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Fuel Subsidy: Chasing rat and leaving snake

By Luke Onyekakeyah
30 March 2021   |   3:55 am
The looming crisis on account of the alleged N120 billion monthly fuel subsidy, amid a frightening atmosphere of insecurity in the country is avoidable.

Cars queue to buy petrol at the NNPC Mega petrol station in Abuja, Nigeria. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

The looming crisis on account of the alleged N120 billion monthly fuel subsidy, amid a frightening atmosphere of insecurity in the country is avoidable. It is like chasing rat when one is being threatened by a snake. There is total collapse and breakdown of security in the country as banditry, kidnapping and daily bloodletting have taken the centre stage. These should occupy the full attention of President Muhamadu Buhari and his government rather than chasing the corruption-ridden and notorious fuel subsidy that can only aggravate the tension. That Nigerians are angry and frustrated with the awful state of affairs in the country is not in doubt. President Buhari should avoid inciting the people by refusing to bear the “bogus subsidy” and hiking petrol price at this critical time.

Imagine someone woken up in the middle of the night by a disturbing noise from a snake chasing a rat in his room. Rather than drawing a cutlass and going for the head of the snake, he instead, decides to chase the rat, probably, because it’s the one he could easily confront. But in the process of chasing the rat, he makes himself a target, as the snake now pursues both him and the rat. Common sense demands that the man should first deal with the snake and later find other ways of catching the rat. There are many ways of killing a rat, they say. One could sleep with a rat in the room but certainly not with a snake. Leaving a snake in the room to pursue a rat is senseless.

I am making this analogy because President Buhari, who is buffeted from all angles by social, economic and security storms, appears not to appreciate the gravity of the onslaught. Among the things giving Nigerians sleepless nights, insecurity is the most; the issue of fuel subsidy, though an important, could hardly be the top most that should bother Buhari, not to talk of pursuing it with unrestrained vigor.

Like the analogy of the snake and rat, one could have a sound sleep with a rat in the room. The rat has always been part and parcel of the house. It is possible for one to decide to eradicate the rats in his house, but that is not something that should cause sleepless nights. Eradicating rats from the house is something that should be pursued gradually with ease.

But the same cannot be said of a snake. The snake is scary; it’s an enemy that should never be spared at any point in time. The snake arouses a sense of fear and apprehension and that is why no time is wasted in dealing with it once it is noticed. As children, we used to pray for rats to come into our house because we could trap them and they become meat. But we never prayed for snakes to come into our house. We dreaded seeing snakes even when it is killed.

The numerous issues confronting Nigeria demand a high sense of calculation to handle, otherwise, things could get off-hand far beyond imagination. If I were Buhari, what I would do is to list out the issues confronting my administration. A rough list would include high rate of unemployment leading to youth restiveness, epileptic power supply grounding industrial production, frightening insecurity of lives and properties, armed robbery, banditry, kidnapping, Boko Haram, ethnic militias gearing up for showdown, collapsed infrastructure, mass poverty, high rate of inflation, abrasive corruption, rampant carnage on our roads, etc.

It is glaring that there is no mention of fuel subsidy, at least from the point of view of ordinary Nigerians. Some highly placed and credible Nigerians have even argued that there is no subsidy to start with. If fuel subsidy is a problem, it is not known to most Nigerians. It is the powers that be and their cronies that know the nitty-gritty of fuel subsidy and who are benefitting from it. The ordinary Nigerians have always lived with arbitrary fuel increases by government since 1978, when the price of petrol was increased from 3 kobo to 85 kobo/liter.

Ever since then, government has steadily increased the pump price of petrol arbitrarily to the present N165/litre. At every point in these rapacious increases, the same reasons were given, including removal of subsidy to raise money for infrastructure and yet there is no improved infrastructure to reckon with. The few infrastructure built years ago have depreciated. Today, the country cannot boast of any single good road; not to talk of the collapsed railway. How would Nigerians believe the same old story this time around?

Again, if fuel subsidy is a problem, it is not as critical and urgent as one of the other problems listed above. Like the rat, I think the president could still have a sound sleep with fuel subsidy and not with Boko Haram/bandits. The fuel subsidy issue could be sorted out gradually after diligent consultations with stakeholders. Or, the removal could be graduated over a certain period to minimize the impacts. It is not mandatory that the subsidy must be removed totally or at once.

If I were the president and feel strongly about subsidy removal, I will simply initiate the process while the action could be completed later, even by another administration. Unrelenting thinking and strategic
Insight, are required in this sort of matter. I will conduct deep analytical research first to unravel the true impact of subsidy on the economy. Thereafter, I will conduct another research to determine what would be the impact of subsidy removal on the people.

If there were true democracy, something like subsidy, which affects every single person and activity in the country, should be put to referendum to allow people decide whether or not they want it. If the majority says no, then, it is incumbent on the administration to find a better way of managing it.

In a democracy, it is not anything that the president wants that must sail through, because it must pass through the people either through their representatives in the parliament or through referendum. The job of the president, as the leader, is to come up with ideas on what to do to keep the economy running. If I were the president, I would allow the people to decide on the desirability or otherwise of the subsidy. The president has done his bit by proposing that the continued retention of subsidy is injurious to the economy. It is left to the people to accept it or not. Nigeria belongs to all of us. Trying to impose it is undemocratic. Whereas, the president could lobby to have his way, he is not a military dictator that rules by executive fiat.

I am worried that in the face of myriads of turbulent issues confronting the country, the president chose to blow up the fuel subsidy issue as if it is the most troubling matter facing his administration. Take something like banditry, for example, which has become the greatest headache confronting the country. The other day, news had it that in the first six weeks of 2021, lives of no fewer than 1,522 persons was wasted across Nigeria. This is no child’s play. What is the fate of the country if these killings continue unchecked?

Historically, it is the oppressed masses that think of revolution against an oppressive system. But Nigeria is a paradox. Since the leaders are now the ones canvassing for revolution, in my view, the masses should resist it because no one knows what they have in mind. The suffering masses will suffer more in the event of any revolution, while the oppressors will escape.

Never in history has the unity of Nigeria been threatened like now, not even during the civil war, which was confined to the defunct Eastern Region. Today, the country is facing potential onslaught from different ethnic nationalities. There is the Boko Haram launching a vicious campaign from the northeast. There are the Niger Delta militants who are mustering more energy in the event of a crisis. There is the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB)/ IPOB in the southeast, which is ever ready to defend “its territory”.

The Odua People’s Congress (OPC), not long ago, took Lagos by surprise when they demonstrated through the major roads to warn that they are not sleeping but ready to strike back if provoked. The same Odua is now gearing towards having Odua Republic in the Southwest. These are more than enough headache and trouble for President Buhari. If I were the president, I will make do with these troubles and let the sleeping dog lie as far as fuel subsidy is concerned.