Wednesday, January 11, 2012

On January 1st, 2012, the Nigerian government revoked a fuel subsidy Nigerians had benefited from for decades. Many citizens consider the subsidy the only benefit of being a Nigerian. Nevertheless, the Goodluck Jonathan administration believed that removal of the subsidy will foster fiscal stability during these troublesome economic times. As can be expected, citizens disagree and have made their opinion known in the way of protest.

I must confess that though painful in effect, I understand the logic behind the subsidy removal. Most governments around the world have been forced to do away with social programs that benefit the less fortunate majority. This is because tough economic times have meant a reduction of money to spend on important programs. Nigeria is therefore, not the only country where subsidy removal has become a necessity In 2010, for instance, the United Kingdom suffered debilitating riots when subsidies on education were removed for university students.

Nigerians in Lagos queue to buy petrol - 8 January 2012

But unlike the United Kingdom, Nigeria has additional options to put its proverbial financial house in order before taking away one of the only social programs that its people actually benefit from. The government could have cut cost by letting go of the many appointees and personal assistants that got jobs with the current administration. Even more significant would have been a cut in the salaries and other allowances of high ranking officials. Nigeria's 'Honorable' and 'Distinguished' legislators have received pay hikes anywhere between over 100 percent and 800 percent (depending on who you ask) in recent years, making them undeserving millionaires.

Add to this the fact that Nigeria would save trillions to address basic necessities if it truly tackled corruption, something it has failed to do over the years. And in fact, the corruption by the political elite is so obvious, it is an insult to the average person who sees no future for their children or themselves. Nigeria is now a country where the educational system is in shambles, adequate healthcare for even the wealthy is questionable (talk less of for the poor), and unemployment remains at a terrifying high. With all that being the reality for Nigerias, the price of petrol has now doubled, and even tripled in some parts of the country as a result of the poorly implemented fuel subsidy revocation. 

It is possible that the failure to address these problematic issues - education, health, unemployment, security e.t.c. - forced the country's finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, to push through the fuel subsidy removal. After all, she comes from the World Bank, and in her view, a subsidy removal is more practical than waiting for legislators to lower their salary, something they have never done. Plus, any alternative measures that would save money would also require tedious bureaucratic procedure, which in Nigeria is never an expedient option. Okonjo-Iweala has now become one of the targets of the people's ire despite her pleas on BBC, where she argued that in order for Nigeria to address its overwhelmingly bad indicators (such as maternal death), the subsidy removal was an absolute necessity.

No matter what happens, Goodluck Jonathan will be the biggest loser at the end of the day. Although he managed to get 59 percent of the votes in the April 2011 presidential election, his popularity amongst many of his core supporters - southerners - is dwindling. This is as a result of the growing insecurity wrought by the Islamic fundamentalist group, Boko Haram. That, increasing economic struggles, and Jonathan's disappointing reaction to them, has shown him to be weak and uncaring. A fatal combination in Nigerian politics. And as citizens take to the streets in the #occupyNigeria protests against the fuel subsidy removal, the anger and hatred towards the president and the political elite mounts. Unfortunately for Jonathan, if he backs down to protests by reinstating some measure of a fuel subsidy, the perception of his political weakness will only grow. And if he chooses to stand his ground, the hatred against him and his peers will only harden.

With all the troubles Nigeria faces, I am thankful that the current political meltdown is occurring under a southern Christian president. If the current president was a northern Muslim, the Boko Haram attacks against Christians and the failure of the government to improve security would create the impression that a northern leader sanctioned the behavior of insurgents because they are his 'brethren'. That would compound the country's problems. This sliver of a silver lining, if one can consider it such, does not change the fact that the insecurity caused by Boko Haram and the discontent of the #occupyNigeria protesters has created what just may be the Nigerian revolution I called for several years ago.

Whatever the case may be, Nigerians are taking their lives into their own hands and not waiting for anyone for a remedy. I only hope that momentum will not be lost and that the people will fight for the improvement of the collective and not the few. It is time for the police and armed forces to put down their weapons and allow the people to exercise their democratic right. No more bloodshed need be spilled, but change must indeed come to Nigeria.

From The Archives:
- I Think Nigeria Needs A Revolution
- Putting A Nigerian Revolution in Context
- The Nigerian Psyche
- Persistent Psychological Paralysis
- The Significance of Persistent Psychological Paralysis

- 23MN of Nigeria's Youth Are Unemployable

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