Friday, 18 November 2011 07:38

Much ado about removal of subsidies in Nigeria

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Is the government’s resolve to remove subsidies from everything that sustains the nation’s economy really anti-people? Are they policies specifically targeted at impoverishing the citizenry the more? Are these subsidies really the problems that have militated against the development of the country? Who are those advancing this cause? What are the real problems with Nigeria? What is the position and benefit of the masses in all these throaty abracadabra of the politicos?
 
I was recently in a place where the masses were debating these subsidies removal. Not more than one percent supported the policies. In short, majority were of the opinion that, though it has been so that the government is practically run by just few Nigerian companies in alliance with their foreign counterparts, subsidies should be removed from Aso Rock and National Assembly. Out of frustration, some of the discussants opted that subsidies should be removed from the whole lives of Nigerians.
 
One is scared. This land is being stained the more with unguarded politicking. One is scared that this land may become like a situation created in poem titled “Silence!” where the poet said: Silence!; Thread not hard upon this land; Where beneath sleep quashed innocent souls; Where upon sleepless stained and stainless struggle; Where beneath the quashed await vengeance; Where the acclaimed powerful flesh abhors exit; Where the quashed have condescended to might; Silence!; Let there be peace nowhere; Let mercy be drifted off hearts; Let no man be human; That when all eyes become red; Man will fear no more; And peace becomes natural savior.
 
The pronouncements by the Federal Government of its plans or concluded plans to remove subsidies from petroleum products and fertilizers are yet another move to indirectly emasculate the plebiscite and create more rooms for larger participation of the very few in the nation’s economy.
 
Howbeit, it points to the contrary that a measure that would give ample opportunity for corruption to flourish should be acceptable by patriotic citizens. A move that supports sharp practices in the importation of petroleum products suggests that the deplorable state of Nigeria’s refineries is a deliberate sabotage.
 
Trust is lost in the leadership and that is why the masses do not believe them anymore. They embark on policies without proper study of the pros and cons, give unconvincing explanations and at the end, only the masses suffer it. Petroleum Minister Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke at the Commonwealth Business Forum in Perth, Australia claimed that the proceeds of the subsidy removal will be managed by a credible team of citizens to be put together by government; the list of names already awaiting President Jonathan’s approval. A CREDIBLE TEAM!! That is surely a team of privately managed companies and not the one made up of representatives of the masses.
 
While the debate on fuel subsidy removal is yet unconcluded, the National Economic Council (NEC) announced its planned removal of fertilizer subsidy, with the endorsement by the 36 Governors of the federation under the leadership of Vice President Namadi Sambo. Governor Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo, briefing journalists, claimed that the council approved a transformation plan presented by the Minister of Agriculture, Dr Akinwumi Adeshina which recommended that the private sector should handle the distribution of fertilizer in order to make it promptly available to farmers.
 
If this is implemented, it means that procurement and distribution of the commodity will be left in the hands of businessmen who will be granted special incentives to
invest in fertilizer production since Nigeria is a gas endowed country capable of exporting it.Again, a marketing board to be known as Commodity Corporation would be set up to ensure that farmers ultimately get maximum results on their investments and labour. But does NEC being the highest economic decision making body in the country really consider the interest of the people?
 
In her own version, the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, claimed that the measure was aimed at saving the country from bankruptcy, as the funds being currently spent in subsidizing the petroleum products seem too huge. According to her, in a couple of years, Nigeria would be short of funds, should the Federal Government continue the fuel subsidy.
 
Iweala tried to substantiate her claim by a fact that the subsidy was going into the wrong hands made up of some cartels in the oil business who are the ones really enjoying the subsidy. The question is, are these cartels above the government so that government turn the hammer on the masses instead of facing the identified cartels?
 
While many Nigerians are not happy with these developments, some have given a total support, with a third group seeking a balance. Gen. Buhari has openly distanced himself from supporting such plans. Rather, he reveals that most of the elements that goes into what is called subsidy is the cost of corruption in the opaque business of oil importation.
 
Governor Muazu Babangida Aliyu of Niger State, rolling behind the federal government claims that the policy was the best measure to regenerate the country’s ailing petroleum sector. Aliyu is of the opinion that if fuel subsidy is removed, measures must be put in place at local, state and federal government levels to cushion its effects, adding that all of Nigeria’s refineries were not functional. He agreed that there was a cabal in the country enjoying the subsidy being paid by the federal government at the detriment of Nigerians. This cabal, he said, does not want the refineries to work.
 
According to a member of the Senate, Senator Datti Baba Ahmed, most senators from the opposition political parties would not accept the policy.
 
Managing Director, Chief Executive Officer, Union Atlantic Petroleum Limited and the Chairman, Private Refinery Operators of Nigeria, Samuel Omotunde Ilori, also believes that the policy without substitute would impoverish the Nigerian masses. He wants old refineries repaired and private ones built for many multiplier effects like appreciation of the naira as a result of billions of dollars spent abroad on importation of the products, provision of employment for millions of Nigerian people, citing that when telecommunication was liberalised, no one was thinking of the commoners selling recharge cards and earning legitimate livelihood.
 
Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), on its part, has condemned the plan. It's National Publicity Secretary, Lai Mohammed, urged the federal government to name the beneficiaries of the subsidy and tell Nigerians why they cannot be stopped. “Why should Nigeria, with huge crude oil deposits, import refined products? Why should Nigerians pay for the resources so bestowed on them by God through their noses? Why is the price of products, even among importer/exporter nations, higher in Nigeria? The answer lies in the crude, corruption-ridden system that we operate in this country," Lar opined, suggesting that refineries with a total refining capacity of 280,000 barrels per day should be built in nine cities: Gusau, Enugu, Ibadan, Kano, Makurdi, Maiduguri, Lagos, Auchi and Gombe, in addition to reviving the existing ones.
 
But a former member House of Representatives and one-time acting governor of Abia state, Chief Stanley Ohajuruka, advocates for a partial removal of the fuel subsidy since a total withdrawal will be too much on Nigerians, wondering why government should not rise above the acclaimed cabal believed to be sabotaging the petroleum sector. Notably, he postulated, “If we can use proceeds from crude oil to build refineries and other support infrastructure, we then begin to talk about partial removal of fuel subsidy,”
 
As usual, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has avowed to down tools if the proposal on subsidy removal is ever considered. NLC President Comrade Abdulwaheed Omar criticized the claim that the funds from subsidy removal would be managed by a credible team of Nigerians, describing it as disingenuous. Omar wondered who those managing the national economy were and queried the annual budgets. “Recreating a DFRRI as General Ibrahim Babangida did, or a Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) as General Sani Abacha did, is disingenuous,” Omar insisted.
 
The NLC has therefore urged Nigerians not to relent in their patriotic mobilization to resist this policy that will further impoverish the citizenry.
 
Also, the National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN) had threatened to go on hunger strike over the policy. President of the council, Mr. Olawale James Ajani simply said the policy was demonic and revealed NYCN’s move in collecting signatures from Nigerian youths in readiness to pass a vote of no confidence on the President Goodluck Jonathan led administration.
 
South South Youth Leaders Forum, equally expressed disappointment with this policy, hailing Gen. Buhari for his outright stand and calling on all past leaders of Nigeria, to speak out against anti-people policies of federal government, particularly on the issue of fuel subsidy removal.

The Forum, through its chairman, Amb, Barr, Amachree Odiedim, congratulates all those fighting against the policy because it is painful that not a single campaign promise of the present administration has been fulfilled.
 
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Muhammad Ajah

Muhammad Ajah is a writer, author, advocate of humanity and good governance based in Abuja. E-mail- mobahawwah@yahoo.co.uk