By Femi Oluwasanmi
Experiences over the years have shown that subsidy on Premium Motor Spirit (petrol) is a burden that must be lifted off the shoulder of the government, but in doing this, there is a need to take into cognizance the welfare of the people and the prevailing circumstances which have continue to generate concerns as the nation forge ahead on the path of full deregulation of the downstream sector.
Pipelines and Product Marketing Company (PPMC), a subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), had on 2nd September, 2020, announced the increase in the price of fuel from 148 – 151.56k. This was hinged on the deregulation directive of the government issued in March.
But looking at its impact on the standard of living of workers and Nigerians in general, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) decided to champion an industrial action which was suspended at the eleventh hour to it’s manifestation due to the palliatives promised by the government after series of meetings that also birthed the reversal of the electricity tariff hike on 27th September.
Before then, the NLC, TUC and more 79 civil society groups had been threatening to replicate the kind of drama that greeted the President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’s administration move to remove the subsidy in 2012, if the government fails to reverse the hikes on the electricity tariff and pump price announced on 1st and 2nd September, respectfully.
The civil society organizations in 2012, shut down Nigeria after the president Jonathan, gave fuel subsidy removal as a new year message claiming that the government can no longer bear the burden of the subsidy. The aftermath of this protest was part of what contributed to his failure at the 2015 general election.
Unfortunately, the party that rode on this gain to defeated the then president has now embarked on the same path at a time when the majority of nations across the globe are giving different palliatives to cushion the effect of the hardship caused by the Coronavirus pandemic.
Due to the outbreak of COVD-19 pandemic, so many companies have shut down their production lines, sent workers on leave without pay while some have been disengaged. Infact, the Federal government in a silent manner disengaged 500, 000 N-power Volunteers in June/July, under the disguise of transition to an undisclosed next level programme. Some of these people are fathers and mothers with children.
Most teachers at the private schools are now struggling to meet their responsibility at home because of the inability of their schools to pay them full salary while some have resulted to begging and borrowing in order to survive this trying time.
This does not exempt those working at the worship centers. The report released by the National Bureau Statistics (NBS) in August, shows that the level of unemployment has increased astronomically to an unprecedented level while the number of underemployed hands continue to rise daily.
Before the pandemic, there have been concerns about the rising in the curve of poverty in the country. For example, the country was awarded poverty capital of the world after overtaken India in a “poverty relay match” conducted by the World Poverty Clock in 2018.
With the recent retrenchment and disengagement from both the government and private companies, the number of 92 million Nigerians living in extreme poverty has increased. This ought to guide the government in the formulation and implementation of policy like this.
Unfortunately, the government failed to considered this until its attention was drawn to it by the NLC and TUC through the drum of strike and protest actions. Rather, what was made manifest was the comparison of the pump price between Nigeria and her neighbouring countries championed by Hon. Minister Lai Mohammed in an attempt to justify the hike in the pump price without putting into consideration the minimum wage and level of poverty in those countries.
Even, if the minimum wage of those countries were the same with the one in place in Nigeria, it is obvious that pump price was not increased at the middle of the pandemic that has nearly crippled the global economy. And this has being the issue with most government policies in the country.
Most times, government looks at a policy in other countries and try to replicate it in Nigeria without putting into consideration the environmental factors and the nature of the country. Not too long ago we had a similar occurrence at the national assembly when some legislatures introduced an imported hate speech bill from Singapore to the house.
Similar misstep might have been responsible for the announcement of the removal of fuel subsidy at the inception of the new year in 2012, when most people have exhausted the money on them on the festive celebration before it was reversed due to days of protest. Though, some have argued that the protest was politically motivated because most of the prominent figures at the protest are now in the political office or have affiliation with those in power today.
However, these political marchants would not have capitalized on the removal of subsidy to gathered such mammoth crowd to project their interest if the government had issued the deregulation directive at the right time.
Although, looking at the magnitude of allegation of corruption that has beclouded the downstream sector, it is crystal clear that no government will want to continue the payment of subsidy on patrol, but in doing this there is need to put into consideration the prevailing circumstances which seems to the lacuna in this case.
Though, the government claimed that the removal is for the benefit of the masses because most people that benefit much from the fuel subsidy are those that have cars, but it failed to understand that any hike in the price of fuel will definitely affect the prices of goods and services across the country. Infact, it will affect the cost of running power generation, especially, “I better pass my neighbor” which gives relief to the masses suffering from the epileptic power supply.
Epileptic power supply has been one of the factors impeding development in Nigeria. The more money spent on it, the more it seems to be degenerating. That is why Nigerians are calling on the government to speedily fulfill all the promises reached at the negotiation table with the labour centres so that the the nation will not move from frying pan to fire by toying with already tense and inflammable atmosphere created by the Coronavirus pandemic.
Femi Oluwasanmi writes in from Ibafo, Ogun State.