Sunday, January 8, 2012

Fuel Subsidy Removal; Why we must not remain silent(Part 2)

Before the end of the last year, while the government was proposing to introduce the new measures, arguments had sprung forth for and against the controversial fuel subsidy. I followed many of the debates and listened attentively to both sides. It suddenly occurred to me then, why the government would be desperate to remove the fuel subsidy as soon as possible. The dictionary definition of subsidy says it is money paid by government to reduce the cost of producing goods so that their prices can be kept low. In the case of Nigeria, the commodity being subsidized is petrol while the money is being paid to oil marketers that import fuel in large quantities. The true definition of subsidy throws up the reality that fuel subsidy is not exactly the problem. The basic problem is the situation and system created by the feudal powers at the centre that makes it inevitable for government to subsidize fuel. Fuel subsidy is not the real problem and a times, it could be seen as a diversion from the main issues. What, therefore are the main issues?
Nigeria is one of the ten largest producers of oil, with large crude oil reserves and millions of barrels produced daily, yet petroleum products are not freely available and affordable. This is because the refineries in the country are not functioning and marketers have to import fuel from other countries, including non-oil producing countries like cote-divoire and Liberia. Therefore, when oil price goes up in the international market, Nigeria makes a lot of money exporting crude oil to other countries, but spends far more in importing refined fuel from these countries. The system makes fuel price vulnerable to market forces and the whims and caprices of greedy oil marketers, many of whom are aligned with government officials. The oil cartel that imports the bulk of Nigeria’s petroleum products is made up of capitalists. Like other businessmen, their sole aim is to make profit. Sometimes, they hoard fuel if there are prospects that oil price will increase so that they will be able to make more profits. In a normal society, government regulates the activities of the capitalists and keep their excesses in check. But in Nigeria, government simply pays them to keep the price in check and that is why we had not seen an astronomical jump in the price of fuel in the past. Nigeria is a true case of the oil paradox, whereby the citizens have not benefitted from the natural resources extracted on their land. Rather, they have suffered neglect, pollution, fuel price hike, poor electricity, and the obvious looting of their resources by their so-called leaders. How did things get to this? How did Nigeria become such a big mess to itself and the rest of the world?
A nation is a group of people bounded together by a common ideology. Therefore, a nation should not be described by the geographical boundaries of its land or the artificial state created to govern it. Rather, the nation should be defined by its peoples and their common, shared values. What this means is that Nigeria as a nation is not the geographical milieu around the river Niger, nor the mess of a government that oversees it. Rather, Nigeria is the people that populate this land and their identities; the igbos, the yorubas, the hausas, the fulanis, the ijaws, the itsekiris etc. I can categorically say that the Nigerian state was not formed from the collective ideology and aspirations of these people but from the forceful amalgamation of their lands and resources so as to serve the interests of the colonial masters then and our feudal aristocrats later. Nigeria therefore is not a nation. The unity we have is a fake unity and the nigerian state was doomed to fail from the onset. Yet, history has given us opportunity several times to look into this problem and address it, yet we have refused to act. Now, another opportunity has presented itself for us to address these fundamental issues.
A true federal nation is based on the fusion of component units, whereby different entities or ethnic groups come together to form a united government, giving out of their powers to this so-called central government. But in Nigeria, the situation is different. You first have the country and the powerful centre, then you start breaking it into artificial components. Check out all the states Nigeria, they are all artificial creations, and that is why the ethnic and religious tensions in places like Kaduna and Jos will continue. Our leaders in the past have had opportunities to conduct referendums, convene a sovereign national conference and review the faulty federal structure we have been operating. They have refused because of the personal greed and selfishness. My people, they will not be moved to act if we continue to keep quiet. They are benefitting from the status-quo. This is an opportunity for the downtrodden masses to rise up against this system and overthrow it. Let's call for a referendum now.