The news making the rounds in recent times is government’s decision to completely remove fuel subsidy by January 2012. The decision has thrown up a nationwide debate that has polarized views with the majority kicking against it. While some, especially government officials have thrown their weight fully behind it, most like myself scream blue murder. President Jonathan seems quite convinced that fuel subsidy is the cause of every Nigerian problem and expects well meaning Nigerians like you and I to see reason with him.
President Jonathan’s two major proposals since assumption of office have been met with stiff opposition. First, he proposed a six-year single term in office for Presidents and Governors. The reason: to reduce the “desperation” and corruption while seeking elective office. I still think it curious that tenure elongation would be the first major business a newly elected government should be canvassing. This verve or “ginger” should have been directed towards delivering on election promises like providing Nigerians with stable electricity and rehabilitating roads and the usual brouhaha. In my opinion, this move sought to benefit politicians more than the common man (whatever this means). Besides in a society where politicians have abused opportunities time and again, Nigerians have grown both suspicious and cynical of politicians’ motives and so the the last thing you want to do is bring this kind of thing up early in your administration even if your name is Goodluck.
His second major attempt at brilliant policy making is turning out to be yet another disaster. Arguments supporting the retention or abolition of fuel subsidy abound, and after hearing both sides, I believe yet again that common sense is really not common. The numerous reasons supporting subsidy removal may not lack credence but its implementation is mistimed. I have been extremely careful in criticizing President Jonathan. I strongly believe some people should be giving time to “adjust” to their new roles. I am also aware that Nigerians are very religious people who seek a messiah that performs instant miracles. And when they realize that the blind aren’t seeing and the lame aren’t walking, we do what we know how to do best: complain! So I have been slow to throw any sort of diatribe or reveal my disparaging views but my patience is fast wearing thin. The lethargy in government is unbecoming and motion is like that of a rocking chair. In the words of Tu-face Idibia (aka Tu Baba), “Nothing dey Happen”.
After taking a critical look at the two arguments on fuel subsidy we will see why government should go “sofree sofree” on this issue.
THE “SUBSIDY FRAUD”
The major argument against fuel subsidy is the humongous fraud inherent in it. Millions are paid out to undeserving individuals daily at the expense of the ordinary Nigerian. The subsidy which is supposed to support the common man (I hate this word) is a smoke screen for the thievery happening behind the scene. The government once again blames the faceless cabal who they say is bleeding the nation out. Am not sure whether it’s the same cabal who fought Jonathan before he became substantive president or whether it’s another one. It appears that when any government has lost ideas on what to do, it blames a cabal. Let me give you a sneak-peek of how this fraud works. A fuel importer could bring in 1000 metric tonnes and claim subsidy for 8,000 metric tonnes. The “goodies” from the remaining 7000 tonnes will be shared. I will leave you to do the math. It runs into millions of naira each day. Everybody you can think of is involved. The oil companies contracted to import the fuel, the custom officers who sign off on the inflation of the figures, and off course you can’t do all this without the government officials who actually give the contracts. All these people make up the cabal. A newspaper columnist gave me an insight into another dimension of the fraud which happens when the products imported are stored. He says, “because the NNPC imports more than it has storage facility for, the product is usually stored at private tank farms. If NNPC stores 30 million litres with your farm, you don’t have to account for 10 million litres. There is a process by which you can account for only 5 million litres as long as you know how to share the proceeds of the remaining 5 million litres with those who matter”. There are other “avenues” where members of the infamous cabal clean us out. The one I find most intriguing is this: If the landing cost of PMS is N100 (it could be more), the importer gets subsidy payment of N35 per litre since our pump price is pegged at N65. Off course you see nothing wrong at face value but if you knew that there are different grades of PMS (that sell at different prices) and as I here, the worst grade is imported into Nigeria but this importer gets paid as though he brought in the premium. An importer who brings in fuel can claim demurrage for one month instead of one week. The people at the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPRA) approve the one month and get their cut. The fuel after being discharged is sent to all over the country and the Petroleum equalization fund (PEF) pays for the transportation to all corners of Nigeria to ensure that the fuel costs the same everywhere. The PEF guys make their cut when the marketer claims he sent 10 trucks to Sokoto while he only sent 5… Phew! Call it what you like, I call it blood money. This kind of corruption is just mad. You wake up early everyday working your butt off to make a life for yourself and there are people out there cheating their way into stupendous wealth. Truth be told, this kind of corruption is hard to resist. Some priest will gladly rip off the cassock for such a bounty. So it should not surprise you that for over almost two decades our refineries have been dead. No investor will touch them with a long stick. The money from importation is just too sweet. Government knows now that it is a waste of time to try to repair them. When you hear about Turn-Around-Maintenance (TAM), it is another scam to “chop” money. The money is shared because fixing those refineries would mean the end to the evil trade. It’s that simple. You will need real help to misunderstand it. As at 2000, the amount spent on subsidy was about N1.5billion annually but it has risen to about N1.2 trillion in the first nine months of 2011- nearly the size of the capital budget for 2011! And this is why President Goodluck rightfully wants to get rid of subsidy.
The government’s position looks tenable until you begin to imagine the unbridled suffering it would cause the common man (once again). The poverty in the land is pervasive already and an increase in the pump price of fuel will doubtlessly lead to increased hardship. A day in Oshodi or Apapa in Lagos (am sure the same holds in Sokoto, Kano, Bauchi, Kogi, Benue and other Nigerian cities) will give anyone a wakeup call on what Nigerians go through to survive daily. Young men who should be in school or working decent jobs carry super yogo, viju and fan milk to sell in a country that produces oil. Like citizens of other oil producing countries, Nigerians are entitled to derive maximum benefit from crude oil. Citizens of the UAE do NOT do menial jobs. They live dignified lives but because of our leaders we are made suffer. An investigation recently conducted by a Nigerian newspaper revealed that ‘petrol sells for the equivalent of N58.40k in Iran, N30.55k in Kuwait, N32.12k in Qatar; N17.52k in Saudi Arabia, N54.00k in the United Arab Emirates, N15.95k in Libya, N39.42k in Bahrain. They pay far less than what we are forced here to pay. Each of the aforementioned countries has functional refineries. For instance, Venezuela has 18 refineries most of which are dedicated to the exportation of refined petroleum products. In Nigeria, our four refineries currently produce below 10% of their capacity. If the National Assembly endorses the removal of subsidy, Nigerians would pay about N144 for a litre of petrol as if life wasn’t hard enough. Anytime I drive on Agege Motor Road on my way to church in Ota, I keep myself from cursing every minister of transport in Nigeria. The number of pot holes on the road outweighs the paved roads. A single pot hole can keep you an extra hour reducing life expectancy because of stress.
Every decision government takes has no way of improving the quality of life of the common man (last time I promise). Whenever government takes decisions, it is always the citizens that bear the brunt. This present government has always taken the laziest approach to things. It is far easier to remove subsidy that to “fish-out” the criminals who are feasting on our common wealth. It is easier to elongate one’s tenure than to fix the corruption that makes elective positions so juicy that no one can resist. It is easier to negotiate with terrorist (Boko Haram) than do the harder task of investing in intelligence gathering and enforcing laws against terrorism. Boko Haram went on a killing (or bombing) orgy completely emasculating our security agencies. They murdered people needlessly in Northern Nigeria but government only began to take them seriously when Abuja became a target. Who is fooling who?
As regards fuel subsidy, the responsible step would have been to prosecute the culprits but because one cannot be an integral member of the “cabal” and not have friends in government especially if those friends provide campaign funds. So it’s best to do it through the back door where nobody will be offended. The people who did the electing are left to suffer the repercussion and those hemorrhaging the country can throw lavish parties and buy more properties in Dubai and London. It’s sickening!
If a government is advocating austerity measures among her citizens, it should lead by example. What is one minister doing with up to 10 personal assistants? The Nigerian government’s recurrent expenditure is about 70% of the budget and they want the poor people to suffer for their profligacy? What are the National Assembly members doing with 360 new cars? President Goodluck led the highest contingent of about 120 people to Australia for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) with three executive jets. Who pays for the jet fuel and maintenance of these jets? Won’t everyone aboard the plane be paid estacodes and per diem for saying “Yessir, Yessir”? If the government will not reduce its spending to save for capital projects it has no moral or legal right (I think my lawyer friends refer to this as locus standi) to demand that Nigerians take on the extra burden. By the way, the Head of the Commonwealth of Nations, the Queen of England, went by British Airways (BA).
Nigerian governments should learn to be responsible and do the right thing and this is why I will not support fuel subsidy removal now. What exactly does the government do for her citizens as a social responsibility? The only thing that is considered as social security-subsidy-now hangs in the balance. Every bill that will benefit the common man (aarghh) and develop the Nigerian economy like the PIB is stalled in the National Assembly. But when it comes to allocating allowances and buying new cars, they say the ayes very fast and the gavel is hammered. State government will “drag leg” to pay minimum wage but will approve a new governors lodge “shap shap”. Is subsidy the reason why we have unpaved roads and underdeveloped towns and cities? What is the assurance that the extra money from subsidy removal will be used properly and not enter “one chance”?
I can go on and on on this issue but it has already been over flogged. The conclusion of the whole matter is this: the government can never inspire patriotism in her citizen till it begins to protect and provide for them. I hate the fact that a few are benefiting from what belongs to 80 percent of us, but a system created them and the system should destroy them. Any more encroachment into the space of the common man (lol) may lead to Armageddon.
BABA SUWE DOES NOT GIVE A “SHIT”!
Babatunde Omidina popularly as Baba Suwe has been released after being detained by officials of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) for 23 days on the suspicion that he had ingested “16 wraps” of an illegal substance. His “shit” has been a matter of public discussion for all who cared to know. A man who has made us laugh and helped lighten the mood in our homes was subjected to such humiliation and it should not be taken lightly. Our politicians loot our treasury and are celebrated and given chieftaincy titles and MON’s. Someone who plies an honest trade is being harassed. I pray he sues them five ways from London!
There is currently a bill before the National Assembly to Ban Same Sex Marriage. Our conservativeness is going to be tested. I suspect the sponsors of the bill are only the “puppets” and the true sponsors want to test the waters. I am Christian and this overrules my pragmatism or open-mindedness if you prefer. I will write extensively on this much later on but for now I will leave you with this classic quote form Gordons: God made Adam and Eve and not Adam and Steve. For heaven’s sakes if we are all birthed through heterosexual relationships, doesn’t it suggest that most of us wouldn’t be alive if being gay was “normal”?
ARSENAL FOR LIFE
We lost miserably to Manchester United in our worst defeat in almost a century earlier this season. We also had a terrible run in the Premier league but we have managed to survive. We haven’t just survived; we are almost back in the title race. All that is left is for Man City to lose five times while we win. Also Man United and Chelsea also have to lose a couple while we win. Em em, even Newcastle United has to lose. WTF!
©Ewoigbokhan Otaigbe Itua