The Many Gains Of Subsidy Removal By Sunny Awhefeada


 

By Sunny Awhefeada

Nigeria has over the years evolved the character of a country where things are perpetually in reverse gear. Our country is now largely defined by punishingly unenviable indices which are easily manifested in our perennial underdevelopment. The last forty years have been characterized by disruptive hiccups and deadly spasms and only God is able to explain why Nigeria has not tipped over.

Each time the nation totters to the cusp, a deus ex machina often intervenes to redirect her affairs. But how much longer can this benevolent deus ex machina play its redemptive role? How much longer can the nation’s fragile center hold? How much buffeting is still in store for the people waiting to be unleashed? How much longer can Nigeria flounder without going under? Things and measures that work elsewhere do not work here. It is even believed, albeit apocryphally, that if God and his angels were to take charge of affairs in Nigeria that divine team would be subverted by the Nigerian factor.

The Nigerian factor is that uncanny tendency to undo things that should have propelled our nation into the ranks of developed countries. The Nigerian factor is located in corruption, nepotism, lawlessness, disregard for due process, indiscipline and the general if not overarching tendency to always undo Nigeria. And it now appears as if Nigeria is bound to masochism. The Nigerian factor reared its ugly head at the very dawn of independence. It wasn’t that those indices weren’t there in the years leading to independence. They were there, but independence Nigerianized them and they became ferocious.

The many troubles with Nigeria, manifestly varied as they appear, are lumped into the triad of corruption, poor economy and insecurity. The corruption bogey was responsible for the coups of 1966 and 1975. Nigeria was a prosperous nation at the time of those putsches even after the civil war. By 1983 when another coup took place the genie of economic mismanagement and poverty had caught up with Nigeria. The country battled with both evils and fought decades of military dictatorship until the eve of the last century. Then came insecurity on the wings of injustice, corruption and economic mismanagement. The incipient stages of insecurity date back to the Obasanjo years just before 2007. From the creeks of the Niger Delta to the earliest echoes of Boko Hararm in the North-East, Obasanjo played Emperor Nero who fiddled while Rome burnt. In no time massive corruption, especially in the petroleum industry and in government, crippled the economy and now Nigeria is prostrate. It is possible that the biggest official larceny in world history has or is taking place in Nigeria. Followers of unfolding events agree that very few countries survive after the kind of rape Nigeria has been subjected to. It was surmised as at 2007 that the amount of money looted from Nigeria was more than what Europe spent on the Marshall Plan after the ruins of the World War II. For Nigeria, all of that humungous money took flight and her people got moored in poverty. 

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For many years Nigeria’s petroleum sector operated in an opaque manner. It was run by mafias in and outside government. The sector was like a leach that was sucking life out of Nigeria. The many seasons of oil boom delayed the deadly anemic effect of the corruption that thrived in the sector. The nation’s four refineries have not worked in decades. Thus the nation depended on exporting petroleum products. The intrigues of international trade, the vagaries of the dollar and the weakening of the naira made it necessary for government to run a subsidy regime to mitigate the effect of the greed of capitalist market forces on the populace. Sadly, the same government began to steal the subsidy money and made it a profiteering venture and Nigeria bled. It was agreed by all that subsidy became the biggest drain pipe for siphoning government resources. It was government stealing from government. Then government felt that the stealing should stop. This halfhearted nebulous realization was around 2011 and 2012. Government’s announced intention was to remove subsidy from petrol. The intention was opposed and government went to sleep. By 2015, a new government that won election on the promise of eradicating corruption especially in the petroleum sector had come on board. The government toyed with the idea of subsidy removal, but it ended up spending more on subsidy than all other previous regimes put together. The official heist that took place under that government was also unprecedented. 

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The word subsidy bared its fangs on 29 May 2023 when the new president during his swearing in declared offhandedly “subsidy is gone”. Immediately, the nation began to spin and the people are still reeling from the consequences today. That unplanned and unexpected pronouncement on the dawn of “renewed hope” threw the nation into anguished frenzy. The price of petrol tripled and inflation quadrupled. Then poverty wearing the face of hunger, disease and death walked the streets and sauntered into homes and we began to see the gains of subsidy removal. The president’s spin doctors told us about the many gains of subsidy removal. They said subsidy removal will tame corruption. They said that subsidy removal will free more money for:  the people’s welfare, agriculture, electricity, good roads, railways, education, housing, health. They told us about many other gains of subsidy removal. Today, ten months after subsidy removal by a regime that promised us “renewed hope”, the gains are here as pains. So much money is going into government coffers, but the people are not feeling the impact. The people are presently buffeted by an unimaginably high hardship quotient.                

Nigerians are now tormented by a food crisis. Hunger is walking the land untamed. Opinions are divided here. Some feel that there is acute food shortage, while others think that there is food, but it is unaffordable. Whichever way, the present food crisis points to the abysmal failure of government. The insecurity in the Middle Belt which has destroyed villages and farming settlements has disrupted the nation’s food supply chain. Inadequate investment in agriculture is another cause of food shortage. Our government would sow five yams and claim it sowed twenty. Our huge population demands that government invests massively in agriculture in view of its inexhaustible value chain. Rather than do this, government pays lip service, makes flamboyant speeches and erect rice pyramids that were actually stacks of wood decorated with imported bags of rice. So, while government records brim with figures of what was invested in agriculture and the outcomes, our stomachs howl with hunger. The ongoing food protests leading to invasion of different food warehouses in the country attests to the painful reality that Nigerians are famished. Many food carrying trucks have been hijacked and looted. People have died trying to get bags of rice auctioned by the Customs. That the Emir of Kano not too long ago told the wife of the president to tell him that there was hunger in the land reflects how dire the situation has become. 

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The many gains of subsidy are here with us. Subsidy removal has continued to induce inflation and food is getting beyond the reach of the people. Children are daily dropping out of school thus swelling the number of out of school children. More factories are closing down. Wages are daily reduced in value, insecurity has got out of hand and the “renewed hope” has become a hopless mantra. A few days ago the president thought he was taunting the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) about strikes and elections. If he meant that to be a joke, then it was a sick joke that didn’t fly. The NLC was speaking for the people and it has done so without biting. In other climes, the Labour union would have led the people to shut down the country and demand for the gains of good governance and not pains inflicted by a perfidious gang in government. 

 


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