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Frisky Larr (MA)
Journalist/Interpreter
Author of the book “Nigeria’s Journalistic Militantism” probing into the poor role of Journalism in Nigeria! ISBN: 9781456777906.
Bochum, Germany
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Governments Never Lie to their Citizens except in Nigeria 
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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. 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! ISBN: 9781456777906.

Recent happenings in Nigeria spontaneously reminded me of lessons in Political Science as a Freshman in a Turkish University. A Beginner so to speak! The subject was “The Philosophies and History of Politics”. My Professor repeated in several different words to us as Beginners of University studies that one constant and non-negotiable element of governance is the reliability of government. Of course, as a Muslim country that Turkey is, we could not miss out on the equally attendant emphasis on the element of “Honor”. In other words, Honor and Reliability are two invariable cornerstones of the morals of governance.

 

Not 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.

Not 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.

The 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.

Then 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!

What 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!”

It 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 process.

In 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!

As 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.

All 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.

With 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.

A 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 quench.

What 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! ISBN: 9781456777906.

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