By UbongAbasi Ise
“I am for those means which will give the greatest good to the greatest number” – Abraham Lincoln
I must say, as far as this writing is concerned, that I belong to nobody and do not belong to everybody – I think this is the point from where I depart from Mr. President.
In a country like Nigeria, a typical democratic black-market where the rules of the jungle operates, it is not unsurprising that every self-serving interest would be cloaked in decisions and policies justified being good enough for the common man. As obtainable in Nigeria, a common man would always occupy place of primacy in discussion during decision-making processes but at the point of implementation, this common man would conveniently be relegated to background, neglected and altogether forced to face the harshness of unfavourable side of policies imposed on him.
Looking at this present debacle surrounding removal fuel subsidy, it is unarguable that subsidization of petroleum products was preconceived to confer the Nigerian citizens the right to enjoy basic benefits from the nation’s oil wealth. From 1975, the government established Petroleum Equalization Fund (PEF) by Decree 9 which marked the advent of government assumption of control of fuel price and set uniform pricing system. But in the twist of events, government officials who have been siphoning public funds, stashing them away in foreign reserves, including investment of the country’s tax-payers money in foreign countries at the expense of their people; and fly private jets, would shamelessly turn around to tell their citizens point blank that paying for the subsidy of oil products is a painful and debilitating burden on the budget and thus not sustainable. With all fairness to the truth, no matter all what government and several other economic analysts would say to make subsidy appear as an albatross to economic prosperity of the nation, Nigerian citizens deserves the privilege to enjoy social benefits from oil wealth available in their domain. Outside petroleum subsidy, Nigeria’s common masses have never known any other benefits of good social safety net to rely on as is done in other countries especially those ones that have developed to breaking-point. It is instinctively natural for the embattled citizens to stand up and resist every attempt to deny them the only social benefit which they could enjoy as citizens of the oil-rich country.
But it makes a lot of sense too to see reason to government’s insistence to do away with subsidy. Beginning from General Ibrahim Babangida era, the government declared that due to the devaluation of Naira, the domestic price of fuel had become unreasonably cheap and therefore burdensome to the federal government’s purse. Chief Ernest Shonekan, who briefly succeeded General Babangida, identified price of fuel as one of the primary budgetary burdens. After years of swinging pendulum of the prices, government of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo came with phrases such as “subsidy removal”, “eliminate waste”, “to free government fund” and to “encourage foreign and local investment” and so on. Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, after 18 months in office, declared that the federal government could no longer maintain the payment of the subsidy on petroleum product. It was revealed that the federal government was expending a sum that totalled a whopping N1.3 trillion for the 2010 fiscal year. This position is not quite different from what the Buhari’s APC-led government is maintaining today that the federal government would have had to cough up N16.4 billion every month to offset the subsidy claims to oil marketers, hence the removal of subsidy.
But considering the foregoing positions, government would not explain that it is through its gross mismanagement and blazen corruption that our economy is made to bleed to the extent of being unable to accommodate oil subsidy thus depriving the despondent common masses social benefit they ought to have enjoyed. In other words, it is the common man that is disenfranchised and made to face the extreme social deprivations. Although the idea of fuel subsidy was a good one as it was intended to give the average Nigerian access to cheap petroleum products, reduced transport and production cost, but due to weak regulation by government coupled with corruption, many economic saboteurs and oil cabals found it easy to subvert, misappropriate the fuel subsidy money and channel them to their own personal use instead of using it for what it was intended for. In recent months, these unscrupulous oil dealers because of non-payment of subsidy fund, had to hold the country’s economy to ransom – and the common man suffers.
All in the name of a common man, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) had made epileptic effort through strike action to shut down Nigeria’s Economy. I spoke with one of the NLC Chieftains in Akwa Ibom State Council, and I was succinctly told that “Federal government is not sincere and is not responsive as far as the plight of a common man is concern,” again that “fuel hike is inhuman, obnoxious and stand to increase the burden of average Nigerian.” Then I asked him a question almost immediately to ascertain whether this already whacked common man would even survive the cruel blow of strike action.
If NLC was striking for the increase of workers’ minimum wage from N18,000 to N56,000, to commensurate with the cost of living under the newly hiked fuel pump price, then this position is highly justified than flimsy claim of fighting for common man, especially the unemployed who would soon be battling with the harsh forces of inflation. When last did the labour union embark on an advocacy protest for the reduction of high rate of unemployment with the view to boost the nation’s labour capacity if they care so much for this common man?
I am calling on President Buhari to personally tender apology to Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and Nigerians for vehemently opposing the fuel subsidy removal in 2012 and now turning around to adopt the same policy. Again, Nigerians also deserve apology from All Progressives Congress (APC) and its leaders for their roles in the protests which led to the reversal of fuel subsidy in 2012. By now Nigeria would have gone a long way had they allowed the removal to stay.