2011 was quite a year. It saw the fall of 4 dictators, three of them on the African continent. Many waited to see if the Arab spring that North Africa enjoyed would cross the Sahara and come down. There were a few protests in Uganda, Swaziland, Gabon, Cameroon and Senegal which didn’t yield a lot. Nonetheless, many African citizens had learnt a great lesson from the Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. They learnt that they could stand up to their leaders. Now that Nigeria, the largest (population) country on the continent has kicked off 2012 with #OccupyNigeria we wait to see how the government handles the situation after today’s strike and what lessons we can draw.
The protest against President Goodluck Jonathan’s decision to remove fuel subsidies has united many who say this will suddenly more than double the cost of living for most Nigerians. This year the Ugandan government has promised to start work on an oil refinery and the sector is already hit with corruption and bribery allegations. At the heart of the subsidies debate in Nigeria is why hasn’t government invested in refineries instead of selling crude oil and import fuel at a much higher price. I asked two Nigerian friends, both are taking part in today’s protests, about the issue because Uganda government has to learn from African countries like Nigeria that have been producing oil for five decades. Here is the two responses.
Hmmm its a bit difficult to explain the current issues on fuel subsidies in Nigeria. So I tell you a little story.
In the 1970s Nigeria discovered crude oil so we built refineries to refine this crue oil and sell to local consumers. Of course Nigeria sold some of the crude oil for foreign exchange. It was so good that the then Military ruller said Nigeria had so much money and did not know what to do with it.
Fast forward into the 1990s. Due to curruption and incessant millitary intervention in Government, all refinaries in Nigeria have stoped working and so the Government now has to use marketers to import refined petroleum for local consumption and of course the cost of the imported fuel is higher than that which was on sale when the refinaries were working. So government had to subsidise the cost importation by local dealers who are now porpularly known as the cabal.
So now in the 2012s the government says it can no longer subsidise the petrol. There is an increase in consumption of petrol thus demanding an increase in the amount the government spends on subsidy, the funds for the subsidy do not have the desired effect because some of the cabal just buy the fuel at subsidised rate and go accross the border and sell the petrol at the full price. The government also tells us that the process of disbursement of the funds for the subsidy is enbroiled in fraud and curruption involving the marketers which the government says it cannot check. So we have to pay for government’s inability to check corruption.
So the subsidy is removed. And now the argument comes down to figures. The government argues that the removal of subsidy will provide additional funds amounting to about 6 Billion USD annually for development. The people argue that these funds will simply go into the pockets of corrupt government officials.
The government argue that they will use thi money to rebuild the refinaries and eventually the cost of petrol will go down. The people say do that first before you remove the subsidy. The consequencies of the removlal of subsidies is that the cost of leaving increases by more than 100%. road is the major form of transporting goods and services. Aviation transportation goes high and everything spirals out of control.Unfortunately the government is not listening they make the common man pay for their corruption. That is why we are going on a strike come monday.
They are both on the street to challenge what they say is a government not willing to listen to or consult its people before taking decisions that affect their lives. Also it is about time Nigerians stoop up to the deep rooted government corruption.
The main reason why Nigerians are protesting against Government’s removal of fuel subsidy is because of the rat race approach at which this is being carried out. And for me the argument is simple!Formerly the pump price of fuel was N65 per litre, now it been moved to N141 that’s a 120% increase- overnight!. The 2011 budget has subsidy allocated in the budget already, and that budget was extended to cover implementation till 31st, March 2012.Therefore it is illegal for the government to take off the subsidy when the budgetary provision covering it is still valid till march 2012.The Fuel subsidy debate has been on for the past 3 months, there has been town halls organized by the media, but not one single consultation with Nigerians in their heterogeneous groups either at national, state of local government levels to get the community to buy-in the subsidy removal policy.It was a shame that one week after the policy has been implemented our Minister for Labour , Mr Emeka Nwogu said on National TV…”Nigerians are busy protesting not knowing that the next stage of the Subsidy removal, government wants to implement is the consultation on the implementation stage of the policy…” For me this is CRAP!!! How can you do consultations after you’ve already began implementation! Not fulfilling the globally accepted stages of policy formulation!- it is simply the case of placing the cart before the horse!The most serious of argument is the IMMENSE CORRUPTION that goes on in the NNPC- Nigeria’s National Petroleum Company, we have 4 refineries, but none is working so we import fuel after exporting crude. The NNPC doesn’t have storage facilities to store the fuel so it take it to companies with such facilities, they are given for e.g 500 barrels of oil, the NNPC pays them a daily fee for the facility use and when the NNPC comes back for the oil, its just 300 barrel that is found etc. So the corruption is deep rooted! And the President is turning a blind eye to it! He is now saying Nigerians should pay twice the price of oil as if this is what is going to fix the structural and institutional crises crippling the petroleum sector!
#OccupyNigeria might have been triggered off by the fuel subsidies by this represents a long road to tackling corruption in government in Africa where we have a lot of times too large a public service budget when citizens who hustle daily and pay taxes get nothing out of it.