Finally, fuel subsidy has been removed. It is gone, according to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu. This is one such removal in the history of the nation without any contingency plan or measures to cushion the effect. The removal was ill-timed and at the same time additional burden. The ripple effect of even a mention of removing subsidy always take drastic toll on Nigerians. Now, it has already started with the exponential increase in the pump rice, market products, hike in transport fares and general cost of living. Good as the spin doctors of this government would want us believe the removal is, it will certainly be counter productive without immediate actions to cushion the effect on the lives of citizens. Nigerians are suffering and it is government’s responsibility to fulfill its part of the social contract. Even with the high level of development and comfort in America, it subsidises for her citizens in essential areas. Why not Nigeria? Now, will brazen corruption associated with subsidy and the rot in the petroleum sector fizzle out or end completely? How much does government intend to save annually and what detailed plans does it have on spending the savings? Nigerians should know the immediate areas of intervention slated by government to calm frayed nerves.
A bold attempt by former President Goodluck Jonathan to remove fuel subsidy and the backlash it generated forced him to reduce the announced pump price from N125 to N87. According to Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the former Minister of Finance and current Director-General, World Trade Organization, subsidy removal was one reason her life was threatened and the eventual kidnap of her aged mother. There is more to this issue of subsidy than meets the eye. In fact, it is a special easy-money-making and venture designed to benefit people in and out of power, politicians and their cronies.
The take of most Nigerians on this matter was the hasty way and manner it was announced without preparing enough grounds. What was government thinking? Everyone is already in dire strait of Buhari’s eight years of ineptitude, unimaginable pain and anguish. A new government should have a good understanding of the mood of the nation before taking a policy decision that could result into chaos. It is important to note that those in government now who had earlier condemned subsidy removal without palliatives, sang, danced, pontificated at Ojota in Lagos and carried out a mock burial of Jonathan in 2012 have now taken a clue from his intentions for Nigeria. Where are Tunde Bakare, Wole Soyinka, John Oyegun, Bisi Akande, Joe Odumakin, Adams Oshiomhole, Nasir el-rufai and street urchins used to galvanize the protest against removal of subsidy? It was unfortunate and a crass manipulation of Nigerians to have known that it was ‘right’ to remove subsidy but went out to demonize it for political gains.
Pundits in the oil and gas sector and government representatives have over the years chosen to harp on the amount put into subsidy and how it is no longer sustainable. They claim a few individuals have fleeced the nation of its cash through subsidy. Yet, the corruption element was never addressed. As germane as issues raised for removing subsidy are; they failed to adequately address the fundamental problems and possible remedy to permanently put the matter to rest. The real questions are: first, how many litres of fuel do we actually consume daily in Nigeria? Most figures bandied by the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL), Ministry of Finance, Central Bank of Nigeria and other relevant agencies are mere estimates and also conflicting. Litres of fuel are undoubtedly measurable, why estimation?
Two, how much exactly is the amount spent on subsidy monthly? It is also in the realm of conjectures. Money, no matter how huge, can be counted why estimating? Three, how many vehicles do we have in Nigeria? It could help in planning and or give us the idea of and assumptions of what we could consume monthly or annually. Four, why are the domestic refineries not working? It will surprise you to know that staff still earn as much and get promoted in these non-functional refineries. If Nigeria does not have functional refineries to bridge the gap of imported fuel or stop it completely, the policy becomes another big burden to the citizens. It is therefore, very sad that government in all its plans does not seem to identify functional refineries as the solution to the problem. Fifth, how on earth do marketers even smuggle fuel out of Nigeria when boarders are closed? The answer lies in the accruing gains and personal interests of the security agencies against that of the nation.
This approach of waking up one morning without well thought out plans on how to cushion the effect of subsidy which is at the heart of the national stability is an early wrong step. The ripple effect of this action is grave, therefore, government should have brought to the table plans on how they intend to address other variables especially the poor minimum wage regime, the attendant rising cost in transportation, food, medicare, school fees, etc.
A few months ago, they were literally begging everyone to be voted into power. Now in the saddle, the people and their concerns no longer matter. The Tinubu government as usual has fallen from the tree before taking adequate precaution. What they should have done initially comes last. It has remembered the need for consultations with the organised labour and stakeholders even when the deed has been done – a move that should have been taken before now. Must we always resort to knee-jerk approach to national issues?
Subsidy regime in Nigeria is a complete mystery. Many say it is a scam. To others, it is nothing short of announcing increase in pump price by NNPCL while the problem persists. Does NNPCL as a limited liability company still have the powers to announce price adjustment of petrol on behalf of government? The people need to understand the underling import of the removal and how it positively affects their lives. People-oriented policies are needed at this early stage of this administration. Our refineries have to work and more should be built. Kill the corruption in subsidy not subsidy alone. Did Nigerians vote for removal of fuel subsidy or good governance?
Eze, a media and development communication specialist, writes via [email protected], 08060991201.