There is no over-flogging the issue of subsidy if only for the general enlightenment of the people. Government is instituted for the betterment of the people. Nothing is too great for government to dispense for the welfare of the public. One competent leader changes the people’s plight for the better. Good leaders are never short of followers. All the great thinkers of the world from prehistoric times have always regarded the protection of man from the oppression of the strong as a responsibility of leadership. But not so for Nigerian governments since 1998.
In rural societies of the past in most animist African countries, people resorted to leaders as representatives of deities on earth to dispense justice. Truth and fairness were the two elements of justice. They were very communalistic. Man created wealth, so develop man was their dictum. It is difficult to see serious political and economic discussion now on the scene in Nigeria.
In the days when Tijani Yesufu, Olumbe Basir, Hezekiah Oluwasanmi, Sam Ikoku, Sam Aluko, Oyenuga and others used to pit their brains against conservative economists like Pius Okigbo, Olakanpo, Ojetunji Aboyade and some pro-establishment time-servers of the First Republic, the public used to be very properly informed. In Britain, housewives are regarded as the best economists. They read the economic thermometer and pronounce on how well a budget will serve the people’s interests because they want to know whether there will be increases or drops in the prices of bread, butter and household items. They will also consider if there will be hikes in transport fares, rents and price of fuel. An aspect they do not miss to analyse is education and how the budget will affect their children.
The people of Western Nigeria in the past were particular about how a budget would improve the prices of cocoa, rubber and other agricultural produce. They were anxious about new roads to be constructed or expanded to help the evacuation of farm produce, aid from government to mechanise farms, water supply, improved education policy and the provision of health care. They regarded all these then as their inalienable rights. They were very co-operative because they understood their government’s policy. Any time it was adverse, they protested to defend their rights. They hated gamblers in power. The picture was not different in the North and the East where the imperative of improving the quality of man for the benefit of the society was not negotiable. Their leaders were selfless and fought to improve the lots of their people in the great competition that was the Nigerian project.
All one hears in Nigeria today is removal of a fuel subsidy, which does not exist.
Today, in our recklessness we import fuel and keep millions in employment in countries from which we buy our refined products. Aret Adams, one of the most informed oil technocrats that Nigeria has ever produced, assertively proved that it was more profitable to refine crude at home than to export it. There is no need running the gamut of the sound argument because apart from the low cost of production, we also derive scores of other by-products that we now import, including candle wax. Today we import fuel of all sorts to Nigeria from the crude we have paid to export without telling the people the quality of these undesirably imported products.
There used to be two types of petrol in Nigeria, super and regular. We knew the octane ratings of the two and that was why one was recommended for some new cars and regular for general consumption.
What is the octane rating of the ones now being imported? The cumulative economic damage in the form of destruction of engines by the new fuel being imported is colossal and real, although the argument on the floor is subsidy.
It is pleasing to note the massive turn against deregulators now in Nigeria. Some of us have spent the last 14 years positively disproving the so-called advantages of de-regulation. We saw how it backfired in some big economies like Britain and how Bill Clinton skirted round the issue to produce a state-involved formula that re-positioned America as the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world. We saw how deregulation, and Boris Yeltsin, destroyed a world power and elevated criminals to be oligarchs. Sadly, our former leader, General Olusegun Obasanjo, was deaf and dumb to wise counsel and proceeded against the law to inflict a massive destruction of all we have lived for since Nigerians started to fight for freedom.
If he had listened to his legal wife, Oluremi and younger son, Gbenga, he would have saved them the odium the family is today exposed, Remi and Gbenga, on any occasion, exhibit deep thoughts and always think of the consequences of any action. They always provide alternatives. But their patriarch, the general, always think of quick gains and the next kill. This is, perhaps, the difference between a middle-class child and one of rural antecedents.
That is by the way as the real concern of the Nigerian people today is informed leadership. No nation that hires its government out to a supra-national organization will meet the needs of its people. There is no magic wand with the IMF. Lula da Silva, former president of Brazil in eight years, changed the fortunes of his country without following IMF’s prescriptions. The governments before his were tenants of the IMF but failed woefully to solve Brazil’s problems.
Silva had his set vision and knew the country he was to rule. He was not setting up endless committees. He brought back his country to work with everybody’s hands on the plough.
I disagree with Tony Momoh, Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, chairman, that there is nothing wrong with deregulation. There is something wrong with deregulation. In the last 14 years the country has collapsed, no roads, no foods, nothing. Europe is now regulating its banking. The Germans have never been stupid to fall victims of impractical ideas. America regulates. That country places some imports on the blacklist when it comes to trade, setting for them stiffer conditions. America subsidises its farmers because agriculture is that country’s most potent strength. China subsidises exports and agriculture. Britain has never flowed really with the IMF and World Bank. Japan regulates and subsidises exports. The problem of Nigeria today is lack of creativity and initiative in leadership. This country had it aplenty when politicians with foresight led this nation in 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.
There is no magic wand in the IMF formula that Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala tries to force down the throats of Nigerians. Our problems are rehabilitation and re-construction.
Deregulation should operate with liberalisation. It should not amount to buying over the people’s assets. It is supposed to engender competition. What stopped these so-called business whiz kids from setting up their factories and businesses to compete with government and allow market forces to intervene? Obasanjo gave out licences to people to build oil refineries. None of them has done anything for 10 years. But Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta, MEND, and others are refining and selling at N20 a litre. If government believes in deregulation, it should honour MEND instead of sending soldiers to destroy their refineries? Is deregulation not for competition? That is government monopoly.