By Bisi Lawrence
I n faraway Australia, a point of clarification arose among the highest officials of the Commonwealth at their recent meeting, about the situation of the highly controversial oil subsidy in Nigeria.
It is, of course, not unexpected that this was a topic that would have aroused no little interest accompanied by some concern in various parts of the world. It is a matter that involves no less than the production of some sizeable amount – in fact, the sixth largest of the entire world annual output – in the legitimate market.
At the bat out there for us in the land of the Aussies, was our own Deziani Alison-Madueke, who all but denied that there was any “situation” about the issue. Her reply was embarrassing in its distance from the truth, since she is the Minister of Petroleum Resources. She deposed that no date had been fixed for the removal of the so-called subsidy, though Nigerians had been assured that it was as much as a done deed, and that the exercise would be consummated in January, next year.
Now, why the mendacious stance? Years ago, it might have taken a matter of hours for such news to get to Nigeria from Australia, but these days it takes but moments. Did she not realize that the news would hit us here back home the moment the statement left her lips? It would appear that many people are loath to dwell on the matter since it leaves one rather uncomfortable, but we cannot simply turn away from it because of a salient aspect which needs to be noted and considered about the psyche of those who would impose this awful burden on the citizenry of this nation. It is the fact that Mrs. Madueke could not face up to the truth in front of world judgment.
Look around. The people are getting more and more impoverished every day. Prices of household commodities are crawling up. The economy is depressed. The naira is suffering from what may become a “yo-yo” devaluation. And this is the period they have chosen to grind the common man’s head down under the heel of a spurious deregulation. No wonder they cannot admit it boldly before the world.
If the Minister had come clean, she would have had to proffer some rationale for such a major change in policy. But the stock reasons offered over the years have already become threadbare, or clearly disproved. The old position was that our petroleum products were sold at such a low price in Nigeria, that smugglers found it profitable to sell them across our neighbouring countries.
That, without any doubt, disgraces our self-worth as a nation that should be able to protect the integrity of her borders.
It was even further asserted, to support the “sing-song” about her low prices, that Nigeria sold her oil products lower than several other countries. But that is not exactly so in many other oil-producing countries like Kuwait where the price of petrol is just over half of what it costs here, or Saudi or Bahrain where it is indeed less than half, or Venezuela where it is even less than one-eighth. But that is not all. In all the countries mentioned above, you can see the benign effects of petro-dollars. So many items of social amenities and urban development are subsidized.
Those who want to “kill” us know this all too well. That is why they cannot stand up before the world and declare that they have set a date for the slaughter of their own people. We have a battle on our hands. It is a battle for survival, in a war we dare not lose. But we shall fight with the truth.
help! caller-tunes on line
It was a joy when the cell phone came into being in our midst. The less one remembers about the way it used to be in the days of NITEL the better. It was so frustrating. One waited for the tone at which to dial for any amount of time. When it eventually came, the line might be engaged, or dead.
So how could one adequately express the joy that the cell phone brought us with almost instant connection – at least, at the beginning. Even now that we have the problems of “network” – which is too technical for me to explain more than that the line gets cluttered up and one cannot get connected quickly – there is little comparison with the irritation of and ineffectiveness of NITEL.
It is now not entirely a matter of joy, however. Apart from the technical hitches occasioned by over-subscription most of the time, combined with the headiness of excessive profits, the network is now cluttered with a bewildering assortment of interests dealing with personal announcements, commercial advertisements, customer information, spiritual exhortations, and plain mischief.
Someone like me who is obliged to publish his phone number for the sake of readers’ interaction, is on the line of fire twenty-four hours a day. Some “monsters” call you up at all times of the day and night, and ring off without uttering a word. They just call you for the heck of it. You get to a point where you refuse to answer a number you can’t identify and begin to feel you are doing well, until on a whim, you pick up the phone to answer what you think would be one of the frivolous calls, and you discover it is genuine from some important source you would not like to miss. And so the next time the phone rings, you are left twittering on the horns of a dilemma.
Then there is the menace of the “caller tunes”. A friend called me some months ago and wondered if I was going back to seed. My “caller tune”, he said, was simply the hottest of hip-hops.
I wondered what he was talking about. He explained and I thereafter called my number on another phone to check him out. Well, talk about mixed feelings! I was torn between anger and delirious laughter. It was all so licentious and ludicrous. But the laughter soon wore away when I later got a bill over the affair.
I was at first surprised because I thought I had not asked for the service. But, in fact, I had. I received a certain call at the beginning of which I was asked to “press 1”, which I did. And that was how I entrapped myself in the vice of the “caller tune” operations. It is true that these days, they actually specify that you would be included in the service by pressing the number, but you were formerly simply directed to do so, and got hooked in so doing. Now, how do I get unhooked?
The phone company doesn’t even acknowledge your calls when you try to complain. They just roll on deducting their fees from your subscription. The same is true with those numbers which begin with “547”. There are several of them. Among the ones I have received are:
Item: (547-1447999) “Can I be Ur friend?”
Item: (547-1074483) “I am beautiful, I kwn u will like me.”
Item: (547-1097597) “Be mine forever coz u r so hot…”
What does one do? I also have a list of the numbers of some people who call me as many times as twenty-two times in one day. Well, NITEL was never like this!
Back there when there was this hue and cry about registration of phone numbers, I felt the exercise would come handy for moments like this, in which such people who have constituted themselves into a nuisance on the phone could be traced and promptly checked. But here we are. The National Tele-communication Commission might be able to help, but I doubt it. At least, it would be enough even if I could be rescued from the visitation of those” caller tunes”.
single room for lease
The Lagos State Law for the regulation of the relationship between landlords and tenants aims for the ideal. It is in line with the doctrine of every progressive principle which openly seeks to protect the weak against the strong. The strong is naturally perceived to be in the wrong in any dispute since he is likely to be the aggressor and has the power to defend himself. That, one supposes, is ”justifiable prejudice”. Any law seeking to establish equity and justice is therefore tilted by design in favour of the weak. In other words, it is not unfair not to be fair to the strong.
That is the concept upon which this kind of law has been based in Lagos for eons of time. I remember growing up with one which was enforced by a body called the Rents Assessment Board – or something like that – some seventy years ago in the early forties. The succeeding ones were also couched in words that just fell short of investing all landlords with the character of Shylock in the Shakespearean play, “As You Like It.” The concept is flawed.
For one thing, not all tenants are as weak as they are all generalized to be, especially in Lagos. Quite a number of them are vicious and absolutely delinquent in the extreme. They know the law and are adepts at manipulating the points that favour them to be at the fore in any dispute. There are tenants who habitually delay the payment of their rents, trying the patience of the landlord until he is ready to go to court. There are some who wait out the period of notice and then stroll away with the rents, while the landlord is left high and dry with the lawyer’s bill for evicting them. There are others who lock up your property and give you the trouble of obtaining the permission of the court to actuate a forcible entry, only to find that they had removed all their personal effects.
The widest gulf between that law and equity is that the landlord is left without any protection at all, though he is a citizen entitled to be in the same standing before the law. The difficulty that landlords usually faced in obtaining rents after a few months of tenancy instructed them, years ago, to demand an advance payment of more than a year, in the first place. The idea being that one would have earned a sizeable amount of monetary returns for the capital expended on the construction of a property, before the usual wrangle for the rents began. The advance payment – sorry, payment in advance – should have been extended to, at least, two years.
But, no matter, the landlords will find a way out. They always have. After all, every one of those who wrote that law is doubtlessly a landlord. One of the beleaguered landlords has already pointed out to me that the advance rent limitation does not, in any case, apply to leasehold – although I can’t really, seriously, imagine the leasing of a “10-by-12” single room.