Six Years After Subsidy Protest, What Has Changed?

By Eric Elezuo

A lot of people described it as Nigeria’s own Arab Spring when in January 2012, the citizens rolled out the drums in a mother of all protests, claiming a restoration of the fuel subsidy which was earlier removed on January 1 of the same year.

The government of former President Goodluck Jonathan had on January 1, 2012, removed subsidy on importation of fuel products, pegging the price at N140 as against its original price of N95. The repeal of subsidies to oil companies has caused the price of fuel at the pump to more than double to $3.50 a gallon, supposedly placing a disproportionate burden on the underprivileged.

As Nigeria, the fifth largest supplier of crude oil to the United States, depends on oil exports for an estimated 80 percent of its revenue, any major curtailment of oil production would most likely have adverse consequences for its economy. Despite the oil wealth, most Nigerians typically experience an unreliable electrical power supply, with most people and businesses relying on gas-powered generators.

The decision drew the irk of Nigerians of all creed, ethnicity, calling and grade including those living abroad. The two labour groups; the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) had unequivocally come to terms with each other, calling out their members to what could be described as the worst total shut down of the Nigerian economy in recent times.

Consequently, massive protests, christened Occupy Nigeria, rocked the entire nation for days, with thousands of people demonstrating with shouts of enough is enough, adding that the administration has lost credibility.

With many indicting signs against the government of Jonathan, chiefly among them, ‘No Fuel Hikes in Nigeria’, participants in Abuja, Ojota Lagos, London, New York and many centres of the world derided Jonathan’s effrontery at increasing ‘the hope of the common man’.

President Goodluck Jonathan claimed in the wake of the protest that provocateurs hijacked the protests, which saw tens of thousands march in cities across the country. This was after a failed attempt to make labour unions see reasons for the increase

“It has become clear to government and all well-meaning Nigerians that other interests beyond the implementation of the deregulation policy have hijacked the protest.

“This has prevented an objective assessment and consideration of all the contending issues for which dialogue was initiated by government. These same interests seek to promote discord, anarchy, and insecurity to the detriment of public peace.” Jonathan was not far from the truth as all the interest groups today have remained comatose as the said subsidy have been removed, and oil price pegged at N145 amid scarcity.

Accusers of the then president had said the he was following World Bank and International Monetary Fund’s recommendations on allowing fuel subsidy to lapse.

The people’s frustration, which was an aftermath of the burden claimed, coupled with the pressure from the elites urging them to protest, could not allow an objective consideration of the reasons behind the fuel price hike, even as the then Minister of Petroleum, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, took time to enumerate.

The Minister said the discontinuation of fuel subsidy is because it poses a huge financial burden on the government, disproportionately benefits the wealthy, encourages inefficiency, corruption and diversion of scarce public resources away from investment in critical infrastructure.

She noted that the repeal of the fuel subsidies is expected to save the government an estimated $8 billion annually. But these reasons fell on deaf ears.

Even the government’s defence that it plans to reinvest the savings from the fuel subsidy cuts into infrastructure improvements met with distrust as few Nigerians have confidence that revenue saved will be used for that purpose, because of rampant corruption.

The impasse lasted a whopping 14 uninterrupted days and counting until the government was arm twisted into reversing the price to its original status, and further went downward to N85;  the price the present administration of Muhammadu Buhari inherited.

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Author: Eric Eric