Before Country Goes Up in Flames

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Fuel Subsidy

Fuel Subsidy

Since the Federal Government of Nigeria let out information on its intention to afflict Nigerian masses more with removal of subsidy on petroleum products come January 2012, the people’s fury has been tough to measure.

Understandably so, this is one thing that affects every strata of society.

Everybody has something to do with petroleum products, kerosene and cooking gas for homes, petrol and industrial gas for driving and powering generating sets as well as other industrial machines.

The average Nigerian can attest that each time this highly inflammable material is touched by the powers that be, it inflames inflation on every aspect of life; products and services alike.

It is the last present ‘we the people of Nigeria’ are expecting from ‘our democratically elected government.’

From all intents and purposes, economic hostilities have been declared against the people by those they love so much and chose them against other competitors to direct the affairs of the nation. How sad!

Bad as the situation is, it looks like the devil’s alternative. Whichever way the pendulum swings, the people suffer! Retain the subsidy and very few Nigerians feed fat in legal corruption.

The subsidy process as presently endorsed is at best a fraud.

What it endorses is that crude oil meant for Nigerian refineries is lifted at discounted rates, to other countries for refining with all the attendant benefits to the economy of the country where the refining is done.

The products are then shipped back to Nigeria at the expense of the tax payers in what our leaders, in their pretence, called subsidy.

On arrival in Nigeria, a cartel of businessmen with strong connections with the political class, nay, a privileged minority in the political and bureaucratic class team up to defraud the nation on the process of distributing the products within Nigeria.

All these in the name of subsidy, so those in the know are well informed that there is no subsidy on petroleum products in any form in Nigeria, at least to the benefit of Nigerians. The agitation of the National Assembly on this is a good pointer.

The plight of the common man is made worse by the protests that have attended government’s continuous efforts at tinkering with pump prices of petroleum products.

Historically, though, only the Olusegun Obasanjo civilian administration escaped unconsumed with tinkering with pump price of petroleum products. Goodluck Jonathan and his cronies must factor this into their decision.

Sadly government can discern this, so they know that each voice of protest is a voice seeking a share of the booty that the government could make from the palliative.

So while they pretend that negotiations are ongoing, the common man understands that as soon as there is a settlement, the strike and mass movement fizzle out.

What happens is that as soon as the indices are strong that pump prices of petroleum products would be tinkered with, transporters adjust at astronomical rates. Landlords follow and there is a ripple effect on the economy. Those who earn fixed income are left at the receiving end.

This is where the labour movement owes workers a duty to negotiate a living wage before this matter escalates and charlatans seeking a short route to relevance highjack it and begin to scream their heads off.

What could serve the economy better is a total overhaul of the petroleum sector. A total deregulation would do, if the working class in Nigeria is guaranteed a living-wage.

There should be an agreed uniform living wage with a uniform tax system across the country before petroleum subsidy is removed.

This would save the masses the torture of gradual economic homicide that removal of petroleum subsidy portends.

It would also save the economy the threat of private refineries not being able to come on stream because the promoters are afraid of refining at high costs with no assurance of selling at viable rates.

The challenge here is that the Nigerian worker knows that there is nobody to speak for him. So if the government is rethinking removal of petroleum subsidy it is sad that this is not because the labour movement has mounted pressure, it is because of threat of violence by illegal bodies proving hard to contend with.

It behooves the political class and their counterparts in the labour movement as well as civil society groups to find a common ground by taking a critical look at the welfare of the masses through civil/public servants instead of allowing Nigeria to go up in flames by a senseless removal of fuel subsidy that could attract civil disobedience that miscreants could take advantage of and plunder the nation.

When it goes out of control, the gladiators will make good their escape while trading blames.

These kind of flames would amount to crying when the head is off. A word is enough for the wise.

Kenneth O. Eze, 21 November 2011


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