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No, to subsidy removal: An xclusivenigeria editorial, by Carl Abu’Bakar Oyakhamoh

By Carl Abu’Bakar Oyakhamoh
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(Executive Editor, Xclusivenigeria.com, Nigeria's internet newspaper)

The planned withdrawal of petroleum subsidy by the government is a tragedy about to happen. It will lead to untold suffering by Nigerians, the majority of whom are already wallowing in poverty. It will lead to increases in the prices of transportation, foodstuffs, school fees, rent, prices of real estate, clothes, building materials, and what have you.

In his proposal to the National Assembly on the government's 2012 Federal Budget, the President said: “A major component of the policy of fiscal consolidation is government's intent to phase out the fuel subsidy, beginning from 2012 fiscal year. This will free up about N1.2trillion in savings, part of which can be deployed into providing safety nets for poor segments of the society to ameliorate the effect of the subsidy removal.''

According to President Goodluck Jonathan, savings accrued from subsidy removal will be put in a Sovereign Wealth Fund, which will also be used to fund the construction of critical infrastructure in the country. Senator Ita Solomon Enang, PDP, Akwa Ibom North East and chairman, Senate committee on Rules and Business has opposed the president's proposal. He

said: “It would affect the poor people in the society, the economy, the legislature, the executive and all aspects of human endeavour. When it is removed, prices of things will go up and will never come down.”

Senator Dahiru Kuta, PDP Niger East, and chairman, Senate committee on Federal Character and Intergovernmental Affairs also opposes the government's plan. He said: “The people of Nigeria have lost confidence in successive leaders. Generally, there is mutual suspicion on the part of Nigerians, the followers and the leaders, that anything that involves collecting money for the commonwealth will be mismanaged. I am not completely for it.

On the government's plan to create a Sovereign Wealth Fund with the savings from subsidy removal, Senator Kuta said: “How is the fund going to be managed? It will have been good because all our infrastructures have collapsed. We cannot fix power; we cannot fix industries; that is where the problem is. The removal will be good if the money will be judiciously used. I am with the people on this. The removal is untimely because Nigerians are not fully prepared for it. Everybody is suffering, majority of Nigerians are facing hardship at the moment.” Member of the Federal House of Representatives from Lagos, Hon. Lanre Odubote (ACN) said the decision was an unpopular one. His words: “The planned removal of the subsidy is uncalled for at this moment. More importantly, you can only remove the subsidy if infrastructure has been put in place to meet the demands of the people. Let the government bring a budget that can generate employment and better the lives of the Nigerian people. Removing the subsidy is not an option now and as the representatives of the people we cannot support this program that is obviously not popular with Nigerians.”

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) have vowed to challenge the move through strikes and other lawful means.

We, the editors of www.xclusivenigeria.com, Nigeria's internet newspaper, stand in solidarity with the Nigerian citizenry to say that there is no justification for it whatsoever. Nigerians are suffering enough. Most families are already living from hand to mouth, not knowing where their next meal will come from. Most Nigerians are stranded in the villages and cities and are unable to travel from town to town in search of jobs, schools, business opportunities because they do not have the money to pay for transportation. Most people cannot visit with families because of the high poverty level in the country today. It is out of the question.

Imagine what will happen if the government were to go ahead with its unpopular plan to remove subsidy on petroleum? For most Nigerians, the country is already hell on earth. Imagine how tough life will become?

Life is so tough in Nigeria today that Nigerians are leaving the country in droves and by any means possible. Nigerians are trekking across the fierce Sahara Desert to get away. They are making tough journeys by road, sea and on foot through Benin Republic, Togo, Mali, Chad, Senegal, Cote D'Ivoire, Mauritania, Gabon, and what have you to get away. Many of these people fleeing the country are young people in their twenties and thirties and forties. But there are increasing number of Nigerians in their fifties and sixties, and perhaps in their seventies and eighties fleeing the country too. Who knows? Believe us, this is not a laughing matter.

There is a mass exodus of Nigerians to any African country or European country or North American country or Asian country that they can escape to. Those who have the money are paying hundreds of thousands and millions to secure visas and other travelling documents to escape to foreign lands.

Nigerians will pay anything to get visas and other necessary travelling documents to any European or North American country. People have sold homes and cars and their bodies and ancestral forests and lands to raise the money to flee the country. Tens of thousands continue to do so daily.

There is a frenzy to flee the country as though there was fire on the mountain, and perhaps from their perspective, there is. Those who wear the shoes know where it pinches. Nigerians would rather be stranded in war-torn Libya or enslaved in any part of the world rather than remain in their country. Somebody wrote recently that if a platoon of slave ships arrived at the Apapa ports today and Nigerians were invited to come aboard the ship to travel to any European or North American country to work as slaves in their farms or homes, that there would be a great stampede and the streets will be emptied out.

As Nigerians in the Diaspora will honestly tell you, the grass always seems greener in a foreign land. Many Nigerians living abroad know that truly there is no place like home. Many would wish to return home to try their hands at making a living in Nigeria because of the freedom and the many opportunities in Nigeria. But most are scared. They are concerned about the poor state of our roads and of our hospitals and of our schools and of our social services. They are concerned about the high inflation and unemployment and poverty levels in the country. They are concerned about the security situation in the country and the government's apparent inability to tackle the booming business abduction-for-ransom. They are concerned about the dare-devil activities of the Niger Delta militants and the merchants of death of Boko Haram. They are scared of the terrible power situation, where whole neighborhoods live in darkness for months.

They are concerned about the stealing and pilfering and corruption carried out by our politicians and the banditry which our leaders orchestrate.

Nigerians in the Diaspora are concerned about the government's apparent inability to safeguard lives and property in Nigeria.

These same concerns that agitate the minds of Nigerians in the Diaspora are the very same reasons that are making Nigerians flee their country in droves in search of a better life. Nigerians would rather stay back in their country if they feel that they can dream dreams and pursue them without let or hindrance in Nigeria; they would be happy to stay back and eke out a living if corruption and poor infrastructure and security of lives and property are tackled by the government.

The Jonathan administration should do well to listen to the people.

Nigerians are suffering and this ill-advised proposal will also make their suffering worse. Elsewhere in the world, in oil exporting countries such as Saudi Arabia and Libya, the citizens have all sorts of welfare programs and social safety nets which their governments have put in place to help the poor and the needy. There is no reason why Nigeria which ranks as one of OPEC's leading members should not have such welfare programs for the poor and the not-so-poor. We believe that the government is making enough from oil exports to put such programs in place. Removing subsidy from oil is certainly not one of such people-oriented policies which we have in mind, and which can help the citizenry to enjoy the benefits of citizenship. The problem of Nigeria remains that of leadership as Chinua Achebe, the famous author has succinctly posited. Nigeria has a great population, huge land expanse for agriculture and huge amounts of mineral resources. The challenge before the government is to tap into these resources to make Nigeria a great nation.

The Jonathan administration can begin to do this by launching an agricultural, industrial and ethical revolution to modernize Nigeria's agricultural sector and to help the citizenry to establish millions of small-scale industries from Kano to Lagos and from Birnin Kebbi to Enugu.

The government should make infrastructure development a priority, building modern rail and road network across the country, from Maiduguri to Lagos and from Katsina to Benin City.

And then finally, the Jonathan administration should launch its own version of the popular War Against Indiscipline of the Buhari/Idiagbon regime to encourage Nigerians to uphold justice, to obey the laws of the land, to love their country and to live by honesty.

*Members of Xclusivenigeria.com Board of Editors: Carl Abu'Bakar Oyakhamoh, executive editor (Lagos operations), Bayo Adewusi, executive editor; Babatunde Rafiu, executive editor; Mohammed Bello, executive editor; Shehu Abdullahi, executive editor; Obi Ogadi, executive editor; Diokpa Chike, executive editor; Ebuka Eze, General Editor; Ejura Sambo, Senior Editor.