Mr. Femi Falana, SAN
The Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) has linked the increasing rate of poverty among Nigerians to the fallout of the Federal Government's removal of petroleum subsidy in January this year.
The non-profit organisation, which is based in Abuja, went further to fund a 30-minute low-budget documentary titled ‘Fueling Poverty’ shot by hugely talented Ishaya Bako, which showcased the impact of fuel subsidy removal; an action which indirectly has led to the current figure of 69 per cent of Nigerians living below the globally approved poverty line of $2 per day.
To drive home the message and sensitise the general populace, OSIWA screened the documentary aptly titled 'Fueling Poverty' in its office in Abuja recently, where the artistic work was unveiled and analysed by media experts and civil society practitioners.
Speaking on the detailed documentary, Acting Country Officer of OSIWA, Mr. Udo Jude Ilo, said it captured the pain, cries and aspirations of Nigerians, and sought to promote a message in which a wind of change would be driven by the suffering citizens.
According to him, the film targeted the need for transparency and accountability in governance, while he called for greater collaboration between the civil society and the media, so that the masses can be adequately sensitised to hold their elected representatives and government officials accountable to good governance and delivery and democratic dividends, which does not include increase in poverty and higher cost of living.
The documentary, which was shot in crystal clear colour with focus on clarity and use of appropriate graphics, depicted the January rallies and the responses of aggrieved Nigerians, ranging from eminent personalities like Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, to human rights activist and lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN.
Ironically, the film also showcased President Goodluck Jonathan's promise not to inflict any pains on Nigerians, shortly before the subsidy removal saga. It also showed slides of the various roundtables and town-hall meetings where top government functionaries like the Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minster of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; Minster of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke and Central Bank Governor, Mr. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, spoke severally on the subsidy issue.
Fueling Poverty also revealed that the fuel subsidy removal, which was initiated by ex-ruler General Ibrahim Babangida in 1986 and was meant to last for six months back then, has persisted for 24 years now.
It focused on artisans, who are the worst hit by the fuel scarcity to power their various small-scale businesses, and sought to draw a linkage between fuel subsidy removal, corruption leading to capital flight and the resultant mounting poverty and hardship on citizens.
The documentary, which is to be premiered in Abuja and subsequently nationwide on November 29, also revealed impunity among the nation's security agencies, which was reflected in the extra-judicial killings of innocent citizens, even during the peaceful protests in January 2012.
The increase in the pump price of petroleum from the previous N65 to the current N97, which was announced on January 1, sparked nationwide protests among the citizens, and resultant rallies in the major cities and a near-breakdown in law and order.
The protests appeared justified with the various events that had unfolded in Nigeria since the year began, with allegations of fraud in the nation's oil and gas industry and the fraudulent collection of subsidy payments by some oil marketers, some of whom are now being prosecuted in the courts of law.
The major argument arising from the situation is that there was no basis or moral justification for the removal of petroleum subsidy, when in fact there was no subsidy in the first place and the nation was being ripped off to the tune of billions of naira in official subsidy payments by unscrupulous oil importers and marketers.
This position was buttressed by civil society organisations and several non-state actors, and the current scenario whereby petroleum is scarce and sold at un-regulated prices in many cities, as a result of government's clampdown on erring oil importers and marketers, stricter related fiscal measures and prosecution of fraudulent marketers.
The running message in the documentary is that Nigerians need to know what is going on behind the scenes in the running of the affairs of the country, and that those who are custodians of powers, held in trust for the people, need to be called to account where-ever they fumble or falter, in a bid to improve the livelihood of long-suffering citizens.