Six Years After Subsidy Protest, What Has Changed?

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By Eric Elezuo

A lot of people described it as Nigeria’s own Arab Spring when in January 2012, the citizens rolled out the drums in a mother of all protests, claiming a restoration of the fuel subsidy which was earlier removed on January 1 of the same year.

The government of former President Goodluck Jonathan had on January 1, 2012, removed subsidy on importation of fuel products, pegging the price at N140 as against its original price of N95. The repeal of subsidies to oil companies has caused the price of fuel at the pump to more than double to $3.50 a gallon, supposedly placing a disproportionate burden on the underprivileged.

As Nigeria, the fifth largest supplier of crude oil to the United States, depends on oil exports for an estimated 80 percent of its revenue, any major curtailment of oil production would most likely have adverse consequences for its economy. Despite the oil wealth, most Nigerians typically experience an unreliable electrical power supply, with most people and businesses relying on gas-powered generators.

The decision drew the irk of Nigerians of all creed, ethnicity, calling and grade including those living abroad. The two labour groups; the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) had unequivocally come to terms with each other, calling out their members to what could be described as the worst total shut down of the Nigerian economy in recent times.

Consequently, massive protests, christened Occupy Nigeria, rocked the entire nation for days, with thousands of people demonstrating with shouts of enough is enough, adding that the administration has lost credibility.

With many indicting signs against the government of Jonathan, chiefly among them, ‘No Fuel Hikes in Nigeria’, participants in Abuja, Ojota Lagos, London, New York and many centres of the world derided Jonathan’s effrontery at increasing ‘the hope of the common man’.

President Goodluck Jonathan claimed in the wake of the protest that provocateurs hijacked the protests, which saw tens of thousands march in cities across the country. This was after a failed attempt to make labour unions see reasons for the increase

“It has become clear to government and all well-meaning Nigerians that other interests beyond the implementation of the deregulation policy have hijacked the protest.

“This has prevented an objective assessment and consideration of all the contending issues for which dialogue was initiated by government. These same interests seek to promote discord, anarchy, and insecurity to the detriment of public peace.” Jonathan was not far from the truth as all the interest groups today have remained comatose as the said subsidy have been removed, and oil price pegged at N145 amid scarcity.

Accusers of the then president had said the he was following World Bank and International Monetary Fund’s recommendations on allowing fuel subsidy to lapse.

The people’s frustration, which was an aftermath of the burden claimed, coupled with the pressure from the elites urging them to protest, could not allow an objective consideration of the reasons behind the fuel price hike, even as the then Minister of Petroleum, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, took time to enumerate.

The Minister said the discontinuation of fuel subsidy is because it poses a huge financial burden on the government, disproportionately benefits the wealthy, encourages inefficiency, corruption and diversion of scarce public resources away from investment in critical infrastructure.

She noted that the repeal of the fuel subsidies is expected to save the government an estimated $8 billion annually. But these reasons fell on deaf ears.

Even the government’s defence that it plans to reinvest the savings from the fuel subsidy cuts into infrastructure improvements met with distrust as few Nigerians have confidence that revenue saved will be used for that purpose, because of rampant corruption.

The impasse lasted a whopping 14 uninterrupted days and counting until the government was arm twisted into reversing the price to its original status, and further went downward to N85;  the price the present administration of Muhammadu Buhari inherited.

Six years after, the situation remain gloomier, less transparent and more suspicious than it was, even as so many, if not all that clamoured and protested against the subsidy removal are in government today. Everyone has suddenly learnt a different song; a song that says removal of subsidy is good, giving the entire scenario a theme from George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

But what has changed?

It would be recalled that during the protest of January 2012, the NLC had released a statement saying:

“This action was [taken] without adequate consultation and without regard for the wellbeing of the Nigerian people and will adversely affect the working class in our country. It is precisely because the policy prescriptions of the World Bank and IMF are swallowed whole by our government without regard for the socio-economic impacts on our people that we find ourselves in this situation today.”

In May 2016 however, less than a year after the administration of Muhammadu Buhari took root, the government revisited the 2012 decision of the former President Goodluck Jonathan, and removed fuel subsidy.

According to the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, the move will enable Oil marketers to import the product on the basis of foreign exchange procured from secondary sources and that PPPRA template will reflect this in the pricing of the product.

“Pursuant to this, PPPRA has informed me that it will be announcing a new price band effective today, 11th May, 2016 and that the new price for PMS will not be above N145 per litre,” he said.

The minister explained that the decision to remove the subsidy was reached after a meeting attended by the leadership of the Senate, House of Representatives, Governors Forum, and Labour Unions such as the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC), Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN).

The stakeholders were all given the same reason of 2012, and they came to agreement, but NOTHING has changed. The same situation prevails, even worse, says stakeholders who spoke to TheBoss.

With the majority of Nigerians living on less than $2 per day, cheap petrol is viewed as the only tangible benefit they receive from the state, and whenever it is tampered with, widespread disapproval always. This is in addition to the fact that the economy is heavily reliant on crude oil and as a result, other seemingly unrelated items are tied to the price of fuel.

The Emir of Kano and former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria Lamido Sanusi had told the BBC the subsidy  was “unsustainable” while the then Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, had reportedly threatened to resign if the removal was reversed.

Muyideen Mustapha, 23, was reportedly the first person to be killed during the nationwide protests over the lifting of petrol subsidies. He was reportedly shot by the Nigerian Police Force in Ilorin, Kwara State on 3 January 2012. The Police denied the report saying that he had been stabbed by other protesters for not joining in the protest. Muyideen was buried on Wednesday 4 January 2012, according to Islamic rites.

Madueke

On 9 January, a Divisional Police Officer attached to the Lagos State Command, shot and killed a young man, Ademola Aderinde at Ogba during the protests in Lagos. The officer was arrested on the order of the Commissioner of Police.

Speaking exclusively to TheBoss, a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party, Dr. Adetokunboh Pearce, accused the Buhari-led government of not being pro-active while blaming as many that participated in what he called a ‘senseless protest’ for being saboteurs since the same programme they vehemently rejected is the same they readily embraced today.

“It was not just about bad policy, but all about Jonathan, and what he represents. They so called cabal did not just want him, as a result everything he initiated was nipped before it could see the light of the day. And that is why the system is the same today; nothing has changed,” he said.

In his reaction, a maritime expert, who prefers anonymity asked ‘where are the Falanas, the Tinubus, Desmond Elliots, Soyinkas and the rest of them who took turns at Ojota to cast aspersions at the government of Jonathan in their speeches? They are all either speechless, or shamefacedly defending what should not be’.

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