Nigeria Matters

FAO Messrs Belgore and Kolade

Whilst most households in the country were dealing with the shock, anger and fear caused by the New Year day news that the price of petrol will go up, the families and friends of Justice Alfa Belgore, former Chief Justice of the federation and that of Dr. Christopher Kolade, Nigeria’s erstwhile High Commissioner to the United Kingdom must have been in a different mood. It is safe to assume that they were either rejoicing or at least congratulating these two gentlemen for their new appointments as heads of important two committees related to the most current affairs of the country today.

Justice Alfa Belgore has been nominated to chair the talking committee; his group has the task of dialoguing with organized labour and other stakeholders. Dr. Christopher Kolade, on the other hand, has been appointed to chair the spending committee, his own group has been charged to oversee and ensure the effective and timely implementation of projects to be funded with savings accruing to the Federal Government from the subsidy removal. Congratulating them for these appointments is not out of place as it is a sign that these two gentlemen are considered to possess enough credibility and maybe even competence to cover such sensitive roles.

The days of saying I accepted this or that role against my wish are over, so by accepting these roles, these two gentlemen have also signaled their willingness, conviction and capability to deal with these contentious issues. Needless to say they must be or at least consider themselves to be very thick-skinned and adequately informed to deal with criticism, complexities and questions that will come with the roles they chose to accept.

Before their recent nominations, these two gentlemen were not part of the government, the last time we checked they were both private citizens, respected and elderly yes but just private citizens like the rest of us, so as they settle into their new roles it is pertinent to ask when they were offered these positions. Some of us would like to know if and when they knew that government would announce the removal of subsidy on petrol. It is hard to believe that they woke up like the rest of us to the news or that they just discovered the development after they found their local petrol station closed. Whilst we are it, the Judge and the Dr. might as well make a note of who else knew about the impending price hike in advance. We are hoping that Justice Alfa Belgore in particular would be interested in finding out if any speculator made any illicit profit from having inside information in advance. Such information will aid Justice Belgore in proving to all the stakeholders he will be talking to that giving the economic hardship (or pain as President Jonathan puts it) most citizens will be facing due to the hike in price of petrol, the Federal Government of Nigeria has no more intention of letting anyone get away with any privileged, unproductive or illicit benefit in the oil sector anymore.

In preparing for his task, Justice Belgore should also take his time to find out and be prepared to answer questions relating to why the government decided to announce and implement this contentious removal of subsidy, whilst embarking on town hall meetings and whilst up until just days before the sudden announcement, top officials of the same government were telling people that nothing will happen till April 2012.

Luckily or unluckily for Justice Belgore and Dr Kolade both of their committees will be made up of the same people that helped shaped and propagated this subsidy removal policy. Whoever decided who shall be part of those committees must have assumed they will never seat to hold their meetings at the same time since none of them can be in two places at the same time. Let us use this opportunity to advice the new chairmen to remember to consult each other before fixing meetings and to remember never to hold their meetings at the same time unless they plan to have joint sessions.

During their consultations, we shall also be very grateful if Justice Belgore and Dr Kolade can take some time to find out if the administration headed by President Jonathan has through and with the help of his ministers, economic and other advisers, national and international independent analyst and political economists, ruling and opposition parties through the two legislative chambers and other civil bodies explored other possible means of raising the money they need for carrying out all the projects needed to achieve the president’s transformational agenda for Nigeria. We shall like to know who they consulted, what options were proposed and explored before settling for the subsidy removal and why.

Dr Kolade in particular should constantly bear in mind that the annual 1.34 trillion naira his own committee is charged to oversee will come from the earnings of people who were forced to make sacrifices they had no intention of making and many of whom have hitherto benefited little or nothing from the Nigerian project. Most of these contributing citizens have never had any appointment, won any contract or been granted any government license or concession in their life.

We know what has happened to such funds in the past and we continue to hope that the future will be better, in the meantime we shall be grateful if Dr Kolade’s committee will quickly give us some information on how he intends to protect their sacrifices, will any of these funds generate interest before spending and at what rate?

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