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JONATHAN'S SUBSIDY PANACEA

By NBF News

Two days to the commencement of the January 9 nationwide strike called by labour to protest the removal of subsidy on petroleum which jerked the cost of a litre of the product from N65 to about N141, President Goodluck Jonathan made a nationwide broadcast that was widely expected to be a last-ditch attempt to forestall the protest. But the president's address fell far short of expectations.

His January 7 broadcast failed to strike the right chord with angry Nigerians. Coming at the brink of the protest scheduled for Monday, the people had expected significant pronouncements that could stem the tide of protests. But the president, instead of demonstrating readiness to do the wish of the people, bluntly told the nation he would not go back on the subsidy removal policy.

Jonathan left no one in doubt that he was resolved to stand by his deregulation plan, and only went ahead to tell the people what he planned to do to reduce the pains of the policy, and cut the cost of governance, as Nigerians have demanded. He reechoed his plans for a mass transit intervention loan scheme with states and local governments at zero per cent interest; duty waiver on spare parts for locally made mass transit vehicles; mobilisation of contractors for rehabilitation of Port Harcourt-Maiduguri rail line and completion of Lagos-Kano rail line; and the commencement of public works that will create jobs for 10,000 youths in all the 36 states and Abuja, totalling 370,000 jobs, nationwide.

New, among the steps Jonathan said would be taken by government to reduce governance costs are: 25% reduction in basic salaries of political office holders in 2012 only; reduction of number of overseas travels by political office holders, including the president, and the size of delegations on such trips; reduction of the overheads of Ministries, Departments and Agencies of Government (MDAs), and review of committees, commissions and parastatals with overlapping responsibilities.

All put together, these measures do not translate to any significant palliative for the people. If, indeed, they translate to some savings for the government, they are of little effect to ordinary Nigerians who will now be paying so much more for petroleum. The president's address merely papered over the very real problem of the negative impact of high oil prices. It did not address the issue of increase in cost of living, especially food, transportation, power generation and production for an already beleaguered population. A significant percentage of this population is already living well below the poverty line.

The president's palliatives plan, as broadcast last Saturday, is a disappointment. It is clearly not far-reaching and definitely lacking in substance. It appears to be an uncoordinated panic measure that is not well thought out.

The government ought to have thought deeply about this issue and put definite and realistic panacea in place to ensure that the subsidy removal plan can be easily sold to the people. The president did not raise Nigerians' hopes with his broadcast. The palliatives plan he announced was not at all persuasive. It was not enough to change the mind of the people. It is no wonder, then, that the broadcast was of no effect. It did not stop the strike, as the people became even more resolved to down tools on Monday.

It should worry this government that the nationwide broadcast of the president and Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces became null, void and of no effect on the majority of the people who voted him into office. This development has negative connotations and foreboding because it means government is out of touch with the people. Anything the president or his senior officials say should make a clear difference in the country if they are on the same wavelength with the people.

On this critical matter of removal of fuel subsidy, we urge the Federal Government to stop running around in circles. What the people expect is a credible roadmap for a quick resolution of this crisis. The people need genuine assurance and concrete signs from government that it is committed to their welfare. They deserve lower fuel prices and effective palliatives to cushion the pain of any increase.

The panaceas so far offered by President Jonathan in his nationwide broadcast are no panaceas at all. They do not offer hope to Nigerians that there are easier days ahead, or that something good is coming their way. This is definitely no good way to begin a new year. The people expect more decisive action from Jonathan and his government to end this crisis.