Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Calls for fuel subsidy removal: How not to help the president

Never in the history of Nigeria has any president or military ruler enjoyed the overwhelming support of the low and middle class as Goodluck Jonathan does. These two socio-economic classes make up over 80% of the Nigerian population. The interpretation of this analysis is that Goodluck Jonathan is Nigeria’s first “people’s president.” Several reasons are responsible for this political development. However, let me dwell on the fundamental factor.

After decades of uncertainty, Nigerians have come to accept democracy as the best form of government. Up till 1999, a greater percentage of Nigerians preferred military dictatorship to civilian administration. The foundation of this aberration is not far-fetched. Previous democratic experiments crashed on the heads of hapless Nigerian masses. It happened that most politicians simply used their privileged positions in government to pursue personal, tribal, and religious interests. This sad political development went on to rubbish the fair spirit of democracy. Soon, corruption, tribalism, religious intolerance, political thuggery, and decaying public infrastructure drowned the fertile expectations of the hoard of the unemployed, middle and low income Nigerians. What followed this distasteful reality was not unexpected. People started clamouring for change. Sadly however, this change came not through the ballot boxes, but barrel of guns. At first, it never mattered much to the masses. People were just interested in a change; not minding the colour or taste.

Just in no distant time, falsehood grew weak and collapsed on the laps of military dictators. These despots spoke in tongues that resembled those of saints. Despite the quality of propaganda they unleashed on harmless and unsuspecting Nigerians; all their lies could not be turned into truth. It however cost Nigeria the sweat and blood of some patriotic citizens for the unsuspecting masses to come to the realization that democracy was superior to dictatorship. The important point to note is that the problem with Nigerian democracy was traditional. It had something to do with our peculiar political attitude.

In countries where democracy is working, it is the political leaders that have made it so. This directly rests the blame for Nigeria’s poor democratic culture on the shoulders of the nation’s political class, which have continued to ignore the fundamental fact that democracy is all about identifying and finding solutions to the needs of society. These needs include peace, security of lives and property, economic growth, infrastructural development, and social welfare.

It was in this state in the political history of Nigeria that Dr. Goodluck Jonathan came into the scene. From every available indication, Jonathan’s emergence is more of a divine interjection than human connections. President Jonathan is no doubt Nigeria’s first unassuming head of government. He is intelligent, humble, hardworking, and a God-trusting personality. His captainship of Aso Rock defied many national traditions and norms. Apart from the fact that he is the first PhD holder to mount Nigeria’s presidency, Jonathan is the only minority to have been entrusted with the nation’s driving seat. His famous “I was not born rich” speech endeared him to many voters, weeks leading to the April 2011 presidential election. Millions of ordinary Nigerians, including myself hurriedly saw Jonathan as “our man.” This was a man that went to school without sandals or bag to carry his books. He slept under an electric fan only at the University of Port Harcourt.

It never took many suffering Nigerians more than ten seconds to pick Jonathan as their presidential choice. The outcome of the 2011 presidential election did not come as a surprise to many. Even the few that expressed doubt about his chances did so based on their fears about the towering ethnic and religious factors in Nigerian politics. They therefore wondered how Jonathan could survive an election that will be decided by tribe and creed. It is gladdening that Nigeria has crossed the bridge of parochial sentiments.

The outcome of the 2011 presidential election was indeed a coup against the few but powerful enemies of Nigeria. The down-trodden masses decided to join forces to say no to the dirty and old order, where they are used and hurriedly dumped after oiling the ambitions of a few smooth-tongued politicians. Even in the midst of the darkest night, one thing has become very clear. Nigerians are tired of bad political leadership. President Jonathan appreciates this fact too. Unfortunately, not many in his team are on the same page with him. This is not only dangerous for him as an individual, but a big threat to the culture of democracy in Nigeria. The president must therefore do everything within his powers to moderate the opinions and counsels of his advisers and aides.

The greatest problem political leaders worldwide face is in the selection of a “winning team.” This is responsible for the many cases where government officials reason and walk in different directions. In such cases, the president usually fails to deliver on his mandate. Like President Jonathan himself confessed shortly before the nomination of his cabinet, people seek political offices for different reasons. While some are for service, others for personal gains. There are still some who seek power just to protect the interests or agendas of third party organisations. Quite frankly, it is very difficult to separate the “clean” from the “dirty” because they all wear the same faces and robes.

To help differentiate between the “clean” and “dirty”, political leaders are expected to listen to the opinions of their advisers, but strongly consider the interests of the masses. This is the secret of successful political leaders. Very few government officials will be ingenious enough to climb down from their Olympian heights to consider the feelings of the unemployed or low income earners. Their reasoning is always unilateral. The beauty of democracy is not in how sweet a song is, but how many people “feel” the lyrics. The truth is that democracy is all about numbers. The majority may be wrong in some cases. They cannot be wrong all the time. Nigerian masses are indeed right in asking for the continuation of fuel subsidy at least for now.

It is a huge fact that many of those who voted for President Jonathan are card-carrying members of political parties other than the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). This is one good reason why the president must ignore every temptation and continue to absorb criticisms from the opposition. This will make him a better president than all his predecessors. No doubt, criticisms will come from labour, NGOs, cultural, and even faith-based organisations. It is also true that some persons and organisations simply find it fashionable to criticize every government policy or programme. This is wrong. Ordinarily, criticisms should be constructive.

However, one very important fact to consider is that criticisms of government policies and programs usually arise from isolated issues. For instance, labor and civil society organisations have vowed to resist any attempt to increase the pump price of petrol following the announcement by the minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala that that government is planning to remove petrol subsidy soon. Protests also greeted the revelation that electricity tariff will be reviewed upward early next year. It is not as if these government policies are bad. The problem lies in the fact that in developing policies and frameworks, most government officials usually refuse to look at all the sides of the coin. Every policy must take into consideration associated factors such as culture, income strength, percentage of unemployment, and level of poverty. Take for instance calls for the removal of fuel subsidy. Those making this call hinge their argument mainly on the fact that other developed countries have saved a lot of money through the withdrawal of fuel subsidy. Unfortunately, the proponents of fuel subsidy removal have forgotten that the least citizens of those countries earn is as much as $130 a day. One cannot for any reason compare this to a country where many earn less that $2 a day. They have deliberately ignored the fact that the level of unemployment and poverty are still very high in Nigeria.

There is no doubt about the fact that the withdrawal of fuel subsidy will save billions of Naira for government to invest in other critical areas. However, the other side of the coin is that majority of Nigerians are too poor to buy a litre of fuel even at N65. These are persons that earn less than $2 a day. It is with this $2 that they pay for the feeding, rent, clothing, education, and medical expenses of their family members. Withdrawing fuel subsidy at this time will definitely increase the level of poverty in Nigeria. The gains of the new minimum wage of N18,000 will be rubbished by the hike in the pump price of fuel. Like I have suggested in my other write-ups on this same issue, those pushing for the removal of petroleum subsidy would sing a different song if they were earning even N100,000 a month. Many persons in the “president’s team” are not on the same page with him. Ordinarily, their opinions are supposed to be shaped by the pledge of the president, which is to “stand with the masses.”

This brings to the fore how ministers, special advisers, senior special assistants, and other aides are not helping the president to “stand with the masses.” Just as there are many ways to kill a rat, there also many ways they can help the president succeed without hurting the masses. Since from independence, hapless Nigerian masses have been forced to carry the burden of national economic transformation agendas, leaving the elites free as eagles in a clear sky. Like is usually done in western democracies, formulators of fiscal policies should turn the heat on the wealthy this time around. Government should introduce heavy taxes on luxury cars, mansions, and all imported goods that can be produced locally. Government should also reduce the salaries and allowances of elected officials and political appointees. More than that, the fight against corruption should be taken to the zenith.

Furthermore, government should pay more attention to the development of the non-oil sector of the economy. This should be done by energizing the private sector to perform at optimum capacity. This will however mean having a robust power groundwork, cheap access to credit facilities, lower interest rates, improved security of lives and property, friendly tax regime, and a sound transport infrastructure among others. With these fiscal policies, the economy will pick up and help create jobs and improve the welfare of the citizenry. It is at this point that government can contemplate the removal of fuel subsidy. By then, the nation’s socio-economic framework would be able to absorb the shocks that would come with it.

It is a shame that the world’s sixth largest producer of crude oil is importing fuel for local consumption. It shows that something is wrong with us as a nation. Instead of joining forces with the ministry of Petroleum Resources to make our refineries work at optimum capacity, the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Governor of Central Bank, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi see the removal of petroleum subsidy as a magic wand that will help provide the bulk of the money Nigeria needs to service her socio-economic masterplan. They should look elsewhere to raise money. The Nigerian masses have seen enough this last fifty years! This is very important because fuel is one thing that everybody uses directly or indirectly. There is no doubt that any increase in the pump price of fuel will prompt the upward review of transport fares, school fees, house rent, food stuff, and health care services.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

WikiLeak: The Dressing of Informants as Diplomats

Every coin has three sides- not two as widely believed. It is only when you role a coin on a smooth surface that you will realize the hidden truth surrounding the third face of every coin. In the same vein, it took only the now infamous WikiLeaks for the world to know that most developed democracies dress informants in diplomats’ robes to deceive unsuspecting friendly countries for their own gains.

The emergence of WikiLeaks is not just an eye opener for the entire African continent, but very timely too for Nigeria in particular. Only recently, the Nigerian federal government woke up from its shameful slumber to attempt redirecting her foreign policy thrust, which had been long overdue.

Going by the conventional mandates given to most western diplomats by their home governments, one can hurriedly conclude that our foreign missions have done nothing more than providing jobs for some of our citizens. As exposed by WikiLeaks, most advanced democracies including the United States, Britain, France, Italy, and Germany among others, hold more critical information about our nation than the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria does. This is because these countries see Nigeria as a very vital link in their various national security and economic plans.

This is exactly what was expected of our diplomats abroad. Had this been the case, Nigeria would have benefited tremendously from America’s military technology, China’s industrial revolution, India’s medical prowess, Britain’s mass transport scheme, Japan’s automobile industry, Germany’s construction technology, Spain’s agricultural exploits, and France’s electricity success story among others. Owing largely to a weak and purposeless foreign policy thrust, our diplomats just spend taxpayers’ money to wine, dine, and shop in their duty posts. At best, they organize elaborate tours and cocktail parties for visiting government officials.

Here in Nigeria, a deliberate plan has been successfully hatched to make it very fashionable for critical public figures; including presidents, vice presidents, leadership of the National Assembly, military chiefs, ministers, governors, anti-graft officials, and the leadership of religious, tribal, cultural, and opposition political parties to befriend western diplomats. The reward is mostly speed-of- light approval of visa applications by friends and family members of the friends of these western diplomats.

Do not doubt a Nigerian if he or she boasts of securing you a visa to any grade A country just with a phone call. In most cases, it does not amount to anything criminal if critical information is volunteered to foreign diplomats. It becomes a different ball game if the information is solicited. This is where cases of espionage take root.

The dangers posed by this unhealthy diplomatic culture are very grave. Apart from endangering national security, the cord that holds the multi-ethnic fiber of the nation is threatened. In most cases, the information sent back to their home governments by these diplomats is not usually verified to ascertain their authenticity. This can be confirmed by the pattern of the many one-sided reports sent by the immediate past American Ambassador in Nigeria, Dr. Robin Sanders, as was leaked by WikiLeaks. The “informant” simply reported the personal opinions of critical citizens about key government officials and national issues. No doubt, the hoard of information they gathered were open to being tainted with lies, half-truths, anger, hate, and vengeance. This view is responsible for why most advanced democracies, especially the United States hold wrong opinion about many personalities and countries. Without doubt, this fact has caused Washington to take several wrong and unilateral actions in the past. The United States will continue to do more as long as Washington refuses to change her foreign policy mechanism.

In one of my books, “The Undressing of Bill Clinton’s White House: Enemies of United States’ Democracy Unmasked” which was published in 2010, I have pursued the argument that America’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 was based on wrong intelligence. This is unfortunate. Only God knows what the world has suffered in the hands of the world’s super powers owing to faulty intelligence and wrong opinions they hold about personalities and governments.

The time has therefore come for the world to wake up and act fast too. It is exceedingly unwise and wasteful for the United States to sacrifice the lives of thousands of brilliant youths and billions of taxpayers’ dollars to fight terrorism while she is provoking more people to embrace extreme violence. It will be far cheaper and easier to achieve victory over terrorism by simply respecting the human rights of citizens and political independence of weaker nations.

Back then, our grand parents used guns to fight for political independence from the colonists. In this age, we should use patriotism to fight for the economic independence of the African continent. Without economic independence, our future will offer nothing. Too many of our patriots have been blinded by the west.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Okonjo-Iweala: A Patriot Blinded By The West

In one of my books, “Western Democrats in Glass parliament”, published in 2000, I have argued that western democracies will never tolerate Africa’s economic independence owing to the direction of their national ideologies. It is no secret that the economies of many western countries are energized by the inability of Africa’s political leaders to deploy sound fiscal policies aimed at stimulating rapid economic growth. This sad development has continued to keep Africa as an export- dependent economy despite the fact that the bulk of the raw materials used in the manufacture and production of finished goods imported by African countries are sourced from the continent.

There is no doubt about the fact that Nigeria is blessed with great brains and patriots. Among them are Wole Soyinka, Dora Akunyili, Oby Ezekwesili, Lamido Sanusi, and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala among others. What is in doubt is whether all of them are aware that the developed democracies will be too willing to do anything under the sun to promote and protect their national economies. Colonisation, the Cold War, civil wars, tribal conflicts, and the several international humanitarian/peace-keeping missions are all tools used by western democracies to secure economic victories over the African continent.

It has become evident that both the World Bank and IMF are tools in the hands of western democracies. As long as African intellectuals refuse to accept this overflowing truth, their brains and patriotism will do the continent very little or no good at all. Is it not surprising that the many Africans in diaspora have not been able to make meaningful differences whenever they are given the opportunities to serve their countries in various capacities?

Perhaps, I should also point out here that Structural Adjustment Program, Currency Devaluation, and Subsidy Removal are examples of some of the pills western democracies such as the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain prescribe as cure for the continent’s economic problems. In actual sense, they hide behind these false fiscal policies to cripple the economies of African countries. As part of the plot, they task international institutions such as the World Bank, IMF, and world class universities to recruit the best brains from the continent. These intellectuals are hurriedly thought the Core Values of human and economic management. This is aimed at arousing the patriotic fiber in them. At this point, they are drugged (paid far more than their contemporaries at home), blinded (unable to recognize the evil in their employers), and given a pair of “western eyes.” At this point, these intellectuals no longer see things from the African perspective. They both reason and look at Africa with “western eyes.”

It must be noted that every society has its own peculiarities. As a result of this, what has worked in country A may not necessarily work in country B. Africans wearing “western eyes” will never realize this fact even though it is profusely clear. For instance, the governor of Nigeria’s Central, Lamido Sanusi and Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala are all bitterly agitating for the removal of fuel subsidy simply because same has worked elsewhere in America and Europe. Since they are wearing “western eyes”, they have failed to realize that: (a) Unemployment figures are very low in America and Europe (b) An average American or European worker earn as much as $130 or N19,500 per day. With this kind of salary, Nigerians can afford to buy fuel even at N150 per liter.

There is no doubt that both Okonjo-Iweala and Lamido Sanusi will not try stampeding government into removing fuel subsidy if they were earning monthly salaries of N50,000 per month. While tens of millions of Nigerians are earning less than $2 daily, they go home with outrageous salaries and allowances. One had expected them to suggest better ways of putting the nation’s economy back on track. The poor masses cannot continue to sacrifice the little they have while the few well-heeled federal government officials are allowed to laugh away in the comfort of their cars, offices, and houses each time government decides to find solutions to the problems of the country. Okonjo-Iweala and Sanusi do not need to be reminded that the removal of fuel subsidy will translate into the sharp upward movement of the prices of goods and services such as food, rent, transportation, education, health care, and building materials among others.

But if one may ask: What is wrong in subsidizing fuel? Are the beneficiaries of fuel subsidy not Nigerians whose interests the president, ministers, legislators, governors, and governor of the Central Bank all swore to protect? As a matter of fact, owing to the collapse of the culture of sound political leadership, fuel subsidy has turned out to be the only sure way Nigerian masses can benefit from the oil and gas revenue accruing the nation. There is no citizen that does not benefit from fuel subsidy direct or indirectly. Removing it will therefore bring out the fire in the heart of millions of suffering Nigerian masses. This is what the west is looking for. President Goodluck Jonathan must therefore not allow American and European powers to tie his hands behind him and plunge the country into the abyss of socio-economic instability. The west does not want Africa to gain economic independence. It is only through orchestrated socio-economic instabilities that they can achieve such evil plots. This is the more reason why despite all the noise they make about corruption; American and European banks still accept billions of stolen dollars from Africa.

With the way Okonjo-Iweala and Sanusi are going about the fuel subsidy removal debate, I am pretty sure that they will one day ask the federal government to stop spending billions of Naira to construct roads. While our fiscal policy formulators and advisers are busy giving subsidy a bad name, agricultural subsidies accounts for more than 40% of the total budget of the EU. Who is fooling who?

Hugo Chavez is definitely on my mind. The time has come for President Jonathan to call all the anti-people members of his team to order or fire them out rightly. There is enough evidence to show that the nation’s fiscal policy formulators and advisers are out of touch with the vision of the present administration. They have clearly run dry of ideas. Spending N600b to assist Nigerians buy fuel at an affordable price is not a crime. Rather than call for the removal of fuel subsidy, the anti-subsidy apostles should task their brains and think of better ways to increase the revenue receipt of the nation without worsening the already bad plight of ordinary Nigerians. In this regard, government should be serious with the war against graft, reduce the monetary rewards of elected officials and political appointees, stabilize electricity to expand industrial production, increase investments in the non-oil/gas sectors, improve basic socio-economic infrastructure such as roads/railway/waterways, provide affordable quality health care service, and provide free quality education from primary to secondary levels. All of these will help energize and expand the national economy. With this, the likes of Okonjo-Iweala and Sanusi will not have any reason to bother about how much government spends to subsidize fuel.

More than that, concerted efforts must be put in motion to stop the continuous importation of petroleum products. This is part of the wider agenda of western democracies. They simply coopt a few willing Nigerians to ensure that our refineries do not work at optimum capacities. With this, they will be able to import crude from us and sell petrol and kerosene to us with a very appreciable profit margin. The same thing applies to the power sector. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala should wake up from her slumber and return the “western eyes” she is wearing. Also help Lamido Sanusi do same.