by bimbo amole
There is so much noise and pain walking around on foot in Nigeria right now. The cause is not strange. Much more than the Boko Haram onslaught, there is the further threat of the consequences of the removal of the fuel subsidy. Several analyses given on this delicate issue reveal that the problem is not so much with the removal of the fuel subsidy as with the manner in which the said move is executed. The removal of a subsidy by any government, even when justifiable, would always cause pain to its citizens, how much true in a country like Nigeria which is dependent on the black gold and whose economy and consequentially lives of most of her citizens, depend on what happens to that same oil. It might be because of this that many Nigerians refuse to accept the reasoning of the otherwise respected Finance Minister, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on this issue, and particularly that of the President who got the votes of well-meaning Nigerians.
Nigeria has got antecedents, and several of those antecedents reveal the betrayal of the people by successive governments. It stands to reason therefore if Nigerians say they do not believe the promise of the government in this particular case, especially when the issue at hand calls for not just a little sacrifice, but much suffering and renunciation from the masses. If the President himself made comments that the problem of the country is with the cabal who feed on the blood of the nation like demons, devouring her patrimony while millions of poor masses bear the brunt of poverty, marginalization and shame in a country wonderfully blessed even more than not a few western countries, it would seem very immature and beyond comprehension that the first point of attention is not the individuation of the said cabal and a waging of a frontal war on same. Anything short of this only sings the song that we have been hearing for the past 50 years of this nation’s inglorious history: lack of moral and political will of leaders to take the bull by the horn and call the Nation’s problem by its names. Not even the removal of fuel subsidy would stop the deadly activities of this cabal, since they only end up switching tactics to further facilitate their interests, fuel subsidy or not. For we are talking about people at the very top echelon of powers who have their ways of maneuvering and who have always done this for many years of the history of Nigeria and still reign supreme with an air of arrogance and putrid shame. Thus the stalling of the government in naming, dismantling and possibly prosecuting such a cabal continually does a dis-service to the entire programme of such a government.
As mentioned earlier, analyses show that there are several grounds for arguing for the removal of fuel subsidy, and for arguing that this would do great good to the country’s economy on the long run. But what happens while this ‘run’ remains in the meantime ‘long’? Should a country of 150 million, in justice, continue to pay for the greed of a few? These are the agitating questions that make the subsidy removal-move unwittingly executed. The removal of such a subsidy on which several poor millions live would appear sound to reason if grounds were prepared, several bastions of corruption broken down and ample efforts were made to show the government’s sincerity to truly make life better for Nigerians. If Nigerians are being called to sacrifice, which by the way is a principle for achieving any good, then their leaders must be at the forefront and be seen to be making even double sacrifice. This is the call of any true leader, from Nyerere to Mandela, from Mahatma Gandhi to Mother Theresa . We are at a critical point of need in the country and all is needed not only to be done but shown to be done if such a need is to be met. For instance, whether one accepts it or not, the criticism coming from the average Nigerian on the feeding allowance in the Presidency which well comes close to a billion for this year alone and the ridiculous spending of its cabinet is a sound one. It begs the question: “are these people Nigerians? If they are, why must millions of poor, already marginalized Nigerians make a sacrifice of blood through the removal of subsidy while their very leaders, who in the real sense of that word are supposed to LEAD the people, show courageous examples and give moral impetus do not even make as much sacrifice as reducing their fleet of FREE AND FREELY MAINTAINED cars from being numberless to at least being few? Yet the common man has no functioning transport system. No functioning electricity. No good roads. Hospitals with decaying amenities. He wakes with migraine since he sleeps in the heat all through the night. He labours to get to work fighting with bad roads and mazes of traffic due to an administration that has failed. He goes through the stress of the day only to return home to the threat of criminals who threaten his life and indeed sometimes kill several under the pretense of religion, though we well know otherwise.
My take on the whole issue is the need for the government to go back to its drawing board. Without succumbing to forces, internal or external, let it make use of seasoned technocrats and well-meaning thinkers. (And such we have in abundance, pity it is the chaff that are often consulted.) There is the need to put in place cushioning effects for the hardship that such a move as subsidy removal would bring ever before implementing same. Such cushioning is not in the sense of any Santa Claus. That is what has led us to this state: being irresponsible with the state funds and resources. Neither should it be a hasty, half-baked measure response to the people’s protest. It is rather a need to focus on the several ways in which a few are robbing the country blind, scuttling the government’s plans of development and thus making the masses suffer. The need to choose, even impose credible individuals who would deliver in turning around the Nation’s infrastructures particularly in the areas of health, energy, security, education and transportation. And then a call for responsibility in all affairs of governance, starting from the President’s desk right down to the messenger that sorts files in the offices. Of course an adjunct to that is the need for a massive onslaught against irresponsibility amongst us all, against corruption in their different forms, against selfishness and insensitivity to the plight of others, against negligence of duty, against aiding and abetting of evil, against ethnic-ism and zoning-ism, against wanton break of laws no matter how little, all these have to be stopped by each and every one of us if all is to go well with us, if our system is to even begin to get off the ground, not to talk of moving. A buoyant economy is not a dream, it is the making of a government that is awake and willing to lead through visibly sane and practical policies (even if hard, but not like a fuel subsidy that lacks adequate and proper groundwork), and of a people that is cooperative. That second part (that of the people) eventually always works if the first part (of their leaders) is well played. Examples of several successful countries, even one as near as the fast-growing Ghana, suffices.
It is only after making these initial moves (which are very achievable albeit not quite simple), that such an economic solution like removal of fuel-subsidy might make a meaning. Short of these, there is no reason to believe that we are not merely going round in a cyclic pattern that further entrenches corruption, throws clogs in the wheels of progress of the Nation and consequently makes Nigerians suffer all the more. If the government were to successfully sell the idea of fuel subsidy removal, it’s got to go back to its drawing board.