FUEL SUBSIDY WAR: NO WINNER, NO LOSER
It is a pity that oil that has made other OPEC countries heaven is now our curse. That we should fight on the streets on how to manage our oil money is sad. But after five days of intense anti-subsidy removal protests in different parts of the country, the Federal Government has bowed to public pressure and fixed the pump price of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), also known as petrol at N97 per litre instead of the earlier price of N141.
This confirms my last week thesis that the price will surely be below N100.This translates to an increment of N32 to old price regime of N65 per litre. President Goodluck Jonathan and his team arrived at this figure after marathon deliberations with Labour. But labour stated that the new price regime was a unilateral decision of the government but went ahead to suspend the strike after wide consultations with other stakeholders. Labour should offer more explanations on this.
Before the fuel impasse was resolved, government held the masses at the scrotum and they fought back with their last energy to remove government's hands from that very vital organ of maleness. For the days the strike lasted, subsidy dominated of public discourse. At newsstands, Nigerians discussed subsidy including those with no knowledge of the issue at hand. All of a sudden, every Nigerian became subsidy experts of sorts, all offering different perspectives on the ensuing discourse. Even children were aware of the strike because their schools could not reopen as scheduled.
But at the end of the day, the matter was resolved. Whichever way it is looked at, it is a no winner, no loser contest. Why did government decided to tamper with fuel, the life-support of the nation, on the New Year Day? Did it not know that the masses will fight back like a wounded lion? And that was exactly what they did. Although, some overdid it, it was worth the effort. At least, to let those in government know that they were there on our behalf. They are exercising the power we gave them through our votes.
But along the line, the protest was hijacked. What have hoodlums got to do with fuel subsidy removal protests? What have registered political parties and their candidates got to do with the protests? What have oil marketers got to do with the protests? These were the characters the government accused of instigating the subsidy removal protests in the first place.
The Ojota carnival called fuel subsidy protests attended by politicians, musicians, comedians and Nollywood actors, appear to confirm government's position that some interest groups sponsored the protests. Pastor Tunde Bakare, former CPC vice-presidential candidate during last year's April poll overdid it by calling for Jonathan's impeachment among other unprintable things he said. The Ojota rally appeared to have been stage- managed.
By removing the fuel subsidy at the time it did, government should know that it had fetched ants-infested firewood and thereby invited lizards to a feast? And true to type, the lizards came in large numbers to devour the ants. In five days, both sides fought ferociously and unrelentingly to show who owns the oil. There was no retreat and no surrender. And the country shook to its very foundation.
And Nigerians complied. Some were forced to comply because roads were barricaded and movement was not allowed. Even those of us on essential duty were molested by the protesters. At some places, you have to buy your way. Extortions were rife. In some areas, people were disposed of their valuables in the name of fuel subsidy protest. One ugly feature of the strike is that the human rights of those who did not want to protest were infringed upon by those protesting. One person's human right should not be exercised to infringe on another.
This is one issue labour has always over-looked.
Both labour and government wrestled like strong men and the outcome was a goalless draw. It was a fight of two elephants in which the grass actually suffered. By reducing the price of petrol, government has demonstrated that it is not insensitive to peoples' plight. It was mindful of the effects the increase of fuel price would have on the people and the economy. Jonathan has shown too that his is a listening government. I thank him for displaying such level of maturity and statesmanship.
As expected, labour suspended the strike and sued that those that shoot protesters must be brought to book and that nobody should be victimized for taking part in the strike. Also, labour has shown that it is not deaf too. Now that both parties have shifted ground, it is now left for petrol marketers to comply with the new price regime immediately. Labour pledged to work with the Justice Alfa Belgore's Committee on how to cushion the effects of the subsidy removal on the workers and all Nigerians. This is a good development that signposts a good way forward in our deregulation journey.
It is in line with my earlier theory of phased subsidy removal. There is no doubt that what the government has done is acceptable to majority of Nigerians. It is now the duty of the government to ensure that the subsidy money is well utilized for the projects mapped out. Though the strike was short of the Arab Spring, it showed that Nigerians can still do something if they want to. It is kudos to all Nigerians. Government should now be held accountable on how the country is governed.
The era of our leaders acting as emperors is gone. Leaders must consult the led before they carry out any decision, especially decisions that will touch on the life of the masses. This is democracy in action. The other tiers of government, the state and local governments should now wake up to their constitutional responsibilities. Governors should not behave like despots with little to show for democracy deliverables. The case of the local governments is the worse because majority of them do not have elected chairmen and therefore nobody can actually be held accountable. Some governors appear to be happy with having unelected people to take care of these councils. In other words, the governors are in control of the fiscal allocation to the councils.
That is why the councils have been rendered ineffective. That is why my local government, Orsu in Imo State, has known no development in the last couple of years. Perhaps, it is the only local government that its headquarters cannot boast of a tarred road not to talk of network of tarred roads. It is the only council area without streets and marked urban area. It is the only council without a master-plan. It lacks potable drinking water and its health facilities are not adequate. I am appealing to Owelle Rochas Okorocha of Imo State to ensure that these anomalies are redressed forthwith. I call upon him to make a working visit to the council headquarters at Awo-Idemili to see things for himself. Let his proposed 17km road per each council area in the state pass through the council headquarters. There is nothing wrong in that.
The Federal Government has told Nigerians what they intend to use their own portion of the money accruing from subsidy removal to do. Even though, some of the projects appear outlandish and far-fetched in terms of completion schedule, they are better than none. We are yet to be told what the state governors will do with their own share of the largesse. The same is applicable to those at the local government level. Let the governors and the council chairmen, whether elected or appointed, begin to tell us what they want to do with their own share of the subsidy money.
They should let us know so that we scrutinize them and offer our input. The time has gone when government designs projects without the input of those the projects will serve. As people are different, their needs are also different. While certain area may need road, another area may need potable water, yet another may just need electricity. So, government should respond to different needs of the various peoples it governs. There is no one-fixed solution to all their needs.