BY JIDE AJANI
WERE subsidy to be a man or woman, Nigerians, most Nigerians, would have stoned it to death. But subsidy is neither a man nor woman. It is an evil – as contrived by Nigerians.
The year 2012 started with the evil of subsidy and is about ending with same – what with all the fuel queues across the country.
Subsidy rattled the rich, the mighty, the not so rich and not so mighty; the poor; and worst of all, it sent chillers down the spine of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and his administration.
The world over, subsidy is a governmental instrument used for creating soft-landing for businesses – be it the agro-allied business; or any business for that matter.
However, in Nigeria, the government, businesses and the ordinary people too, have twisted the essence of subsidy in a most convoluted manner.
And this explains why when on January 1, 2012, President Goodluck Jonathan wished Nigerians ill-luck for the year by removing the subsidy of Premium Motor Spirit, PMS, bedlam struck.
At a time when most Nigerians were holidaying, some even travelling and some had travelled to their villages for celebration, having worked hard in the Year 2011 and with fat, slim or shoe-string budgets, to run on during the festive periods of Christmas and New Year celebrations which only end in the very early days of January, the President decided to withdraw subsidy.
Mind you, some Nigerians were already getting used to the idea that the subsidy would be removed – especially after the town hall meeting in Lagos on the essence and benefits of the removal. Because the same government had consistently maintained that whenever it was ready to remove the subsidy, Nigerians would be made aware well ahead of time and carried along, every one was relaxed.
True the masses were carried along.
But they were being carried to a place of despair with Jonathan’s decision because of the attendant hike in prices of commodities. As late as the last week of December 2011, spokes persons in government maintained that the removal was still some months away. So, Nigerians relaxed. Until Jonathan struck! And with it came crisis after crisis.
Because of subsidy, the House of Representatives held a session on a Sunday to discuss the matter. Because of subsidy, some Nigerians lost their sense of respect for the office of President and Commander-in-Chief, hauling unprintable insults on Jonathan. Because of subsidy removal, Nigeria was grounded for one week owing to mass action. Because of subsidy, some innocent lives were lost, lives were ruined, businesses disrupted and destroyed for live.
Because of subsidy, a new word crept into Nigeria’s lexicon: sting operation. Yes! The operation stung virtually everyone involved.
The House of Representatives which had set up a committee to probe the management of the funds set aside for subsidy that Nigerians were told was just hundreds of billions in excess of what was budgeted, unearthed a number of things. Meanwhile, as the probe progressed, it was discovered that over a trillion Naira had been wasted. Some of the importers of petrol who had collected the differential between the real cost of the pump head price and the government enforced price, which is what is called subsidy, were indicted and were expected to pay back to government. Suddenly, news was that the committee itself had been compromised, with its chairman, Lawan Farouk, allegedly collected $620,000 from Femi Otedola, friend to President Jonathan and proprietor of Forte Oil and Zenon Petroleum. Otedola claimed to have informed the Department of State Service, DSS, which in turn arranged with him to conduct the sting operation to entrap Farouk.
Yes, Farouk was entrapped. But President Jonathan suffered collateral damage because Otedola, as one of his closest friends and member of Jonathan’s economic team, was part of the scam within a scam. The DSS, too, got enmeshed in the mess; so was the House of Representatives. A search is still on to retrieve the $620,000. Even the report of the Farouk Committee has been forgotten. Every month of the year something about subsidy made the headline – mostly for the bad reasons.
As the year ended, the issue of subsidy came up again. Kidnappers abducted Professor Kamene Okonjo, mother of the Minister of Finance Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, but subsidy thieves were fingered as being responsible.
Yet, talks of possible removal of subsidy are in the air again.
So, those long queues you see at gas stations recently is only because of the pointers to the fear that subsidy may be removed. And even without the removal, station owners have already removed the subsidy across the nation as petrol sells for N110 in parts of Lagos and even more, in other parts of the country. That is why we have chosen subsidy (an evil contrived by Nigerians) as the first runner-up for our Issue of The Year.