Owing largely to the abysmal failure of democratic political culture to rapidly improve the welfare of man and society especially in Africa, many have come to hate or distrust politicians with passion. A larger part of the African society now frame politicians as unreliable. Citizens now see politicians as a bunch of unpatriotic, selfish, greedy, and corrupt people. It is mainly for this reason that political leaders who are desirous of writing their names in gold invite tested technocrats to help manage critical sectors of state machinery. Unfortunately however, these technocrats have most times ended up performing far worse than politicians do. One general excuse they usually give for their appalling failure is lack of free hands to operate.
To be fair to political leaders that do not give these co-opted technocrats blank cheques to operate; most of them go into government without the slightest understanding of the workings and foundational essence of democratic governance. They forget that political leadership is far different from the conventional leadership culture. While the later is largely influenced by Naira and Kobo (urge to make profit), political leadership seeks to meet the diverse needs of the governed. Sometimes, this fundamental goal of democratic governance is achieved with state accounts in the red. It is in recognition of this fact that the concept of Foreign Reserves and Sovereign Wealth Fund became popular in many advanced democracies. The idea was to ensure that commercial concerns do not in any way deny citizens the good things of life. After all, democracy is all about the people.
It is not enough to flaunt tittles and labels as most of our professionals do. For a country like Nigeria where a greater percentage of her citizens are living below poverty line, common sense should tell us that our economic experts and fiscal policy formulators will need to be very creative to be able to design practicable fiscal templates that can effectively fight poverty. Somehow, the colourful debate that followed the federal government's decision to stop paying subsidy on imported petrol has brought to the fore one very sad fact: Our nation's economic experts and fiscal policy formulators are overpaid. This is because their output is far below what is expected of them. Apart from their being apathetic, they are clearly drained of practicable ideas to stimulate rapid socio-economic growth. What they do is to sit in front of internet-ready computers and copy the fiscal policies of developed countries. In doing this, they fail to realize that a lot variables such as population, technology, culture, literacy level, unemployment rate, and even religion influences the design and mode of deployment of fiscal policies. The truth is that a fiscal policy that is successful in Europe may not necessarily do well in Africa owing to several factors as enumerated above. Every country is therefore expected to study her peculiar situation and circumstances before designing appropriate fiscal policies to match.
The decision by the federal government to withdraw fuel subsidy is one of the fiscal policies erroneously copied from some developed countries. We must however not forget the fact that in those countries, the purchasing powers of citizens are strong enough to take care of their basic needs such as shelter, food, transport, health care, education, and socials. It is also necessary to point out that in the countries where our anti-subsidy apostles are drawing inspiration from, poverty level is clearly within the limits of a single digit. More than that, unemployment figures are tolerable and their public infrastructures are in excellent condition.
One question that readily comes to mind is: how much percentage of Nigerian workers are able to take care of the basic needs of their families from their legitimate income? Going by the statement of the governor of Nigeria’s Central Bank, Lamido Sanusi; only about 30% of Nigerians can take care of the basic needs of their families. What then happens to the remaining 70%? Your guess is as good as mine.
Like I have, and will continue to insist, President Goodluck Jonathan means well for Nigeria. Unfortunately, just as George Bush was stampeded by faulty intelligence report to invade Iraq in 2003; overzealous anti-subsidy apostles have cleverly misled President Jonathan to support the removal of fuel subsidy in 2012. I am very confident that my position will be vindicated in the very near future. All over the world, political leaders that are known to be very keen in making a difference were more prone to making errors of judgment. The situation is worse with leaders that are mostly surrounded by people who believe a coin has only one side. Of course, President Jonathan has many of them around him. The earlier he realizes this, the better for him and the Nigerian masses.
Apart from the conspicuous fact that Nigeria's present socio-economic framework is too weak to accommodate the pressure of fuel subsidy removal, my opinion is further strengthened by the shallow logic put forward by the two major anti-subsidy apostles: Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the minister of finance and economy and Lamido Sanusi, governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. This duo will be quick to remind Nigerians that there is no fuel subsidy in Britain, United States, Germany, Spain Holland, and France. They have however deliberately refused to appreciate the fact that Nigerian workers do not earn as much as their contemporaries do in those named countries. Without doubt, Nigerians will accept to buy a liter of fuel for even N150 if public infrastructures are in excellent conditions and the salaries of public service workers are proportionate with what their contemporaries earn in Europe and America.
In fact, the most worrying aspect of the arguments in support of the removal of fuel subsidy has to do with how it will help curb cross-boarder smuggling of petroleum products and the curbing of corruption in NNPC. It is sad that both Okonjo-Iweala and Sanusi are convinced about the existence of corruption at the nation’s boarder posts and oil sector but not interested in going after those eating fat from it. The best they could do in fighting those stealing our common heritage is to punish the poor masses by increasing the price of petrol through the removal of fuel subsidy. Why are they afraid of the so-called "cabal" and not the masses? The masses are still largely ignorant. All of these must bother President Jonathan. This is because should anything funny happen today, both Okonjo-Iweala and Lamido Sanusi will be on the next flight to the headquarters of World Bank or IMF for immediate engagement. We should not forget our past too quickly.
While speaking at the 5th Annual Microfinance Conference and Entrepreneurship Award in Abuja, the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Lamido Sanusi informed the whole world that a staggering 70% of the Nigerian population is living below poverty line. It was therefore shocking when one heard the same Sanusi turn around to argue that 70% of poor Nigerians who are already living below poverty line could withstand a further weakening of their purchasing power when fuel subsidy is removed. Who is not aware that the removal of fuel subsidy will translate to an increase in the pump prices of petroleum products? In the same vein, the prices of goods and services that has direct or indirect link with petrol will jump. I do not know of any good or service in Nigeria that has no link with petrol.
To make the Nigerians look stupid, the anti-subsidy apostles have been arguing that the poor do not benefit from the fuel subsidy regime. My not having a car does not mean I will trek to the farm, office, market, hospital, school, or church. We all know that transporters fix their fares based on how much they buy petrol. I therefore consider it as an insult for anyone to argue that it is those who own jeeps and SUVs that enjoy the benefit of fuel subsidy. The rich actually enjoys more of the subsidy but the truth must not be sacrificed on the platter of insensitivity. They only want to play to the gallery by attempting to paint the picture that government is against Nigerians living above their income. Let me remind the anti-subsidy apostles that millions of hairdressers, bar owners, restaurateurs, taxi drivers, internet café owners, ferry operators, bakers, and technicians etc spread across the country all benefit from the fuel subsidy regime in their own little way.
With an increase in the pump price of petrol, the prices of goods and services will jump. This will force more Nigerians into poverty as their purchasing power will be weakened. Families that for instance survived on N10,000 monthly will need between N20,000 and N25,000 for same purpose. Those that are already deep inside the mud of poverty will in this circumstance have no better options than to either starve to death or take to crime or prostitution in order to survive. While governments in advanced countries are busy designing policies that will strengthen the purchasing power of their citizens, the direct opposite is the case in Nigeria.
No one is arguing the fact that money saved from the removal of fuel subsidy can be ploughed into creating new jobs. It will however turn out to be a case of one who cares more about quantity and not quality. Of what good is it for government to produce a poor and wretched working class? I am referring to a working class that cannot rely on their legitimate earnings to take care of the basic needs of their families. This is one reason why corruption is gaining ground in Nigeria. Apart from the unemployed, even the working class citizens are so poor that everybody wants to raise extra money to meet the basic demands of life. Corrupt practices are the usually the best bets.
Furthermore, let me remind the anti-subsidy apostles that the new roads, health care facilities, schools, and rail lines that will be built with proceeds saved from the removal of fuel subsidy will not offer free services. Frankly, these projects will make very little or no sense if the citizens are too poor to pay for the services they offer. I am challenging the governor of the Central Bank, Lamido Sanusi to tell Nigerians what it means to live below poverty line. He and his co-travelers believe a coin has only one side. That is the only reason why they can afford to reason the way they do. After all, they do not fuel their official jeeps and generators from their salaries.
Sanusi had last week warned the masses that Nigeria will collapse in two years if fuel subsidy was not removed. To me, this is the greatest lie of the century. The lie was only aimed at instilling fear and stampeding unsuspecting masses to surrender their conscience to a bunch of unfeeling technocrats that have cleverly misled the presidency to accept to remove fuel subsidy. Their real intention is to blindfold and rob poor Nigerian masses to pay a few rich ones like them in the corridors of power. I am convinced that they will not clamour for the removal of fuel subsidy if their salaries were between N18,000 and N50,000 monthly. 70% of Nigerians earn just this much. My only consolation is that the masses are no longer as ignorant as they were ten years ago. President Jonathan must not allow any person, no matter his or her pedigree to put a hedge between him and the electorates.
Without doubt, President remains the most widely accepted Nigerian head of government since independence. For the first time, Nigerians ignored religious, tribal, and party sentiments to vote for a man the electorates believe has answers to the problems of the country. Unfortunately, he has allowed some persons to poison the trust and confidence the masses had for him.
While the west, through the World Bank and the IMF will make us believe that subsidy regime is unhealthy, critical sectors of American and European economies are subsidized to protect their citizens. As you read this piece, the EU is subsidizing agriculture and fisheries. Other developed countries subsidize housing, health care, education, or transport. It is left for each country to choose critical areas to intervene. These interventions, in the form of subsidy are aimed at protecting the purchasing power of citizens.
History will hold the anti-subsidy apostles responsible if Nigerian masses are forced to go out on the streets to protest government’s insensitivity. With the little I know about Okonjo-Iweala and Sanusi; it will be difficult for them to swallow their pride. This is because they have invested the whole of their pride and ego in the subsidy campaign. The truth is that, Nigeria is bigger than every individual. I therefore urge them to make the noble choice by retracing their steps and join minds with the masses.
In the first place, we do not have any good reason to import fuel. The federal government, like is in other OPEC countries should ensure that our refineries are operating at maximum capacities. With this, the pump price of petroleum products will drop. At N65 per liter, there are already credible insinuations that Nigeria’s petrol is overpriced. Among all the OPEC countries, it is said that the pump price of petrol is highest in Nigeria. This has left a huge question mark on the mangers of our oil industry. While insiders will not want the president to give a thought to all of this information, he must not stop asking salient questions such as: why are our refineries not working at optimum capacities? Why is petrol cheaper in other OPEC countries? He can get genuine answers from his lieutenants. There is therefore the urgent need for him to assemble stakeholders from the private sector to proffer solutions to the lingering crisis bedeviling the nation’s oil sector.
In order not to see fuel subsidy removal as a do-or-die thing, government should look for alternative means of raising money to service its budget. It can do this by reducing the number, salaries and allowances of government officials and their over-bloated aides. In addition to strengthening the anti-corruption agencies, a Wealth Verification (WV) legislation should be put in place to compel citizen to disclose their sources of wealth. Whoever that wants to build or buy any property worth N5m and above should first be compelled by legislation to file documents with the anti-graft agencies detailing the sources of the fund. This will make the job of the anti-graft agencies easier.
While in the developed countries, the rich make major contributions to the development of national economy, same cannot be said of Nigeria. All of the nation's transformation agendas have been built on the frail backs of poor Nigerian masses. The time has come for the rich among us to contribute to the transformational agenda of the present administration. From henceforth, a 5% annual national development tax should be placed on every luxury car, water craft, or mansion costing N5m and above. Local and foreign air tickets and accommodation in 3/5 star hotels should also attract a 5% national development tax. Through this way, the wealthy among us can be specifically targeted to contribute to national development. I have no doubt that Nigeria will save more than N1.3 trillion annually if the above suggestions are embraced. Poor and unemployed Nigerian should be spared further hardship that will arise from the planned fuel subsidy removal. Those in government must learn how to appreciate the feelings of the masses.
In advising the president, co-opted technocrats must bear in mind all that were promised the electorates during the campaign season. In case they do not know, the president promised to stand with the masses-not the rich, Okonjo-Iweala, Lamido Sanusi, World Bank, or IMF. This is one simple way most technocrats destroy political leaders. We must not stand by and allow them destroy President Jonathan! If we do, we would end up hurting ourselves.