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CASUALTIES OF SUBSIDY STRIKE

By NBF News
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President Goodluck Jonathan in a nationwide broadcast on January 16, 2012, slash the N141.50 per litre New Year day announced price for petrol to N97. Later, Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) Preident, Abdulwaheed Omar, announced the suspension of the six-day national strike, protesting the hike in fuel price.

Sadly, the suspended strike was not without casualties. The first victim is the Nigeria's budding democracy and the Constitution that guarantees freedom of association, gathering and peaceful protest. Armed soldiers delt a devastating blow to that freedom.

Before the dawn of the strike the streets of Lagos were swarming with armed soldiers. Armoured tanks and stern-looking soldiers laid siege to the Freedom Square, Gani Fawehinmi Park, Ojota, where protesters used to gather to raise the banner of their protest. A case of armed soldiers against harmless, peaceful and placards carrying protesters. Is this democracy?

More than 20 lives, scores sustained injuries, while billions of Naira worth of property were destroyed and more than N1trillion man-hour and billions of revenue that would have accrued to the treasury but lost to the strike. The medid also bore its brunt too. The State Security Service men invaded the Lagos offices of the Cable Network News (CNN) and British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Assault on foreign media is a minus for Our democracy.

The resolve of a newspaper to uphold the convention of print journalism that forbids selling of front page to advertisers. The need for funds to survive the harsh economic atmosphere in the country has made newspapers to sell not only their front pages but also the back pages that is called wrap-around.

It was, therefore, a surprise to media observers to see the newspaper carrying wrap-around advertisement of Neighbour to Neighbour that sold the message of the benefits of subsidy removal during the strike and protest. In term of revenue generation, however, the national strike, through advertisement campaigning for the support of subsidy removal, generated a large sum of money for the media (print and electronic).

The judiciary was not spared either. Before the strike, the Nigeria Industrial Court had issued an injunction against the Labour going on strike. It was ignored. This angered the court, that ordered a lawyer who described its injunction as a black market order and even journalists who reported what the lawyer said to report at the court on January 16, 2012, the day the strike was called off. Nobody reported at the court as the judge quickly pardoned those he had invited.

The Federal Government claimed that the new tax on fuel is good for Nigeria as the savings made will ensure a prosperous future for generation unborn. The projected N1.3trillion expected from the subsidy removal will turn around the country for good. The ministers were quick to brandish SURE brochure, containing the good intention of the government and all the life-enhancing projects and programmes that the removed subsidy will provide. They will not, however, say that the contents of SURE are the same with that of the former president, Chief Olusegun Obasnjo's NEEDS.

Nigerian political office holders, whether executive or legislative, are the highest paid in the world. This nonpareil political prodigality is yearly eating up about 75 per cent of the budget. More than 90 per cent of the populace spend less than two dollars a day. This means that the per capital income in the country is very low. Unemployment rate is very high.

The paucity of income has stretched the elasticity of people's disposable income to the limit, and it can snap at any push. But the Federal Government thinks otherwise, believing that the elasticity of people's resilience in the face of hardship is infinite. It slammed more than 150 per cent price hike on petrol on the people, sending prices of goods and services skyrocketing.

The Federal Government says liberalisation and deregulation of the oil industry is best for Nigeria. Deregulaion minus transparency and accountability is nothing but evil. Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) has been at the National Assembly for more than two years gathering dust. The firms prospecting and drilling for crude in the country are against it, hence it got stuck in the legislative quagmire.

If the members of the cabal are untouchable and the crude oil prospectors are using their dollar power to prevent the passing of the PIB, the people should be fed with the bitter pill of higher fuel price. One-sided liberalisation policy of the oil industry is anti people, unequitable and unfair.

The Federal Government is shouting and hoisting liberalisation as its economic Midas touch that will turn everything in Nigeria to gold. Thus, oil industry that earns the country more than 90 per cent of her foreign exchange has been dressed head-to-toe in laissez faire regalia. Those responsible for the policy cannot, in all honesty, claim ignorance of parlous state of the industry in the country. Cannibalised refineries that are working at 25 per cent capacity has created a large room for importation of refined products.

The technology and capacity for the drilling of crude in Nigeria are largely supplied and controlled by foreigners.

Nigeria is perhaps only oil producing country that is not making determined and serious efforts to take full advantage of her natural resources. Aggressive building of refineries by the government is the path to the Eldorado. To this suggestion, the Federal Government would counter that the treasure is lean.

Contrary to what they are pointificating, refineries in most oil producing countries - Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) are built by the governments. It is a pipe dream to expect any of the major petroleum products dispensing firms such as Mobil, Agip, Texaco and Total, to name a few, to build refinery in Nigeria. They have their refineries in their mother countries.

Adigun is on the staff of The Sun