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Atsar Terver
Public Commentator
Port Harcourt
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The government must transform their thinking before they can talk of a transformational agenda. They must plug the leakages in the system before asking Nigerians to sacrifice. You can’t store water in a leaking pot. As things stand, people do not trust this government and the government has not done enough to win public confidence. As long as this situation subsists, the likes of Mrs. Madueke can do well to hide their fine faces in shame..

 

Fuel Subsidy: This Pot Is Leaking

The real tragedy of our nation is that those trusted with responsibilities for governance are so despicably clueless on the expectations and demands of their job. Going by the shallow and vague reasons canvassed by Diezani for the planned removal of the so-called fuel subsidy it would appear that her most potent asset might just be a fine face!

 

If we take this interview as governments authoritative ‘compelling argument’ in defence of the deregulation policy, then it has become even more obvious that the government has no case! But if this is indeed a worthy cause, which I doubt, and she failed to project it properly for public appreciation, then this woman should resign quietly and go home, because her capacity to implement a policy she can't explain is in doubt.

It is deplorable that a Minister of the Federal Republic, had the opportunity to explain (in actual fact sell) governments policy to the people and she botched woefully.  I went through the whole interview curiously looking out for facts and figures that could convince me that indeed, the planned subsidy removal is based on sound economic analysis and is for the greater good of the people of Nigeria but alas I found none outside the usual generalities and rhetoric to which we are well accustomed.

Perhaps the only figure Mrs Madueke quoted (actually parroted) unnecessarily repeatedly in the interview is the fabled 1.3 trillion Naira, she said, Government spends yearly to subsidise petroleum products.  She said the Government needs to free up this amount in order to fund a ‘safety net system’ in Nigeria.

I imagine that Madueke thinks this is all that the public needs to know in order to appreciate the imperative of their plan. In essence, Madueke thinks that a ‘whooping’ 1.3 trillion Naira ‘lavished’ on mere Nigerians is like throwing children’s (read government officials) food to the dogs (read Nigerians). Why can’t these ‘yeye’ Nigerians just understand that such a huge amount is better used for something ‘more important’ than their welfare? Or do they think that Madueke and her (dis)honourable colleagues are in government just to for their sake?

Listen to her: ‘we have gotten to a point where we can no longer afford to incur the cost associated with subsidy payments...’ The question she did not answer is how did we get here? Why should Nigeria be importing refined petroleum products 50 years after she hit oil?

It’s amazing that an ex-oil worker like Mrs Madueke does not know that the 1.3trillion Naira she so profusely quoted in her interview is the ‘real cost’ of bad leadership occasioned by corruption, misappropriation and misapplication of our national resources. It is the real cost of misplaced priorities and missed opportunities. It is the price tag on intellectual laziness among decision makers in government corridors.

I am of the school of thought that believes that the so called ‘subsidy’ on petroleum products is a farce! Indeed, it does not even exist! The government is not at present subsidizing anything for anybody because, in the first place, the government ought not to be talking about any subsidy if they have been doing the needful as far as local refining capacity is concerned.

What sense does it make for you to sell raw crude to a foreign country to refine and sell the products back to you at exorbitant rates, when you can as well refine locally? Why should Nigerians be asked to pay for the failures of her leaders?

Over the years, Nigerians have consistently indicated to the powers that be, that they prefer the so-called ‘subsidy’, to the ‘promised (phantom) benefits’ of its withdrawal. And if democracy is about making governance be for the people, why should this government think that they must give the people what they (government) want and not what the people want? Do they love Nigerians more than Nigerians love themselves?

Any time our leaders want to feed their gluttonous appetites, they ask Nigerians to sacrifice. The word sacrifice has become a tool of blackmail in the hands of our heartless leaders. Why wouldn’t they show the way by sacrificing their rapacious lifestyles. How do you explain to the taxi driver that he needs to pay more for gasoline in order to help build good roads when over N300billion was sunk on the Lagos Benin Expressway with nothing to show for it and the one who gulped it all is walking freely in and out of Aso Rock?

How would the bus driver playing the Otukpa-Oturkpo stretch of the Enugu Makurdi Road appreciate the need for his sacrifice to nation building when that stretch of road gas been a death trap for years after a Senator’s wife was alleged to have been given the contract for its renovation? What will be this driver’s motivation when Senate President Mark, who is from that area, is earning 1million Naira everyday as ‘quarterly allowance’ for doing practically nothing?

Hear her again:  ‘The package would help guarantee improved maternal and child health services while also providing conditional cash transfer scheme to pregnant women in the country…There is also provision for primary school feeding program, youth employment package which also entails what we call active labour market and public works programs for youth’.

Glossing over this statement would give a casual reader a sense of comfort that indeed, the government is up to something good, but a careful reading between the lines, would reveal a highly deceptive agenda from a confused administration that is being advised by dishonest aides.

If Diezani says the Government is yet to get the details worked out, then what is the basis for her forceful insistence that there is no alternative to deregulation? Indeed, what other options has the government considered?  What indices were used to reject the other alternatives? 

The minister talked about ‘experience from abroad’. Which ‘abroad’ is this? And which experience?  If at this stage, when the government has given a firm kickoff date for the commencement of their policy, the minister is still saying things like ‘depending on the envisaged design’; the question is, which design did she (or the government) envisage? Is this not what she should be telling the people if indeed they have a design?

The novel scheme also allows for electricity rebate, fuel voucher, equipment voucher among other items’….What are these things, I mean,  put in the language even my illiterate uncle in Ikpakpam village could understand? What has these got to do with the man on the street in Oshodi or the cocoa farmer in Ipetumodu or the yam seller in Zaki Biam? What is the benefit of the so called ‘electricity rebate’ when there is no electricity and the government, even without increasing power generation, is hiking electricity tariffs? What on earth is the use of a fuel or equipment voucher when the price of fuel goes out of reach and the average people are forced to park their cars?

The package would help guarantee improved maternal and child health services while also providing conditional cash transfer scheme to pregnant women in the country….’ Again another vague assertion! The word ‘improved’ is highly subjective and relative, unless backed up with concrete measurable indices or performance indicators.  Now ‘conditional cash transfer’?’ What are the conditions? In a nation where there is no reliable and integrated population management database, no national identification system, how on earth would such a scheme work? Sounds more like another conduit to drain resources and enrich few pockets.

There is also provision for primary school feeding program…’ what is the essence of feeding a child in school when there is no food at home; because the parents have been so impoverished by the deregulation policy that they can’t afford a decent meal for the kids (outside school hours) i.e assuming the meal provided by the school authorities would be decent, because our contemporary experience shows that it is not likely going to be! In the end, some fat ‘school feeding’ contracts would be awarded to some ‘fat cows’ in government, the money will be shared and after a few months the rations will cease.

There is also provision for … youth employment package which also entails what we call active labor market and public works programs for youth. How will this differ from the many moribund poverty alleviation schemes of past administrations? I have always wondered why it is difficult for Nigerian leaders to understand the simple fact that you can’t create any jobs without productivity. When you roll out policies that kill existing industries and hinder creation of new productive ventures (which is what removal of fuel subsidy will also do) then any talk about job creation is sheer insanity.

The parallel she attempted to draw between the privatization of the telecommunication industry and the proposed subsidy in Oil industry is totally deceptive. To start with, how much was the government spending as subsidy on telephone services to Nigerians before the ‘deregulation?’ The fact is that there was actually no GSM service in Nigeria prior to its introduction, therefore the baseline figures (based on the existing land lines as then ware) which she used in her analysis are defective. Moreover the human need for energy is quite different from that of communication; therefore you can’t compare oranges to apples.

There are numerous opportunities for job creation in the country that can be exploited even with the current ‘subsidy’ in place, which the government is either too lazy to see or maybe too wicked and selfish to exploit.

For instance, the Bitumen deposits in Nigeria alone can provide all the Bitumen needs of Africa. And the demand for this raw material, for road construction and other uses in the highly underdeveloped continent unimaginably enormous. A visionary leader would have thought of how to plough back the oil money currently being squandered on government official’s welfare and allowances into creating an enabling environment for exploitation of this resource and in the process mop up thousands of graduates from the ‘unemployment net’, create a multiplier effect by boosting road construction in-country (more jobs), Bitumen exports (more jobs, more foreign exchange). These done, there would be no need for any palliative handouts to the people in the name of ‘safety nets’ or some bogus ‘employment schemes’

And that is just bitumen, we also have abundant Iron Ore, coal, limestone, gypsum, Quartz, Barytes, Columbite, Glass Sand and a host of others in the country not to mention he agricultural potentials. The failure of our government agents to see beyond crude oil for all their ‘funding needs’ is a pathetic commentary on their lack of vision. 

The government must transform their thinking before they can talk of a transformational agenda. They must plug the leakages in the system before asking Nigerians to sacrifice. You can’t store water in a leaking pot. As things stand, people do not trust this government and the government has not done enough to win public confidence. As long as this situation subsists, the likes of Mrs. Madueke can do well to hide their fine faces in shame..

 

 


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