Fuel Subsidy As a Cure All Panacea to Nigeria's Problems

by Peter Claver Oparah

Once again, the nation’s blood pressure has been revved up by our rulers and we are being fatally told to await the unraveling of what should be the biggest increase in the price of fuel in January. Yes, the jinxed washermen and lickspittles of this absurd and clearly illogical economic order have been marshaled to be on the wait for what should be the biggest media blitz to herald the latest session in petroleum price increment, otherwise known as removal of fuel subsidy. In one of the nation’s leading newspapers over the weekend, the report was carried that, as usual, a huge tranche of money has been earmarked for the media campaign for the impending fuel price increment. So Nigerians should not be surprised if in the next few weeks, the print and electronic media are inundated with the usual drab and syndicated adverts, extolling fuel subsidy removal as the only panacea to our mounting problems. Attempts would be made to position this hemlock as a touch-and-go antidote to the many national problems this government seems so hopelessly powerless and annoyingly clueless about.

Nigerians should expect no new message, no change in selling style and no convincing argument to back this latest extortion binge that targets the remaining pint of blood in the system of ever suffering Nigerians. Our so called leaders are not known to have the capacity to think beyond the wonky and jejune reasons Babangida employed to steal in this deadly rat poison on April 20, 1982 when he increased the price of fuel from 15.3k to 20k a liter and set in flight a negative ennui our ethically rusty, intellectually derelict and amoral leaders have found so irresistible that they can do anything to employ it for their self serving interests. We should not expect any new reasoning because there is none and our leaders are not pretending they want to convince us because they know very well the stand of most Nigerians on this issue. The release of several billions of Naira to promote this phantom policy in the media is merely to live up to the very fact that has imposed this deadly fatwa on us; find money for the boys, as the fuel subsidy issue is also to provide free funds for the boys. In other words, subsidy is by-word for ceaseless extortions to satisfy the god of corruption.

It is good we revisit the history of fuel subsidy removal for us to know where the rain started beating us. The nonsense about the prebendal Nigerian state subsidizing fuel price started in April 1992 when the dictatorship of Ibrahim Babangida revved up the price of a liter of fuel from 15.3 kobo to 20kobo. He was to do it again on March 31 1986, when he increased the price from 20k to 39.5k, on April 10 1988, from 39.5k to 42k. On January 1, 1998, it increased the price from 42k to 60k (although the regime said it is for private vehicles only, as it said the price remained 42k for commercial vehicles). On December 19, 1989, it moved to a uniform price of 60k. On March6, 1991, the price of a liter of fuel was increased from 60k to 70k and that was the price regime before the regime was chased out of power in August 1993.

The stop gap regime of Ernest Shonekan was to employ this devious policy to increase the price of a liter of fuel from 70k to N5 on November 8, 1993 but after a hectic mass protest, which culminated in the military kick out of the illegitimate regime, the incoming Abacha regime reduced the increment to N3.25 on November 22, 1993. On October 2m 1994, the Abacha junta increased the price of fuel to N15, from N3.25 but after massive street protests, the regime reduced the increment to N11 on October 4, 1994. That was the price till Abacha expired and the Abdulsalami Abubakar care taker junta was to rev up the price from N11 to N25 on December 20 1998 and after days of sustained protests, it was forced to reduce the increment to N20 on January 6, 1999.

The Obasanjo regime adopted this fraud as the cornerstone of its economic policy for no sooner than it was sworn in than it reached for it to effect an increment to N30 on June 1, 2000 but protests and mass rejection forced it to reduce the increment to N25 on June 8, 2000 and further down to N22 on June 13, 2000. The regime was again to increase the price to N26 on January 1, 2002 and again to N40 on June 23, 2003. He was to retch it up to N70 by the time he left in May 2009 but the incoming Yar’Adua regime reduced it to N65, after general protest against the new price regime.

The Yar’Adua regime made efforts to increase the price of petroleum products but could not muster the will to walk through the increasing mass disapproval for such act. The Jonathan presidency was initially more concerned with consolidating its tenuous hold on power after Yar’Adua and winning the incoming presidential race as to tinker with the existing price. But with the regime sworn in for a fresh term, it was not difficult why it is behaving as if its life depends on draining what remains of the life blood of parched and famished Nigerians for whatever he feels he is doing as Nigerian president. Given the widespread corruption and open trading that attended the last general election, where there is yet no rebuttal to the shocking report that a hefty sum running into hundreds of billions of Naira were released on the eve of the general election, to provoke the kind of bizarre trading of votes we saw in full display at polling centers all over Nigeria, it is obvious that someone must pay and he has to be the ordinary Nigerian.

It is instructive that it was only the Abacha junta, which made concerted efforts to utilize the proceeds from its own increment to do some tangible things. This he did by setting up the Petroleum Trust Fund, which made some credible interventions in some sectors of the polity as it lasted. It is also instructive to note that the PDP government since 1999 has been most proficient in this scam and has demonstrated the worst sense of accountability in managing the proceeds from these increments. In the last thirteen years, when fuel increment has assumed dizzying heights, we have witnessed the worst atrophy in virtually all sectors of our national life and witnessed the worst act of asset stripping in the life of our country as an independent nation. It says a lot about its freshly rehearsed but over-employed promises of turning our country into an Eldorado with the intended retrieval of the so called subsidy when we know that it is mere peanut compared to the hundreds of billions of dollars that accrue to the nation yearly through oil sales but which are mainly looted by those who have seen a cure-it-all promise in subjecting Nigerians to painful periodic extortions in the name of subsidy removal.

As I had insisted in some previous reports, I am hard put buying this nonsense of fuel subsidy and all what not. If the government is saying Nigerians, majority of whom operate outside government and gain nothing from the trillions of Naira annual budget rituals that end up being stolen at the end of the day, must be forced to pay for its inefficiency and to keep the mills of its huge corruption complex running, we will understand their stand. If Nigerians must pay for the complete wreck of the nation’s oil industry and its conversion into a haven for pimps and scoundrels that are beholden to the government of the day, we will understand where successive governments are coming from. These wreckage that is being employed as a tool for mass impoverishment accounts for why Nigeria is the only major leading nation on earth that depends on imported finished fuel products and is the major leading oil producing nation that pays the highest price for fuel (at N65) and the government feels that it is best to continue this policy just because it allows it an unplugged wellhead for looting.

The downstream sector of the country’s oil industry is a racket writ large and the government is a chief patron of this racket. Those that run in might well belong to the most hideous secret cults known to man. The players are the friends, fronts, cahoots and

associates of those in government and it is to their interests the government is hell bent on inflicting this latest punishment on pulverized and long suffering Nigerians. It is not in a haste to deal with the racketeers and swindlers that have reduced the country’s oil industry to a scammers’ heaven. It will rather patronize them for they are its friends and business fronts and will rather pass the burden for its own failure on the masses. The Nigerian oil industry is a jungle of sorts; poorly audited, poorly managed and hardly accountable corruption complex where bacchanal stealing and sundry acts of looting take place. Nigerian yearly oil output is a matter of conjecture and reports says that what is officially reported as sold each year is just a fraction of what is stolen, bunkered or misappropriated unedited. Swathed with legions of bottlenecks and man-made craters, it is not surprising that it has become a deadly cudgel in the hands of successive governments who employ it at will to chastise the people without let.

What is outstanding in this subsidy argument, since it berthed to constantly torment Nigerians, is that it is not backed by any sound arguments, it is not fortified by any believable and verifiable statistics and it is short on the good intentions needed to convince a skeptical citizenry to start putting their faith and trust in government that has consistently excelled in proving it could never be trusted. The government and its supporters, most of whom are heavily induced, have only traded on such cheap reasoning as;

-Some crooks (who are fronts, business associates and well known friends of government) are the ones collecting the huge money allegedly spent on subsidy so the people must be made to pay.

-The nation should forget about refineries as government believes that our total local consumption must be imported.

-The government cannot police our borders through which it says some people ship the fuel meant for Nigerians’ consumption to neighboring countries.

Because of all these advertisement of self incompetence, Nigerians must be milked to assuage the god of corruption, which is fully patronized by those in government.

The reality of the kind of scam this subsidy amounts to remains that it is an open-ended racket that has no ceiling. Because little, apart from the fairy tales of turning the nation into an Eldorado with the proceeds of every subsidy removed, is said or known about the operations of the nation’s oil sector, successive governments have had to force its ways through the sagging wills of the people. It has no starting and closing price and this makes it more dangerous. So whoever thinks that the government would have stopped at any price in its attempt to subsidize its incompetence must be a dreamer. The much we get are convenient statistics that are cooked to advance the rapacious fangs of this policy and further worsen the poverty level in Nigeria. In doing this, these governments are leveraging so much on the weaknesses of the people to control and moderate their leaders’ actions than any apparent conviction it has secured from Nigerian people about the potency of this cure-all panacea. That is what has been sustaining the audacity of our rampaging leaders to visit this scourge on us and care no hoot in the process. They have their eyes trained on the numerous fonts of plundering which the next session in extortion called subsidy removal will open for them and their subalterns.

But we are being milked and sentenced to preventable death by every act of increment. This is the reason Nigerians must resolve to employ the impending increment to settle this issue as well as the many other issues that have ensured our nation remains a malformed cretin after fifty one woeful years of independence. As the government believes the removal of the so called subsidy has all the answers to their problems, the Nigerian masses have the same opportunity to employ the issue to ask why they came to be so bestially raped and seek practical solution to the problem of rapine governance that has slated their heads permanently on the executioner’s slab. We can use the opportunity offered by the impending extortion session to ask why we should continually feed a cult of unfeeling preys to constantly prey on us for their sustenance. I think the gathering tempest over fuel price increment offers Nigerians their best chance to meaningfully address their mounting problems. Let us not waste that golden opportunity!

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