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Fraud named fuel subsidy [Opinion]

By on October 8, 2011

If I were some people that manage Nigeria, there would be times I should admit I have lost ideas of what to do.
One of such times is a quagmire where the power and resources managers for the state and mostly for selves lack a quantum of clue of an alternative way to keep the wheel of the economy turning.

The first time I heard of what is called fuel subsidy was some 25 years ago when the regime of Ibrahim Babangida held the cudgel over the head of the nation’s economy and the people directly affected. At a point, we read in the papers as students that he wondered about the magic that still kept the nation’s economy on its feet.

Possibly by his terminology and understanding, a living economy is one propped up on forked rods in both armpits with palsied legs dangling lifelessly.
In the days of his brother gunman in power, the dark goggled goon, we heard for the first time a phrase – ‘cushioning the effect’. That was a direct reference to the effects he envisaged when he increased the price of fuel. That actually led him to setting up the PTF headed by Gen. Muhammadu Buhari. The idea was to ‘cushion the harsh effects’ of the increase. We agreed, after all, we never refused IBB’s drastic IMF loans that later serviced the homes of soldiers with new TVs, sardines and cars. At last the debt from the Breton Woods institution was passed on to us with the condition of devaluing naira by 95 per cent. Ask Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala during her first missionary journey, the necromancy and magic they conjured to get that shackle off our neck.

With some hospitals, roads, books in libraries, buses for higher institutions, Abacha’s PTF did some temporal and little ‘cushioning’.
When in 1999 we stepped back to what they called home-grown democracy, the old fraud slogan, albeit, dirge, called fuel subsidy resurfaced. It remained the shortest cut to economic blackmail on the citizens. At every turn, we were reminded that the reason we never had electricity was that there was subsidy in fuel price. Nigeria could not stop the incessant ASUU strikes those years or the agitation of the NLC because our fuel had what they called subsidy inside of it. The reason water stopped running from public taps, the roads have never been repaired, the hospitals have turned morgues, robbers snatch citizens’ lives, religious killings still prevail, kidnappers rampage the streets are all because of that substance called subsidy buried right inside our fuel price.

Every government that comes confronts this stubborn evil called fuel subsidy, just the same way they fight corruption and it still refuses to go. Common knowledge tells us that if there is that tree you never loved around your home, you cut it down and it is no longer there. But that is not the same as fuel price subsidy. Fuel subsidy is a form of trouble that brings back itself to provenance after it had been removed. That is why IBB, Abacha, Shonekan, Abdulsalami, Obasanjo, Yar’Adua tried in vain to banish this reversible evil. They remove it, and the bastard jumps back into the oil wells and tanks to trouble us forever. That is why Jonathan has to be confronted by the same inimitable force. Now watch the drama again, after Jonathan had removed it next year as he announced this week, before the year draws to a close you will hear the stubborn character has found its way into our filling station fuel pumps to cause the FG another headache. Pray, how do we solve this problem once and for all and have some rest. I guess it was the same thing Obasanjo kept removing with his men, even as a General, for about six times in his eight years of fuel subsidy tussle, and it kept coming back. But even if they had been removing it in fractions, I guess the thing called fuel subsidy must be longer than the distance between the stars in the galaxy. They keep cutting it shorter endlessly. May the good Lord help Jonathan to win this war and arrest the evasive subsidy, remove it finally and draft some of the soldiers sent for peacekeeping and Boko Haram assignment to guard the gate through which it comes back every time like an ogbanje child.

They say the baptismal name of fuel subsidy is petroleum tax. I would not know what the synonyms are, but I only know that many countries that have no fuel but depend on Nigeria buy their fuel at cheaper rate. In those places there is nothing called subsidy embedded in their fuel prices, but Nigeria that has oil keeps the endless battle against subsidy an open course.

I was still thinking why subsidy is endless in Nigeria when I remembered that it would be another name for a trick to keep the loot pool brimming with lucre. In the contraption called a federal nation, that has fused economy in the hands of a Big Brother who sits over the till and dispenses stipends to his minions, there is every need to sustain a deep and vast pool under the master distributor.

So, when someone tells you about removal of subsidy for the interest of the masses, my brother, shun the argument and never buy the dummy. In other economies, there are means of re-invigorating the economy, and they include taxing the rich more or embarking on massive housing schemes. In Nigeria, the opposite is the case. Never believe any deceiver who tells you that removal of subsidy or simply put, increase in the price of fuel, which is the bottomline, benefits the poor. The slogan is when the government wants to increase fuel price, they latch onto the old trick and start invoking the spirits of subsidy. Think of that organization – banks, telecoms firms, oil and gas, media, insurance, public sector, armed forces etc where the directors buy fuel or don’t fill their tanks and the machines that generate power in their homes from the pool of the organization. So, at last, do they buy fuel? At last who buys fuel that is to be taxed more, if not the poor. They blackmail you that the increase will make more money available for the development of infrastructure. White lie. Since we started hearing the same old gist, can you remember any facelift to any aspect of the social life of Nigeria? Is it in education, agriculture, healthcare, telecoms, power, roads, aviation that you have seen the excess as we are meant to understand ploughed into to make life easier for the masses?

Years ago, the man from South East Nigeria provided everything, just name them, for himself. No government was involved. Today, it has gone round the entire South Nigeria. Here in Lagos where I live, especially where the sojourners live and in the new towns that came on about 20 years, the residents fix their roads, provide power, water, security, drainages, etc. no government is known there. With the new deceit Jonathan has embarked upon, the trend will worsen, that is the only change we expect because when fuel price increases, the schools your children attend will spend more on diesel that runs their power generators and on petrol that powers their school buses. So, poor parents will suffer more because Jonathan, I bet, though you know, can never revive the public schools. With more money for your president, NASS members, governors, LG bosses, they get richer at your expense. The cause of the over-dependence on oil and the price regime is the fault of the leadership that is lazy to create alternatives and wicked not to assist private investors with the incentives to make them sustain those employment opportunities they create. Imagine a nation that talks of removal of oil subsidy without a word on having refineries. Venezuela has a population of about 14m people and with 16 functional refineries. But Nigeria has none with 150m people, and nobody talks about it.
The most potent fraud in Nigeria government is simply called fuel subsidy. It never ends because the Oliver Twist lords will ever need more money to feather their nests.

Nigerian rulers have tasted the benefits of unitary government and can never accept a true federal state, because they know that will reduce over-dependence on oil and kill the fraud called endless fuel subsidy lies.

Ikenna Emewu

One Comment

  1. Baba

    October 8, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    We need refineries. What is the timetable on getting new refineries?