Fuel subsidy protest victims – Guardian

By The Citizen

The order some time ago by an Ikeja High Court that the sum of N4 million be paid as compensation to families of victims of the fuel subsidy protests last year carries a mix of sadness and joy. The judgment sum appears too small compared to the inestimable loss inflicted on the family of the deceased. But bringing the government or its security agencies to judgment is, however, pleasing.

During the protest against fuel subsidy removal in January 2012. Segun Fabunmi, then Divisional Police Officer of Pen Cinema Police Station recklessly shot four protesters, during which one Adedamola Daramola died instantly and three others were seriously injured. Worse still, these victims were, allegedly, not directly involved in the protest, but were playing soccer on the street, illustrating vividly the much talked about brutality of the police and the inherent tensions in civil-military/paramilitary relations in democratic Nigeria, particularly during conflict situations.

To begin with, Nigerians, like others elsewhere, have a right to dissent, especially when the government deliberately and provocatively breaches the social contract between it and the people, as was the case with the fuel subsidy palaver. Since the protest was largely peaceful, civilised governments, as has been witnesses recently in Greece and Brazil, would respond in civilised manner through moral suasion, lobbying and other peaceful methods. Instead, the Nigerian government resorted to massive deployment of security agents to forcefully suppress the protest. This shows government's lack of appreciation and respect for the fundamental human rights of the people, including the right to life, right to freedom of movement and right to human dignity. The import of this is that the crisis could have been avoided all together, if the government attached any significance to the rule of law.

Nevertheless, the recent judgment has raised some hope in the judicial system. The relatively timely disposition of the case is commendable. But the new hope can only be sustained provided the court order is obeyed by the appropriate authorities. Disobedience of court orders by government is not how to run and consolidate democracy.

In the event of default, however, the plaintiff should follow up with all legal means, including going on appeal and filing an additional suit on contempt, to ensure adequate compliance.

…And An Update 
It is now about one and half years since Nigerians trooped out to protest the removal of the so-called fuel subsidy. Government's claim was that what it was spending to subsidize fuel was not only outrageous, but also unsustainable, insisting that the solution was in total deregulation of the downstream oil sector, beginning with the total removal of fuel subsidy. Specifically, the government claimed that a cabal had hijacked the oil subsidy regime, making it counterproductive. Removing subsidy, therefore, said the government then, would help undercut the cabal and the network of corruption, it would also free up more financial resources to develop infrastructure and that failure to do this would lead to the total collapse of the national economy.

The civil society vehemently opposed government's position, claiming, among others, that what the government should do was deal with the cabal rather than punish ordinary Nigerians with the inevitable hardship the removal of subsidy would cause. It was also advised to stop corruption in the oil sector and bring to justice corrupt individuals instead of punishing Nigerians for its failure and inefficiencies. Government was also urged to first create a conducive environment for deregulation.

Despite all entreaties from civil society and the promise of further consultations, the government went ahead to remove the so-called fuel subsidy on January 1, 2012, with over 100 per cent increment in the fuel pump price. The removal generated protests. In order to regain some legitimacy, the government came up with what it called Subsidy Reinvestment Programme (SURE-P), which mandate was to help channel the proceeds of the eventual partial subsidy removal into infrastructural development, thereby alleviating attendant suffering, both in the short and long run.

One and half years after, nothing has changed? To what extent has the SURE-P been able to adequately respond to the unintended consequences of the fuel subsidy removal?

From all indications, it would appear that Nigerians have been swindled again by their own government. In fact, not only have situations not improved, they have actually deteriorated. Most of the promises made, if not all, have gone unfulfilled.

To add salt to an already festering injury, none of the indicted major oil marketers has been tried and convicted. Their collaborators in government in the Ministries of Petroleum Resources and Finance, as well as in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), have also not been brought to justice while, regrettably billions of naira still go as subsidy payments.

Nigerians must continue to insist on the prosecution of all indicted in the fuel subsidy probe. The judiciary too must help facilitate the process and thereby erase the popular impression that impunity never gets punished in Nigeria.