By Rasheed Ojikutu
I was not born rich,and, in my youth, I never imagined I would be where I am today ….In my early days in school, I had no shoes, no school bags… My dear good people of Nigeria…I want all of you to know that I am one of you and I will never let you down.
I want you to know that I will keep hope alive…”
With these emotion laden words, President Goodluck Jonathan declared his intention to run for the presidency on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party on 18 September, 2010. By April 2011, Nigerians from all walks of life queued at the polling stations to give him the mandate that he so desperately needed. The rest is history.
Placed on the plinth of his own words as shown above, one would want to ask, “ Is Mr President keeping hope alive?”. Certainly NO. Is he letting Nigerians down? He will, if he follows the economic blueprint of his Finance Minister to remove subsidy on petroleum products and increase tariff on a number of essential items of daily consumption which will further worsen the already precarious existence of the people.
The Minister for Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, is, no doubt, an economist of no mean achievement and her position at the World Bank is a testimony to her expertise in finance.
However, Jonathan should tarry a bit before taking her economic arithmetic hook, line and sinker because textbook economies most times come with idealism rather than realism. This is moreso that Okonjo-Iweala, who had lived outside the shores of Nigeria for so many years, may not be in tune with the actual situation on ground, hence, she could innocently burn the finger of the Jonathan’s administration through policy somersault..
The plan to raise the tariff on electricity and hike fuel price may tally with the principles of Adam Smith, Karl Marx or Milton Friedman. The model of economy being introduced by Okonjo-Iweala may not differ markedly from the theories propounded by Martín de Azpilcueta of the School of Salamanca . But what is the empirical evidence that these principles would translate into the much desired benefits , when replicated here?
There could be no other inauspicious time than now to introduce such demeaning policies that would further pauperize the poor.
Fuel price increase in Nigeria dates back to the military era. The price of petrol was increased from 15 kobo per litre in 1978 to 60 kobo in 1990, 70 kobo in 1992, N3.25 kobo in 1993, N11.00 in the same year and, by 1998, it was N20. The price went from N22.00 in 2002 to N26.00 in 2003. Today, the pump price of petrol is N65.00 per litre. The prices of kerosene and diesel are also out of the reach of the common man.
Yet, infrastructural facilities are dysfunctional.
The problem was certainly not caused by Jonathan but for a man who made promises to keep hope alive, the heart palpates at the insensitivity of his Finance Minister to the plight of Nigerians. Okonjo-Iweala should know that “we have passed through this road before” and that her reasons for wanting to increase the pump price of gas is not new.
The same story justified the price and tariff adjustments of yesteryears but the fact is that after every such price increase, there is no compensating effect on public facilities and livelihood of Nigerians.
Today, Nigerians pay the Power Holding Company of Nigeria to generate their own electricity because there is hardly a home, no matter how poor, where there is no generator.
They pay more for kerosene to light their lanterns and stoves to cook.
Most Nigerians today send their children to private schools because of the deplorable conditions of government owned schools.
Nigerians today either die or travel abroad for treatment because of the poor conditions of our hospitals.
Today, most Nigerians either purchase their water from water vendor, or get them from other improvised sources. There is hardly a home in Nigeria today where there is no well or bore hole. This is because most public taps are dry. Roads have become death traps.
The people provide security for themselves rather than rely on the myriads of official security forces.
No wonder the life expectancy of Nigerians is just 46 years.
Now, with a Finance Minister who professes to know it all while advocating additional heavy burden on the common Nigerian, there is no way the president will not let Nigerians down. And there is certainly no way the door of opportunities that lifted him from a shoeless school boy to the first citizen of Nigeria would be open to the children of the poor.
*Ojikutu is a
Chartered statistician and senior lecturer in the Department of Actuarial Science and Insurance,
University of Lagos.