The removal of the fuel subsidy in January this year has caused many Nigerians to react strongly, both against and in favour of the removal, though it would seem mostly in the former. Today is day four of the mass strike action in Nigeria to protest the fuel subsidy removal, and so far no word has been received from the government on a possible reversal of this decision.
Even as the nationwide strike goes on, Nigerians continue to speak out on the subsidy removal. And so, in “Nigerians Speak”, we will be bringing to you essays and commentary on this issue from Nigerians from all walks of life. Some pieces may be humorous, some analytical, but all will tell of the fuel subsidy removal from a Nigerian’s point of view. Please note that these commentaries are those of the writer alone, and do not necessarily reflect the stance of Kachifo Limited.
Our first piece is written by Wilfred Oyegun, a social and political analyst, in response to this email from his friend in South Africa concerning the subsidy removal:
Please explain why this subsidy issue causes such a stir among the masses. Here [in South Africa] we are told by a Nigerian reporter that the abolition is affecting the middle class who have cars, thus pollute the cities’ air and by them paying more the government can use more money to uplift the poor. Moreover there seems to be a lot of corruption involved in this subsidy scheme, so are the poor indeed objecting on this issue?
It is very simplistic to say that the removal of the fuel subsidy will affect only the middle and upper classes. Whilst it is true that these classes have the most private and personal vehicles on the road, the majority of Nigerians are transported in privately owned vehicles ranging from motor bikes to rickshaws, taxi cabs, mini buses and big commuter buses. In a country where there is virtually no mass transportation system, private individuals have risen up to fill that gap and they all use fuel to run their vehicles. What has happened is that transport costs have risen astronomically in order to accommodate the subsidy removal.
In a country where there is virtually no infrastructure and no reliable power supply, the informal economy, which sustains the national economy and keeps it going on a daily basis, relies exclusively on the fuel they buy to run their small generators to keep their businesses going. All these Nigerians now have to pay over 100% more for the fuel that runs their businesses. What happened to government’s responsibility to provide power or empower private investors to do so?
Whilst it is realistic to expect that at some point in time the issue of subsidy removal will have to be addressed, what has grieved Nigerians is the way and manner in which it has been done, without regard and without putting the appropriate machinery in place. The government did not even bother to sell the idea to its citizens over time. There was no discourse, no public debate. It was simply handed down as a fait accompli.
It is absolutely insincere and mischievous for government and its appointed agents, like the reporter you refer to, to say that it is the middle class that is opposing the subsidy removal. It is an old ploy to divide and break up the protest.
The government says that a few oil marketers only have benefitted from the fuel subsidy over the years and that all or some of these marketers did not actually import the petroleum products in the quantities they claimed and were paid for; arguing that these marketers exploited the corruption in the system to forge documents and get paid for products they did not supply. They argue too that some of these marketers would import say 20,000MT of Prime Motor Spirit (PMS), use small vessels to bring only 5,000MT into the port for discharge, submit documents claiming that they had brought in 20,000MT, get paid for 20,000MT, and then turn around and sell the remaining 15,000MT in neighbouring countries. It is also alleged that some of these marketers had no fuel stations anywhere in the country, or had very few stations, and also that some of these marketers did not have tank farms large enough to accommodate the quantities they claimed to have imported.
All these allegations are verifiable and can be investigated. The oil marketers are not phantoms. The companies are known and the individuals behind them are known. Why have they not been arrested and tried? Why have they not been made to refund the billions of dollars they have stolen from the citizens of this country? Are they so powerful that they are above the law?
The truth no one is admitting is that some of these marketers are fronts for powerful people in government and the legislature. They know that if they arrest these people, they will begin to sing and the truth will be revealed.
We have a government that appropriates N1 billion for feeding the president and vice-president annually, in a country where the implementation of the N18,000 monthly minimum wage (just over $100!) is yet to be achieved. We have state governors who have security votes of N500 million in a nation where there is so much insecurity and unemployment is in double digits. We have legislators who are the highest paid in the world! A legislator in the House of Representatives earns twice as much as the president of the US and a senator earns over three times more. The allowances these people earn are prohibitive and scandalous in a country where those who voted them into power are unemployed and hungry. These figures are not a secret; they are freely available. Mind you, none of these people will be affected by the subsidy removal because all their vehicles, personal and official, are fuelled and maintained by the tax payer.
The president announced to the nation that he and his executive are going to sacrifice 25% of their basic salaries. Who is he fooling? Why basic salary only? Why not the allowances as well? Why not the N1 billion food bill per annum for the presidency? Why have the legislators not come out to announce a 50% cut in their salaries and allowances?
Nigerians are out there protesting because the inconsiderate manner in which the subsidy issue has been addressed affects every facet of life—from food to transportation to housing. You cannot tell a people to see what you will do with the savings from the subsidy removal without doing something beforehand to alleviate the sufferings that the measure will inflict upon them. This is not rocket science. It is management pure and simple!
The crucial question of security needs to be addressed. Christians are being killed in the largely Muslim north of Nigeria and the president says to the nation to take courage until the killings fizzle out. What kind of statement is that coming from the president and commander-in-chief of a nation? Do you know that some northerners have been killed in some southern cities since the general strike began two days ago? In Benin City, for instance, most, if not all the northerners that live there have been given refuge in the police zonal headquarters.
Nigeria’s dilemma over the years has been a lack of effective leadership. The country has consistently been plagued with leaders who are insensitive to the wishes of the people they govern; leaders who are inconsiderate and lack the political will to address the perennial problems that have plagued the country since independence. We have had leaders who see political or military position as an opportunity for self-aggrandizement, looting the national treasury and piling up wealth for their generations yet unborn. Once we can address the cankerworm called corruption, I believe we will begin to see clearly and feel some shame for how we have mismanaged our country.
I feel passionate about my country, Nigeria, and I feel very concerned for the way things have been. I see a country blessed with so much, yet lacking in the proper management of its enormous resources. Hardly a day passes without me wishing that things were different, and I know that there are millions of Nigerians who feel the same way. The sad question is: who will deliver us from this body of death? How can we excise this country from those whose only interest is to bleed it to death?