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A Protest Against Poverty

GOVERNMENT must have planned for the backlash of the hike in the price of petrol. However, its responses so far show a low appreciation of the economic status of Nigerians, the few exceptions being those who live off inexhaustible government largesse at the expense of others.

When the subsidy is removed is more important to Nigerians than why it must be removed. No economic decision or any other decision should ignore its impact on the people. The decision on petrol was made as if it was a marginal commodity with substitutes. Those who cannot afford kerosene, for instance, are using firewood (devastating the forests and environment). What are the substitutes for petrol?

Protests all over the country are against poverty. The new price of petrol gives a platform for the protest. Millions of Nigerians are managing to survive, in a situation easily blamed on the global economic crisis, but conveniently ignores the fact that poverty thrived in Nigeria when the global economy boomed.

The uniqueness of Nigerian poverty rests on disjointed policies. Government takes measures with no care about consequences. Without a vibrant public transport system, the new petrol price throws economic decisions into confusion. The people are protesting that confusion.

With a minimum wage of N18, 000 (about $109) monthly, a Nigerian who spends all his salary on petrol will purchase about 124 litres of petrol. If he lives where it sells at N200 per litre, he can buy only 90 litres. Yet N18, 000 (N600 daily) is not enough for the Nigerian to generate his electricity needs, assuming that is all his monthly salary does. Maybe electricity is a luxury the poor should shun hence government refuses to provide it.

Things are worse since millions of Nigerians are unemployed and there is no social security system. Those earning the minimum wage (civil servants) represent less than one per cent of the population. Government officials – shielded from the pangs of poverty – can defend the price of petrol; it will not affect them.

Unlike hundreds of thousands of Nigerian families stranded across the country after the holidays, unable to pay exorbitant fares, for government, the new price is an ordinary decision that Nigerians will forget in months. Such indifference mirrors the gap between government and the people.

Government economists are effusive about the gains of the new price without admitting that government is making no savings. It is merely cutting down its deficit and does not have the discipline to save.

Nigerians are too poor to bear additional burdens. They are protesting their poverty with uncertain gains of the policy. Government will understand the protest if it appreciates the poverty in the land.


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