even in negotiations with hostage takers and criminals do government
resort to telling lies. This is an unwritten law. There may be
technical maneuvers here and there in inter-state negotiations.
Examples of dishonesty and lies in political behavior however, are a
rarity that may happen very scantily in international relations
bearing North Korea and the Islamic Republic of Iran in mind. No
matter how hard I have tried, I have been unable to find a single
example of any government that has lied to and ambushed its own people
in the history of politics. I am probably just too young to know.
long ago in 2010, political opponents of Goodluck Jonathan sought to
score political points by highlighting what they considered a major
weakness in the President’s personality. They resounded a slogan that
“Jonathan cannot be trusted”. The slogan failed to resonate. For good
reasons too! The overriding consideration then was the need for some
geographical equilibrium in a leadership headcount. We needed a change
and will now prefer not to regret the choice that we made.
million-Dollar question then comes to mind. How come the President
failed to give all these a thought when he sent out his Finance
Minister to mislead an entire nation – his own constituency – that a
decision had not been reached on the issue of discontinuing government
subsidy on fuel? Why did Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala tell citizens to eye
April 2012 for any decision if at all a decision was to be reached
anytime soon? Why did the Minister of Information go round telling
people that efforts have now been accelerated to revamp the existing
four refineries as well as build the Greenfield refineries? There were
truly people who smelt deception while the course was charted. But
frayed nerves ended up being calmed with everyone considering how best
to move the issue forward and offer proposals.
wham! The news came through like a meteorite. It fell from nowhere.
Subsidy gone and the devil may care! Jonathan knew and still knows
what would follow. The question then is how vicious and sustained he
reckons reactions may be!
is so striking is not the logical fiscal reason advanced for the need
to remove fuel subsidies in the interest of long-term economic
survival. No. The shocking betrayal that is unprecedented in the
history of civil governance in Nigeria is the inordinate and stubborn
insistence of the President that the policy will be implemented come
what may. This is what Germans typically describe as an attempt to
burst through the wall with the sheer force of the head. Damn the
folks. Damn opinions and damn the consequences. “My view will prevail
and prevail it will!”
has become so ugly and tactless that reasons now seem to be getting
lost in the depth of the turmoil. Yet we will try to navigate through.
It is not like the President does not have a cogent point taking out
fuel subsidy. Views are in unison across the aisle that fuel subsidy
will have to go sooner than later. It is becoming clear – even though
the administration does not admit it openly – that the government is
helpless taking on the magnates in the oil sector leading the
corruption-ridden importation process in exchange for subsidy. In a
naming and shaming process, the administration published a list of oil
importers. Two names featured prominently – Dangote and Tinubu.
Coincidentally however, the name Dangote also features very
prominently in the President’s own Economic Team much as it featured
in the latest list of recipients of National awards. Sometime in
October/November 2011, the name Tinubu also featured coincidentally in
the list of presidential delegation on an official visit to France
much as it features at the head of the leading opposition party. Could
these be the same people mentioned in the naming and shaming list?
Practices in the oil sector are so rotten that the invocation of a
dismal prediction for the country’s economic future is a matter of
course. Crude oil is refined in illegal refineries – and we hear that
refining is indeed a very easy process – and documents are cooked up
to reflect importation and subsidy paid. We now hear of some marketers
that do not even import anything but provide documents to claim
subsidy. What we have never heard however is the arrest and
prosecution of any of these offenders.
Indeed, the teeming masses are not profiting from government subsidy.
The painful problem though is that many of these influential oligarchs
are very close to the government and legislators and enjoy unwritten
but illegal immunity from prosecution. They ensure that more
intelligent solutions to the elimination of this shameful regime of
importation and by implication subsidy, do not see the light of day.
The President then opted for the easiest way out to pull the carpet
from beneath the feet of these profiteers. By removing subsidy the way
he is doing, those who refine illegally and fake documents as well as
those who simply fake documents and produce nothing will end up
grasping into yawning emptiness rather than having a government to
claim subsidies from. When the few legitimate importers survive the
test of time, they may then begin to build refineries to maximize
their own profit and drag Nigeria out of the diabolical regime of fuel
importation. Hiked prices will then begin to fall back in a natural
fact, in one recent editorial PUNCH newspaper related how the American
news outlet CNN once derided Nigeria for importing a product that it
has in abundance. A laughing stock so to speak! Indeed there are
countless valid reasons to make the removal of fuel subsidy
comprehensible and acceptable but definitely not the argument of some
hypothetical fund that will be freed and evenly redistributed for the
benefit of the masses. All cogent reasons in this direction are but
just one side of the precious coin. Nothing more!
we have now seen however, fuel price increases have not gone the
natural path of simply filling the gap in the aftermath of subsidy
removal. This would have kept prices at N139.00 to N141.00 per liter.
Reports from Nigeria however reveal that prices have skyrocketed to as
far N250.00. Basic travel price from Benin to Lagos now costs
N4,000.00, to Abuja N5,000.00 while Benin to Kano now costs N7,000.00.
This is a price that the nomadic cattle rearer in Benin will hardly be
able to afford for a casual trip in times of festivities. The price of
Bread has risen. So is the cost of hairdressing and tenancy. They all
fuel their generators to render services. The village woman conveying
garri, rice, yam, onions and tomatoes from the village to the cities
is now forced to hike her prices to meet rising costs. Yet wages are
constant and governments cannot even pay minimum wages while they have
fewer difficulties financing their own horrendous allowances and
remunerations with the President even earmarking billions of Naira for
feeding in Aso Rock.
that aside though, experience in the deregulation of Diesel prices
several years ago have shown that after a minimum of five years, the
price of Diesel is still soaring rather than going down. The most
unpredictable human behavior is often seen in the calculation and
implementation of economically profitable ventures. In the
telecommunication sector, it took hardly five years to spot the trend
of a downward spiraling of prices after the sector was deregulated.
very little purchasing power, even a single month of enduring hardship
in the aftermath of fuel subsidy removal until prices begin to go down
again is a murderous act on the poor peasants. The demand is simply
huge for a country in which the population, according to a recent CNN
report, lives on less than $2.00 a day. Another crucial truth that the
deliberate campaign of lies perpetrated by President Jonathan and his
cabinet has so far refused to tell is that even if the pump price of
fuel truly begins to plunge after just one year and refineries built
and importation stopped, the prices of other commodities will and can
not be reversed. After all how will the prices of rent be reversed?
How will the price of yam, rice, onion, tomatoes etc. be reversed? How
will the coiffure operator drive her prices down? How will the bike
rider, the bus driver and motor-park conductor roll back his price?
Absolutely no way! These will be the hidden collateral troubles of an
easy-go solution that is not well thought through.
problem is being confronted that can be solved with a variety of
options. One solution option that has been widely clamored for and
sounds appealing to reasonable disposition is a proactive government
drive to ensure functional refineries to kill the regime of fuel
importation. However, no less a figure than Christine Lagarde, Head of
the International Monetary Fund declared in a recent visit to Nigeria
that the government should do its best to convince the folks that
government has no business refining fuel for public consumption. Yet
Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala still looked reporters in the
eyes and lied to them that the IMF had no hand in the policy presently
being implemented in Nigeria.
Whereas commonsense and logical reasoning foretells that an effective
government involvement in the refining business will not only kill
importation, it will also boost exportation. Its realization will
however mean stepping very hard on the toes of those Dangotes and
Tinubus of the oil sector and it may backfire on the President
himself. Little surprise then that the government is now suddenly
identifying marketers that have been defrauding the state of subsidy
money for several years even though they have been importing nothing!
Now they can be identified and dealt with because they are suspected
of funding civil protest. Such is the panic and hypocrisy in
government circle after starting a fire that may prove difficult to
the President has so far failed to consider however, is the fact that
Nigeria as a country has no single welfare program in place while
Christine Lagarde’s country France, pays Unemployment benefits,
Housing allowances etc. to poorer people in society amongst several
other welfare programs. Unfortunately, Nigerian leaders in their
infinite wisdom prefer to compare Nigeria with countries they may
never be able to match in the coming 20 years in welfare
considerations. Government management of refinery that should
ordinarily be tailored towards efficiency given the
discipline-inclined tendency of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala can only serve as
government’s own minimum contribution to public welfare.
As it now stands however, the obstinate ambushing of Nigerians to save
the President’s face before Lagarde and some international politicians
are sparking off a chain reaction with unpredictable outcome because
people are furious and wild. One can only pray that Boko Haram,
disgruntled MEND outcasts and a teeming majority of Nigerians do not
find common grounds sooner or later, in the fact that rendering the
nation ungovernable will be in the best interest of the country since
the enemy of my enemy is always a legitimate friend. If unchecked
pretty soon, terrorism may soon become easier to perpetrate than it
already is. One can only ask just what went through Jonathan’s mind to
time a diabolical policy of this nature for a period of an already
persisting socio-political upheaval. President Eva Morales of Bolivia
is still a living example of how a President can honorably bow out of
a self-inflicted and narrow-minded, bigoted cul-de-sac.
President Jonathan has the choice to avoid doing more damages while he
still has the time!
Frisky Larr is author of the book “Nigeria’s Journalistic
Militantism” probing into the poor role of Journalism in Nigeria!