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No, Mr President, you don’t feel the pain – 1

By Dele Sobowale

“Let me seize this opportunity to assure all Nigerians that I feel the pains that you all feel”. President Goodluck Jonathan’s address to the nation after subsidy removal. Permit me, Mr President of Nigeria, on behalf of my constituency, the “Area Boys of Nigeria”, to wish you a pleasant 2012 – if you deserve it.

I must hasten to add that if what happened on January 2, 2012 is an indication of the prospects for 2012, you might have “murdered sleep” for yourself and the rest of us in more ways than you realize. Let me mention a few.

Like most Nigerians, I tuned to the television when it was announced that you were about to deliver an address to the nation. To be quite candid, I never expected much and you did not disappoint me personally. You delivered exactly the sort of address I told my co-watchers, in advance, that you would deliver. It might be of interest to you that, out of the fifteen in the Club House, watching, I was the only one who did not vote for you.

The others, despite my spirited efforts to the contrary, filed out on Election Day and “voted for Jonathan not PDP”. We drank to your success all the same; although I left them with a prediction: “by April next year, you will be sorry for your votes”. By the time you started your address, three were still expecting family members stranded in their home towns on account of unexpected fare increase.

Thus, when you reached that part of your speech, where you declared that you “feel the pain that you all feel” one shoe flew towards the television set. Fortunately, it was a “Dunlop”, but everybody clapped. Everybody, that is, except me. I felt sorry for you Mr President. I felt for you because you have again missed the boat at a defining moment in your tenure. Let me quickly explain myself.

But, first, rest assured, that despite not voting for you, I still passionately want you to succeed. Your failure will constitute a calamity to our dear country in more ways than we can all imagine.

While conducting the research for the VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, I must have read virtually all the greatest speeches by leaders from time Before Christ, BC, Cicero etc, to Churcill to President John Kennedy’s inaugural address and Reverend (Dr) Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I HAVE A DREAM” to Mandela. Almost invariably, when the speaker personalizes the address, and he seeks to gain trust, then he cannot afford to make a false statement because that demolishes all he seeks to achieve.

When you, Mr President, campaigned on the theme of “a shoeless” kid, you struck a sympathetic cord in all poor people nationwide. But, when you just presented a budget requesting for almost N1 billion for free food, you can no longer claim to “feel the pain you all feel” and expect those who must buy their own food to believe you.

Certainly, you must sound callous to those whose family members were/are stranded on account of fuel price increase. Your family now will never again be stranded – even if fuel retails for N2000 per litre. So, how do you feel our pains? How can you expect to command trust with such a blatant untruth?

Your speechwriters did you a disservice; and you should have thrown the address into the dustbin…

FUEL SUBSIDY REMOVAL: MEAT-PIE WITHOUT MEAT – 3
“You can’t prove deeds with words”. Aleksander Solzhenitsyn.

This piece is starting on Wednesday, January 11, 2012, as the national strike enters its third day and tempers are getting nastier. Readers of this page would recollect the series “BEFORE WE OCCUPY” started in October 2011 in response to an article by Segun Adeniyi, in THISDAY of October 20, titled “WHERE SHALL WE OCCUPY?”

In that article, Segun appeared to assume that when the time came, Nigerians would be bereft of ideas about where to occupy or the will to do so. As I pointed out to him, anger will show the way and there is no angrier person than one who has been humiliated. On January 2, 2012, our government humiliated millions of Nigerians. That was not a good way to start off what they thought was going to be a happy new year.

In plain language, the government had started the year on the wrong footing. The most urgent question now is: how do we get out of the quagmire into which they have led us?

The Finance Minister berated Nigerians for being cynical about government at the NPAN Town Hall meeting. That is mostly true. But, the Okonjo-Iweala, like most actors on stage, failed to observe why government is not receiving applause for what she considered great effort and an unassailable SURE Programme. Two measures, announced by government would be sufficient for now to educate our “world class” economist about how government, including the one she serves, promotes cynicism.

First, the President, after raising a fire-storm on Monday, January 2, 2012, attempted to douse it by announcing the launching of 1,600 buses to be distributed to the states and Local Governments. That would work out to two buses per Local government and the FCT.

It requires no PhD from MIT to realize that two buses per LGC do not address the issue – apart from amounting to peeing in the ocean to increase the water level. The problem is fare which had gone up by more than 100%. Even if the 1,600 buses are strictly forbidden to charge more than current fares (an impossibility), very few Nigerians will benefit? Continuing on transportation, the President ordered for work to be speeded up on two railway lines – Portharcourt/Maiduguri and Kano/Lagos.

The limitations of these are so obvious, one is really being polite by labeling the proposal daft. The basic problem of most Nigerians is getting to work daily; not traveling. The cost impact of 100+% increase in fares will be mostly felt by intra-city commuters not long distance travelers. Yet, the President calls that empty promise “robust”.

Second, the President announced a 25% reduction in his own salary as well as those of appointed officials knowing full well that he is not empowered by the constitution to determine salaries – including his own. So the announcement is of no practical effect. And as such, why then did Jonathan make the announcement – which is as cynical as anything we have heard in a long time?

Finally, is it not remarkable that the President has ignored all calls to tackle corruption which costs the nation ten times as much as “fuel subsidy”? Curbing corruption in NPA alone will save about half of the “subsidy” he has removed. If he needs help, he should consult us at Unijankara.

About 7million barrels are stolen from Nigeria each day. That is N5.2 trillion per annum. Read “Deleleaks”. N5,000 per copy.

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