Everyone, young and old alike felt the impact of the fuel subsidy removal and nationwide strike that accompanied the implementation. The consequences of the policy which took effect from January 1, 2011 before it was reverted to N97 by the government, had brought untoward hardship not only on the oppositions but also the proponents, especially those in the government.
Facts and figures became weapons of warfare; they were brandished by major stakeholders from the both sides of the divide. While the oppositions were mobilized and organized through television, radio, handbills and online social media, it had no specific leaders as arrowheads or hardliners and their numbers increase by the day, although notable among them are Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, Femi Falana, and Pastor Tunde Bakare and some labour leaders. They were in unison, insisting that the issue is not about subsidy removal, but about curbing corruption and making Nigeria refineries functional. They stated that Nigeria's problem is not about ethnicity or religion but about endemic corruption and poverty.
While the major supporters of subsidy removal consisted of few cabinet members in government, ethnic jingoists too were promoting divisive tendencies against other sections of Nigeria. They placed inciting syndicated adverts in many newspapers, costing millions of Naira to impute bogus sectional sentiments and even treasonable felony to organisers and participants in the protests against removal of fuel subsidy. Their arguments are not only childish and diversionary, they do note worth repeat because of their seditious intents.
Surprisingly, as President Goodluck Jonathan continued to receive the blame over the policy, it was not too clear if he was the principal initiator of the fuel subsidy removal. Apart from the nationwide broadcasts where he pleaded with Nigerians to exercise patient on the policy admitting that "I know that the removal of the petroleum subsidy imposes an initial burden on our people, especially the rising cost of transportation. Government will be vigilant and act decisively to curb the excesses of those that want to exploit the current situation for selfish gains."
The hardliners in the government who are conspicuous in identifying and strongly supporting the removal of subsidy include the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, who admitted that the fight against corrupt practices influenced his decision to back the subsidy removal. He unequivocally disclosed that the two sectors that led to the near collapse of the banking industry were capital markets and oil marketing. He disclosed publicly that two companies' alone -owned by a businessman owed the Nigerian banking industry over N220b. He said: "We all saw the amount of subsidy paid to those companies published. Money had been taken, subsidy had been collected but loans were not repaid, and we couldn't see the money either as product in tank farms or in fuel stations or credit sales. So I became obsessed with trying to understand how that industry operated and the more I saw the more I hated it and I started the war against subsidies."
He further admitted that for two years he had been convinced that fuel subsidy was a scam and that it could not be stopped because "the entire controls have been compromised. NNPC sells domestic crude, Pays whatever subsidy PPPRA says and then gives the balance after JVC [Joint Venture Cash call] to the federation account."
The Finance Minister Okonjo Iweala, on the other hand denies that she is mastermind behind the policy to remove subsidy on fuel, claiming in BBC Interview that "the World Bank and IMF have nothing to do with this, absolutely nothing. This is an internal government decisionâ€¦ Six month before I came, the governors have all pushed for subsidy removal."
Governor Babangida Aliyu of Niger State claimed that Sanusi Lamido Sanusi was the mastermind of subsidy removal. He claimed that "an alarm raised by CBN governor led us (governors) to demand for the removal of fuel subsidy."
The Presidential Spokesperson, Reuben Abati, admitted to media in Aso Villa that consultations were made for more than two months and that "the President had met with students, civil society, media chiefs and even market women" where he fully briefed them on the intention of government to remove the fuel subsidy. He therefore urged "Labour to hold on to its promise that it will support whatever government does in the interest of the Nigerian people because Labour was consulted. I attended those meetings with Labour and I know there were some understandings reached."
Meanwhile the Minister of Information who has been cautiously and consciously defending the subsidy being a former student leader who led protests against anti-people policy during his university's days in the 80s, said: "If the federal government did not take this leadership decision of subsidy removal, the economy will crash as it is been experienced in some parts of Europe recently. The government has the burden today to save the economy and do not want to look at the option of retrenching workers to save the economy from crashing as some European countries have done."
While we should acknowledge the courage of those that publicly stand for and against subsidy removal without fear or favour, Nigerians should be wary of warmongers that could create tension and enmity among the citizens. Like others, I too strongly believe the government made a grievous mistake in the timing of subsidy removal. Why should it be on a special day, January 1, 2012? By the way how sincere are the so-called stakeholders who promised to stand by the government after the so-called wide consultation? Why are most governors, legislators and some ministers keeping mum over the issue?
President Goodluck Jonathan should summon the courage to fight and punish corrupt criminals looting the system through the so-called fuel subsidy. He should also attend to genuine advice from patriotic Nigerians rather than listening to singsongs from ethnic jingoists using his name to create divisions and disharmony in the polity. Though sectional leaders have the right to prove their love for their â€˜son-of-the soil' but Goodluck Jonathan is not a tribal leader but a Nigeria's President.
Yushau A. Shuaib