Minimum Wage, Maximum Headache

Editorial

For several years, government at the Federal and sometimes the state level have canvassed for the removal of subsidy on petroleum products and the response by those who understand its implications has been a deafening NO! Some experts have even said there is no subsidy at all.

Fuel price increases over the last ten years of democratic rule has met with protests but government has been able to break the back of the protesters, usually by bending back a little. So has it been that the prices of petroleum products have risen over 5,000 per cent in the last two decades.

This has usually had a domino effect on other goods and services and the cost of living has left many families merely trying to survive – not really living at all.

Early this week, President Goodluck Jonathan wrote to the National Assembly of his intention to remove fuel subsidy by January 2012. The president believes that a major component of the policy of fiscal consolidation is the administration’s intention to phase out the fuel subsidy to free up about N1.2 trillion in savings, part of which will be deployed to providing safety nets for poor segments of the society to ameliorate the effects of the subsidy removal.

Very few, if any Nigerian, would believe this sugar-coated explanation, after all such previous fuel price hikes have yielded nothing but runaway inflation and the creation of a new poverty-stricken class of Nigerians.

Just a few months ago, when the minimum wage was raised to N18,000, many were apprehensive of the outcome of that increase, though many state governments were reluctant to pay it, complaining that if they did, there would be little left to spend on infrastructure and other things.

Removing fuel subsidy at this time has shown the insensitivity of the government to the plight of the citizens. It has clearly shown that until Nigerians know their rights and what to expect of government, the people will always be taken for granted.

The Jonathan administration, by its plan to remove the subsidy, wants to test the will of Nigerians and we urge him to have a rethink. With the amount the country is wasting on misgovernance, with so much being stolen, with salaries, allowances and security votes of public officers and governors running into hundreds of millions of naira monthly, must the Federal Government put another yoke on the people? Must Nigerians pay for the profligacy of the rulers of this land?

Nigerians seem powerless, hence they are being punished by government policies which they have nothing to do with, policies which Nigerians themselves do not understand, policies which in many cases, summersault and we are usually back to square one, bruised and battered. If the subsidy is removed, Nigerians will be paying N180 per litre of petrol. Who can afford that?

We remember the Structural Adjustment Programme of the General Ibrahim Babangida government and the attendant devaluation of our national currency, a slide downward that is yet to stop, decades after. General Sani Abacha increased fuel prices and established the Petroleum Trust Fund to handle the excess fund, and we all know what happened to the PTF funds. We have, for some years, had an excess crude oil account yet we can’t point to any one thing on which that money was spent.

Even as the citizens remain powerless in the face of so much misery, the ruthless exploitation of the people by a government democratically elected continues and it seems those who make these unpopular policies have lost their conscience. They are insulated from the realities that the ordinary Nigerian goes through daily and they decide the fate of millions of people from their air-conditioned offices, feeling neither the sun nor rain.

Many of our policy makers have become heartless, often professing to have our best interest at heart while not really testing the waters to know the depth of such policies.

How many of our policymakers buy fuel? How many of them feel the pinch of the runaway inflation that’s been punishing Nigerians in the last few years? Since 1999, when democracy was ushered in our country, there has been no respite for Nigerians. One policy after the other has been delibrality formulated to further impoverish the common man.

We had though that a civilian government would have a human face. Since that is not the case, Nigerians must resist this latest plan to further impoverish them.