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JONATHAN'S HEADACHE

By NBF News
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The season for President Goodluck Jonathan to savour his victory and celebrate is surely over. It is now time to work, in fact, to work hard, and even talk hard. You read him last week telling Nigerians to buckle up for hard times. Possibly, he has hit hard task also with so many things to handle. Mr. President is faced with the tedious task of selecting his cabinet members where he is inundated with lobbying and jobbers.

If he would glide through the turmoil of party and individual interests in the ministerial selections, he would not have it so smooth with the security issues threatening the nation. From the post-election violence, he is faced with a worse crisis of bombings in some states of the North, including his own Abuja. With the worst and most humiliating hit at the heart when Boko Haram, that seem to operate a parallel security outfit and maybe a superior one hitting the underbelly of the nation's police headquarters, there seems to be no place for anyone to hide. No doubt, that assault, the highest anyone could take must have been a jolt to Jonathan as he admitted: 'Anybody can be the target of terror attacks. If they have their way or if it is possible for them to bomb the president, they can do that.' That was on the day he visited the police headquarters after the bombing.

But the most daring task before him now is the trouble of minimum wage for workers raging between state governors and the labour. The Federal Government earlier accepted to pay and signed that into law before the election. However, it has not started the implementation, and the looming war by labour involves the Federal Government and its civil service. While the president has signed the bill into law, the Federal Civil Service has not done anything about the implementation after three months. As the state workers and the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) press the state governments, the governors have replied with a dimension that seems to compound the problem, thereby lifting headache Jonathan's over the issue to a full migraine.

The danger is that accepting to erase the fuel subsidy as the governors advocate would mean more income for the government. That will translate to more money being shared as no government generates revenue to sustain itself.

Because they all depend on Abuja handouts every month, removal of fuel subsidy will entail the consumer - the worker ultimately and even the privately employed person who did not benefit from a national minimum paying more for petroleum.

That option is a sore point as the same workers and other Nigerians would not take it. Jonathan accepting the position of the governors means pitching himself against the masses - a major problem he would find it very hard to wriggle out of. Not minding that many experts in the oil sector argue that subsidy still exists only in the price of the PMS (petrol), some others say there is none left.

On the fuel subsidy issue, former Minister of Petroleum, Prof. Tam David-West, in an interview with Saturday Sun, fired the first salvo by warning President Jonathan not to dare increase the current pump price of petroleum products by a Kobo.

According to David-West, the said subsidy is all fraud as he noted that the price of premium motor spirit (PMS) has always been the determinant of prices of other commodities in the country, pointing out that once the petrol price goes up, prices of other commodities and services also go up. He called on organized labour not to allow any increase in pump price of the product, saying that if the governors stop stealing government funds, money available to each of the states should be enough to pay the minimum wage.

The governors told the president to stop about N600 billion spent annually on fuel subsidy and add to the revenue allocations, which are shared monthly by the three tiers of government in the proportion of 52.68 per cent for federal, 26.72 per cent for states and 20.60 for local government.

If Jonathan succumbs to the pressure from the influential Governors' Forum and goes ahead to review upwards petroleum pump price, apart from the crisis his action will precipitate, Nigerian masses would feel betrayed as they would see the president as not being appreciative of their enormous support for him in his trying days during the illness of his former boss, President Umaru Yar'Adua. His action would be seen as chastising the Nigerian masses with scorpion as all explanations that will lend credence to his action would fall on deaf ears.

Another factor that may likely unsettle Jonathan is the clamour by the Governors' Forum for the review of the revenue allocation formula that has seen the Federal Government getting more than half of the monthly revenue.

Their argument is that the allocation that goes to the centre should be reduced because some of the parastatals and agencies that the Federal Government was shouldering have been sold out, concessioned or privatized. That means less money for the presidency and no Nigerian president can accept that.

The issue of Islamic banking put forward by Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Lamido Sanusi, is already generating ripples. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) is already shouting foul play as they reason that Nigeria is a secular state and the introduction of Islamic banking is a one step to making Nigeria an Islamic nation and they have vowed to resist it.

As this contentious issue of Islamic banking is ragging, Nigerians are watching the president's lip to see what is in his stand.

The president is in ugly ambivalent position as the proponents and the opposers have already taken irrevocable positions.

Those opposing said that allowing Islamic banking system to operate is tantamount to giving a tacit approval for the demand of Boko Haram, an Islamic sect that is demanding, among other things, the Islamisation of 12 core northern states and they pointed out the danger of the silence maintained by former President Olusegun Obasanjo when some states in the North mooted the idea of Sharia and the consequent riots that broke out in Kaduna and Kano that led to the death of hundreds of people and property worth over N1 billion destroyed.

Another issue that is unsettling Jonathan is the resurgence of Islamic sect, Boko Haram that started on July 26, 2009 and has continued to kill people at will. For now, the presidency and security agencies are at loss on how to combat them because they are faceless and amorphous. The carrot-and-stick approach the presidency has dangled before the sect was rebuffed. The sect is demanding, among other things, full Islamisation of 12 core northern states in a secular nation like Nigeria.

The group has attacked various police formations, military bases, churches and relaxation joints spilling blood. Over 530 persons have been killed during such attacks that have been ferocious in the last two weeks.

The fear in the presidency is heightened that Nigeria may be branded a terrorist nation if the sect continues its attacks.