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A tale of three presidents and subsidy removal

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Fuel subsidy

By Dele Sobowale

NOTE: A different article was planned for today. On Sunday, August 31, 2020, despite still being physically challenged, I travelled to Abuja to discuss two national issues – NDDC and Igbo presidency in 2023. 

 

That was supposed to be this week’s topic. But fuel subsidy removal trumped it.

 

“Integrity is a 100 per cent thing; it is not even a 99 per cent thing” – American University President.

 

Nigerian history tends to repeat itself with equal tedium. A minor disagreement between northerners and Yoruba people in Ajegunle, leading to loss of a few lives prompted President Obasanjo, in 2001, to issue a “shoot at sight order against Area Boys in Ajegunle” to the police.

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 It is the sort of tough “law and order” position beloved by satraps. OBJ brazenly turned every policeman in Ajegunle into an accuser, prosecutor, judge and executor of any Yoruba person within shooting distance. The same sort of legalised murder of fellow Nigerians is going on in the South-East today under another former military ruler and few Igbo are raising a voice. It was in response to Obasanjo’s order that I wrote the article ‘I AM THE PRESIDENT OF AREA BOYS; COME AND SHOOT ME.’ That was how the title was born. But, having spent about ten years working in the North and knowing a few Yoruba returnees to Ajegunle, we proceeded to take a few steps to ensure that Yoruba lives were not wasted anyhow. As a matter of fact, no single Yoruba was killed by the police until peace was restored.

 

It is no news to those who have been reading this column, on Sundays, since 1994, that I am from the Campos Area of Lagos Island – the original home of Area Boys – of whom I am very proud. We operate in association with our own UniJankara where the faculty is paid nothing but still works all the time on selected social, political and, especially, economic national issues. We are research based and we never allow any political party or individual to permanently capture us and use us for their propaganda. Because we frequently work with econometric models, most of the work consists in attempts to predict the broad directions of the economy in particular.

 

 In this regard, the greatest focus of our attention is always the Federal Government which controls far too much of our economy than it can or should. Now, the Buhari administration has finally realised that it can no longer pay the bills of the monster we call Federal Government. Our track record should speak for itself. But, I have learnt from my years in the product/services marketing sectors that “facts don’t speak for themselves.” One thing is certain. Nigeria is in this mess because our greatest deficit was never financial but “leadership integrity deficit”. Examples follow.

 

“Something lingering with boiling oil in it, I fancy” –  Sir W.S. Gilbert, 1836 -1911.

 

This article should actually have been referring to FOUR Presidents. But, with Yar’Adua dead, I shrink from accusing the dead. Readers can however reach their own conclusions about Yar’Adua after this article.

 

Interestingly, I am not even the accuser of our three living Presidents – Obasanjo, Jonathan and Buhari. I am merely drawing the attention of fellow Nigerians to some activities connected with presidential allocation of oil export as well as the vast amounts Nigeria loses. “When an old man dies you lose a library”. That was somebody’s observation.

 

Our three living Presidents were indicted by the present Senior Special Adviser to the Vice President Professor Yemi Osinbajo. Mr Laolu Akande was then the North America Bureau Chief of the GUARDIAN. On Sunday, 23 October 2005, almost 15 years ago, he filed this story in connection with how Nigerian oil was openly stolen, which was faithfully reproduced in my book – where else?

 

“This is in consideration of the information circulating around the international finance community on how figures of oil sales by favoured and influential Nigerians have become simply irreconcilable.

 

“As knowledgeable sources explained to the GUARDIAN, what normally happens is that the President himself is the one who allocates such crude oil lifting to favoured Nigerians and foreigners after the quota of the oil companies operating in the country has been met…

 

“It is at this point that the President himself grants crude oil allocations to favoured and influential Nigerians including top government officials, some spiritual leaders and foreigners”: PDP: CORRUPTION INCORPORATED.

 

In that book  published in 2011, and which, ironically, is serving to expose an All Progressives Congress, APC, government as well as its PDP predecessors, several facts were revealed and predictions made regarding our trust in Presidents to manage our oil resources honestly instead of deregulating every sector. More crude oil money has been stolen and is still being stolen now than the total debt we owe – local and external – through blind trust in Presidents.

 

Among the facts we got from Laolu Akande’s writings for GUARDIAN in 2005 was the fact that Obasanjo was offering Nigerian crude at $6 to $8 per barrel discount from market price – which already gave the favoured individuals a great deal of profit. Thus, a foreigner granted 500,000 barrels in one month in 2005 made as much money as all the people of Jigawa State. And, if he grabbed two loads, he collected more money from Nigerian oil than 18 Nigerian states.

 

 The same is true today – 2020. The crude accounts of favoured friends were easy to get fouled up because they invariably have accomplices in all the relevant accounts departments and all disputes are resolved in their favour and not Nigeria’s. The first thing a Nigerian President does is to gain control of the oil exports!!! Never mind the pretences to the contrary.  It was, therefore, not an accident that two Presidents kept the Ministry of Petroleum under their office. Jonathan, who seemingly relinquished it, nevertheless gave it to somebody he could “trust”.

 

REFINERIES MADE IN HELL BROUGH TO NIGERIA

“O! What a tangled web we weave/When first we practice to deceive” – Sir Walter Scott, 1771-1812, VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, p 35

 

If there was one element which anyone has successfully employed to deceive 200 million Nigerians, they must be those four refineries which were established with the sort of good intentions paving the way to hell. As far as Nigeria and refineries are concerned now, we are in some sort of hell which contributes to the woes we feel regarding the impending doom which will soon descend upon us as a nation. THE NEXT LEVEL IS HELL.

 

Lincoln might be correct when he said that “you can’t fool all the people all the time”; but, you can fool enough of them to get elected for an undeserved second term. By the time they know what they have done to themselves, it is too late to go back.

 

Four refineries were established: Port Harcourt I – 1965 (Tafawa Balewa govt); Expanded 1971 (Gowon govt); Warri – 1979 (Obasanjo govt); Kaduna – 1980 (Shagari govt); Port Harcourt II – 1989 (Babangida govt). The combined capacity of all the refineries was/is 445,000 barrels a day or just about enough petrol output to supply half of the needs of Lagos today– if they all operate at full capacity. But, as far back as 2011, this was the observation: “Despite the geometric rise in fuel prices, the nation’s refineries failed to operate at more than 40 per cent at any point in time during Obasanjo’s eight years in office….” (PDP: CORRUPTION INCORPORATED, p 283).

 

The governmental frauds associated with the refineries are so numerous, they would require two books to document. But, let me point out one in which all our Presidents have inadvertently or deliberately been co-conspirators – TAM. TAM is the acronym for Turn Around Maintenance – after which a refinery is supposed to be able to produce fuel. 

 

That is what happens all over the world – except Nigeria. From Obasanjo in May 1999 till today under Buhari, probably more money had been allocated for TAM than would be needed to repay half of our debt and reduce the exchange rate – for the benefit of all Nigerians. Yet, from Obasanjo to Buhari, nobody had been arrested and prosecuted for misappropriating TAM funds!!!

 

Nigerians might not know it, the refineries will never work and produce fuel. 

 

To be continued…..

 

Question: Should we continue to maintain obsolete, inefficient and uncompetitive refineries? The youngest of them is 31 years old; the first, expanded is clocking between 55 – 49 years. These are museum pieces and not refineries and the Presidents keep them for political patronage – which is not in the common interest – not to produce fuel. Nigerians have just started to feel the lash.

 

‘SUBSIDY: Past govts couldn’t take action – PRESIDENCY’ – VANGUARD, Monday, September 7, 2020, pg 1.

It might be true that “fools rush in where angels fear to tread” (Alexander Pope, 1688-1744), but fools and saints will not jump if death is imminent by staying put. Buhari is approaching the halfway point of his sixth year in office. Anybody reading the self-congratulatory declaration would have ranked it with Daniel in the Lions’ Den for courage; when it was the desperate move of political cowards. In 2012, the political opposition was saying there was no subsidy to be removed!!!

 

Now, their ignorance chastened by reality, they know they have no other option.

 

Fuel subsidy removal was top of the national agenda as early as the Obasanjo administration. The late senior brother Tunji Oseni, then OBJ’s spokesman, had travelled specifically to seek my support for the policy change. My answer was short and polite: “Egbon, you have my support, not because you came, but because it is the right thing to do.”  OBJ tried deregulation and immediate price increase and Oshiomhole led the Labour out on strike. Government panicked and chickened out. And that has been the pattern until today. Nigerians – eagerly led by the organised labour groups – had terrorised governments into abandoning one of the few ideas which will free us from official corruption. Our three leaders have been just as willing to raise the white flag of surrender and pander to our puerile wishes. After all, they will soon go home. Somebody else can come and tackle the big problem.

 

As the comic cartoon character has observed, “There is no problem so large you can’t run away from it.” OBJ and GEJ partly ran away from subsidy removal. What follows is a summary of one of the tragedies which befell Nigeria on account of attempts made to remove subsidy.

 

FUEL SUBSIDY REMOVAL: MEATPIE WITHOUT MEAT –2

“Every government is run by liars and nothing they say should be believed” – I.F. Stone, US journalist, 1929

On Sunday, January 1, 2012, the first part of this series of articles ended as follows: “SUBSIDY IS GONE. Hardship begins!!!!” The next day Nigerians woke up to discover that, while they slept, the government they elected in April 2011 had stabbed them in the back.

 

To be continued…..

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