Like in war, the first casualty in national discourse anywhere is the truth. Despite the perchance to murder truth, truth is constant as the Northern Star. This massacring of the truth is not because people are dishonest fundamentally.
It is a bye product of several factors which include lack of objectivity, jaundiced view of issue(s), ideological factor, and sometimes, outright preference for falsehood. I however think that we should always employ the tools of consistency, coherence and logic as a means of filtering the truth and promoting the fecundity of national discourse and nowhere are these more useful than the issue of removal of fuel subsidy by the Federal Government of Nigeria.
At the barricade against the removal of fuel subsidy, you will find apostles of privatization, deregulations, resource control, capitalism, socialism, labour leaders, oil barons, religious leaders, radicals, Islamists, thieves, political renegades of all colourations, intellectuals, the hoi polloi and people of all tribes, boko haram and their victims inclusive.
To me, this is the Rainbow Struggle, if you may go further, perchance the Movement is able to topple the government of Nigeria; it would probably be called the Rainbow Revolution.
This motley crowd is strange; they are strange bed fellows. The only unifying factor is the issue of removal of fuel subsidy, and few other issues. What fundamental issue does a pro-subsidy removal and apostles of capitalism, privatization and deregulation like El Rufai, Pat Utomi, Fola Adeola, and the likes, have against the Frankenstein of their ideology? Like the Biblical saying, is Saul too among the prophets?
Civl society leaders
At the barricade too are rumours of oil barons fueling the struggle with cash and identifying with the “people of Nigeria”. Well, it is not strange that civil society leaders and labour unions are leading this struggle; what is strange is Edwin Madunagu, Femi Falana, Ropo Ewenla, Segun Sango et cetera calling Fola Adeola, Femi Otedola, Pat Utomi, El Rufai and Dino Melaye comrades?
I must state from the outsets that the issue of fuel subsidy is ultimately tied to the issue of which ideology Nigeria should operate. Do we want a market driven economy or a capitalist or socialist state regulated economy?
The erudite half truth by Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi about the ideological neutrality of removal of fuel subsidy is therefore unnecessary. These gentlemen and respected government officials in a nutshell have told Nigerians that the Nigerian rent seeking state capitalist regulated economy has failed.
However, their language has been to colour all State regulated businesses as potential failures. This was the language of El Rufai, and I must state too of Pat Utomi, Fola Adeola and the others.
A brief economic history of Nigeria is relevant here. Since 1960, Nigeria has operated a capitalist regulated state economy. The government had invested as a developing economy in virtually all aspects of the economy. With the emergence of free oil dollars, the governments at all level took on additional responsibilities by taking over privately run educational institutions, nationalizing several private businesses and collapsing the federal structure put in place by the founding fathers of Nigeria.
This self same government nationalized all lands and resources in Nigeria with the enactment of the Land Use Act and Petroleum Act with the pure motives of vesting all mineral resources in the Federal Government and all lands in the governors of the various States of the Federation of Nigeria.
As a capitalist regulated economy, which is a contradiction in itself, the acts of the government has fuelled corruption, inefficiency and created another capitalist class outside with their own intellectuals who have now designed a means of saving their class from itself by preaching the gospel of a leaner government and pure market driven economy.
That is the gospel according to Okonjo-Iweala, Lamido Sanusi Lamido, El-Rufai, Pat Utomi, Gamaliel Onosode and the likes. This class in its own is further divided into several classes; military apologists, democrats, technocrats et cetera.
At the other end of the divide are the leaders of popular organizations in Nigeria. This class is sometimes referred to as the radical group and has been at the forefront of either progressive or reactionary mass uprisings in Nigeria.
In this group, we have people like Femi Falana, Edwin Madunagu, labour leaders, students, socialists, and several people who are anti the regulatory capitalist government of Nigeria.
This group is further divided into people who are pro-free market economy and conditionally pro- subsidy like Pat Utomi, Ben Murray Bruce, El Rufai et cetera and people who favour a socialist State regulatory government in Nigeria. The issue that is however uniting these groups for now is the issue of fuel subsidy removal.
The arguments of the Okonjo-Iwealas on several issues bothering Nigeria have not been consistent. Is it not strange that a government which is preaching privatization and deregulation to ensure a market driven economy is against resource control?
If the government must go further, it is ideological logical, coherent and necessary for it to give back all stolen land and resources to land owning families and communities, allow State police, practice true federalism and follow through on its policies.
The problem with the government, state government inclusive, is that it wants to run with the dogs and the hares. It is not possible. For many Nigerians to support President Goodluck Jonathan on the removal of subsidy, and his policies of privatization and deregulation and buy his arguments of not subsidizing consumptions, this government must be logical, coherent and consistent on issues that are necessary corollaries of a private sector driven economy, including resource control.
Is it not strange that a market driven economy would also vest land ownership and mineral resources in the Government? Why the lie about the effective date of removal of subsidy and failure of the government to build consensus before removing fuel subsidy? Why not make the 2011 General Election an ideological battle instead of the simplistic “Goodluck to you, Goodluck to everybody” Campaign?
It is more problematic dealing with the Edwin Madunagu, Femi Falana, El Rufai et cetera group. Like I stated earlier, it is a motley crowd; devoid of a majority ideological direction other than the phantom of removal of fuel subsidy.
Some in this group wants the government to subsidize consumption (fuel subsidy) and productions (job creating industries) and social-economic amenities like housing, while others only want transparency in the subsidy regime.
Some go further to talk about the government controlling the “commanding heights” of the Nigerian economy. For the sake of simplicity and space, it is convenient to divide this group into two ideological groups. We have the pro-privatization group which includes El-Rufai and Pat Utomi with their aim of transparent market driven economy and the Femi Falana led “progressives” who are either socialists or socialist sympathizers.
The El Rufai and Pat Utomi Group have limited reform agenda while the demands of the Edwin Madunagu/Femi Falana are radically systemic in nature. The former group wants a more efficient government, support privatization and a market driven economy but hate the inconsistency and self destroying policies of the Okonjo-Iweala group.
The latter group is much more radicalized. They want a progressive Nigeria which is more or less a euphemism for socialist Nigeria.
In essence, the commanding height of the economy should be controlled by the government. There will be a socialist state regulated economy. Although, this group is in the vanguard of supporting State police, true federalism, democracy and resource control, I seriously doubt whether these would be consistent with the idea of a centrally planned economy.
It is however a moot point. While the latter group has been noted to have been at the fore front of fighting against all injustice in Nigeria, its capacity to follow through on its agenda is suspect due to its fragmented ideology, leadership and followership.
The resolution of the dispute on fuel subsidy therefore should not be resolved on the simplistic note of reversal or otherwise. The most fundamental question is the ideological route that Nigeria must follow. Is it a free market economy, capitalist regulated economy, socialist regulated economy or what else?
It is not enough to have the capacity to call a mass protest or garner votes from every part of the country. The aforementioned issue which will make national discourse to be logical, coherence and consistent would help Nigeria in fashioning a lasting solutions to its problems. I must agree that President Goodluck Jonathan has messed up a whole lot of issues dear to Nigerians, fuel subsidy and resource control inclusive.
This failing is due majorly to his failure to articulate the underlying philosophy of his economic policy to the mass of the people who voted for him and his incompetence.
Although this writer supports the removal of fuel subsidy, privatization of state enterprises and other issues tied to a free market economy, I cannot find myself articulating any view for the deceptive Jonathan Administration neither do I want to be part of the unthinking motley crowd who refused to listen to reason and voted Jonathan without reading his manifestoes.
This is not a question of neutrality. I am not ideologically neutral. I am involved and I want all Nigerians to choose a logical, coherent and consistent ideological future for themselves and their beloved country. The battle is of the mind.
*Mr Olaniran Obele is a Lagos based legal practitioner.