Tonye Princewill

January 13, 2012

Strike post-mortem: Another ring in our tree

By Tonye Princewill
DENDROCHRONOLOGY is a specialised–and little known–branch of science. Among other things, it measures the seasons or years a tree has experienced, using growth rings as indicators.

Give a tree trunk to a dendrochronologist, and he’ll tell you, not only the age of the plant but also a, great deal about the climatic and environmental conditions in which it developed.

Nations too, have growth indicators. Much like rings in the trunks of mahogany, iroko or walnut trees, conflagrations and crisis are measures of our national growth and maturation. It is important to keep this is mind, as we emerge from the crucible of the fuel subsidy crisis.

A crisis is a test of resolve, both for individuals and nations. But it can also be a source of strength. The day is sure to come, when we will draw inspiration, and use what we have learned, from  these tribulations, to help us cope with greater challenges.

The priority now though, is to hastily extricate ourselves from the debilitating fuel subsidy impasse. The compromise between labour and the Jonathan administration, which has wrought a modicum of social stability, is a good start.

A 44 kobo reduction in the pump price of petrol is not what anyone wanted. The government would obviously have preferred to keep the figure at N141 per litre, while most Nigerians—I among them—think it should have remained at N65, at least for the time being.

Politics though, is nothing if not compromise. Mature and reasonable players realise that it is a game of give and take, in which one rarely gets everything he wants, when he wants it. Nor do wise players persist in their original demands, under all conditions.

This point seems to have been lost on some well meaning members of the heroic people’s resistance. Protests and stay-at-home actions are continuing, quite unwisely, in Lagos, Kano and Akwa Ibom—although in Akwa Ibom, the focus has shifted from “fuel subsidy” to the “minimum wage”.

Likewise, the Joint Action Force is also continuing to insist on a return to the N65 pump price, as is the Labour and Civil Society Coalition.

Every struggle ebbs and flows. There are times to retreat or advance, act or react and reflect or regroup. Stability matters most now. We can fight another day, if need be—especially if deregulation is imposed, without safeguarding the interests of the ordinary Nigerians.

Ultimately though, the subsidy will have to go. That’s a given. In the mean time, Government deserves our support. The compromise ought to be honoured—even though I, like many others, have qualms.

Nor am I oblivious to certain proposed possibilities. One of them is that anti-subsidy negotiators “sold out”. These things do happen. But so far, no one has presented any credible evidence that any negotiator was “settled”. Until such time, labour and civil society should learn to work together.

Another suggestion is that N97 per litre is close to what the Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, had anyway–that the N141 pump price was simply “kite flying”. The Government’s stiff resistance, after its offer of N100, makes this argument appear plausible.

But the recent testimony of the Petroleum Resource Minister, Diezani Allison-Madueke, before the House of Representatives Ad Hoc Investigating Committee on The Fuel Subsidy, indicates otherwise.

Asked why the subsidy budget for 2012 was increased from N245 billion to N1.3 trillion, she explained that the former amount was for two months–thinking the subsidy would go. When it didn’t, Okonjo-Iweala approved the increase.

The best way out of the subsidy imbroglio, is for Government to win the confidence and support of the people. This entails measures which, ironically, a member of President Jonathan’s own Economic Management Team recently suggested.

Speaking to Channel TV, Atedo N.A. Peterside called for (in addition to removing all subsidies) a frontal assault on corruption and an end to duplication and waste in Government.

Instead of dissipating their energy in pointless, and possibly counterproductive protests, the opposition should now become a vigilant watchdog—to ensure, among other things, that the report of the Orasanye Committee, charged with streamlining Government, is fully implemented.

Much political energy is also needed to be directed towards ending some of the really weird anomalies at the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC). Apparently, no one actually how much oil is being imported into Nigeria.

When he appeared before the Ad Hoc Committee, for example, Julius Ndubuisi Nwaogu, a Deputy Comptroller at Customs, reportedly testified that his agency had “no access” to big tankers bringing in premium motor spirits (PMS), because they discharged on the high seas—before reaching our ports.

The challenges, therefore, are daunting. But we will endure; and through struggle and sacrifice, guided by reason and discipline, we will also prevail: Leaving behind a record of social growth and political evolution, much like the rings in Iroko, walnut and mahogany trees. Nigeria has just grown older.