The Subsidy Debate: Matters Arising —Yemisi Shyllon



The weeklong protest by Nigerians over the removal of the so-called subsidy on fuel consumption may have receded into the past. But the issues the protests raised must remain on the front burner of public discourse, so that our struggles shall not be in vain.

Among the issues is the ‘legalised stealing’ going on both at the National Assembly and the Executive, at the detriment of the Nigerian treasury and the people. The surprise is that despite public outcry, the leadership of the National Assembly has not deemed it fit to beam its attention, with the same eagerness as it is doing to the oil sector, on this gross abuse and violation of the constitution being perpetrated yearly. Last year, N150 billion was budgeted for the fewer than 500 members. This year, it is business as usual. Another N150 billion has been provisioned; in a season the political leaders are asking the Nigerian people to carry the burden of the N1.7 trillion so-called fuel subsidy. The attitude of the legislators, to say the least, is very spiteful of our constitution and very spiteful of “we the people of Nigeria”.

The constitution provides for the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission, RMAFC, to fix the salary of public servants. RMAFC has come out to disclaim the obscene allowances legislators and government officials are paying to themselves. In my view, our nation cannot make progress if we do not tackle the parasitic and predatory effect these unconstitutional perks are having on our economy. The whole system is warped against the long-term development of our country. Nigeria’s economy and infrastructure as a country is designed to fail in the long run with the continuous budget of about 75 per cent of our revenue to feed the fat cats, most especially in the executive and legislative arms of government. Meanwhile, the remaining 25 per cent, meant for infrastructural development, is constantly made to underperform as the money is wasted feeding the predatory appetite and greed of corrupt civil servants and contractors. This explains why our federal roads, schools, universities, water works, hospitals etc are not maintained or developed. It explains why new ones are not being built or modernised or expanded to accommodate the current and expected expansion of our population.

One can only suspect that both the executive and legislative arms of government are in collaboration over this plundering of the treasury. Otherwise, it remains difficult to explain why the President completely ignored this area of waste and thought that the best way to save costs was only by removing fuel subsidy.

It also remains a puzzle why President Jonathan didn’t – as would have been expected – find out why the fuel subsidy quadrupled between 2010 and 2011. Was he afraid of investigating his sponsors, knowing very well that the probe would uncover the monumental fraud in the fuel subsidy management system and free funds for the development of our social and physical infrastructure?

Instead, he chose the easiest path: getting out of managing fuel importation.

But, alas, he didn’t fully consider the need to grow Nigeria in the medium term, by stopping the importation of refined oil and making us a net exporter in the medium term, by refining petrol here in Nigeria and in the process drive and grow our economy, boost employment and our foreign reserve with the usual emergence of a large number of derivative industries of refining crude oil.

No, he didn’t draw out any plan that can show that his government has done some well thoughtout plans and strategies for making Nigeria a net exporter of refined petroleum and its about 2000 derivative products, thereby giving us hope to look up to, while waiting and bearing the pain of deregulation.

No, he chose to fool us like other past governments had done in promising us – belatedly after announcing his ill-advised fuel subsidy removal – that he will buy only 1,600 buses, which have only just arrived but waiting for the wasteful ceremony of launching them, while people are trekking.

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Meanwhile the buses are obviously inadequate for our need, with a population of 160 million translating to 100,000 people per bus or some 200,000 people in each local government area per bus.

President Jonathan is promising Nigerians many things based on a projected savings of about N450 billion. But everyone can scent the pitfall in this projection: it has not taken into consideration the increases in expenditure that would arise from the newly imposed price increase of fuel in running his bloated government machinery and insatiable taste.

It is sad to witness the ostentatious lifestyle of government officials in this country in the midst of deterioration in the living standard of Nigerians and Nigerian infrastructure.

It is sad to see Nigerians losing hope in their country and preferring to leave our shores to live with the derogative insults arising from being black in foreign countries.

It is sad to see this country that is blessed with so much talents and resources to give the black race a beacon of hope and pride, careering down the road of decadence.

It is sad to see our people being parochially concerned about how much they could pilfer from the system for themselves and family members than being oriented for societal common good. It is sad. It is just very sad!


•Shyllon is a lawyer, businessman and director of TheNEWS magazine.

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