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FUEL SUBSIDY REMOVAL: THE 3RD ALTERNATIVE

By NBF News
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Recently, I had the privilege of being one of the participants at the National Dialogue on Fuel Subsidy, organised by The People's Senate, at the Rivers Hall, Transcorp Hilton, Abuja.

The event had in attendance experts, analysts and key stakeholders drawn from the government, Labour/Civil Society, the private sector and members of the press, and was chaired by Mallam Salihu Mohammed Lukman, a former Senior Assistant General Secretary of the Nigerian Labour Congress. Seated with him on the high table were Ayodeji Ajayeoba (Jaye Gaskiya), Hon Ijeoma Ann Nwafor, Prince Olusegun M. Bada,  Aliyu Musa (TUC) Denja Yaqub(NLC) , Pascal Bafyau (ex-president, NLC).

This number, together with two others (a member of Ugandan Parliament and a former Vice President, NANS) who sat among the audience, made up the panelists. The panelists were to either speak in support of the Government's decision on fuel subsidy, or against it. The whole arrangement made the occasion more of a debate than a dialogue.

Expectedly, those who spoke against the decision of the government to remove fuel subsidy earned louder ovation, while the two panelists who supported the motion merely put a damper on the highly electrified audience. The two camps of the debaters, however, made their points staunchly, and convincingly. For those who went against the motion, the government is an insensitive and wicked government without any traces of humanity and integrity, to have ever considered lifting the subsidy on Premium Motor Spirit. For Denja, particularly, our government lacks clues on how to transform the system, and therefore should be prepared for an inevitable ouster. For Gaskiya, the government is only inviting the spirit of the Arab Springs with its dogmatic decision.  For Aliyu Musa, even if the government was allowed to remove the fuel subsidy, the fund, for lack of integrity, would eventually find its way into the pockets of those to manage it.

On the other hand, the two panelists who stood for the government praised the Government for bravery; for even making the moves to remove the fuel subsidy. The idea, to them, should be welcomed by all Nigerians as it is the only way out of the pit of hardship. Having listened empathically, it became obvious that the two camps were all on a win-lose position. The opposition camp wants a win, and the supporting camp equally wants a win. None wants to blend, or compromise its stand; no one appears to accept to lose for the other to gain. For the opposition, the government should not dare remove subsidy, and for the supporting side, there is no going back.

Stephen R. Covey, in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, talks about the two levels of thinking reflected in the actions of the government and the (voices of the) masses. Win-lose thinking arises when one would want to win at all costs, whereas lose-win thinking prevails when one decides to compromise and allow the other to win. The government, in an attempt to have a win on its decision to remove the fuel subsidy, has gone as far as spending a whopping sum on those who are seen as a threat to its decision.

However, it is clear that there are those who are ready to give their lives than allow a lose-win. Some of them were not even panelists. In all, the masses do not want to accept a lose-win, and the Government wants to end at nothing but a win-lose. But then, there is another level of thinking, a win-win position - the Third Alternative. In the Third Alternative, the government will win, and the masses will equally win. We will not have to spill innocent blood to maintain our stands. The win-win proposal, the Third Alternative, which this paper advocates, will give the government a win without the masses feeling raped, and give the masses a win without the government feeling weak. The Third Alternative could be the best alternative if the government and the masses would only comply.

The Finance Minister, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has explained that the fuel subsidy is actually benefited by a wealthy few, which we have labeled as a cabal. According to her, the actual amount for PMS is about N139, and then the government pays up N74 to let the price fall to N65. The N74 is the amount paid by the government as subsidy. Now, if the subsidy is removed, will the cabal still enjoy this money? Of course, yes! They will still sell their products at N139, but this time, the masses will pay the money. So, removing fuel subsidy will not deny the cabal of this money. If by next year, the fuel projected at N120 sold without the subsidy, the importers will definitely have their N74.

But then, if the government keeps paying this money to fix the amount of PMS at N65, we may have to borrow to keep our nation afloat. But, the masses would rather that the government goes into debt than pay N120 for a litre of PMS in 2012. On the other hand, the masses may allow the government to remove the subsidy, but who will manage the proceeds? The government has outlined its plans on how to spend the money, but the masses do not trust the government, this has made the good intention of the government a very poor option. There is only one way out of this fix - the 3rd Alternative.

Let 50% of the subsidy go, and let 50% remain! If 50% of the subsidy should go, the government will win and the masses will win (win-win). The government will win because the fuel subsidy is (partly) removed, and the masses will win because the subsidy is not (totally) removed.

In one year, the government can prove its trustworthiness by judiciously spending the 50%. If the masses in one year see how much their sacrifice can afford them, they may still give the government another one-year trial. If the government proves to be trustworthy in two years, the masses can then let the 100% go!

Okoli writes