By Jide Ajani
There is a need to subsidise the statements coming from government with sincerity. And that is based on facts available–that this government lacks honesty and sincerity. At a time like this, President Goodluck Jonathan must be asking himself why he has become the butt of criticism and ridicule on account of the mess his administration’s handling of the subsidy regime has become.
Perhaps, reflecting on Mr. President’s own statements, it may not be out of place to blame him for all of these.
President Jonathan started his bad run of turning the subsidy debate on its head when he told an international audience (at the Nigeria Economic Summit Group, NESG) that his main opponent at the April 2011 presidential elections, former head of state, Muhammadu Buhari, is one of the public figures who appear to be on the same page with him on the matter of subsidy removal. That statement was not correct in all material particular.
It took less than 24hours for Buhari to hit the media with a denial, expressing dismay at the spin President Jonathan gave to his understanding of the debate on subsidy. That was to be the first in a long line of either half truths, deliberate falsehood or misplaced spin.
The federal government made Nigerians to believe that the subsidy on Premium Motor Spirit, PMS, would not be removed until sometime in April, the beginning of the second quarter of the year – for had government officials, one of whom was the Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, not categorically dismissed rumours of a possible January date, claiming that government was still consulting, the angst against the sudden removal of the subsidy may not have come with such ferocity. Another deception!
Yet, once it was removed on January 1, 2012, and Nigerians began to complain, a hasty government told Nigerians that it would not go back on the decision to stop paying the subsidy. But when the government was almost brought down to its knees, Jonathan beat a retreat to N97 per litre.
That, too, came with a tincture of insincerity because after a late night meeting with representatives of labour on the impending danger of the street protests being hijacked by hoodlums, and labour agreeing to suspend street protests but continue with the strike, the President simply went on air to announce the reduction, conveying the deliberately false impression that labour agreed to the N97 price at the meeting.
That same inconsistency and lack of authenticity has continued to dog the debate and, as the revelations coming from the House of Representatives show, there are yet many more.
Most disturbing now are the figures coming from the probe of the subsidy regime. From the 35million litres a day that Nigerians doubtfully accepted, a new figure of 57million litres per day has come up.
Worse now, a deputy governor in the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, last week told the obviously shocked Lawan Farouk Committee members that contrary to the N1.4trillion government claims it had spent on subsidy for last year, the real figures stood at N1.736trillion – meanwhile, this was an engagement the government budgeted N250billion for but went on to spend an extra-budgetary in hundreds of billions.
Oando’s Wale Tinubu made a clarification that the money being paid to them is what they’ve already spent on behalf of the FG, using shareholders’ funds and loans from within and outside the shores of Nigeria. Capital oil’s Ifeanyi Ubah, who appeared to be at the receiving end of some scammers’ smear campaign on an alleged financial impropriety, painstakingly explained how indigenous players in the downstream sector needed a lot of support from government. He made it clear that there was nothing illegitimate or illegal in what his company was doing. (See details in report on House Probe)
But where does all these that leave Nigerians on the issue of how the proceeds from subsidy would be spent? They should keep their fingers crossed and pray that the Nigerian government is imbued with subsidy to inspire sincerity which is, for now, in very short supply.