Uche Briggs: #OccupyNigeria was never about the character of GEJ

My brother, Ayokunle Odekunle, touched on the need for fuel subsidy removal and for our many differences, I agree on the underpinning thinking of his article: the issue of fuel subsidy is too important to be left to feed the wanton desires of a PDP-APC rivalry.

We are equally thrust in the melee and we must ask ourselves the serious questions about the practicability of an already stretched government continually, albeit unwittingly, funding the gangrenous offshoot of corruption called fuel subsidy.

In hindsight, one would need to commend the past president for his bravery in the face of a damaging fiscal burden. The administration strenuously argued that the Nigerian economy would cripple under the weight of the fuel subsidy but our headiness and impatience drove us to obstinacy, completely discounting superior logic.

And so we marched, armed with half-truths to postpone our day of reckoning. Occupy Nigeria was the illegitimate child of the threesome of politics, ignorance and frustration at past governments’ profligacy. It was never about the character of GEJ, let’s be honest. I think that perhaps the only failing of the last government on this issue is in embarking on a revolutionary change on a sector as sensitive and tediously complex as the PMS sector without a firm understanding of the social effect.

Today, although we are yet to experience a full deregulation, fuel subsidy has been yanked off and our dissenting voices have suddenly taken flight, our posturing changing, and the prevailing narrative favoring the policy of the government of the day. Clearly the reason for this change in demeanor goes way beyond trust in Buhari’s anti-corruption stance as many will argue.

After several months of enduring one of Nigeria’s worst fuel shortages in recent months, the new price policy comes as much needed respite from untold hardships and the promise of even more. The logic Nigerians are wielding here is that uncertainty is a much worse malaise than steep payments. I couldn’t agree more.

Here are the facts: the government’s insistence on fixing fuel prices at N86.50 is a farce as about 86% of Nigerians already purchase fuel at an average of N176. Thus this new price regime is a natural progression of existing market realities. The FG does NOT have the capacity to control such a market and it shouldn’t try. It needs to allow the laws of economics take its course.

This is why one can’t quite comprehend the Nigerian Labour Congress’ (NLC) to begin fomenting trouble in the face of perhaps the only reasonable option for government. History has shown that the NLC doesn’t have the moral right to negotiate on behalf of the Nigerian people. In 2012, the NLC agreed with the FG to end the #OccupyNigeria protests following demands and negotiations.

Nothing suggests that due diligence in holding the government accountable to those promises. The result is a sub optimal SURE-P program which did little to address long standing issues. The NLC will do well to note that ignorance of the critical issues will always impair sound advocacy. We are not occupying anywhere. Go home. Or better still, go to work.

No one makes light of the far reaching implications of this new pricing policy for the standard of living in Nigeria. It will be difficult, the change will be most unpleasant in the first couple of months but you don’t dress a cancer like a fresh wound, you uproot it. If we are serious about sustainable development in Nigeria, fuel subsidy needs to remain gone. The more we keep pussyfooting around, the deeper into the rot we will get.

The nagging worry of this new price regime is twofold: Firstly, it is a price regime. What really does work is a full deregulation which allows marketers determine their prices and allow market dynamics take its course. Other industries function this way and PMS should not be immune to the universal law of economics.

In the beverage industry, when Nestle’s value driven ideology is placed against Promasidor’s volume based strategy, the consumers win. One can only hope that the FG stays true to her word and embarks on the much needed complete deregulation down the line.

Secondly, the communication for a change of this magnitude is very reactive. One would assume that Buhari, Kachikwu and the leadership of the petroleum sector didn’t adopt this model overnight without rigorous analysis of available options.

To embark on this with such laissez faire attitude towards communication is quite ridiculous to behold. The FG will do well not to scuttle a potentially great move for the country by something as fundamentally pivotal like communication.

The Nigerian people have reposed a lot of faith on the Buhari led government at a time when the government has not done much to earn it. Now the government needs to justify this faith and ensure that the uprising which is being currently kept at bay is never revisited. It would be tragic to ever have to revert to fuel subsidy and/or an Occupy Nigeria movement.

President Buhari, your move.

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Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

Uche Briggs is a brands and communications manager working in the FMCG space in Nigeria. He tweets from @UcheBriggs

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