by Asiwaju Dayo Israel
Friends, over the last few days, I have been bombarded with series of phone calls, text messages and Blackberry messages from friends, admirers and fans across the world. The concerns have been the same; “what is your opinion on the fuel subsidy issue?” and “why have you been silent?”
A more disturbing message came from a young lady I have so much respect for, who asked: “Are you one of those whom GEJ (Goodluck Ebele Jonathan) paid to keep quiet about fuel subsidy?”
Out of concern that my silence can be mis-interpreted, I decided to make a short statement coming at a very timely moment – seeing that the President just addressed the nations on some of my main concern.
First, I am a bit surprised that people are unclear about my position on this issue after the very significant role I played in the 11-11-11 youth hunger strike at the Unity Fountain in Abuja alongside Martin Obono, Wale Salami, Wale Ajani, Wale Rotimi and many others – a day we ended up being harassed by State Security Service agents with dogs and guns out of the Unity Fountain. A very daring but peaceful action that received global attention and was reported by the MSNBC, CNN, BBC Africa, amongst others.
The truth is my position remains unchanged, albeit my strategy however is different.
This is my position. I respect President Goodluck Jonathan as a person especially being a student of Leadership who regularly learns and interact with leaders, I know that Leaders are subject to various decisions that they are not able to fully explain to the electorate and are caught between hell and the deep blue sea. A full read of Segun Adeniyi’s “Politics, Power and Death” would give you an idea of what happens behind the corridor of power, especially in moments like this.
However, I am not in support of the removal of fuel subsidy without a few prior steps by the Government which was what President Jonathan just did in his broadcast a few days ago, although it appears as medicine after death which I believe would make people doubt him more.
I believe although the removal of subsidy is a necessary step, yet it must not come before the following:
1. A major cut by all arms of Government from Federal to Local not just in overhead which might also have impact on job security but even in the areas of miscellaneous. Talking about cutting cost, the cuts must go beyond basic salaries into allowances. Mr President should learn from the UK’s austerity cut system but ensure the cut doesn’t eat into the necessary developmental initiatives, an error of the Cameron government.
2. I remain of the opinion that beyond cutting cost, Government at all level must tackle corruption before subsidy is removed. As a matter of fact, I remember when Mallam Lamido Sanusi identified corruption in the private sector; he didn’t close down all banks and tell Nigerians to stop banking. Rather he published the names of the cabals milking the banks, went after them with full presidential support, sacked the bank MD’s and today the sector is more transparent and efficient. Peradventure Sanusi should be appointed to clean up the NNPC/Subsidy mess with full support from Mr President.
3. Furthermore, for subsidy to be removed, I believe the Government must immediately begin the campaign for the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill and if the effort put into subsidy removal is put into the Passage of the PIB, we would produce better result.
4. Government must also focus on getting our refineries back on ground. That way, the removal of subsidy would not even need any campaign or advocacy. Yes investors won’t want to set up private refineries pending, yet government can start with investing the cuts from the various arms of government into repairing our refineries. The government can get the refineries back on trap, stabilise the economy and afterwards privatise the functioning refineries if need be.
These are some of my candid opinions even as I open myself to learn more about the intricate details of the whole issue.
In conclusion, I must add that the introduction of about 1600 buses in my opinion would do little to ameliorate the effect of subsidy removal. For a start, the burden goes beyond transportation. Even at that, 1600 buses equal about 2 per local government, and considering the population of my local government, we would need more than 10 buses – the Lagos BRT scheme is a witness to this. As I write I am running on generator, of which I went to the gas station myself having to pay 130% increase at least in the price we would usually have had to pay.
Lest I forget, as an environmentalist, I am one of those who believe that subsidy of fossil fuel must be removed and the saving channelled into the production of bio-fuel to protect the earth. However, the debate for subsidy removal in Nigeria is not about the environment but about Survivability vs. Sustainability. And as I earlier said, even if such would be done, my listed point above should be put in place.
Government must be clear on the basis of subsidy removal, is it to clean the corruption in the sector (then I advise the Sanusi style) or is it to generate funds (then they must tell the electorate what happened to the Abacha, Tafa Balogun and other recovered Loot, and how they have been channelled). As a matter of fact, if it’s about generating funds for infrastructure, then it’s important that government also show the books that reflect the fact that our revenues from oil and foreign aids cannot put those things in place.
As an endnote, I would say that my silence is not of cowardice but as a ‘young change agent’ who is privileged to have the ears of many of our leaders.
Long Live the Federal Republic of Nigeria!
Young Nigerian Change Agent
Former Deputy Senate President of the Nigerian Children’s Parliament
Coordinator, Nigerian Youth in Diaspora Organisation