|L-R (Sanusi Lamido, Christine Lagarde, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala)
In logic, an “argumentum ad populum” (latin phrase for “appeal to the people”) is a fallacious argument that concludes a proposition to be true because many or most believe it. It alleges: “If many believe so, then it is so”. Therefore it is more fallacious to think that a few people comprising the President and his economic team headed by the coordinating minister of the economy, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Governor of the Central Bank, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi and the minister for petroleum, Dieziani Alison Madueke, would claim that removing the subsidy on petrol would end all of Nigeria’s problems. As pristine as their argument seems, it is illogical to believe that subsidy removal would suddenly provide golden streets, sky scrapers, hospitals, and state of the art universities.
Government’s arguments have been closed ended and based on principles of free market economies that are rather grandiose and superfluous. So many assumptions have been made and the begging question: “what if no investor comes to build refineries” is left unanswered. The finance minister in a bid to lend credence to the policy suddenly turned health minister overnight and became an expert on maternal and child mortality. She is so sure that the “savings” derived from fuel subsidy will save our dying children. Her counterpart, Madueke Alison spoke ever so brilliantly about how the transport industry she doesn’t head will be transformed with speed trains traversing Kano into Lagos. Interestingly, Madueke was the transport minister from July 2007 to December of 2008 and she could not provide choo- choo trains then and now speaks of speed trains. Everything about the benefit of subsidy removal is futuristic. Nothing concrete has been achieved by this administration to judge them or trust them by.
In the last week, it was evident that Nigerian leaders are completely out of touch with the people they claim to lead. When I heard a government spokes person suggest that it is the bourgeois of the society and not the proletariat who would suffer from the effect of the removal of subsidy because they (the middle class) have more than one car. It depicted how out of touch she was with the common man’s plight. “How does a minimum wage earner survive”, a close friend of mine keeps asking me. The finance minister has no answer either but she was quick to quip that she feels their pain. She claims she knows that the price of rice has jumped up over night. She even knows that some people travelled to their villages for the Christmas and have since not returned because the fares sky rocketed. She sympathizes well but cannot empathize because she lacks the capacity.
The good will that ushered President Jonathan’s administration is gone. He is no longer referred to as fresh air. He has surrounded himself with rich kids and forgotten he didn’t have shoes. He seems to be completely sold out on the idea of removal of subsidy. He has not said anything about his government’s inadequacy to fight corruption. He has not been so defiant in ensuring that our borders are less porous in order to prevent subsidized fuel crossing into neighboring countries. He has not reduced the amount of money spent on the Louis Vuitton rice and beans eaten in Aso rock. No one from his cabinet has demanded a reduction in the extravagant life styles of government staff. The 25% slash in basic salary doesn’t cut it, especially when he (Jonathan) was reported to have flown to South Africa with two aircrafts and a deluge of government contingents after his broadcast. The trust the people had for him has vanished completely. President Obama’s health bill took over a year before he got republicans, his own party members and the rest of America to buy into his policy. The British prime minister flies British Airways. The Ghanaian president lives in his own home. But our dear president announces to the world and all that cared to listen that he had cut his basic salary by 25% without touching the needless allowances hemorrhaging the country.
Am quiet convinced that if the government’s self “austerity measure” and “palliatives” had taken effect before the announcement on January 1st, Nigerians may have been a bit more perceptive. The afterthought manner by which the “palliatives” were announced was a bit insulting. And to think that every government lackey was proud to announce the purchase of 1,600 diesel engine buses (like it was a lottery ticket) for 150 million people is laughable.
This insensitivity has resulted in mass protests and rallies organized by incensed Nigerians, civil society groups and organized labour. The Occupy Now movement that sailed across the world through Europe, North Africa and the Middle East has anchored in Nigeria. The government knew there would be resistance but they certainly didn’t envisage what happened last week. They thought it would be the regular NLC protests that lose steam after some horse-trading. But with the help of social media sites like facebook and trends like #occupynigeria on twitter which fueled the protests, the FG resolved a re-negotiate would be best. It used to be the NLC fighting for the people but now it is the people that are fighting for the NLC. Nasir el Rufai and Pastor Tunde Bakare have been mere rallying points, the people themselves are angry. All those that supported Jonathan during his campaign have renounced him.
A lot has been written on the subsidy issue so I would not over flog it. All I will try to do today is highlight the positives we can take away from it.
NOW WE KNOW
Before now, there had been quite a lot of speculations on how much really it cost to run the government. The debate over removal of subsidy has brought to light the amount of monies spent in the kitchen of the President. The amount of money allotted for foreign trips, the ridiculous sums used to buy photocopying machines every year. We know that there was even a KPMG audit of the NNPC that the government has refused to touch with a long stick until now. We know there is a cabal the government cannot prosecute, we know how much fuel is sold in Venezuela and we know that we don’t know how much crude oil we export daily. The list goes on. The general populace is aware and wants accountability now. We are no longer content with just admiring the politician and excusing mediocrity with stupid phrases like “chop I chop”. There is a general hatred for corruption and this is good. A time will come where capital punishment will be canvassed for as penalty for corruption. No more plea bargains.
I HAD NO SHOES (YEAH RIGHT!)
I liked this line sadly. I wasn’t fooled but I admit it was a clincher. The disappointment over the Jonathan administration would teach us to focus on issues and not sentiments during elections. When someone promises you 200,000 jobs and 4000Mega bytes of electricity, we will learn to ask him (or her), how he would come by it. The last election was overshadowed by zoning and how a true son of the soil was finally president and that was the reason many including my humble self supported him. No key developmental issue was discussed and if anybody brought it up, they were labeled “cabal” or detractors. The truth is, a government that is quick to hands-off responsibility from its citizenry at the drop of the hat has no business in power. The average politician in power sees the regular Nigerian as an inconvenience he is forced to deal with. The government doesn’t tax her citizens like most developed economies and hence doesn’t think he owes him anything. He rigs himself into power and sustains himself with free oil money. It is that simple. He owes you nothing. The Nigerian people actually subsidize the government. When you sink your own bore hole, you subsidize government, when you buy a generator, you subsidize your government, when you pay extra private tutors for your child because the public schools are useless then you have subsidized the government. Most leaders in Nigeria do not know the first thing about leadership and must be put through stringent public scrutiny. Not having shoes or being a “facebook” president should be addendums and not the core. Most Nigerians cannot be blamed anyway because in the last election we were granted the devils alternative. And men indeed have fallen.
It is true that adversity brings people together. During the mass protest, Nigerians showed love towards each other. People donated for others to eat, others brought pure water. This is the kind of selfless love the apostles shared after Pentecost. Where you esteem another above yourself and it should be commended. In Abuja, Christians stood guard as Muslims prayed. Boko Haram members would have been sick to their stomachs to see such a sight. That was pure beauty. The plan to pitch Muslims against Christians failed because of adversity. And sadly for them, they found out the hard way that they aren’t the centre of attraction. Prior to the mass protests, it was Boko Haram news. Not that I don’t like us discussing important issues but there is something about fear that cripples. Fear pervades and paralyzes the mind like cancer to the body. It had begun to affect the way we see each other and suspicion and discord was breeding. The Nigerian youth also finally knows what it means to be patriotic. He knows that selling his vote for N500 is selling his future.
Perhaps the most compelling argument against the retention of subsidy was that posited by the Central Bank Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. He says it is not economically sound to peg the pump price of fuel at N65 when other factors such as inflation rate and crude oil prices vary. He has a valid point and I was almost swayed. But I can’t get over the fact that if we fix our refineries and build new ones we would not even have a need for subsidy. Government doesn’t seem to want to take up any responsibility at all.
I had written a while ago on my support for subsidy removal because of the fraud in it but after a critical look at things, government will need to thread softly. There has to be guarantees. Trust is earned and they must earn back the peoples trust back. Infrastructure must be put in place to show that the government is working. People must begin to go to prison for the sins against our nation. And a staggered approach to the removal of subsidy (if it must be removed) while refineries are being built should be adopted. It is an illusion for us to believe fuel will remain N65 naira forever.
©2012 Otaigbe Itua Ewoigbokhan