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Subsidy: Now that we are here...

Published by Tribune on Fri, 20 Jan 2012


THE chicken, as the saying goes, has finally come home to roost. The protests, or better put, riots have been called off. For several months, since we remembered to demand a salary increase, and the Federal and state governments had also remembered to demand and insist that life will terminate for all Nigerians abruptly, if we refuse to remove subsidy on petroleum products , it had been a ding-dong affair. While the Federal Government welcomed us to the freshness of 2012 with a breath of ... air, the orgy that was the streets of states mostly in the South-West region of Nigeria between January 9 and 14, 2012, is better imagined. Poor roads, became poorer as dark brains blackened the roads with disused tyres ferried on to roads bearing a semblance of tar for what turned out to be funeral pyres.The masses stood by the fire, just like Indian Hindu widows are mandated to do but dared not 'do the do'. Jump into and die in the fire as do the Indians. Many came along with music machines, powered by the umbiquitous 'I pass my neighbour' power generating sets. Languidly, they danced their initiation into a fresh series of pain, sorrow, anguish and financial impoverishment. While the labour leaders drove round in utility vehicles and guffawed over talks with government officials in their palatial mansions built from the sweat of the people, the masses danced on the streets. They danced dances of sorrow and tears. The photograph of the President of the Trade Union Congresss (TUC), Peter Essele, on the newspapers, showing him with the Labour Minister, Emeka Wogu, and the Secretary to the Federal Government, Anyim Pius Anyim said it all. He beamed with smiles, while his followers sweated out the oil with which he would attend the next meeting to negotiate their relief, no, reduce, with the Federal Government delegation. A prominent member of the Federal Government delegation is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), a governor whose political party is not in support of the removal of fuel subsidy. Now that the cookie has crumbled, the governor's pro-people party will end up with a little less than the former billions that should have acrued to it, had the N140 per litre stayed. How much difference is between N140 and N97 really'The economists should be able to say. Were they not the ones who explained the wisdom behind the removal of fuel subsidy'My only fear is that with the kind of unthinking labour that we have, the Federal Government may really have nothing to fear. The reasons are not far-fetched.When the President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan started mooting the idea of an increase in the price of fuel, a thinking labour would have realised that it had to dialogue and come to an agreement with government before the federal might was deployed. Experience has shown that once an increase is announced, the reverberating influence on the prices of mainly consumables is usually astronomical and IRREVERSIBLE. With so much already budgetted for feeding the President's family, one can see a wise anticipatory move. Talk of professional(s) budgetting.While labour can usually get government to reverse a little, the inflation rate in the market is usually irreversible even after government has removed the initial impetus. Does anyone need further proof that we are our own enemies' By now, Senator Oluremi Tinubu and her train, who were ambushed by the protesters in Ibadan, on their way to Abuja during the crisis, will be able to write a doctoral thesis on: The rage of the people.The NLC and the TUC owe the Nigerian people a duty to put on their thinking cap at times of economic crisis such as we are now.One critical question most Nigerians have failed to ask is: Is fuel subsidy the totality of our problem' Is its removal or non-removal the hole we need to drain the pus in our boil'The reality of subsidy is the increase in price. Whether fuel was being subsidised before or subsidy was just a ruse for corrupt practices is another thing. While government's argument is fraught with a lot of loopholes, the question is: Was Labour's reaction the right one, too'Government is certainly not completely sincere, but while dealing with an unequal partner, you learn to make the best, the very best of your negotiating skills. In November 2005, Nigeria won a Paris Club approval for a debt-relief that eliminated $18 billion of debt in exchange for $12 billion in payment. The package was reportedly worth $30 billion of Nigeria's $37 billion external debt as at then. What exactly did government do with the debt reprieve'Until the government begins to link money to projects and contractors, there will continue to be problems in this country. The Federal Government should be able to tell us by now, specific projects executed with the billions Farida Waziri claimed to have recovered as boss of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) since the Federal Government did not controvert her claims at anytime. Government's lack of transparency is its albatross. A government that cannot deal with the members of a cabal cannot honestly allocate gains from fuel subsidy removal. We are on another rigmarole and that is why the dance on the streets becomes symbolic and crucial. Only the initiated will be able to survive in the forest to which we are headed now.What labour should be concerned about is how the members of the ruling class should also come down from their high horses. That is the parable of the harassed Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) senators in Ibadan.What the President should have concerned himself with before announcing the fuel subsidy removal is a drastic cut in the salaries and allowances of the Federal Government officials, ministers, lawmakers and their retinue of political hangers-on. The savings will be more than sufficient to cover for the greed of the cabal, such that labour would have had to make just a little concession to fill up the remaining space in their bowels.At whatever amount fuel is sold, Nigerians will buy without a whimper, as long as they know that politicians and lazy government staff are also paying the same amount.No one should bank on the palliatives. For how long will 100,000 and more buses last on these roads' How many buses will be doled out per state when Ibadan is undisputedly the largest town in WEST Africa, and that is just one town in 36 states plus one. And where do we plan to recruit the operators from please' Mars' No, the cabal will certainly do a better job having managed our oilly affairs for so long.Lewis, 08055001746 (SMS only)
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