By Patience Dassah
Christmas day (Dec.25, 2011) opens another spree of bombing in the country claiming more casualties. Bombs exploded at St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, Madalla, in Niger State, in Jos plateau State and in Yobe state, killing and wounding a significant number of innocent citizens.
Barely two days later, we heard of tragic and mindless killings within a community in Ebonyi State in which over sixty people lost their lives with properties worth millions of naira destroyed and hundreds of families displaced. A similar scenario happened in Adamawa state. Presently, 15 Local Government Councils from Niger, Yobe, Borno and Plateau States are under States of emergency due to violence and insecurity. In the midst of all this, on New Year’s Day, the President announced the withdrawal of fuel subsidy and threw an already angry and frustrated nation into convulsion and pandemonium. A lot of groups rose up to the actions of government and declare an indefinite strike and took to the streets seven days after the President’s announcement.
The six (6) day strike by the Nigerian masses has been suspended, yet many questions still remain unresolved in the minds of many. One of those questions is has the strike really achieved what it wants? Many claimed they have been sold out, while others hold it was worth it since they were able to force the Government to reduce the pump price of PMS. But the big question is was it all about the pump price of fuel?
There is no doubt that the largely peaceful protests marked an important milestone in our democratic process. The level of maturity, consistency, comportment, constructive and principled expression of dissent by the majority of the protesters is especially commendable. Nigerians came out, against all odds, to express their constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of expression, and have done so passionately. Nigerians should bear in mind that the protest was not just about the price of petrol but the right to be heard, the need to be consulted on policies and the need to have good governance, fight corruption, curb wastages in government and build a democracy that puts the people at the centre of decision making. The outcome is a vindication that sovereignty belongs to the people and that Nigeria is bigger than any individual or political party.
Every one was singing remove or don’t remove fuel subsidy, how many really know what fuel subsidy is all about? To have good grasp of what these subsidy is all about, I have to educate myself too on the matter of oil subsidy and its recent removal by the government. I felt it was only right that I have an informed view in order to take a position on any matter.
I have heard the government’s position on the intended use of the proceeds of fuel subsidy removal and have listened to many commentators both for and against the subsidy removal. I will not be wrong to tell you that many don’t really know what the real subsidy is, whether they are speaking for or against. Given all the explanations that President GoodLuck Jonathan and his entire cabinet have
proffered and the zeal, vigor and enthusiasms with which they have gone about delivering the “facts” to the public, I am almost tempted to believe that they have something good off their sleeves to offer this Country.
We can say, from a purely economic and national development point, the removal of fuel subsidy appears to make sense, because we cannot continue to dole out our hard earn national treasure to a few people because they import oil on behalf of the government.
I will be quick to note that, it isn’t just the removal of fuel subsidy that displeases Nigerians. It is firstly, the wider matter of governance and government corruption and the impunity with which it is carried out. Nigerians are unhappy with the insensitivity of government to the plight of the people. This is evident by the fact that there were no attempts to consult widely on the subsidy removal matter before it was implemented. Furthermore, the lack of a clear and effective strategy to alleviate the obvious burden that subsidy removal will place on the people is also an evidence of government insensitivity. One could also argue that coming at a period when people are groaning under the bombings by the Boko Haram terrorist sect, the timing of the removal of oil subsidy further shows insensitivity and clear ineptitude on the part of the government.
We certainly would not be in this situation of importing refined oil and having to subsidize it if we had invested in our four refineries so that they function at full capacity, which I understand would be enough to satisfy our domestic demand. I am convinced beyond doubt that fuel importation is the best business all over the world, especially in Nigeria the 6th largest oil producing country in the world. But how can one imports fuel into a country that is producing crude oil? The simple answer to it, as far as the oil-business moguls are concerned, “more money”. And the logic to getting it is, first destroy the systems, destroy the local refineries and create artificial scarcity, set any price, Nigerians will go cap in hand begging for the fuel at any rate. An American broadcaster, “Larry King Live” once said Nigeria is the only country in the world that imports what they have and exports what they don’t have, when a military dictator sent troupes to install democracy along the coastal selves of West Africa. We don’t know who to believe, Prof Tam David West or the government.
A responsible government would lay out a credible plan to alleviate the burden that subsidy removal will bring on its people. This would have been done in good time and not as an afterthought a week later. It is laughable that President Jonathan made the launching of 1600 buses as one of his government core strategy to alleviate the burden of subsidy removal; whereas 2000 of such buses were provided for Lagosians by the government of Lagos state. 1600 buses for a country of over 167 million people? These buses will not be enough for Abuja alone not to talk of the whole country. It’s only in Nigeria that governance is not a continued process. Not long ago, a former minister of the FCT bought similar buses for transportation in the FCT, but still it did not solve the transportation challenge, yet a whole Federation is buying that meager number. Most States in Nigeria have been unable to implement the 18,000 naira monthly minimum wage introduced by the government yet there is already a jack-up in the price of everything?
This government would have published its strategy to rein in the runaway corruption in the country. It will prosecute those who have defrauded the nation whoever they may be. It’s this same government that killed the anti-corruption agency which has been doing fairly well despite criticism from other quarters, but we should not run away from the fact that Nigeria was seen tackling corruption then, whether it is perceived to be against political opponents.
Nigerian masses are crying foul of government policies to improvise them while their excesses in government are racketing high by the day. Cutting 25 percent off the salary of the executive arm of government is too little too late. Not even a three- year old Nigerian believes that anyone in government live on his or her salary. This will have been done in good time not a fire service approach, first of all what are the basic salaries of the Ministers and the executive? Please tell Nigerians what is the worth of the executive that their salaries will only be cut by 25%? Please do the Mathematics, a Minister earns an annual basic salary of 10M, but his allowance annually is 600M, what kind of Abracadabra is this?
The President would have been more credible if he had tackled the obscene money budgeted for running the government, travel, accommodation, gardening etc. Spending 3 million per day on food at the Presidency is pure, unadulterated corruption Mr. President, it tarnishes your image that such a huge amount of money is spent under your watch when the vast majority of Nigerians will never earn that amount in a lifetime, yet you feel our pain.
Let’s take a glimpse into the wasteful and overblown proposed spending of the government. 1 Billion For feeding at Aso rock, another 1 Billion for fueling Generators, 58 Million Naira to buy newspapers for the VP, 500 Million for the unconstitutional office of the first Lady, We will spend close to 500 Billion on International Travels, some state governors will collect 100M as security votes MONTHLY and they will continue to enjoy immunity clause.
Meanwhile our hospitals will have no drugs, quality equipments or personnel. After the Madalla (St. Theresa’s church Christmas day) bombing and the UN Secretariat bomb blast, most of the victims were flown abroad for treatment. Can we ask ourselves why? Nigeria has some of the world’s best medical personnel yet no functional hospitals. For how long shall we continue to use state resources to send people to other countries for treatment instead of building our own health institutions? Can our president go to any Nigerian hospital when he is sick?
Our schools still have no quality to train a world class scholar, no wander they send their children to private schools and abroad to get education while the poor man cannot even send his wards to school. ASUU has been on strike and the government is doing nothing. Maybe we should take to the streets again for that strike to be called off; since that is the only language the government understands.
Our roads are still death traps, we are still local government unto ourselves, providing water, security, power and social security, yet we will still pay toll on Federal interstate roads and pay more for petroleum products.
Yet this is a country that does things to please international community rather than its citizens. Our President could not apologize to Nigerians for the hardship Nigerians went-through for these past 6 days of strike action and for the resources and lives lost, but Mr. President is bold to apologize to the international community for what they went-through during the strike. What a country? What did our government do when Nigerians are slaughtered and killed in these foreign lands? What has our government done when Nigerians were racially abused? What have they done when many Nigerians are suffering in foreign prisons? How many foreigners does Nigeria have in its prisons? Or are we saying they are saints in our country? You and I know the atrocities these people are committing, but they always get away with kit gloves, and still we are quick to apologize to them whenever they are affected by our policies in anyway. These people do not care whether these policies are to the benefit of Nigerians or not as far as they get what they want and our governments are joyously dancing to their tone.
It’s only in Nigeria that important suspects as those who are responsible for the death of many innocent Nigerians are either killed when captured, given bail, given a lenient sentence or escape from custody under security watch. Can Mr. President apologize for all these and the lives of many innocent Nigerians that have been wasted because of the Boko Haram activities? There is no commitment on the part of our government to tackle the security problem, but they are committed to removing fuel subsidy overnight. Nigerians have argued that the only benefit they derive from being citizens of this country is the subsidy on oil. We do not have good roads, or good medical facilities. Our schools are in deplorable state, so is every other infrastructure. To remove subsidy on fuel the people argued is not only a slap on the face, but a journey to the grave for most citizens.
The irony of it all is that, money supposedly saved from the removal of oil subsidy will be divided between national, state and local governments. If these people cannot do anything with the resources they have now, how are we sure they will be able to utilized the subsidy money if we trust them with it? Who will monitor how the state governors, who are much more distrusted by the people and local government chairmen spend the money? Most of these people have not boarded commercial planes, buses or been to the petrol stations for the past 11 years. Yet these are the same individuals calling for the removal of subsidy on fuel and claiming they feel our pains! Please someone should educate us.
All people’s desire is to understand the political and economic choices which are made in their name; they wish to participate in good governance. No economic regime is ideal and no economic choice is neutral. But these must always serve the common good.
Nigeria is changing because Nigerians are taking back their country from the grip of marauders. These stories, few as they may be, are the beginning of our song of freedom. No religion, Boko Haram, tribe or ethnicity will stand on our way and we will continue to ask, does subsidy really exist.