Wages of the fuel subsidy regime
By Is’haq Modibbo Kawu
FOR residents of Abuja, the past week has been particularly difficult. Before you could pronounce FCT, we returned to a regime of queues for petroleum products in the city. At a point, the black market price for the 4 litre jerry can reached over four thousand naira.
It was so ridiculous, that I decided not to travel for the Sallah holiday. I will stay here and just watch the charade play out. The more things change, the more they remain the same! We have been here before; or more appropriately, we have remained locked into the time warp of conspiracies, official but empty assurances to do things differently, without any movement to break the vicious cycle.
A major holiday is around the corner, and out of the blues, a contrived regime of scarcity of products is slapped on the faces of Nigerians. Usually, a strike threat by petroleum tanker drivers is issued as part of the conspiracy; chaos reigns around petrol stations; the black market comes alive; more money is extorted from citizens and after a long while, we return to the status quo ante! We are trapped into this unflattering cycle.
But the most recent problem seemed tied to the regime of fuel subsidies; the strategic decision taken at the start of the PDP regime in 1999, NOT to build new refineries by the Nigerian state and to consequently empower a cabal of billionaire oil importers, with umbilical connection to the political elite.
It was this linkage between politics and the fraudulent regime of fuel importation, which made the finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala make the declaration that “the position of the federal government on fuel subsidy payments is clear: we will do our best to encourage honest efforts by genuine companies engaged in fuel importation…”
Apparently, the irony was lost to our World Bank-manufactured minister, that what she was publicly stating, was that government will continue to protect jobs in other countries, while we have a huge population desperate for them in our own country.
When one is sworn to the biddings of imperialism, as that worthy woman is, that is the kind of statement to expect. The oil subsidy regime has spiraled out of control and like a real monster, is now threatening to eat up our country.
Caught up in a web
The burden of a historic decision not to build new refineries has now come back to haunt the Nigerian state in a most poignant manner.
The major companies caught up in the present crisis are owned by some of the best friends of President Goodluck Jonathan and are often the main contributors to the campaign funds of the PDP. So far, over N4.2trillion is owed these oil importers in 2012 alone.
In the meantime, the Presidential Committee on Fuel Subsidy indicted 170 companies while singling out 21 for criminal investigation. At the same time, the Finance Minister confirmed that 31 companies were paid the sum of N42. 67billion between April and August and an additional sum of N17billion went to 14 oil marketers for claims in April and May. As we have seen in recent weeks, the owners of these companies have links to the highest echelons of government and politics.
It is an elaborate network; the Nigerian kleptocracy is one of the most powerful in the contemporary world. The sweetheart deals in the fuel subsidy regime have become so entrenched, that we will need a political earthquake to shake our country free from the bear hug it is held in, by this alliance of politics and dubious business. There are no talks about building Nigerian-owned refineries in the overall picture.
But why should they be built? It is far cheaper and more lucrative to maintain this status quo. The Nigerian people are the losers. Unless and until we break the back of this alliance of crooks, we will not make a sense of our country and its potentials.
In the meantime, those unable to see the picture or who have tangential benefits they also make from this elaborate scheme of fraud, detain us with the superficial problems of the nation building process: ‘regional autonomy’; ‘SNC’; ‘state police’; ‘new constitution’; etc.
Breaking the cabal’s backbone
One of the main issues to rally around is how to break the backbone of this cabal and the destruction of the unholy alliance, through a national movement which insists on the construction of new refineries by the Nigerian state. The mantra of a market fundamentalist economy is a delusion; it was never meant to work in the first place and is not programmed to serve the Nigerian people.
They have used neoliberal capitalism to carry out a dubious privatisation of national assets; under it we have witnessed a de-industrialisation process which led to massive loss of jobs; the despair following in its wake has deepened religious and ethnic feelings with the consequent crises these have engendered.
The state must come back to play a central role in the development process in our country. It is the roll back of the state which has entrenched the incredible levels of corruption which has sapped Nigeria today.
It is also the basis of the emergence of anti-state forces of violence and the emboldening of the secessionist projects around our country. When the state has become an instrument of a piratical elite that survives on elaborate schemes of kleptocracy, such a state cannot demand allegiance and loyalty of populations it does not take care of!
The Nigerian state is illegitimate for the majority of the Nigerian people today; the operatives of the state are mainly glorified thieves, while the ruling elite, federal, state and local, are viewed with utmost contempt, in many cases, as not better than robbers!
As we brace up for the threatened strike by oil workers this week, it is important to remember that we are collateral victims of the unpatriotic decision taken by the PDP regime in 1999, in the oil and other sectors to overthrow the state and public concern and institute private interest and greed as the central philosophy of governance in our country.
The consequences of that decision will continue to haunt Nigeria, until we overthrow those policies through an utter democratic defeat of the political elite which instituted them; in doing so, we will have to take back all that their alliance with the business barons stole from Nigeria. I see no other way to achieve restitution!
Peace-building gestures in a fractured North
AS this year’s Ramadan fast ended, I have reflected upon what I felt was one of the most important gestures of the month; and that was the grassroots-based, peace-building effort by Muslims and Christians in Northern Nigeria. From Jos, through to Kaduna and Abuja, a new initiative quickly became widespread; it saw Christian organisations, religious leaders as well as disparate groups and individuals, going to break the Ramadan fast with their Muslim counterparts.
Similarly, Christian organisations donated foodstuff to Muslim groups as a gesture of goodwill, to assist the poor amongst Muslims and when a devastating flood tore through the heart of Muslim residential areas in Jos, Christian youths and religious leaders rallied to the assistance of their Muslim co-inhabitants of what is clearly a troubled city, but one which not too long ago, was the most cosmopolitan city in Northern Nigeria.
The gestures might appear on the surface to be token in content, but they are very vital markers of the desire on the parts of people on the various sides of the divide, that is hurting the North, to move beyond crises and killings which have devastated economic life; disrupted social existence and torn apart peoples who share the space of geography and history as well as culture. The concerted effort being made at peace building is no longer just at the level of official and often, empty platitudes.
People in communities realise that they have to take the issue into their own hands in order to build peace, encourage reconciliation, inter-community and inter-faith accord. Afterall, everyone realises that no section of the community can wish the other away. Besides, while identity is a fact, we can build mutual respect into the differences which exist in our society.
It is therefore important to acknowledge the remarkable gestures which were symbolically tied to the devotion central to Ramadan. We must also hope and encourage everybody in the different communities in the North, to persist with the peace building efforts commenced during Ramadan, into a perpetual process to dig out of the hole of suspicion, intolerance, disrespect, hatred and killings. They hurt all of us all around!
Central to the problems we face in the North is the irresponsibility associated with the deficit in governance. Resources supposedly earmarked for development continue to dwindle and whatever is available, is largely stolen by groups of elite on all sides of the divide.
Access to power therefore is fought out very fiercely by these groups of elite who then conscript identities of ethnicity and religion into their vicious struggle for power. A huge swathe of the population exists precariously on the margins of society, and is therefore available for recruitment for all manners of destructive purposes, at the instigation of power-seeking factions of the elite.
The framing of the other, either of the other religion or other ethnic group, has led to negative consequences for our solidarity and peaceful co-existence.
In the context of the crises phenomena which face our society today, the responsible elements of the elite must play more central roles in helping to diffuse tension and suspicion amongst our various communities and faith groups.
I think the gestures we saw during Ramadan, represent significant green shoots of growth, which the various communities of Northern Nigeria must work together to nurture into fruition. It is also indicative of the optimistic trend that reports have emerged, of tentative efforts at negotiation between the Nigerian government and the insurgent Boko Haram group.
It is an issue that I hope to examine in a subsequent column on this page. Suffice it to say, that I have been very consistent in my advocacy of peace through negotiation and reconciliation, as the most effective means of breaking the logjam of the Boko Haram insurgency.
The killings, reprisals, suspicion between faith and ethnic communities of recent years, have sapped vibrancy out of life in the North, yet I remain incurably optimistic, that we can still get things right, with dedicated labour.
The effort of people around the North during Ramadan, show what is clearly achievable, when people are determined to work together to build peace.