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How often do Nigerians pause to think?

By Tonnie Iredia
In his famous book “How we think”, renowned American philosopher, John Dewey, proposed what looks like a simple template on how to make a decision. According to the scholar, every decision maker should take 3 simple steps: (a) identify the problem (b) assemble all the solutions for it and (c) pick the best solution.

Dewey’s postulation looks straight forward and self explanatory but in complicated societies like Nigeria where the solution to a problem may become the problem a few hours later and vice versa, the template is exceedingly simplistic.

Nigerians need to do far more than the dictates of John Dewey. They have to think, think and think again to be able to unravel the double negatives in public pronouncements and conflicting official statements as well as to comprehend what those in authority say from two sides of the same mouth.

In our clime, it is indeed not an easy task to understand either a public policy or the rationale for it just as it is often difficult to differentiate the benefits of a policy from its pains.

A few days back, President Jonathan set up a committee, headed by a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Alfa Belgore, to meet with organized labour and other stakeholders to resolve issues that may arise from the fuel subsidy removal controversy.

Those who remember the blameless career of that erudite former Judge are likely to applaud the appointment. But we need to note that the role of  a Judge which has nothing to do with finding a compromise for the parties whose cases are before him is different from being the chairman of a body set up to bring about peace among contending parties.

In any case, Belgore is not new to any of the parties in the present case having worked with them before in the tripartite Presidential Committee on National Minimum Wage, inaugurated by the administration of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in July 2009, to review the national minimum wage.

All the stakeholders, including the Governors’ Forum, were involved in the negotiation before the committee finally recommended N18, 000 minimum wage which was the figure agreed by all. The matter was then presented as a bill which was passed into law by the National Assembly and assented to by the President.

But inspite of having followed these processes and procedures, the minimum wage is still a white elephant. So, what can Belgore or Nigerians do about the acceptance or otherwise of the report of this new committee on subsidy?  We can only think.

The President also appointed another respected Nigerian, Dr. Christopher Kolade, to head the Subsidy Re-investment and Empowerment Programme Board (SREPB) to manage the implementation of projects to be funded from the subsidy.

No one can really question the capability of Dr. Kolade to handle the assignment considering his antecedents as a one-time Director General of the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, former Chairman of Cadbury, and immediate past Nigerian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.

In all these positions, he excelled. We are thus free to rejoice that government has chosen such a personality. However, some people may inspite of Kolade see the scheme as an unnecessary parallel government like the Abacha Petroleum Trust Fund which was headed by another respected Nigerian, General Buhari.

Interestingly, such thinking is not exactly the issue at stake now. This time, what we probably need to pause to think over is how to identify which fund Kolade is to manage-is it the subsidy which having been removed with effect from January 1st 2012 no longer exists?

Some people get offended at the mention of the term “palliative” which connotes some derogatory feeling because in some other climes it is given to refugees not citizens. What is in a name? For us, Nigerians should embrace the 1600 diesel engine buses which government says will soon arrive to cushion the effects of the subsidy removal.

Indeed, from what we hear, bringing down the cost of transportation is not the only package; we hear also that workers are to be paid their salaries as early as the 20th of this harsh month. This sounds like good news but because it is not a salary bonus it would be hard to appreciate how long it would serve as a benefit.

In the same way, the case of the diesel buses would have been unarguably perfect and humane if not for a controversy that has arisen over the subject as the Trade Union Congress (TUC) is now claiming that it was the one that ordered the buses.

In view of this contention, those who have to think always would probably imagine that it would have been more salutary if the buses had arrived the country before the subsidy was removed.

Against this back drop, it appears as if the more we think, the more we have to really think. The suspicion of government for example, that the aggressiveness of labour is instigated by some fuel marketers is no doubt food for thought more so as security agencies have reportedly earmarked 6 of the marketers as the main culprits.

What this suggests is that some members of the dreaded and hitherto invincible cartel in our oil industry have been identified. But then the interest of the marketers in sponsoring the workers’ strike which begins tomorrow is inexplicable.

This is because they have nothing to lose as their fortune is not in any way in jeopardy. Indeed, the removal of subsidy does not reduce the cartel’s profit, it only changes who is now footing the bill from the government to the people.

In like manner, those responsible for the spate of violent crimes in the country may not be affected by the recent decision to tackle insecurity through a selective and partial declaration of a state of emergency in some parts of the country.

No matter for how long one thinks over the decision, it seems clear that if the declaration that removed Governor Dariye from office as Governor of Plateau state is called ‘state of emergency’ then the recent declaration of state of emergency in Borno, Yobe, Plateau and Niger states deserves a different title.

First, it is difficult to understand why those who poorly handled the affairs of the affected local government areas which compelled Mr President to make the declaration are still in office. Second, we surely have to think for quite a long time so as to comprehend why Bauchi, Gombe, Kaduna etc that have not been less volatile were excluded from the list of areas placed under emergency.

Luckily, Governor Aliu of Niger state has underscored this by helping to extend the state of emergency to every local government area in his state. Ingenious!

While trying to be a great thinker, I ran into this story whose source cannot be revealed for religious reasons. A man sent a parcel to his friend. In a letter attached to the parcel, he wrote as follows: “Find enclosed a photograph of me and my horse; I am the one on the left”. Wonderful thinking!!


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