Yesterday, my friend got pulled over by the police for having tinted windows. As she negotiated the appropriate bribe to pay the police for her ‘crime’, a convoy of Land Rovers with government licence plates followed closely by police vans whizzed by in jet like speed, all with tinted windows. My friend ‘paid’ for her crime, entered her car and continued with her journey.
There has been so much said about the fuel subsidy crisis. The truth is the economic reasons for the fuel subsidy removal are cogent. The government cannot continue to fund the inadequacies and efficiencies present in the current system. The removal of fuel subsidy will allow for scarce resources to be mainstreamed into the provision of desperately needed infrastructure. It will open up the market and create confidence for investors, which will drive competition within the market, creating various benefits for the masses. The economic principles which anchor these arguments are clear.
However, as with all principles one has to be sensitive to the context in which they are applied. When I was younger, my father and I would drive to the petrol station closest to our house, in his blue arch back Toyota. After filling his tank he would pay the fuel attendant with a Twenty Naira note, and the attendant would give him Ten Naira change. My father would then give me this change to buy a packet of Twix, which cost Five Naira, from the petrol station mart.
The first time I remember the subsidy being removed, my dad no longer filled his tank with Ten Naira and a packet of Twix cost four times more. The same arguments being given now, for the subsidy removal were the same given then. Yet, no new roads have been built, our health care system is in shambles, our education system is defunct and our power system is non existent.
Nevertheless, Nigerians have remained resilient. We have paid up at the petrol stations, watched our government offer empty promises and provided our basic amenities ourselves. We buy imported generators, send our children abroad to school, ship millions of naira to foreign countries for our health care needs and even pay exorbitant tolls for the new roads built. We have found ways to suffer and smile while our government enriched themselves from the resources that were meant for the common good. With each decision made, they have used our common wealth to subsidise their own life styles while the common Nigerian has been left to fend for themselves. We grumbled but did nothing.
Then they offered us the olive branch of democracy. Free and fair elections, transparent systems for the electorate to chose a government for the people and by the people. We grasped it with every limb. But even that was fraught with difficulties. The lives of innocent youth corpers were mortgaged as casualties of democracy. Innocent because they were serving their country, and yet till this day their deaths remained unattoned for. But we in the south did not ‘occupy’ the north. We made angry statements on twitter and shouted with loud words in various articles but did nothing and our government did even less.
Then came Boko Haram. A menace sure to unleash the wrath of the Nigerian government. After all, has the Nigerian army not been deployed to various war torn African countries? Was our army not instrumental in peace keeping missions in Liberia? But our government offered insensitive comments instead, and preferred to watch the lifeless bodies of Christians pile up on the streets of northern Nigeria, while they chased the naked shadows of homosexuals. But maybe that is being unfair, after all they did allocate a significant portion of the 2012 budget to security. An estimated 922 Billion Naira, yet we do not have any detailed plans on exactly how this money will be spent. We have no security systems in place to avert the threats of Boko Haram, only the ‘stop and search’ tactics offered at various police check points. If a significant portion of this allocated security budget will be spent on more police check points with skinny men in black uniforms armed with flashlights, and celoptaped riffles is anyone’s guess. Still Nigerians remained silent. We grumbled loudly, but made no attempts at ‘occupation’ to make our voices heard.
We had barely recovered from the Boko Haram Christmas Day bombings when our government gave us an explosion of their own. Over a hundred percent increase in the price of fuel, a resource which is intricately linked to the fabric of every Nigerians daily life. The petrol stations responded with swift action, almost like they had been poised at the pumps, waiting for this very announcement. Our grumblings got louder. We calculated the costs of our livelihoods and compared it with the exorbitant budget allocated to maintain our government’s lifestyle. Refurbishments to the presidential villa, purchase of brand new bullet proof vehicles and new crockery for the lavish state dinners, and the almost 1 Billion Naira allocated to feed the President and Vice President, while we the populace are left insecure, unable to fend for ourselves and our families hungry.
So who can blame us for refusing to listen to these so called economic arguments which support the subsidy removal when most Nigerians are facing issues which far outweigh their merits. Mothers have buried their children, innocent lives have been lost, and the blood of fellow Nigerians in the north continues to be spilt. The issue here is not that we are unreasonable, or that we do not understand market principles. Rather it is that our resilience has been shattered in the face of much apathy from our leaders. We have taken too much for too long and our government has taken us for granted. They have asked us to trust them when they have done nothing to deserve that trust. They have done nothing to protect us, nothing to gain our confidence, nothing to ease our suffering but have done everything to ensure that their own lifestyles remain subsidized. This is the issue, and until an economic principle can be created to solve this, one wonders if there can be any tangible merit to the fuel subsidy removal?