Adjusting To The Pains Of Subsidy Removal By Chima Christian
The unsettling level of wilful blindness, enlightened ignorance and concerned indifference that daily trek Nigerian streets baffle me to date. People live their lives in partial (if not total) self-inflicted obliviousness of government’s dealings. I can tell you, though not with empirical preciseness, that the few things an overwhelming majority of Nigerians know about the 2016 budget is that it got “missing” and was later found “padded”. After that, nothing more! The misinformation and controversies that surrounded the budget were awfully sufficient to sustain both the mainstream and downstream political discussions in the land. Every Dick, Tom and Harry was adjudicating on the issue, often making uninformed comments, drawing shallow comparisons and constructing superfluous arguments that mattered only but a little.
These lightweight political discourses came into play again in this age long “subsidy wahala”. Nigeria’s current appropriation law is “deemed to have come into force on the 1st day of January, 2016” and it has no budgetary allocation whatsoever for “fuel subsidy”. This should aptly answer people who still ask, “has subsidy been removed?” A closer scrutiny will even reveal when such removal was effected but a whole lot are still in the dark as regards this policy direction of the government.
Well, the situation is understandable; Buhari’s administration has continued to masterfully deploy its favourite but ignoble information management and dissemination strategy of obfuscating and speaking from both sides of the mouth. But, a society is not as informed as her government’s information management strategy. She is only as informed as the media she allows herself to operate. The same media that was not too long ago buzzing with all manner of “budget” headlines but did not bother to emphasize that there were no provisions for petrol subsidy in it, has swiftly latched on to the subsidy removal frenzy, broke the “breaking news” and ensured that she made the highest possible returns from the situation. Until the media stops sacrificing national conscience on the altar of narrow self-interest, this nation will continue to be greatly disadvantaged.
Even the fire-spitting cacophony of labour unions that were seemingly unconscious on this subject when the government prepared, presented, deliberated upon and passed a working document that has no room for subsidy in it, suddenly woke up at dusk to fight a policy that has since become a law. The efforts of these comrades should not be denigrated and the scope of what they can achieve limited, but suggestions are rife that proactive-ism is a lot better than reactive-ism. Waiting for the head to be severed before initiating a fire brigade protocol always achieves less than the desired result. It will serve better if organised (not disorganised) labour unions have policy interactions with government at the early stage of policy development, employing every tool necessary to assert their positions right from policy formulation down to its implementation. A word should be enough.
Is it not somewhat ridiculous that the same people and group that told us that subsidy removal is socially insensitive, mobilised the masses to vehemently oppose it and eventually blocked it in 2012 have suddenly adopted it as the only way forward? All manner of obfuscations are currently being employed to differentiate then from now. Well, thanks to the incriminating level of wilful blindness in the land, a robust pool of people are available to enthusiastically consume these dumb justifications. The reality is that the change of political equation had a whole lot to do with the sudden change of heart, but we must move on. Nigeria should not be occupied simply because it was occupied in 2012, but humility should be demanded from the now ruling class for their stiff opposition to this policy just for the mere political expediency of it. It is now sufficiently clear in whose interest all those “in the best interest of the masses” movements were made.
Add a society that has repeatedly failed to wean itself from the breast milk of bias, parochial sentiments and an insatiable desire to be lied to, to a masquerading “selfless” political class that is willing and able to exploit the situation to their advantage, you will come to fully appreciate the situation in Nigeria today.
Nigerians blame everybody but themselves. Living in denial has always being the preferred lifestyle here, but people have to, at one point, start taking responsibility for their actions. Had “the masses” taken time to study the issue extensively, made accurate inquiries about it, deeply reflected upon it and had a clear judgement of it, the situation would have been different today. Aisha Yesufu is right, there is a serious herd mentality in this country, but the earlier we do away with this dysfunctional thinking that one must sheepishly follow his brother, leader, party man or any other affiliate whether he is right or wrong, the better for us. Until our society evolves into weighing issues based on merit and making informed decision at all times, the political class will remain relatively the same. Let the truth be told, an unchanged political class cannot change our situation.
Now that subsidy has been removed, the next object of focus is palliatives. To that effect, the Federal Government has budgeted to spend half a trillion Naira to cushion the effects. Laudable, however a reasonable care must be taken in order not to enter into the same problem we just wriggled out ourselves from. I personally do not consider this almajiri thinking of getting hand-outs from the government to be sustainable, but if the government wants to go into any form of intervention, let it be a time bound intervention. We do not want to find ourselves, thirty years from now, arguing over the removal of poverty subsidy.
The only palliative measure I consider sustainable is the immediate initiation of sound economic and monetary policies that will get us out of this impending recession. Once, we get these policies right, we will not only lift select most vulnerable Nigerians out of poverty, we will gradually lift the whole populace out of the crushing weight of poverty. In addition to that, accountability, transparency and fairness must be rooted in all levels of governance. We do not want to make these painful sacrifices only to learn three, seven or fifteen years from now that some group of people dasukied our resources or stashed it in faraway Panama or even in fantastically incorrupt countries.
How I wish that the mere wish for our political class to change is enough to achieve it. Experience is now painfully teaching us that simply replacing one with another is grossly inadequate. The cost of leaving policy interactions and interjections at the mercy of a few is unbearable, we must collectively ensure that we broaden the scope of enlightened civil discourse in the land. For things to change, we must have to change.
Chima is a civil rights activist, public policy analyst and a good governance advocate. He writes in from Nnewi, Anambra State. He can be contacted through email@example.com or on Twitter via @ChimaCChristian