THE picture being projected on the screen of public opinion is that government will collapse in no time if subsidy is not removed in the New Year. Three top officials of government namely, the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; her Petroleum Resources counterpart, Mrs. Diezani Allison-Madueke and Central Bank Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, are pushing government’s position with missionary zeal at town hall meetings.
Surprisingly, the Comrade Governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole, who, as president of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), battled former President Olusegun Obasanjo to a standstill on this same matter, has been thoroughly converted and talking like a World Bank/IMF agent at the meetings.
The proponents say that all the things government has not been able to do such as the provision of physical and social infrastructures will be given automatically once the incubus called petroleum subsidy is lifted off the back of government. In brief, their position is that no subsidy removal, no government in 2012.
But as rightly observed by NPAN’s president and publisher of ThisDay Newspapers, Mr Nduka Obaigbena, when the meeting opened in Lagos, “Labour’s DNA is anti-subsidy removal.” And since DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is unchangeable, it is advisable for government to rebrand the whole enterprise to sound different and palatable, too. For instance, it can be called: Cost of Good Governance or some other name that does not suggest removal of fuel subsidy so that Labour can be pacified.
APPARENTLY, one of the things on which government will spend the hefty money that will come from the subsidy removal is the implementation of an agreement it entered into with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
The year closed yesterday, so to speak, without university education in Nigeria because university teachers were and still on strike over failure of government to implement faithfully an understanding both sides reached since 2009 to accord the educational sector better funding.
Yet, in this shameful situation when government should give definite and specific timelines on the way forward, the Minister of Education, Ruqayyatu Rufai, herself a university Professor, has chosen to be evasive. Instead of telling Nigerians when exactly government would do the desirable so that the striking teachers could return to the classrooms, she merely said that the unsettling matter between government and ASUU would be permanently settled in 2012.
This is neither here nor there. Her optimism, however, might have derived from the planned removal of the fuel subsidy, which is being vigorously promoted as a magic wand that will give government infinite capacity to do all things in the New Year, including the funding of university education.
EVEN so, education may not be too important on the scale of priority in 2012. The issue of security of life and property has become paramount in the unfolding scenario. The radical Islamic sect, Boko Haram, has sustained its onslaught on the polity in spite of official promises to stop their attacks.
In the circumstance, the about one trillion Naira voted for security in the 2012 budget, as if the country is being mobilised for war, may prove inadequate to shield Nigerians from the falling bombs of Boko Haram.
What is more, President Jonathan is lamenting like a victim, too. He has come very close to abdicating and asking Nigerians to seek help from Above. His words: “Bombing is one of the burdens we must live with; it will not last forever, I believe that it will surely be over.”
If the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is talking like this, hope of a clear-cut strategy to contain the monster, to say the least, is most farfetched even as security and service chiefs rallied in the last days of 2011 to give an impression of serious co-ordination.
The ball has also been passed on to the court of traditional and religious leaders, who have been enjoined to do something to avert the impending doom. Last week, the Sultan of Sokoto and Head of Muslims in the country, Alhaji Abubakar Sa’ad III, was on national television network after a meeting with the President in Aso Villa, Abuja, preaching peace, tolerance and the need for Nigeria to remain as an entity.
Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and other Christian clergies, have also been talking. The prayer is for the sermons by these eminent religious leaders to sink much faster than the sermons on removal of fuel subsidy so that the Boko Haram harassment can be curtailed.
IT is not as if all of these worries will be mitigated by improved social services in the New Year. For instance, instead of increasing, the national power out-put plummeted to a new low following the collapse of vital units of the Egbin Thermal Station in Lagos in December.
The much-advertised 6,000 megawatts electricity generation capacity earmarked for attainment in 2011 was still a distant dream as at yesterday when the year ended. Rather, what was mentioned more, amid continued darkness in homes and business premises, was the need to increase electricity tariffs so that the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) could earn more money to maintain its facilities.
Governor Babatunde Fashola, with his toll collection theory, is another issue. Suddenly, government has become a burden on the people, as it seeks more money to provide nothing. This explains, precisely, why the nation’s four refineries, for instance, could not be turned around after more than a decade of a Turn Around Maintenance (TAM) exercise and in spite of improved government earnings.
Nothing is ever enough and so, the argument is that the difficult-to-quantify subsidy on petroleum must go to enable government earn good money to build new refineries or effectively repair the old ones and end the unending maintenance journey. These same refineries were built by past regimes when a barrel of crude was less than $15 as against the current price of more than $100.
NEVERTHELESS, no department of the national life reflects this enhanced revenue profile of government. It has been a case of steady decline in national ethos with each succeeding regime trying hard to improve on its predecessor in bad governance.
And so, after more than 50 years of socio-political engineering, Nigeria has not quite moved forward. The people still say “the good old days” with an undiminished nostalgia. Some actually say that the colonialists would have stayed far beyond 1960, to teach a few more things about nation-building, which could have saved Nigerians from the current agony.
Conduct an audit and remove the physical and social infrastructure built by the British, the immediate post-independence political managers and General Yakubu Gowon and his band of 12 state governors, and the people will be left with practically nothing, except the faulty development of a new Federal Capital and an epileptic steel industry, to account for the huge oil revenues that have come the way of government in the last 30 years.
Perhaps, the only ‘positive’ index of the tremendous in-flows is the astronomical rise in official corruption in Nigeria. One report actually says more than 50 per cent of the common wealth earned since Independence has gone into private pockets.
AS the New Year opens today, the expectations of the citizens are not anything different from what they have always hoped for. They simply want the new day and the days ahead to be much better than the so-called “good old days.”
The people want their entitlements as good citizens of this country. In short, they want food, shelter, clothing, good roads, steady water and electricity supply, healthcare, security and qualitative education, which are things taken for granted in other climes but which combine to define meaningful living in all places.
The people have sacrificed enough and they do not want to be told that these things can only come when they sacrifice further by paying more for their God-given fuel.
See more here:
Thorny Road To 2012