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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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The Endless Saga on Fuel Subsidy: What the President Must Know

 

Unfortunately President Jonathan chooses these very bad and trying times to intimate the general public of yet another hardship coming its way. What a pity!


Frisky Larr is author of the book “Nigeria’s Journalistic Militantism” probing into the poor role of Journalism in Nigeria! ISBN: 9781456777906.

I feel sad having to criticize the President of my country each time I have something to write about him. I feel sad not because my criticisms are not real or because they are not authentic. I feel sad because I detest being a critic all the way. I hold some die-hard optimism that no government is a complete failure. I therefore hold on to the dictates of old-school journalism of seeking the best possible proximity to fairness. The fairness of naming successes alongside failures! With President Jonathan these days, no matter how I try, it is very difficult to identify the positives and I hate being the propagator of pure negatives.

 

From baring a glaring loophole in the sophistication of counseling provided by aides and advisers to his poor quality of articulation in Public speeches, President Jonathan has played, every passing day, into the hands of critics who claim that he is not a good presidential material.

For once I was pleased the other day, when I saw the slightest sign of some professional Public Relations management in salvaging what was left of a poorly planned program of independence celebration. An October 1st celebration had been drowned in the shadow of terrorist threats and the President had to beat an unprecedented retreat to a low-key celebration. Exposed to an opposition ACN that was bent on capitalizing on the seeming weakness of the State that capitalized before terrorist threats, President Jonathan made one professional pronouncement for once at least. He stated that the low-key celebration was a child of economic expediency. A policy adopted by the government, so to speak, to last for three years and had nothing at all, to do with the terrorist threat. With this singular pronouncement, he pulled the carpet from beneath the opposition campaign and made a cowardly decision appear like some routine and laudable government policy. It showed some strength in what indeed, was a hastily taken decision to protect innocent lives from the stupidity of some brainwashed fanatics of a dark religious age. I had a feeling that he has been well managed in producing medicine after death, at least for once.

But who – for God’s sake – is managing the President on the issue of fuel subsidy? Every Nigerian knows how contentious the subject of fuel and pump prices is to the average Nigerian. In fact, I remember the year 2007 during the transition to the government of late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. The incoming President implored his outgoing counterpart at the time to hike the pump price of fuel since he as the new kid on the block could not afford to take the attendant controversy and public uproar of a price hike upon himself. Given his huge unpopularity anyway, outgoing President Obasanjo had nothing to lose having the buck passed on to him as the dreary boogeyman. He hiked the price to take the pressure off his successor but could not go the length of removing subsidy from the downstream sector. That alone added to anger against him and many would have been pleased to see President Obasanjo publicly executed at that time, for that singular act.

But there can be no doubt whatsoever, that the removal of fuel subsidy is highly economically prudent. Every observer, who doesn’t even have to be an expert, knows fully well that the removal of fuel subsidy will free up a huge sum of money that will be used on other vital economic projects. The projects requiring huge expenditure cannot be over-emphasized. They range from road construction to the build-up of several other social infrastructures. For this reason, I will not blame the Finance Minister if she advices the President to remove fuel subsidy as quickly as possible to make her allocate the accruing money to other developmental projects.

Unfortunately however, the welfare of the population is not managed on economic calculations alone. There are times that the most prudent economic consideration is deliberately allowed to crumble under the weight of overwhelming social realities.

As a nation blessed with this vital natural resources that is fetching the lion share of national income, less than one percent of the population reaps the benefit while the remaining ninety-nine percent continue to pay the bills ad infinitum. Soon Nigerians will copy the Americans to remind the elites who the 99% are.

99% living in a nation almost fully devoid of a welfare program! Social institutions are comatose and basic infrastructures a never-ending mirage. Yet stories emerge day after day how the elites are not affected in any way, by these grim, realities of a dark and dreary daily life. Our leaders fly abroad for medical attention and never get to know what power outage is all about.

Previous attempts to remove fuel subsidy have always been abandoned over fears of unnecessary public unrest amid an already volatile public security situation to say the least of painful cost of daily life to the ordinary man. This has been expressed on countless occasions by people in the know and government authorities have always been placed on the alert regarding the dangerous consequences of subjecting the ordinary man to yet aggravated hardships.

Unfortunately, the problem of freeing subsidy money for other development projects can be solved by other means apart from the removal of the subsidy itself. The reality however is the helplessness of the very government that should ordinarily be wielding the ultimate power.

The solution is the upgrading of existing and building of new petroleum refineries. That will in fact, bring an end to the regime of importing refined fuel from countries that we have exported raw petroleum to. That will automatically translate into the removal of the infamous subsidy.

The problem however is that there are many powerful millionaires in Nigeria today, who own refinery blocks and export petroleum products for profit. They import refined fuel for profit and also own endless chains of petrol stations, to which they supply the fuel that they have imported to reap maximum profit. The power that these people wield is the financial support that they give to politicians. Many of them are even richer than the state itself. The government – i.e. the President – fears them a great deal.

Improving existing refineries and building new ones will rob these powerful people of one more means of their crucial income. President Jonathan is not taking up the fight to confront these Oligarchs as one of his major personal sacrifice for the ordinary Nigerian. President Jonathan virtually leads a government, which actions seem to be defined basically, by fear. Fear of the Buharis and Babangidas, fear of Boko Haram, fear of the Niger Delta Militants and now fear of Petro-Oligarchs! This is a President, who has indeed declared several times, that he does not seek re-election and therefore has no stake for which he seeks the inevitable support of influential interest groups. Why doesn’t he then pick up the gauntlet and embark on a people-oriented infrastructural project?

It does not matter to these Oligarchs if Nigeria – the seventh largest exporter of petroleum product – sells refined fuel to its own citizens at prices far beyond what the average American pays, while America stands as the world's largest importer of petroleum products. What matters to the Oligarchs is the profit that they make and the power that they wield. Why is Jonathan just not assertive, bold and making the right choices? He fails to see countries like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela and reflect deeply on the people-oriented policy implemented in these countries of bringing fuel to the people at affordable rates no matter what it costs the government.

This alone is one compelling reason that people like me get worried and seek to understand just why President Jonathan is hell bent on removing this fuel subsidy. He is not new to expert projection of what the impact of such action will be in terms of short to medium-term hardships.

We are all aware that the tentacles of these Petro-Oligarchs spread virtually into every facet of existing political institutions. Falling out of favor with them often means the revelation of several scandalous skeletons in the closet and almost every politician has more than enough of them (except perhaps, my darling Okonjo-Iweala, who knows?). When these authentic revelations often come out in public domain, almost no one in public realizes then that someone is being sacrificed for fighting for the people.

But this argument does not hold at all times given the extent to which the Bola Tinubu mafia went even to impeach Babatunde Fashola in Lagos State. Unseating (through impeachment or whatever means) a leader who has succeeded in targeted propaganda, to make the public see and understand his fight for their own benefit, is not an easy task for the mafia itself.

Now does President Jonathan have so many skeletons in his closet that he fears will be uncovered if he takes up an aggressive fight with these oligarchs and build several new petroleum refineries? What stops President Jonathan from launching an aggressive and visible people’s politics the Fashola style and bring the people behind him?

What we see in Nigeria today are Governors arrested on suspicions of embezzling horrendous sums of money. We hear of money squandered in the legislative houses for the purchase of new vehicles, TV sets and several irrelevant objects at amazing prices. We hear of a former Speaker of the Federal legislative house buying his former official residence at a laughable sum and renting it to his predecessor at an annual sum equaling the purchasing price. Public officers are milking the country dry at the expense of the tax-payer and voters whose ballots are golden in times of elections. President Jonathan surely knows alternative sources of freeing money for other developmental projects. He should encourage the Super Minister Okonjo-Iweala to enforce further fiscal discipline with the force of the law and assistance of the EFCC.

Unfortunately President Jonathan chooses these very bad and trying times to intimate the general public of yet another hardship coming its way. What a pity!

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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