Tolu Ogunlesi on #FuelSubsidyRemoval: “How not to run a country”

By Tolu Ogunlesi

President Jonathan is not doing anything unusual, others before him have made similar arguments asking for “sacrifice”. The only thing that ends up getting sacrificed is the future and wellbeing of tens of millions of suffering Nigerians.

I remember watching Goodluck Jonathan’s telepromptered presidential bid declaration speech on 18 September, 2010.  He promised change: “Let the word go out from this Eagle Square that Jonathan as President in 2011 will herald a new era of transformation of our country…”

He also succeeded in pulling an ‘Obama’ on us: “I was not born rich, and in my youth, I never imagined that I would be where I am today, but not once did I ever give up. Not once did I imagine that a child from Otuoke, a small village in the Niger Delta, will one day rise to the position of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I was raised by my mother and father with just enough money to meet our daily needs. “In my early days in school, I had no shoes, no school bags. I carried my books in my hands but never despaired; no car to take me to school but I never despaired. There were days I had only one meal but I never despaired. I walked miles and crossed rivers to school every day but I never despaired. [I] didn’t have power, didn’t have generators, studied with lanterns but I never despaired.”

Inspiring story. The canoe-carver’s son who became Deputy Governor, Governor, Vice President and then President without ever hustling for power, wowed us all, with his humble beginnings, his humility and his accessibility (via social media).

But that was then. Today the canoe-carver’s son seems bent on recreating, for present and future generations, all the obstacles he faced all those decades ago. He seems eager to ensure that as many Nigerians as possible study with lanterns and survive on a single meal a day. And how is he doing this – by hitting the most vulnerable part of the population where it hurts them the most – via what is no doubt one of the most ubiquitous items in the land: petrol. The seeming disconnection from reality, for a man who boasted of being born without shoes, is shocking. Nigeria is a country full of poor people. Nigerians consume more fuel than necessary because their country continues to produce, for its 150 million citizens, a tenth of what South Africa produces for its 50 or so million citizens – and they therefore have to depend on petrol-guzzling Chinese generators to keep the lights on.

Controlling the price of petrol has therefore been the easiest way to ensure that Nigerians enjoy the benefits of the crude oil they produce in copious amounts. But in the spirit of the Nigerian system, the country is largely unable to refine crude oil, and therefore has to import most of its fuel needs. The subsidy system is constructed around this importation: Government pays importers to ensure prices are kept reasonably low. Over time, as expected, trademark Nigerian corruption has crept into the system, and dubious importers have found ways of inflating their receipts. Last year, the government spent 1.3 trillion Naira on subsidies, instead of the budgeted N248 billion. The government has admitted the existence of a ‘cartel(s)’, but has done nothing to confront it, or attempt to expose it. The only solution, they’ve argued, is to scrap the entire subsidy, the only thing that resembles ‘welfare’ in a land teeming with poor people.

Against all opposing voices they have gone ahead to scrap it, in the most callous of ways: On New Year’s Day, via a press statement by an obscure government agency (quick joke: “What’s the difference between Boko Haram and GEJ? Boko Haram at least claims responsibility. GEJ gets PPPRA to do so on his behalf.”) – in a country that is one of the world’s top 10 producers of crude oil. Instantly, fuel prices more than doubled, triggering panicky queues at fuel stations and a rise in transport prices.  Over the last couple of weeks Mr. Jonathan has been meeting with labour, civil society, and youth groups, ostensibly engaged in a dialogue. In reality, Mr Jonathan has apparently only been buying time for the implementation of a policy he and his advisors had made up their minds about a long time ago.

On 31 December, the President went on national TV to announce the imposition of a state of emergency in parts of the country, as part of the government’s response to the growing menace of terrorist group, Boko Haram. Not a mention of the impending removal of the subsidy. On the afternoon that news of the subsidy removal filtered out – New Year’s Day, and a Sunday – a post appeared on the president’s Facebook page, a list of his achievements in 2011. Again, not a mention of the subsidy.

Nigeria’s “numbers” have always been mind-boggling. Saudi Arabia, with less than twenty percent of our population, currently has a refining capacity of more than 2 million barrels per day, more than ten times Nigeria’s. Billions of dollars have gone into ‘Turn-Around Maintenance’ on our four refineries over the last two decades. Today, none of those refineries operates at up to fifty percent of its full capacity (the actual numbers are much less than that). The government has not demonstrated any willingness to make the refineries work, to end the mind-boggling scenario that sees Africa’s largest producer of crude oil expending several billions of dollars annually on the importation of 85 percent of its fuel needs. This is the same government that is now insisting that it needs to remove subsidies so it can spend the $8bn subsidy payout on providing critical infrastructure.

The Government is outraged by the cost of the subsidy, but not by the corruption responsible, or the fact that we have to depend on imports to meet almost all of our fuel needs. And if all the hundreds of billions of dollars of the last decade (annual budgets of about $25bn) have not improved our roads and schools and hospitals, is it this $8 billion that will bring transformation? At the root of the opposition is a trust deficit. Nigerian governments have not given the citizens any reason to trust them. Since 1999 successive governments have been promising significant improvements in power supply – and pumping government funds into building power plants – but nothing has come of it.

Nigeria’s corruption is in a class by itself. There is corruption, and then there is Nigerian corruption. Nigerians know that the so-called subsidy savings will go the way of its forebears – the road of no return, paved with Swiss Bank cheque book leaves. Now, no realistic Nigerian expects any government to totally wipe out corruption, but to have a government that feigns helplessness in the face of corruption is a bit too much to stomach, even by Nigeria’s very laid-back standards.

The message to President Jonathan and his government is simple: Earn our trust with the trillions you already have in your possession, then we can, and will, wholeheartedly hand over this subsidy trillion to you. Simple logic. But no, logic is not how these ones seek to deal with us. Common sense is a luxury, apparently, the closer one steps to the hallowed corridors of power. Nigeria has no functioning welfare system to cater for its teeming poor. National Health insurance is available only in name. Lagos, a city of 15 million, has no rail system – overground or underground. Nigeria’s hospitals are mostly glorified clinics, often lacking the most basic of supplies. The public school system is a disgrace; the near-total failure rates in national examinations bear eloquent testimony. Maternal mortality rates are some of the highest in Africa, and in the north, polio and cholera still haunt the land with eighteenth century confidence. Governments come and go, doing nothing to alter the communal and national status quo. They make no sacrifices, but are adept at insisting that Nigerians have to make sacrifices in order for their nation to be great. The poorest of the lot always suffer.

President Jonathan is not doing anything unusual, others before him have made similar arguments asking for “sacrifice”. The only thing that ends up getting sacrificed is the future and wellbeing of tens of millions of suffering Nigerians. Life goes on, as always. The President doesn’t think it necessary to earn our trust. But he demands ours. Here’s hoping that this time, Nigerians will see through the charade. And tell him to stuff his exhortations into the nearest pipeline, and do what twenty-two million Nigerians elected him to do, last April: earn their trust, and confidence, by wisely and prudently spending their commonwealth, to make their lives better, in the most tangible of ways: light bulbs that stay on, water taps that do not hiss when turned, hospitals that actually save lives, schools that stay open and add value to their students, policemen who actually protect citizens, and so on and so forth.

Crushing Nigerians underfoot by more than doubling the cost of living, on a New Year’s Day, in a land already gripped by mass suffering, is not the kind of transformation we’ve been waiting for.


Comments (43)

  1. all ws in varnity but we should not loose mhope.

  2. What if Buhari had won the April election and was President and took this same step? All you CPC urchins would be praising him for finally being the one who was able to stare the "cabal" in the face and end corruption. God dey.

  3. Whatever happened to leadership by example? Why does the government not begin by making the required sacrifice by cutting down their own expenses? The problem is not removing the subsidy but the well founded distrust of the government. Where is the well articulated plans of what the supposed savings from subsidy removal will be used for? Suddenly the government is taking about infrastructural development – what happened to the budgetary allocation to those ministries in the past?

  4. @ Micheal Ijere. You poor poor south-south cretin. Seeing every issue through your pitiful jaundiced eye. So everyone who doesn't agree with your nitwit GEJ is a lackey? More so El-Rufai's ? na wa oh! You stupid sha!

  5. It's funny that people are still saying that we give the govt our trust? What trust I ask? The same trust that they didn't start out with by suddenly removing the subsidy after continually saying the removal would be tied to the budget n was going to start Arpil 1st? A government that didn't put in place any shock absorber (palliative) for the masses before removing the subsidy is a government you want to trust? Posterity will not forgive us.

    The memory span of the typical Nigerian has always been short, so there r really no surprises there.

    2 saturdays ago I was at a wedding at Abule Egba, I saw Dimeji Bankole, driving out of the reception venue in Mercedes G550 with full police escorts and sirens, and we r to trust this government?

    Some say we should monitor the implementation, I say why don't they implement first n then remove the subsidy.

    I don't think it's a crime for a nation to demand that its government do its work that they are utterly overpaid for.

  6. Well said tolu.We must fight back.We cannot take this lying down.U wrote it exactly as i say it.

  7. you are just very naive! how much is the subsidy they are removing? go through the budget i am sure u'll see wasteful expenses that can fund the subsidy. for example -> In the 2011 budget i found this capital expenditure (purchase and construction of fixed assets) for the state house which cost N7.38billion – "purchase of trucks, buses, office furniture and fittings, computers, photocopying machines, scanners, canteen/kitchen equipment, residential furniture, health/medical equipment, library books/equipment, industrial equipment, recreational facilities, construction/provision of office buildings, residential buildings, construction/provision of electricity, water facilities, hospitals/health centres, agricultural facilities, infrastructure, recreational facilities". these exact same expenses reappeared in the new proposal for the 2012 with the exception of purchase of trucks and i am sure it's in the 2010 budget too, which i couldn't find anyway. that's just under the presidency alone (state house) imagine how much cut can be made from the a total budget review by sincere auditors!!! I'll say it again stop being naive, whatever reason they are removing the subsidy can be dealt with without removing it, be it blocking the loopholes that allow corruption into the process or a budget review that can source/eliminate reoccurring expenses in the budget which in turn will release funds to be used for other essential projects.

  8. I suppose you are attempting to preach to the choir here. Cheap populism has never been noble, neither has it been a source of groundbreaking change.

    Would it be wrong to state that Nigerians are some of the most passive people in the world? Where's this misplaced moral relativism coming from? This article goes after the government, well GEJ in particular, like the source of all problems lies there.

    The average Nigerian shares just as much blame as its government. We have created this culture of entitlements for ourselves, comparing our condition with nations that have over time, created wealth and opportunities for their people.

    First, no society is entitled to any subsidies. Are we really saying that the mere fact that one is born in Nigeria guarantees one the benefit of cheap oil? The origin of petroleum subsidies in Nigeria was not as a result of failure of refineries as it is so often stated, but rather an attempt my previous military governments to pacify its people away from political and economic failures. There are two distinct arguments here, a socio-political and economic arguments.

    I concede that on socio-political basis, it makes sense to continue these subsidies. Not only are they the only benefits every single Nigerian enjoys from the state, there is a moral obligation for the government to provide such discounts. However, economically, these subsidies do not make any sense, and none of the arguments made by the author of this article and other commentators against this removal stands the test of economics. The author suggests that because the budget allocated for petroleum subsidies was less than what was eventually expended, it suggests corruption. This is clearly a false opinion, because even the most conservative budgets can not fully capture the future behavior of consumers. Clearly Nigerians consumed more petroleum products, you would have to check the levels of automobile importations, maintenance, electricity usage to ascertain the relationship between the consumption levels and expenditure amounts, which I suspect the author did not. Economics is a science. You can shape it by mere public opinion and wild sentiments. All those shortages, that results in cues are as a result of the subsidies. Marketers are frustrated because they are forced to sell petroleum products at prices that aren't optimum, however demand is kept artificially high because the true price of crude isn't transferred to consumer. I don't think Ipads are 60-70% cheaper in America because apple is an American company. Markets respect no borders. You can create tariffs, thats as much as a government can, but you can't expect an efficient market when you tie the hands of suppliers.

    $8 billion a year in savings is a lot of money. I can not understand how anyone can justify spending 25 percent of the budgets on petrol savings. Fueling your vehicles (For those that have one) has become more important that health or education expenditure? -Corruption or not?

    I get frustrated when I have conversations with fellow Nigerians, and it seems to always end up in the assumption that corruption-political corruption is the reason for all the ills of Nigeria. From my studies and career, I have come to realize that corruption is not a disease, but rather a symptom. We give an example of the refineries and how they have continuously failed over the years, citing endemic corruption in the oil sector, which in fact exists. But i'm forced to remind the readers here that everything else in the country seems to fail. We lack a culture of maintenance, our homes, vehicles, health are all often not paid utmost attention. Is that political corruption? Or rather a cultural problem of neglect that has persisted for years?

    Personally, I support targeted subsidies to the most vulnerable groups of Nigerians. Old poor, young students, etc, but one cannot justify providing subsidy to the rich who have 10 cars in the lots. The truth is, the reason why you don't have modern roads and bridges is because the government lacks the funds to make such projects. This is also accentuated by gross waste, abuse and corruption, as well as the passivist culture where Nigerians fail to hold their leaders accountable. We all seem to be bothered by corrupt leaders, except those from our families, villages, states and religion. That is the problem.

    1. Well said Mark, well said!!!! I wish you could write an article on this.

  9. Great write up…Thumps up man.

  10. GEJ means well.Tolu and IBB are on one side today! Pls Let's just demand to ensure that the savings are well spent for our own good now and in future.Enough of insightment.Our pple hv suffered enough.Let's try this option and check the thieves who ll try to squander!

  11. Analysis of Nigeria's misfortune this way makes me sad for children unborn because this is no Country worth bringing innocent ones into.don't blame peeps in diaspora

  12. Good one on this tolu,actually we need to continue in this trend and I believe its the best way to checkmate any evil mission that lies ahead the removal.we can give him a little time to fool himself if that's his plan for the nation.all we need is close monitoring and point facts to him..I believe the evil agenda can change when everybody make him realise we are watching and waiting to receive him at the end of the tunnel.

  13. On point. Thanks

  14. Well said, Tolu.

    The bottom line, as stated, is that this subsidy was the one relief, from the government, that Nigerians had and now it has been taken away to pad the pockets of a different set of people. Poverty will increase, the cost of living will increase, and everyone but those in power will be affected by the removal of this subsidy. The only way that I can be convinced that GEJ's plans to use this money for good, is if he uses the money for something tangible, like creating world class hospitals in some states or creating a tangible welfare system that caters to those most in need of care, provision, and protection. We need tangible change, transparency and accountability.

  15. @bolaji before u av expectation for anyone u must be clear about his the artcle again and you will discover that everything has been cheer deception. its just hopeless.its either we force him to resign or lets simply break up this entity call nigeria. except we want to remain a fool at fifty and forever. tolu kudos.

  16. @bolaji before av expectation for anyone u most be clear about his the artcle again and you will discover that everything has been cheer deception. its just hopeless.its either we force him to resign or lets simply break up this entity call nigeria. except we want to remain a fool at fifty and forever. tolu kudos.

  17. you have made the point,BEJ meant if any good et al for his already overpaid govt officials.

  18. ''If i d president can trek to sch,,y nt u 2,if i hav no shoes,y nt u,if i trek to sch,y not u,,,,,children of nowadays wuna toooooo lazy,,,durin my time we work very very hard and as u can ccccccc i hav make it to d top now,,,,y not u toooooo,,,,all u know (i.e youth) is to dey 2gochatin instead of 2go market,facebooking instead of facing ur buks,complainin instead of creating job urself,,,,u ppl have to embrance dis new change bcos we are all n it,,,,we must make SACRIFICE. AFTERALL wat goes around comes bak around'' (2A.T; media spokeman to prezident J+onathan E+bele G+udlackin A+zikwe a.k.a JEGA

  19. GEJ:……is dis DEMOCRACY or AUTOCRACY??

    1)Wit everytin bin forced on 9jerians. 2)U tellin us subsidy will tk effect 4rm april, nly 4 it 2 start Jan 1st.

    3) Peaceful protest being quashed by Army in Lokoja, Abuja, Keffi e.t.c 4) News of Blackberry Internet Services (BIS) 2 b shut down by Network Communicatn Companies (mtn, glo, etisalat, airtel) 2 checkmate d nation 4rm protestin 'verbally' by nt being able 2 share infos.

    Are we now ur "PRISONERS" dt u av 2 dictate wt happens wit/2 us every seconds???

  20. Lobatan! Jonathan what have you to say to this?

  21. A good writeup! However,can we not have the belief that the intentions of the govt might actually come to fruition and be beneficial in the long run. Our problem is one of looking for short term solutions rather than the long term. My hope is that GEJ and co turn out to be heroes and not villains at the end of their tenure.

  22. Tolu, what a piece there. But what baffles me is that, this horrible GEJ and cabinet's decision will still stand; considering past scenarios.

    Our Governments are too proud to rescind decisions, especially one that relates to Crude Oil.

  23. Tolu, brilliant piece. Loads of home truths & way too many quotable quotes. How I wish the idiots @the corridor of power realise their folly in not being accountable.

  24. Good write up Tolu. This is a call to all Nigerians to put an end to this virus (corruption) running in our system or else the generation after us will curse us for doing nothing. GEJ govt has taking us for a ride for too long…

  25. Bravo Sir……..bravo

  26. its time to use our heads instead of hearts as we did in April as even before there were no evidences of his ability to do magic from his tenure as gov.

  27. Great stuff, Tolu. However, we need to appeal to labour to help mobilise people and issue guidelines. That way, we would make more impact and avoid casualties.

  28. finally made the country unified but….in danger

  29. Well written, enlightening.

  30. Well written man!

  31. Great write-up rehighlighting the charade of a government the people finds themselves shackled with. Thank God He has made the ruling oligarch mad by increasing the prices so that the people can finally express their grievance. Kudos Tolu.

  32. Today Goodluck Jonathan is indeed daring to introduce change while political losers like you think you have gotten another chance to place him in a corner, know what, the man is smarter than you , fuel subsidy will be removed and he will apply the money judiciously putting you and other el rufai lackeys to shame

  33. We are being impoverished by the susbsidy arrangement. The Choice of Hobson – Die quickly now without a subsidy regime or die slowly later with a subsidy regime.

  34. Awesome and well said. Let's hope Nigerians wouldn't be a laughing stock to Libyans.

  35. Brillant!On point, Tolu, you hit the bull's eye on this one. Mr Jonathan has gone one step too far tis time and Nigerians are not taking this lying down. Let the sleeping dogs no longer lie!

  36. This is beyond sad. Rulership was designed to soley emanate from God. Why can't we just leave it for him. Haven't we gotten all d proof we need?! Gosh! Such a disappointment!

    1. Please go and read your bible and open a church.

      "…..leadership emanates solely from God?"

      Who wasted money on your education?

  37. I do have reservations about people in power and their ability to access reality; such fears are understandable but treatable. In the wake of a global recession, removing subsidy is not a GEJ idea or a political plot to subject the suffering masses to hardship, but it is an economic expediency. If it were not him, whoever is in Aso Rock at this time would still be faced with these hard choices. One thing is more certain than the setting sun, failing to remove subsidy will have a long term paradoxical side effects that could spiral into a terrible economic recession in the coming year. We must confront this false economic model of waste and corruption that has succeeded in crippling our refineries, stealing jobs from people and enriching a few to the detriment of the rest of us. No doubt, the removal of subsidy will cause a short term hike in prices, but a long term benefit of a stable and growing economy and most importantly bring about redistribution that will benefit all of us.

  38. Tolu is in-point as usual. It is high time we used every legitimate means within our power as youths to register our grievances against these insensitive government policies. We must not make the same mistake our parents made; they were docile for too long. May the (wo)man not die in us all.: Arise O’ Compatriots. | iDova's blog

  39. Preach it!

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