Oil Subsidy Removal: Occupy Aso Rock Now!

by Abiodun Ladepo

This must be the worst New Year that Nigerians have celebrated since the civil war ended in 1970. The ill-advised removal of oil subsidy and the attendant increase in petrol price from N65 per liter to N130 per liter clearly indicate that Nigerian leaders are severely out of touch and roundly obtuse. How on earth could Goodluck Jonathan (I refuse to address him as President) preside over an EXCO meeting where it was resolved to raise the price of petrol by ANY amount, let alone 100%, given the abject condition of living to which most Nigerians have been consigned?

I thought that Jonathan, being a “learned” man (PhD and all that), and surrounding himself with some notable economists (Okonjo-Iweala et al), and a renowned social critic as media adviser (Reuben Abati), would understand that a 4-cylinder vehicle, say a Toyota Tercel with a 15-gallon (38.76-liter) tank that used to cost N2,519 to fill up last week now costs N5,426; that a 6-cylinder vehicle, say a 5-series BMW with a 20-gallon tank (75.68-liter) that used to cost N4,919 to fill up last week now costs N10,595; and that an 8-cylinder vehicle, say a Toyota Sequoia with a 25-gallon (94.6-liter) tank that used to cost N6,149 to fill up last week, now costs N13,244. If you factor-in the current black market exchange rate (dollar-naira), it now costs $82 to fill up a Sequoia in Nigeria! OMG!!! It costs just $79 to fill up the same Sequoia in Atlanta, Georgia and $92 in Los Angeles, California – both in the US. Get this: the per capita income of Nigeria in 2010, according to the World Bank, was $2,437, while that of the US was $46,860. Nigeria ranked 141 out of 183 countries that the IMF published their income per capita, and ranked 138 out of 180 countries published by the World Bank. Ghana and Cameroun bested Nigeria with $10,748 and $10,758 per capita incomes respectively. Can you believe that? Was it not a few years ago when Ghanaians flocked to Nigeria for better jobs and better salaries?

Other countries whose people earned more than Nigerians included: Morocco, Egypt, Syria, Bolivia and El Salvador. El Salvador? El Salvador? There were more: Belize, Tonga, Samoa, Guyana and Kiribati. Kiribati? My goodness! Where the heck is Kiribati? And this government expects Nigerians to pay the same amount for petrol that Americans pay? What is wrong with these people?

If the so-called learned ones in this government had an ounce of brain, and a scintilla of conscience to go with it, they would have looked at this subsidy removal idea from the standpoint of the degree of heartache it would cost ordinary Nigerians. A hike in the cost of petrol automatically translates into a hike in the cost of commercial transportation – transportation of people and of goods – which also translates into a hike in the cost of food, water and other necessities. You do not need a PhD to figure that out. You just need some common sense and a bit of compassion for the people over whom you rule. It effectively means the death, literally, of Nigerians. Many would die of starvation; others would die of malnutrition (if all they can afford is to drink gari every day after paying for fuel). Many would simply die by suicide, out of sheer frustration and resignation that God created and placed them in a country beset by a succession of clueless and heartless rulers. Nigerians already die from all sorts of avoidable deaths – like armed robbery, bad roads, floods due to bad drainage system, Boko Haram, poor healthcare system, non-potable water, exhaust fumes from generators, assassinations, and myriad other Nigeria-made dangers. But this fuel hike will hasten the death of more.

Unless…unless Nigerians finally reclaim their country from this bunch of marauders masquerading as leaders. Unless Nigerians say a big, fat, NO to being ridden roughshod over by a bunch of confused leaders whose stock-in-trade is self aggrandizement and the perpetuation of penury and servitude of the Nigerian people. Unless Nigerians are ready to sacrifice a few of them…yes…to die in the hands of the police or the military in order to achieve a just society.
How on earth could we be the largest oil producing country in Africa and we can’t subsidize fuel for our people? How on earth could we have earned over N9.15 trillion ($59 billion) in 2011 alone from oil exports (a 46% increase over 2010), according to the National Bureau of Statistics, and we can’t subsidize petrol for our people? Where did all that money go? I’ll tell you.

We spend a whopping 17% – 25% of our revenues (90% of which now comes ONLY from oil) on our National Assembly – the same bunch of people who were asleep at the wheel while Jonathan drove the nation to the edge of this precipice. A Nigerian senator earns roughly N240 million ($1.7 million) in salaries and allowances. That comes to about N20 million a month, roughly N1 million a day since they barely open 5 days a week! A typical member of the House of Representatives earns about N204 million ($1.45 million) per annum. Meanwhile, in the U.S., the country after which we fashioned our democracy, a senator earns $174, 000. A U.K. parliamentarian earns about $64, 000 per annum. Is it any wonder that those lawmakers have no qualms about paying N130 per liter for their SUVs?

Do our lawmakers deserve to earn so much money given the gross ineptitude that permeates their rank and file? Parliamentarians typically represent people in their constituencies; do these people represent us? In a decent society, the Senate and the House would have hurled before them the trio of Okonjo-Iweala, Diezani Alison-Madueke and Sanusi Lamido – Minister of Finance, Minister of Petroleum Resources and Central Bank of Nigeria Governor respectively – and peppered them with questions about the rationale for inflicting such anguish on Nigerians at this particular time.

The trio would have probably argued that it was unconscionable for Nigeria to be subsidizing its fuel consumption to the tune of N1.134 trillion annually. That money, they would have said, went to powerful cabals in the oil industry who profited immensely by deliberately frustrating government’s efforts at encouraging the building of private refineries. The trio would have argued that, therefore, if the subsidy was removed, these same cabals would be encouraged to develop private refineries, and over time, competition among them would drive down the cost of oil. Baloney! Baloney!! Baloney!!! Who has ever heard of the price of anything that went up in Nigeria ever coming down? Second, the Federal government has four refineries – two in Port Harcourt, one each in Warri and Kaduna. No one in the past 40 years or so can claim that any of the refineries ever operated at full capacity. Last year, the refineries sputtered along at between 30% – 60% operating capacities. Because of that, Nigeria has had to export crude oil to countries that have full-functioning refineries, and in return, import 85% of refined petroleum. It is this imported petroleum that the country must subsidize because it is sold to Nigeria at (or near) its cost in the country that refined it.

This removal of subsidy “fiam” – just like that – is akin to putting the cart before the horse. Reasonable economists and sociologists, and people versed in the art of governance, would first make sure that all of our refineries worked at full capacity before tinkering with subsidy. The Federal government would have built more refineries to accommodate our 14% annual rate of increase in fuel consumption. If the Federal government could not maintain its own refineries, what made it think private entities could? Furthermore, Jonathan should have worked to ensure regular supply of electricity to those refineries; fixed our roads and resuscitated our dilapidated railway system so that fuel could be transported safely and faster throughout the country. Jonathan should then have deployed a detachment of the EFCC to the oil industry to look into the massive

corruption there. Clearly, these are steps that reasonable governments would take; long-term, deliberate steps aimed at ameliorating systemic problems in the oil sector. But ours is not a deliberative government. We run Bolekaja (impromptu) governments in Nigeria. Constructing new refineries and improving our road and railway networks are important job creators for many of our unemployed. And they are valuable infrastructural investments. (If somebody had not thought of building the Carter and Third mainland bridges in Lagos, we would have been crossing over to Lagos Island by boat and canoe today.) But above all, it is a national security issue if any country is importing 85% of its fuel, especially if that country produces crude oil. Haba Nigeria! Haba Jonathan!! This is too elementary to be debatable.

Come to think of it, what is the difference between this Jonathan guy and the late Yar’Adua? I can not find any fundamental difference. They both presided over a lethargic government. In the case of Yar’Adua, we now know that he was gravely ill. Maybe he would have performed better (like he was doing in his home state of Katsina) had he not taken ill. But who was Jonathan before he was catapulted into prominence? He was deputy-governor to Diepreye Alamieyesiegha of Bayelsa State. And when that guy got his hand caught in the State’s coffers and was impeached, Jonathan reluctantly ascended the seat of governor. In Bayelsa, there is no record of any significant thing he performed there. And now at Aso Rock, he has been presiding over a government that makes Nigerians yearn for the days of Shehu Shagari. Jonathan has no idea what to do with Boko Haram. He has no idea what to do about electricity. He has no idea what to do about our crumbling health sector. Under this sleep-walking guy, the EFCC was defanged and rendered a toothless bulldog. We no longer hear of corrupt governors carted off to jail after regurgitating their loot. The EFCC has now become almost as corrupt as the Nigerian Police. I know we criticized Obasanjo a lot when he was there. I was part of that crew that lambasted him for wanting to extend his tenure. Jonathan makes me wish OBJ was still President. At least, under him, we got some excitement in government; our external debt was drastically cut; our parliamentarians were put in check; decisive actions were taken against armed militants, keeping the country from degenerating into the kind of chaos in which we now find ourselves; and thieving government officials saw Nuhu Ribadu in their dreams.

Today, however, we have a free-for-all government. No accountability whatsoever. No pulse. No direction. We are peripatetically floundering. The ship of our nation is captained by a drunken sailor, and we are listing, in troubled waters, about to capsize. Take, for example, what our Captain did when the Boko Haram sect detonated explosives in churches on Christmas day. It took the president days before making a public statement. And when he did, he threw up his arms, telling Nigerians that terrorism was a phenomenon with which they now had to live. And I wondered if our very own Reuben Abati wrote that speech for him. And if he didn’t, he should have seen the speech before Jonathan read it to the nation. And if Abati had not seen the speech, then what the heck is his job? Why is Jonathan a leader if that is all he can say or do about the Christmas day massacre? My gold fish (I do not have a pet dog) could have done better. What a spineless entity! Nigerians should know by now that the job of governing the country is way over Jonathan’s head. He is undoubtedly overwhelmed. He should have remained deputy-governor of Bayelsa State, or better still, a lecturer somewhere. Boy! What would Governor Raji Fashola of Lagos State do with Nigeria if he had the kind of opportunity that Jonathan is frittering away? We will probably never know. Nigeria is not known for electing qualified people at the Federal level. We wasted Aminu Kano; wasted Nnamdi Azikiwe; and wasted Obafemi Awolowo.

Now, according to Alison-Madueke, the entire deregulation of the oil sector “…will be overseen by a Board to be constituted by Mr President; consulting firms with international reputation will be appointed to provide technical assistance to the Board in financial and project management; relevant ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) would set up Project Implementation Units to drive the implementation; an independent body will be responsible for monitoring and evaluating the implementation and will report directly to the Board…” Is this not another avenue for stealing oil money? This is nothing but another set of snail-speed bureaucratic maneuvering that will not bring immediate or even long-term succor to the generality of the populace. Why does the President need a Board when we have all those civil servants at the petroleum ministry who are already collecting salaries for doing virtually nothing? Why duplicate duties and responsibilities? Why do we need consulting firms “with international reputation” to provide “technical assistance” in “financial and project management”? Don’t we have qualified Nigerians in our entire finance sector, including universities? Why hand over the management of our finance to foreigners? This is ludicrous.

I hope the hullaballoo generated by this subsidy issue blows up in this administration’s face. And I hope that this generates a conflagration that would consume the entire cast of good-for-nothing leaders who are selling us short and stealing the futures of our generations yet unborn. I hope Nigerians summon enough courage to fight this government to a standstill and not accept any palliative measures. Labor unions and other groups have threatened a five-day strike starting on January 9th. Five days will not be enough. This government can wait them out for five days. Nigerians must be prepared for an indefinite occupation. Occupying Lagos, Benin City, Kaduna or Sokoto will not achieve much. Pressure groups must be prepared to occupy Abuja and make the place too hot for politicians.

And for our media, this is really a manifestation of the arrant dereliction of duty exhibited by them in the lead-up to Jonathan’s election. Nobody asked this man how he would bring down the price of petrol when he was canvassing for votes. We all accepted N65 per liter as the new normal when, in fact, fuel used to be much cheaper. Nobody asked Jonathan, or any of his rivals, any specific questions about the litany of problems facing Nigeria. The media engaged in the dissemination of slogans, the result of which is a lame president and a Congress full of empty barrels.

I hope that Nigerians learn from this incident that our politicians need to be vetted before voting for them. All of us who voted for a candidate because he/she was from our clan, tribe, ethnicity, town, or State should be ashamed of ourselves. All of us who accepted money in return for our votes should be ashamed of ourselves. All of us who helped rig elections should be ashamed of ourselves. Elections do have consequences. And a people deserve whatever government that they have. Shame! Shame!! Shame!!! Shame on all of us for sacrificing our future at the altar of ignorance.

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