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TRANSFORMATION AGENDA: A BREATH OF FRESH AIR BECOMING POISONOUS

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As the dealine for the removal of the so-called subsidy on petroleum products draws nigh, I can smell a rat. Mind you, the rat has been smelling for as long as we can remember, but it is the increasing brazenness of the pungent smell from the seats of powers, particularly Abuja that is making me more worried. May be, just maybe, Nigeria and Nigerians will withstand a bit more of the deceitful and lacklustre leaderships.

Obviously, the elections are over and we had failed to asked critical questions while the campaign lasted. The man in Abuja had assured us, “that for all that he promised, he had researched well” to confirm that those sweet campaign songs were not hollow or mere rhetoric, but practical, and we should accept them as sacred. It is mind boggling to see that the well-researched sweet promises have turned soured. This breath of fresh air has suddenly become unpleasant.

Even as it is difficult to hold those in power to their campaign promises, considering our abnormal democracy, we can at least hold them to the constitution (irrespective of its loopholes), and the oath they swore to. Nigerians should remember that those in position of authority swore to oaths of allegiance and certainly oath of office for their respective positions. Nearly all the oaths have a declaration of devotion (by the incumbent) to the service and wellbeing of the people of Nigeria, apart from the well-known line of resolve, “that I will to the best of my ability preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”. The Constitution is clear about its fundamental objectives. What has always struck me is the very objective that says ‘the security and the welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government’. I am wondering if this has been so, or have the previous and current governments been violating the constitution, while Nigerians remain docile?

The Nigerian Constitution and all the powers derived there from guarantee any sincere government, not violating the said constitution; all that it takes to fulfil the primary purpose of government – security and welfare of all Nigerians. This for me is the gauge with which I assess the justification of the new song – subsidy removal that permeated the Nigerian political space in the last few weeks. There is something suspicious about the claim that a few cabals are the only ones benefiting from the so-called subsidy. Do we call this a dereliction of responsibility by government or the Constitution has become powerless? May be they are just bent on continuing with the illegal use of state’s power to brutalize and harass hapless citizens, neglecting a more glorious application of sovereignty. This is tyranny. How long will this continue?

While we are in the frenzy on the need for subsidy or not, and the purposes or objectives that government intends to achieve with it so-called subsidy removal tool, I implore Nigerians to wake up and ask questions. The government and supporters of the so-called subsidy removal are hell-bent on going ahead with their show of shame and deceits. The Nigerian dailies are awash with paid adverts on hallucinated good the so-called subsidy will do to Nigerians. Nigerians should ask – who are the faceless sponsors of those deceitful advertorials? The answer to that may provide us with clues about the clique of thieves the government claimed have been the beneficiaries of the so-called subsidy. Many bribe induced endorsements are also flying around. Don’t forget, these were the same tactics they used to sell an ill-prepared presidential candidate to Nigerians. To make matters worse, he has refused to learn and learn fast on the job.

Many are adding their voices to the opposition of the removal of the so-called subsidy, but frankly, there is no subsidy anywhere. All that this and previous governments have been trying to tell Nigerians, is that we should pay for petroleum product as the price of crude in the international market dictates. It is complete folly. I have never seen a sane farmer who sells his best and all of his yams into the market, only to go to one dirty bukka (restaurant) by the corner to eat pounded yam made from the worst, cheap and low quality yam. It is foolishness and self-destruction, no matter the reasons adduced!

Government and the group of supposed wise men and women advising the president are violating the Constitution of the Republic or are they just taking Nigerians for a ride? I keep wondering, do these people ever ask themselves how those nations that have no natural resources raise income for their governments. Do they ever consider that the natural resources from which the Nigerian government currently derives rents, taxes and royalties are finite and will someday run dry? The current estimates put our crude oil R/P (reserves/production) ratio to about 45 years. That implies in another fifty years, Nigeria should have another major source of revenue or face the threat facing countries such as Greece, Italy, today.

Do the government soothsayers ever tell them, that some nations may lose their sovereignty before the turn of the century, not due to war, but because government is broke? There is a herculean task for those with a vision to become future leaders of this nation. Oil will run dry and solid minerals will also finish or become commercially not exploitable. I hope young Nigerians who will be alive in fifty years’ time will not live in a country begging for economic rescue. Definitely, ‘fine bara’ is not a good appellation to bequeath to the next few generations if the current leaders succeed in destroying ‘the Giant of Africa’ – a brand they have failed to help us fly. I am sure those nations who have to beg to meet their commitments are not dancing around bowl in hand with pride. On a lighter note, fellow Nigerians, whenever and wherever the citizens and governments of these ‘fine bara’ countries begin to call you names, please sing to them the T.W.O - Fine Bara (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUmIvJMMsFk) and hoping our country will not join that inglorious league.

No one is in doubt that we have definitely misused all the revenues accruing from oil and gas and other resources in the last fifty-one years, but to tell Nigerians that government is cash strapped and will need to be selling to them, natural resources that is derived from the bowel of their land to raise revenue for government is callous. It does not matter if government is promising to build us paradise from the revenue it will derive by removing the so-called subsidy. If the government is incapable of discharging it responsibility of wielding state power to achieve all that is enshrined in the constitution or to keep alive the spirit and the letter of the charter that unites us as a nation, they can at least show some better creativity.

Is anyone still wondering why I have stuck with the term ‘so-called subsidy’ all along? Petroleum subsidy as they call it in Nigeria is no subsidy. It is sheer business and by whomever? (government, their cronies or some ghosts). What they call subsidy has only one primary aim -- raising revenue for government and the yet to be named cliques, which eventually the thieves in power and their allies will steal. Anyone in doubt should ask farmers in the western world what government subsidies mean. In fact, here at home there is something which is closer to what we can call subsidy – the fertilizer subsidy, only, that also is clouded in grand deceits and it is directionless compared to the subsidy real governments put in place as a security buffer for their economy and citizens.

Vigilant oppositions to the removal of the so-called subsidy have presented us with different opinions as to what would be the effects and fallout of the removal on Nigerians. Those pushing for the removal also attested to the fact that we are bound on a bumpy ride. A ride which the shock absorbers of this decrepit wagon called the Nigerian economy cannot guarantee any safety, once it begins. For very obvious reasons!

Government is promising Nigerians that will be most affected by the removal, palliative measures. Sadly, these supposed wise people keep leaving me with so many questions. Have they ever wondered where all the previous revenues went? How do they plan to identify the ‘poor of the poor’ among us to whom their palliative pills will be administered? Does this their palliative include life assurance and compensations for the many deaths that will occur once the hike in price begins? Nothing kills Nigerians more than petroleum products’ deregulations. All petrol price hikes we have had in Nigeria came with so many deaths from hoarding, adulterations, peddling …

What is the guarantee, that the monies that will be so collected will not find their way into the untraceable skies? One of the many ridiculous things in Nigeria is that government money is always missing. The late, but living legend, Fela Anikulapo sang about this some years ago, but strangely and sadly, government money, our monies are still missing and will continue to disappear. The captains of the ship – Giant of Africa are yet to convince us how they will perfectly seal the leakage that is threatening us with the looming shipwreck.

Though Nigerians are patient and considerate to a fault, these supposed wise men and women should stop making a mockery of us. Anyone with simple knowledge of economics knows that you cannot salvage your economy by eating away your unearned foreign reserve, after all, that chest of cash accrued not because we are productive, but fortunate. Even if the petroleum products being imported into Nigeria are those produced from the same crude sourced from the soil beneath us for the obvious reasons of health, environment and the need to prevent dumping of poisonous and cheaper petroleum products as reported by Farooq, it is still unwise to continue to bring in imported petroleum products for use in Nigeria. There is no better way to squander the foreign reserve, weaken our currency and destroy our economy. I know the country takes prides in imports. We import everything! Even amnesty training is imported and so are all sorts of government contracts that should have been developing home-grown Nigerian capacities while conserving the foreign reserve, stabilizing the naira against the unending free falls and assuring the sovereignty of the nation. I wonder if those making decisions in Nigeria have any iota of pride in their heritage. An average Nigerian is uniquely talented and a bundle of creativity, not the nitwit label these guys are tagging us with. What a shame?

If government is sincere, we can be producing enough refined petroleum products in Nigeria before the end of the year – irrespective of the capacities of the aged refineries. Petroleum refining is no ‘rocket science’. Fractional distillation is what an average senior secondary school chemistry student knows like the periodic table. No wonder, those poor and long neglected youths in the Niger Delta are brilliantly refining petroleum, albeit in basic and unsustainable manner. Rather than government label these creative youths as saboteurs and harassing them with state’s powers, the supposed wise men running our economy should go and learn from them. Nigerians know who the true saboteurs are – thieves committing felony in the name of government.

Nigeria does not need bogus and complex refining plants to generate the basic distillation products that are crucial for running our economy. Even a big refining plant can be built by government in a matter of months, if they are sincere with themselves. After all Niger Republic did it and I hear some thieves who stole our money in the past have refineries beyond the shores of Nigeria.

Government and the economic team should stop touting job creation and enticing helpless youths to participate in a bogus YouWin and other initiatives. What became of the Poverty Alleviation Program and other many initiatives implemented when some supposed wise men and women were coordinating the economy during OBJ’s last stint in power? I hear some of those alchemy sellers are back and coordinating the new transformation agenda. Nigerians should not forget, plenty money that accrued from petroleum product consumption tax went missing during that period. Tell them the alarming number of loves ones that died or were maimed, and your dreams that perished because of the worthless alchemies they sold to us in that government.

Some may be of the opinion that Nigerians do not deserve cheap or free petroleum products, particularly, if they consider it wise to be buying what nature freely gave them. It does not add up or make any meaningful economic sense. This negates the primary purpose of government. No government can achieve security and welfare by selling and harassing the people it ought to protect and sustain. It is also immoral. I suppose the same logic that was used to donate oil blocks to some folks who contributed cumulatively nothing to the nation should be applied. Nigerians have a right to their crude oil. The least the government that has persistently failed to provide security, roads, electricity, health, education …can give its people is cheap or free petroleum products.

If government needs more revenues they should stop the leakages, find reasonable and ingenuous ways of generating taxes and other incomes, maximize the returns from natural resource exploitation as well as put the hitherto wasted gas to good use. Natural gas compression is also not as difficult as they would want us believed. There is no need to continue to perpetuate this heinous crime against the Niger Deltans – roasting them alive just because government and oil companies want the sweet crude beneath their soils. I am so ashamed. The president hails from that neck of the woods; yet, he cannot phantom putting in place micro gas compression plants for creating jobs for his people, even the militants, while solving other problems facing the nation. Sorry, I almost forgot, that over celebrated ‘gas master plan’ was imported.

Horrifying as it may seem, our yearly budget has a recurrent which far outshot seventy percent of the total, the remainder less than thirty-percent devoted to capital projects rarely get implemented upto 50 percent. Now that Yar’Adua is late, I wonder where those unspent budgetary sums disappear to. Government monies, our monies keep disappearing.

To say the well celebrated imported economic gurus can only manage one (1) percent reduction in recurrent budget in favour of the capital vote is ridiculous. No wonder, most things we import never work for us. It is well known that government agencies year in, year out, keep doing ‘semantic manipulations of budgets’ – where they hide monies for the same budgetary activity under different items. This has become the norm in all ministries and all in an attempt to have enough surpluses that they cannot efficiently use, thereby having enough to steal. What about the connivance of those supposed honourable members and distinguished senators who insert budgetary items midway through the yearly budgetary defence? So many frauds in the name of governance!

Clean, natural and fresh air is refreshing, but perceiving the pungent smell oozing from this ‘breath of fresh air’ we were promised, I am afraid, the air is becoming poisonous. The economic team members had better change their thinking caps or butt out.

Nigerians, beware of these ‘fine bara’ economists. Do not allow them to crash our already battered economy. Do not allow them to deceive you with the fraudulent data and cooked indicators they peddle or those worthless awards and accolades or their imported degrees and experiences, with which they always dazzle us. Whatever growths we have had in our economy or other sectors are in spite of government – simply put, the growths are as a result of the ingenuity, creativity and resilience of Nigerians who patiently bear more burdens as governments continue to fail them.

This callous rape of Nigerians and Nigeria must not continue. It is obvious that the book knowledge (macroeconomic tools) these alchemy economists have been applying wrongly does not support their diagnoses, or the remedies they keep prescribing.

The economic team should rework their economic models. No sound economist optimises his economic models by hammering on the objective functions which he cannot adequately predict and manage, or by overstretching the variables that are extremely opened to unexplainable vagaries or in our case, inhumane. I will advice them to do more constraints optimization. That is the only way out of the woods for the Nigerian economy.

What Nigerians need is a practical and sincere home grown and home driven plan to ensure the reduction in the prices of petroleum products from January 2012. We expect that by 31st December 2012, petroleum products will be selling in Nigeria at a-quarter of the current prices, irrespective of the price of crude at the international market. In this century, over seventy percent of Nigerians (according to NBS) have no business depending on woodfuels (firewood, charcoal, ...) or kerosene for cooking. We expect that before the end of 2012 over eighty percent of Nigerian households are using clean, cheap and safer LPG for cooking. If the government want to keep having more crude to sell for hard currencies, increasing the reserve, have dollars for infrastructure or whatever goals, they should get over a quarter of automobiles in Nigeria to be running on cheap, clean and safer LPG made in Nigeria by the end on 2012. In fact, if the government continues to fail to provide electricity, they should provide Nigerians with cheap, clean and safer LPG for running their generators. All these and much more are possible.

I leave the economic team to work out the growth in employment, private and public savings and investments and other benefits that will be shouting from their reworked economic models, if they can follow practical advice.

Who will save Nigeria?
Written by Taofeek Ramat. [email protected]

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