“Water, light, food, house, yeparipa ooo, wetin do dem…?”
As you read this piece, chances are you already have got wind of the looming chaos that next January will usher in for every lower-class Nigerian. As you move from this year’s Christmas to celebrate the coming year, slaughtering all that you can, the current N65 cost of petrol may have soared to about N144 per litre. Also to be affected are kerosene and other crude oil offerings. At the time of elections, many not-far-seeing, gullible Nigerians had applauded our slow-acting President for having achieved some stability in the pump price of petrol – our collective national crude oil resource. Mr. President thinks Nigerians should have kept shut as he now moves to break our spinal chords with the proposed deregulation of the downstream sector to allow for the final removal of fuel subsidy.
For years, Nigeria’s organized labour unions have battled with the Nigerian government over hikes in the pump prices of petroleum products, which the latter has endlessly claimed to have subsidized with money it could have put to better uses. Now, again, labour unions in the country are fuming in readiness for another epic battle that may leave our economy in preventable despair, should the subsidy removal move sail through. On occasions, between 1999 and 2007, former President Olusegun Obasanjo jerked up the pump price of petrol leading to strikes that visited many homes with hard times. The economic losses to such strike actions were awful.
For over a decade, the PDP-led Nigerian government has failed Nigerians in terms of meaningful and impactful service delivery. There is no water, yet we have always had a ministry whose duty it is to ensure that. Our roads remain death traps, yet there is a ministry that should prevent this. Recall how a former Works Minister allegedly squandered several billions of our currency doing nothing about the perennially blood-sucking Ore-Benin Road. Electricity is far from available; even when it is, you have to pray seriously that it should last for a jiffy. The National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) metamorphosed into the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) with worse results. Not even with the $16 billion alleged to have been wasted on this crucial sector by the Obasanjo presidency. Where has that led us? Into darker darkness!
Right-thinking Nigerians have rightly questioned the proposed subsidy removal saying that it would have sounded reasonable had our government sufficiently improved infrastructure. As one Obi Moore argued at Saharareporters.com, you cannot buy a litre of fuel for N150 only to burn that to five hours of traffic jam on our bad roads. Equally, the saddening fact that we do not run a viable rail system forecloses masses-friendly alternatives. Therefore, and certainly, the issue of subsidy removal will only be met with many more dissenting opinions.
One of such was from the American University of Nigeria’s Leonard Shilgba, who recently at Sahareporters wondered why former President Obasanjo failed to do all that he had pledged to with savings from the Sovereign Debts servicing. Towards the end of Obasanjo’s administration, Nigeria got a debt pardon to the tune of over 30 billion US dollars from the Paris and London clubs of creditors. Before cancelling Nigeria’s indebtedness, they had been told by Obasanjo that a rail network covering 1,300 km from Lagos to Kano would gulp some of the savings gained from servicing the Sovereign Debts.
Shilgba recalls how Obasanjo only flagged off the construction of the $8.3 billion US dollars worth dual-rail network whose completion timeframe was 2010. Trains running on that rail network were to travel at about 160 km per hour, meaning that a trip to Abuja from Lagos would last less than five hours. As usual, our politicians, many of whom are still in power, caused the project to be abandoned mid-way by our politicians who alleged that the contract for the project had been inflated. Then, in vain, the Nigerian Senate pledged to probe cancellation of the project. Lies, lies and lies always.
The Associate Professor of Mathematics arguably spoke the minds of many right-thinking Nigerians when he wrote, “If the federal government has nothing to show for the debt cancellation or “forgiveness” five years after, why should Nigerians trust that same government to use whatever savings from fuel subsidy? It is the same government because, firstly, it remains PDP-led government. Besides, David Mark has been Senate President for more than four years. President Jonathan has been around as Vice-President, Acting President, or President for more than five years now.
“During this period, an important project like the railway construction I referred to above was set aside. An efficient railway system of transportation could reduce cost of moving goods such as petroleum products, which, as Senator Paulker said in 2009, would have eased the hardship on the Nigerian masses that would result from removal of fuel subsidy”.
Things have only been in reverse. Every year, our Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) get budgetary allocations to execute various capital projects. The Ministries of Power, Works and Housing and a whole host of others gulp billions of tax payers’ money with no matching efficiency. Sometime ago, the Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi shocked Nigerians revealing that our National Assembly allegedly gulps about 25 percent of our annual budget. In spite of a standing UNESCO recommendation, the education sector still gets a laughable proportion of our annual budget; this has been one of the worries of Nigeria’s academic and non-academic staff unions for decades.
Insultingly, the Nigerian Presidency is swelling with scores of advisers, assistants, special assistants of varying shades, at the expense of the common Nigerian on the streets. Of our collective national revenue, the Federal Government grabs a jaw-breaking 52 percent, and throws the remnant 48 percent to the states and local government authorities. Yet, with brazen impunity, a former President of Nigeria chose to withhold (not as tax) the allocations due local government councils in Lagos State. And he wasted billions fixing the unfixed.
Fuel subsidy has been the pillar sustaining the lower-class families and homes in Nigeria. More families in Nigeria cannot afford cooking gas, and so, must buy kerosene to cook their meals. More families cannot afford a decent apartment of their own, and so must sweat real hard to pay new rent regimes from next January after the subsidy curtain falls. Already, in the absence of basic social amenities like water, roads, electricity, good schools, good healthcare, about which the Government seems not to care a hoot, Nigerians are managing to become the providers of power, roads, schools, healthcare and scores of others. This implies, and I take it to mean that, the Nigerian Government is a nest of heartless humans who care only about themselves and their families.
This is certainly not the time for Mr. President to moot the idea of breaking the spinal chords of Nigerians. Removing fuel subsidy is not the best at times like these, when zoologist Goodluck Jonathan should be busy with and serious about pruning the sadly huge cost of governance. Now is the time to fix things and make gains from cutting down on such huge costs of governance, which surely will mean stepping on some toes. If toes must be stepped upon for the sake of Nigerians and with a view to delivering the right dividends, so be it. He needs to go madly tough on corruption, which is a major source of financial wastage in Nigeria. Education needs more money. Healthcare infrastructure is ramshackle. Defence is porous – our borders and coasts left to God’s vigilance when we ought to watch?
Certainly, harder times await us all, if we let the President p
ull the plug on fuel subsidy. Nigeria is where it stands today because we all brought it thus far, more by inaction than otherwise. This is the time to stand up against this anti-masses agenda of the President and his cabal of inhumane advisers. Mrs. Okonjo Iweala may have all the certifications on the subject of economy; she surely does not know how it feels to lose a convulsing child because there were no doctors on duty. Sometimes, theories are foolish. Always, action pays off. Nigerians, please, unite against tyranny, oppression, depression and the final marring of the common Nigerian. A word is enough for the wise. Otherwise, into darkness we shall all plunge.