertiary education fees back to their previous rates; and Restoring electricity tariffs to affordable levels for the public.

Also, the group is asking for: Return of import duties to their previous rates; Public disclosures and reduction in the salaries of senators, House of Reps members; Establishment of an emergency fund to support SMEs; Make INEC independent of the executive branch with transparent processes for appointing its chairman; and Reopening of our national borders.

The federal government is also being asked to; Reform EFCC; Declare a state of emergency on inflation; and Reform the judiciary.

Clearly some of these requests cannot be addressed within a short time frame, but it should be expedient for the government to move and quickly too to begin to convincingly address some of the issues that can be effectively handled within days or weeks even if it requires executive orders to achieve that. In addition, the government should give a timeframe for those issues that require long term processes which may include constitutional amendments and immediately commence serious efforts to achieve them.

Above all, there’s need for convincing attitudinal changes in the way our government/public officials flout affluence with impunity in a society where over 90 percent of the people cannot boast of one decent meal a day. Nigeria must work for all of us and not for only those who are privileged to be in government. The government should act now and not to turn around after to look for who to blame. God bless Nigeria!

*** written by Ifeanyi Izeze

 

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