Fuel subsidy: How to kill a columnist

This article was first published in this column on January 6, 2012. With a new government in the saddle, we have continued to make the same poor choices, especially in our oil and gas sector. If over half of our foreign exchange earnings are spent importing petroleum products and we can’t earn such quantum of forex anymore, it is commonsensical to expedite action towards eliminating such economic carnage. How can a man haemorrhaging profusely and non-stop expect to stay alive?

This government told us many months ago it would co-locate small, new refineries around the old tired ones. These are projects that require lightning-speed; what Nigerians want to hear most now is that these refineries would be ready in six to 10 months’ time. That petrol imports would be cut by half on so and so date.

These are the kind of responses we want from this government. Not whether it feels our pain. In any case, we want government to ameliorate our pains not empathise with us. Doing the right things, pursuing the right visions will give us great comfort. We do not think that government is making the right moves not to talk of getting the required results…

That is why today, we are writing the same things we wrote two governments ago; we are shedding the same tears we shed last year. Below is a sample:

It is so very simple to kill a columnist without as much as lifting a finger: just bedevil him with dishonest and greedy leaders and watch him write himself to his merry end. Depending on your turn of mind, you can actually choose your manner and method of dispatching your miserable muse. If you want to put down the irritant quick and sure, blight him with a mob of tricksters, gamblers and knaves; let them parade the land dressed in the garb of leadership, let them occupy all the seats of authority in the land and watch the writer go down and out as if zapped with laser rays.

On the other hand, if you are possessed of a sinister turn of mind you could choose to stalk him slowly, roil him; make him write the same things over and over again until he grows completely grey in the head (and anywhere else). In no time, he is sure to grow grey in the mind too and surely, turn the bend. The trick is to dissemble or play ‘craze’ if you like. Become anti-rational; repudiate and basics, head for Sokoto when your destination is Okrika; unleash whirlwinds when people are looking out for a breath of fresh air. To illustrate my point, I had used the exact title as above once before about eight years ago during the reign of king Olusegun Obasanjo. As an editor and columnist, I was caught in the bind of commenting upon the same things over and over. I was foolishly thwacking my head against the obdurate walls of an irreclaimable potentate. Looking back after his eight years of disastrous rule, I found that I had written more than 300 articles which I have recently collected into a manuscript titled, “A Drum for the Deaf.”

Talking about fresh breath and whirlwind, which columnist can survive writing about the prospect of a gust of new breeze only last June only to be confronted with a maelstrom six months down the line? How could a columnist keep his head if he has been beating it against one huge wall of illogic for 27 years? Consider this trend: in 1985 when our refineries had started failing while our petroleum products consumption was rising, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, the maximum ruler at the time, went for the easy way out, he started the fuel importation binge. When our income could not sustain our import any longer, he introduced something he termed “appropriate pricing” for petrol, “deregulation” and all that. He did not think of a plan to expand our refining capacity or develop our rich petrochemical potentials. He just increased pump prices outrageously. Nigerians protested and a slight adjustment was made and that ended it all.

It was the same with Ernest Shonekan after Babangida, the same with Sani Abacha, Abdulsalami Abubakar and Obasanjo and now President Goodluck Jonathan. Over a period of three decades, our leaders mastered the wicked art of ripping off the country through massive importation of petroleum products. We have always known that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) is a horrific house of corruption that knows not how to do anything else, yet we just live with it. How could a class of people that has embarked on a fraudulent importing binge for three decades and that neglected to develop a sector that remains its milk cow turn around to insist that a dubious, self-imposed subsidy must be removed? And come to think of it, who asked for this so-called subsidy. This thing called subsidy is only the result of corruption, inefficiency and lack of vision coming home to roost. If we had local refineries running (no matter the ownership) would we not simply pay the price emanating from such refineries?

How could a man who told us he had no shoes; who knows a thing or two about privation and penury now have the capacity of inflicting poverty on a populace without flinching. Now that he has shoes, the very best of shoes money can buy, has he learnt that shoes are not mere adornments of the feet but instrument of intimidation and oppression? How could a bedraggled citizenry, most of who live by the day, survive under a regime of wild and sudden increase in petrol price? The so-called subsidy (by default) happens to be the only benefit the citizenry could claim to enjoy. He doesn’t have roads, no water, no kerosene, no power, no food, lacks quality education or health care… nothing.

This columnist has grown grey making this same point. This point has been made to President Jonathan by nearly all well-meaning Nigerians high and low. This point is very simple for even a kindergarten pupil to understand. But six successive heads of state of Nigeria failed to see this basic point. However, it is only Jonathan who has chosen to ride the tiger; to swim the swift currents of the people’s anger. What is the hurry, under which appropriation law is he acting when the one under which he proposed to cut fuel subsidy is still in the National Assembly to be effective in April? Why are already ‘subsidised’ products being sold at deregulated rates? Again, people ask, why this time that the country seems besieged and the citizenry are on tenterhooks, disappointed and forlorn.

Meanwhile, yours truly is sick of making the same argument for 27 years. I sincerely hope that this is the last time.

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