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THIS OBSESSION OF THE ELITES WITH PETROL SUBSIDY

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Nigeria seems to be a perfect example of the Biblical metaphor that 'from the one who has little even what he has will be taken away and given to the one who has more'.

In virtually all spheres of the ordinary Nigerian person's daily survival there is always this ever present and indeed overbearing encounter with the factual reality that the poor people are constantly being deprived and that those who have more keep appropriating enhanced assets to themselves and their family members. From the traditional institution to the political institution in Nigeria, what is at play is this sinister conspiracy of the elites to keep dominating and depriving the poor of even certain entitlements that the constitution clearly makes provision for such as social welfare and other necessities of life that makes the constitutional freedoms and fundamental human rights meaningful and constructive. There is a general atmosphere of rent seeking in Nigeria at all levels of government.

Rent seeking, according to the March 15th-21st 2014 edition of the Economist, is what economists call a special type of money-making: the sort made possible by political connections. Writing under the title of 'the new age of crony capitalism' the globally acclaimed news magazine also stated that 'rent seeking can range from outright graft to a lack of competition, poor regulation and transfer of public assets to firms at bargain prices'.

The Economist continued by affirming the notorious fact that well placed people have made their fortunes this way [through rent seeking] ever since rulers had enough power to issue profitable licences, permits and contracts to their cronies.

The above conclusions of The Economist is factually accurate with the goings on in Nigeria especially with the roguish approaches that the Nigerian state have gone ahead with implementing the so-called privatization of public assets to cronies of top government officials since the last fifteen years.

Last year, the massive electricity power infrastructural assets in which the Nigerian state committed huge amount of public fund to bring the facilities up to some levels of optimum functionality were auctioned cheaply to friends and cronies of top government officials and ever since this national perfidy happened, most Nigerian homes have remained in total or partial darkness all of the times and the central government keep churning out excuses ranging from alleged vandalism of vital electricity power infrastructure of lack of gas supply. The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission has failed to live above board but operates as a mere academic institution that is only read in the press while the new owners of the electricity assets continuously abuse the consumer rights of Nigerians with reckless abandon.

But officials of government rather than doing what is right have not only embarked on a frenzy of encouraging rent seekers and dubious business executives from buying up public assets at ridiculous rates these anti-poor officials have also started working out underground moves to deprive the poor majority of Nigerians further especially in the area of administration of fuel and kerosene subsidies. The Federal Government over the last two years have presided over the criminal diversion of about N1tn meant for fuel and kerosene subsidies by rogue elements who parade about as fuel importers and these criminals some of whom were apprehended by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission [EFCC] but they are yet to cough out these huge public funds stolen coupled with the fact that the EFCC is too weak to competently prosecute and recover these public fund.

Sadly, top officials of the ministry of petroleum resources are so obsessed with the clandestine moves to withdraw subsidies from petrol and kerosene even when these same officials have failed to revive the local refineries and also tackle corruption and graft in the petroleum sector.

To be candid, I am disturbed that each time glaring evidence of heist and misappropriation of public fund escalates in the country and clarion calls for thoroughbred and dispassionate forensic investigation grows, those who call the shot in government will always look for scapegoats from within the large population of the deprived, poor, impoverished and disadvantaged. Each time a high profile government official at the federal level is about to be caught hands down for alleged large scale theft of public fund, government spin doctors will come up with diversionary tactics and propaganda to confuse the public and make them forget the bigger picture of widespread corruption in government.

The current state sponsored media campaign for withdrawal of petroleum and kerosene subsidies has again resurfaced exactly the period that the suspended governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi made spectacular allegations that over $20 Billion USD were diverted by the hierarchy of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and therefore was not paid into the Federation Account. Rather then hire forensic auditors and follow through the process of tracing these humongous missing public fund, government has embrace the less than creative approach of reaching to the inner recesses of government propaganda war machine to bring up the distraction of making subterranean moves to withdraw subsidy.

The propaganda by the discredited ministry of petroleum for the withdrawal of subsidy from kerosene and petrol has also resonated exactly at this time that there is groundswell of allegations that the minister Mrs. Dezeani Allison-Madueke allegedly blew away the princely sum of N10 Billion in one year from public fund to service a private Jet which she allegedly uses for her private activities and for needless personal and family globe trotting.

So by and large, the call by the minister of petroleum for subsidy withdrawal is at best diversionary, deceptive, unpatriotic, insensitive and uncalled for.

From members of the organized civil and human rights community there is a majority opinion that rather than contemplate the class suicide of withdrawing petrol and kerosene subsidy, what should be upper most in the minds of government officials is how to transparently administer the scheme so as to benefit the very poor Nigerians who will surely be at the receiving end of hardship if the pump price of petrol is left to the whims and caprices of the shylock market forces and the 'profit crazy' private sector operators.

Kerosene and petrol are two essential commodities that the upward movements of the pump prices will adversely afflict economic adversities, poverty of unprecedented scale and high inflation which will target the poorest of the poor who are in the majority even by government commissioned statistical data collected by the national office of statistics . Nigeria is endowed with enormous crude oil resources and so there is no how government will expect the poor people to pay high pump price when other citizens in some non-oil producing countries are buying the products cheaper. For instance why should Nigeria lack the refining capacity and will therefore rely on smaller countries with functional refining capacity to import finished fuel products?

Government must work out transparent, open, and accountable processes to administer the subsidy just like how the United States government decently runs the agricultural subsidies to American farmers.

For instance, a little research will show that in the United States, farm subsidies which are government payments in the form of cash or credit are regularly and transparently provided to domestic farmers and agribusinesses as a means to supplement their income and manage the supply and pricing of certain commodities.

In the Untied Kingdom, the government runs family welfare programmes. The United Kingdom's welfare scheme as we all know is designed systematically to help those in need to live a dignified existence. The biggest proportion of benefits claimants are the unemployed, people with disabilities, elderly pensioners. In South Africa and india, Constitutional and judicial pronouncements have made Housing right for all citizens sacrosanct. But in Nigeria there is currently no other welfare package that is targeted to benefit the poor people even when chapter two of the Nigerian constitution states that the welfare and security of the people is are the primary duties of government.

The argument therefore for the removal of subsidy in Nigeria does not hold water since even the hard core capitalist nations like USA and Britain operate one functional form of subsidy or the other for the overall benefit of their citizenry. Nigerian government should go back to the drawing board to work out effective methods of administering petrol subsidies especially for both the urban and rural poor in such a way that the majority of Nigerians who earn less than what you can consider as living wages can afford to have their human dignity protected just as the constitution clearly stipulates. Payment can be made directly by government to family members using the availability electronic payments and even recharge cards.

The public transportation sector must be made to work so categories of buses and other means of public transport patronized by the millions of poor citizens are awarded petrol subsidies on daily basis in such a manner that the Nigerian State is not defrauded.

Again, on the issue of Kerosene, government is obliged to make the product affordable and readily available for the large army of rural and urban poor who rely on this product for their domestic energy and for preparation of their meals.

Other key measures should include deliberate effort on the part of government to revive the publicly owned refineries and to create enabling environment for the would-be private sector investors to establish functional refineries so crude oil is processed in Nigeria. the contractors who got huge payments for turn around maintenance of the four existing refineries that failed to deliver in line with the terms of contract must be made to refund these huge payments back to the coffers of government.

The federal government should vigorously prosecute and recover to the last kobo, the over N1 trn stolen and diverted by fake petrol products importers who made fake claims and made away with these huge public fund. If the Federal government can successfully kill corruption from the petroleum sector, there would be no need for the officials of government to clamor for the withdrawal of the only welfare package that the poor Nigerians can enjoy which is the subsidies on fuel and kerosene. The call therefore for the removal of these subsidies is to put it mildly, puerile and anti-poor.

If I may ask, why has the Federal government used undue bureaucracy to gradually weaken the operational capacities of the two anti-corruption agencies-EFCC and ICPC? Why are these two agencies not professionally competent and committed to aggressively prosecute these thieves who stole over N1trn from the petrol subsidy fund?

The judiciary is also not helpful in this instance of delivering abysmally snail speed justice to these thieves who stole the subsidies that ought to have been deployed to readily and affordably make fuel and kerosene available to the over 85 million absolutely poor Nigerians. The other day, Justice Oniyangi of the Abuja High Court and Justice Oyewole of the Lagos High Court were elevated to the Court of Appeal thereby crippling the many anti-graft cases which these two gallant judges were handling. The hierarchy of the judiciary would have worked out seamless measures to amend the rules of the Nigerian court system so that when judges handling cases are promoted, the succeeding judges to take up the cases can easily continue from where the previous judges stopped rather than the slow process of starting the cases afresh. So the corruption issue is not caused by petrol or Kerosene subsidies but is purely as a result of administrative failures on the side of government to properly administer those welfare packages so the very poor can benefit.

The elites must be cured of this malady and obsession with petrol subsidy withdrawal and other schemes designed to perpetuate classical extermination of the poorest of the poor.

+Emmanuel Onwubiko; Head; Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria; [email protected]; http://www.huriwa.blogspot.com/

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Emmanuel Onwubiko and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

Articles by Emmanuel Onwubiko