- 3 commissioners suspended for improper dressing in Ebonyi
- CBN issues two new merchant bank licences
- Ekiti PDP accuses ACN of attacking members
- Daniel eulogises HID Awolowo at 97
- Jonathan hails Koroma's re-election
- Collapsed man: Edo dep gov threatens Airhiavbere
- Communal clash: Police arrest gang leader, 12 others in Nasarawa
- Corruption: There ‘ll be no sacred cow - Jonathan
- Amosun’s wife tasks students on reading culture
- Flooding: Dangote committee sets N50bn target
- Adamawa LG election conducted peacefully
- 1999 Constitution: Women group calls for amendment to gender-biased provisions
Fuel subsidy withdrawal: Playing with live cobra
I chuckle at the proposal for the removal of petroleum products subsidy. The chuckle is concomitant with a Yoruba aphorism that for a matter that transcends weeping, the best option is giggling. The comments by our leaders; the president, ministers, legislators, governors, etc on fuel subsidy withdrawal are a loud avowal that the leadership of the country is as distanced from the populace as the earth is from the sun. In a country where latest reports show that a mind-boggling 92 per cent of the population live below the poverty line of two dollars (N360) a day, would a government in communion with the people contemplate withdrawing fuel subsidy which will translate to an across the board price increase and a further impoverishment of the people? It is a clear signal that the rulers are not on the same page with the subjects. I shudder at the likely consequences of this.
Let’s take a retreat into history. In the days preceding the French revolution, a complaint reached Marie Antoinette, the queen, that the citizens had no bread to eat. She responded that if they had no bread they should opt for cake. She did not know that cake was costlier than bread. The palace had been so detached from the public that the cry of the people had a ring of laughter; their howling was mistaken for hailing. In the revolution that ensued, not only did the queen and the king lose their throne, they also lost their heads; probably because they had earlier lost their ears.
The most peeving part of this repugnant proposition is the shallowness of the thinking that produced it and the obvious affront on the people’s intelligence. Rather than coming up with a compelling enough reason (if it has any) to sway Nigerians to support the subsidy removal, the government has chosen to travel the trodden pathway of regurgitating the baleful and distasteful tale of the withdrawal being necessitated by the need to save money to build infrastructure. That this same reason was advanced by the administrations of Generals Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha and Olusegun Obasanjo without the promised infrastructure seeing the light of the day and the current government still finds it convenient to feed Nigerians with the obvious lie smacks of acute impertinence for the people. If Nigerians believed Babangida, Abacha and Obasanjo and were disappointed, should they allow themselves to be hoodwinked again?
Rotimi Amaechi, Rivers State governor and chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, last Wednesday said the president and the governors should be held responsible if the fund garnered from subsidy withdrawal was mismanaged. (Is that not given?) He was trying to convince Nigerians of the genuineness of their intention to make good use of the fund. But that is laughable and, again, an insult on the people. I explain.
In May this year, the Senate passed the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority Bill, which gave birth to the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF), a move to save some of the country’s earnings for the future. The Federal Government last Tuesday teed off the process by setting aside $1billion for the Fund but most of the governors have not hidden their aversion to the move, preferring instead that the money be shared. Given the antecedent of the federal and state governments when it comes to handling the nation’s resources, why should anyone believe that the savings from the fuel subsidy withdrawal would be put to judicious use and not end up in private accounts?
As a student of poverty in Nigeria, I have been able to establish a nexus between fuel price hike and poverty escalation. When fuel price is increased, rents go up and many people are driven into slums. When fuel price rises, disposable income reduces; factories make less profit and lay off workers. When fuel price is hiked, prices of food items are jacked up and many people are unable to feed well and children are withdrawn from school to hawk for their parents. The list is as long as Rivers Niger and Benue combined. Available statistics shows that until 1980, poverty level in Nigeria was still manageable at about 28 per cent, which means 72 per cent of the populace was able to live well. But since the mid 1980s when the prices of petroleum products started skyrocketing, majority of Nigerians have been wallowing in poverty.
I suspect that the government is vigorously pursuing the subsidy withdrawal policy because it believes the people’s endurance is elastic. When government comes up with an anti-people policy, the public grumbles for a while but later adjusts, keeps mum and life continues as usual. Although we put up some resistance, we always capitulate to the government’s insistence. But if that is the calculation of the government for pushing this satanic agenda, it may turn out a miscalculation.
Again, a retreat into history. He was poor and eked out a living by selling fruits in a wheelbarrow but the police would not let him be; he was harassed and extorted. On December 16, 2010, he borrowed the equivalent of $200 to stock his mobile shop. But again, the police went after him and confiscated his wares. In frustration, he ran to the governor’s office to complain but nobody paid him any attention. Perplexed and depressed, he went away and set himself ablaze in public glare. Although he was rescued, he did not survive the severe burns he suffered.
That is the story of Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian, whose death on January 4, 2011 sparked a series of protests that not only consumed the government of President Ben Ali but also kick-started the phenomenon now known as the Arab Spring with Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, who was killed on Thursday, being the latest victim.
Nothing incenses the ruled against their rulers more than hunger and neglect. When the people are hungry, they may keep mum, but when in addition their cries are ignored, they revolt.
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