By Obi Nwakanma
The Jonathan administration truly gave Nigerians a left-handed gift for the New Year. Still reeling from the Christmas day bombing, Nigerians were hardly prepared for the surreptitious and final withdrawal of the so-called oil subsidy.
It can only be imagined, the shock of impact on a rapidly impoverished people, particularly for those who had exhausted their savings for the Christmas celebrations. The year ended with violence and the new one began very rudely. Nigerians are now saying with much bitterness that Jonathan is bad luck.
A terrible change in mood has descended on this nation since the April 2011 elections in which this current president was swept into office alongside many lives swept into their untimely graves. For his supporters – and there were countless among them – Goodluck Jonathan was “goodluck” for a country that has been looking for a little reprieve since the end of the Nigerian civil war at least, which was marked by military dictatorship.
From 1966 to 1999, with the brief exception of the three years of civil rule between 1979 and 1983, Nigeria was dominated by a brutal military dictatorship.
The military era represented a dark period for most Nigerians. It introduced the greatest evils for which Nigeria has been marked – corruption, inefficiency; poverty; a total waste of the national resources in a period that ought to have, as did happen elsewhere in the world,established the firm foundations for national development and prosperity.
The worst of this reigned from 1985 to 1999. It was a period that also saw the most persistent and sustained opposition to military rule. It was a period shaped by the anti-military pro-democracy struggle. Among the icons of that struggle in the 1980s was the Students Movement then under the national coalition of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS).
Among the more formidable leaders of students in the Nigerian Universities in the 1980s was Mr. Labaran Maku, then a card-carrying Marxist,and currently the Nigeria Federal Minister of Information. It was Mr. Maku who in a very pointed twist of irony who announced the Federal Government’s withdrawal of the so-called oil subsidy forthwith.
It is an ironic twist of fate, this task that Labaran Maku had to carry out for this administration as its minister in charge of Public Affairs. As President of the University of Jos Students Union, one of the most virile and politically conscious Students community in Nigeria in those years, Labaran Maku who had taken over from a formidable tippler called Charlie –P Ekanem in 1984, steered and led the Unijos students to oppose the Buhari junta’s policy withdrawing meal subsidies in Nigerian universities.
The withdrawal of the meal subsidies by the Buhari military administration raised student meal tickets from fifty kobo to sixty kobo, and the system had to be deregulated to open Cafeteria services to private providers.
In defiance of the Buhari government’s policy Labaran Maku led mobilization campaigns, and indeed on his way from one of the meetings of the tactical committee to begin a nation-wide students protest at Nsukka, had a near-miss: he escaped arrest and the security dragnet by abandoning the University of Jos Students Union bus at Markudi and hiking it.
Such hounding did not stop him from leading the “Ango-Must-Go” protests, a fall out from the mishandling at the Ahmadu Bello University where students had been killed by anti-riot policemen in the 1986 Students-led opposition to the Structural Adjustment Policies proposed by the Babangida dictatorship.
Among the propositions of SAP was the deregulation and withdrawal of oil subsidies, and nothing has changed in any material particular from that economic policy script which has imposed on Nigeria a deficient and mindless oligopoly and a thoroughly emasculated middle class.
But something no doubt has changed for the rightly Honorable Minister for Information. It is hardly inexplicable. Today, Maku sits in a state council justifying the same policies he opposed about twenty-five years ago. Something also certainly has changed for Reuben Abati, the President’s Chief spokesman.
As a columnist for the Guardian, Dr. Abati wrote powerfully in opposition to the attempts to deregulate the oil sector. In a 2009 column in the Guardian, Abati wrote with piquancy: “The arguments being advanced to justify the proposed full deregulation do not make sense.
All the arguments have a ring of deja vu. They are taken from the same textbooks that the economists have refused to update, the same ideas that led to the collapse of the global economy. Other countries are making a U-turn and subjecting textbook knowledge to the test of reality, Nigerian policy makers are still holding on to old paradigms.
One of these days, we shall start stoning the economists in official corridors.” Todayensconced in the corridor of power most certainly, good old Reuben is not likely to join some of us who are still wont to cast the first stones. What changed for these two men seems to me to be principles upstaged by status.
They are now more likely to defend the indefensible – their status and privileges, rather than the general good of the Nigerian citizen. Some have called this the “curse of Aso Rock” – once you enter it, you turn into stones. Your heart is hardened.
You become a totally new species. Nothing also better explains President Goodluck Jonathan’s rather shoddy handling of the two critical tests of his administration: his washy economic policy straight out of the IMF handbook and the critical national security situation.
It is perhaps the Aso-Rock curse. President Jonathan has been utterly disappointing in his performance so far, judging by the national security challenges, and the Oil subsidies palaver. The Christmas day bombing of St Theresa’s Catholic Church by the Boko Haram basically reveals the utter decay of Nigeria’s National Defense Infrastructureand the state of its incompetence.
Indeed, Mr. Andrew O. Azazi, a retired Lt. General of the Nigerian Army, former Director of Military Intelligence, and current National security Adviser to the President said that Nigeria does not have the capability to police every part of this nation. It is a most unfortunate admission.
What is clear is that Boko Haram threatens Nigeria’s national survival and cohesion. The continued threat calls for a review, redesign and upgrade of Nigeria’s national security infrastructure.
But perhaps the greatest threat to Nigeria’s national security is not Boko Haram in fact. It is the large Army of angry, unemployed and increasingly defiant people, whose dire economic condition will be furthered exacerbated by this policy to withdraw oil subsidies.
On reading the SURE documents and the charge to Kolade committee to manage and re-invest the excess funds accruable from the removal of subsidies, it became even clearer to me that President Jonathan has run short of economic ideas. His economic agenda is shallow.
Tomorrow, as the Nigerian Labour Movement and all affiliate groups embark on a national strike that would widen the nation-wide protest against the removal of the oil subsidies, Nigerians are going to re-christine the president, “Badkuck.”
And it is terrible luck indeed for a country to be saddled by a federal administration whose policies has stranded many workers who are unable to return to work because they cannot find the money to pay the bus fare after the new-year surprise. This country bleed – and Jonathan is prepared to risk a national revolt. And it is already a bloody mess.