BACK PAGE BY SHAKA MOMODU (THIS REPUBLIC)
They told us during the electioneering season that there was nothing like fuel subsidy and that all the subsidy claims were actually a way of settling the super-rich friends of the then government. They told us then that the pump price of petrol should not cost more than N40 per litre. Then candidate Muhammadu Buhari led the charge, dismissing fuel subsidy as a ruse and a lie. He declared emphatically that there was nothing like subsidy.
They brought in our now frail once-upon-a-time Minister of Petroleum Resources, Professor Tam David West, to embellish and bolster their arguments with his outdated experience in the oil sector. However, he was able to energise the gullible mob with a tissue of lies he called “facts” which were at best fiction, and successfully swayed the people, telling them the whole idea that the government was subsidising fuel was a scam, and that in actual fact, fuel should cost just about a fraction of N87 per litre. His argument, with a breakdown analysis served the purpose it was actually meant to serve: misinform and mislead the people. The mob went ecstatic, dancing and gyrating to the sensational revelations. The only problem with David West’s assessment was that the figures he dished out with relish were now outdated; he served 31 years ago.
It was therefore curious that in the first few months of President Muhammadu Buhari in office, he shelled out nearly N500 billion to marketers as subsidy. Recall that in January 2012, President Goodluck Jonathan took the bold step to finally deregulate the downstream sector after unprecedented fraud was unearthed in the management of subsidy claims by marketers with the active connivance of the regulatory authorities. From the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) to port officials, customs, navy, Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), etc. all colluded to abuse the policy and fleece the country of hundreds of billions of naira.
That, notwithstanding, there was a very strong argument then that the trillions of naira the scheme cost the country was not sustainable. Deregulating the petroleum import regime was therefore touted as the only option to curb shortages, stabilise supply, trigger competition, kill the fraud in the system, encourage new investments and potentially create hundreds of thousands of jobs. It would free up more resources to government to address the social and infrastructure needs of the country.
I actually have no problem with deregulation. I strongly support and believe the policy will engender competition and unleash the incredible capacity of the human mind to constantly adapt and innovate to ensure success in a growing market. We have all seen the growth of the telecommunications sector as a testament to such possibilities.
But what did the hypocrites and so-called progressive politicians do when the last government took that bold step? They mobilised the labour leaders (who in any case are always more interested in their pockets) to mobilise workers and the poor masses into the streets in protests across the country. Then Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos became the vocal arrowhead against the last government as the state became the hotbed of the struggle to torpedo an otherwise well-intended policy. The Occupy Nigeria protests led by clerics and human rights activists became the rallying point of resistance. Where is Pastor Tunde Bakare? Is he still in this country? Where is Professor David West? Where is Aminu Tambuwal? Where is Nasir el-Rufai who led the anti-deregulation protest in Abuja in 2012? Where are others now? All the governors of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) with the exception of Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State disowned the policy even though they had all previously agreed to it. They started playing the populist card. And of course the government which lacked the will and resolve to push through the policy capitulated.
Four years after, the current APC leaders frustrated the removal of subsidy and several trillions of naira more spent to sustain it, there is now a complete role reversal – Buhari is now the president and his APC is now the ruling party. Buhari has now deregulated the petroleum sector and ended the subsidy regime – the very same move the current leaders of the APC bitterly denounced the last government for and successfully portrayed it as anti-people. How does one even begin to explain this? When a man eats his own vomit, at least he should set his hubris aside and admit it.
According to Abban Eban, men and nations do behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives.
I have heard some lame explanations on the about-face over the subsidy issue, I have listened to stammering and equivocations that attempt to rationalise the deliberately stupid opposition to deregulate the petroleum sector in 2012 by pretenders who were more interested in scoring cheap political points than any consideration for the economic future of the country. It didn’t make sense then just as their now hailing Buhari for “having the courage to remove subsidy” has made no sense to me.
Why did they frustrate it then? Imagine what the country has lost in the last four years due to the reinstatement of the subsidy policy in terms of savings, new investments and job opportunities. It is a shame that Nigeria is cursed with politicians who think of the next election, and who don’t give a damn about the next generation.
One of the excuses given by some very ridiculous individuals for their opposition to deregulation in 2012 is that the people didn’t trust the Jonathan government. So for that reason they were prepared to put up with the continued waste of trillions of naira in the name of subsidy that did not essentially benefit the poor and sacrifice the potential benefits of deregulation? This makes no sense at all. More than anything else, politics was played by the opposition which had its eyes on the next election. It saw that the last president was weak, and capitalised on it pretending to care for the people more. It played the politics and won power. And since it came on board, it has been giving excuses for non-performance; suddenly realising it was easier to criticise than to govern. From what we have seen so far, even if the government had met all the looted monies intact in the coffers, it would still have been complaining and giving us excuses because it has no economic programme or policy direction. As a card-carrying member of the APC said recently, the government has a “medieval mindset” irrelevant to today’s world. And as the aphorism goes, only a lazy ship captain complains about the waves. There is also a saying in the land of my fathers that if the mountain were smooth, you couldn’t climb it! The truth here is that the economy was in better shape when it was handed over to Buhari than it is now one year after. The country is also now more divided than they met it.
Let me dwell a little more on Fashola, the “Lagos golden boy and the actualiser of Buhari’s change” who today is the Minister of Power, Works and Housing. Fashola, you will recall was one of the weapons deployed against the last government to devastating effect. At the opening ceremony of the Women in Business Conference in Lagos in November, 2014, where he was a keynote speaker, the then governor minced no words in describing Jonathan’s government as a failure. Here is what he was quoted to have said: “…where the North-east is under siege and the economy has continued to nosedive, the Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria have continued to distort the true information that all is well. All it takes to cripple our economy by those countries from where we buy oil is to say they won’t sell to us any longer.
“We have seen a good example where the country was denied access from buying arms. This is the situation we are in as regards importation of oil. In 2010 alone, we spent N2.5 trillion importing fuel into this country. Now, we have less money to import. If we can’t pay for our oil importation, we all know its implication for the country. In (the) not too distant future, the fuel queues will return.
“The government has yet to give us power as promised, they have yet to give us fuel, and we have yet to see the standard highways they promised. There are so many Nigerians living without electricity.”
Also while commissioning the 8.8MW independent power project in November 2014, Fashola was in his element. He was reported to have accused the Jonathan government of failing to deliver on its promise to provide the nation with electricity, which he said was not difficult to achieve. He warned Lagosians not to cast their votes for people who could not deliver on their promises saying: “Their best is not good enough, only the best is good for this country and the All Progressives Congress is the key.” I am sure he must have forgotten he spoke those words. Today as the Minister of Power, Fashola is unable to deliver electricity to our homes. The power situation across the country has incrementally grown worse. Under his supervision and for the first time ever, the country experienced not a single megawatt of electricity generated for a period of six hours. The economy has nosedived, industries are shutting down and laying off workers, inflation is at a record high of 13.7 per cent. When I hear him citing lack of gas and pipeline vandalism as excuses for the poor power situation in the country, I ask myself, is this man kidding Nigerians? These problems are not new; they have always been with us and grew worse in the electioneering period. Now, match his excuses with his posture during the campaigns. If you missed the substance in the statements he made, please go back and read each sentence carefully. He told Nigerians not to accept excuses. Today, he is full of excuses for his failure to provide us with regular electric power. What is my business with Fashola’s issues with gas supply or vandalism? All I want is availability of electricity at the flick of a switch. If it doesn’t come on as it hardly ever does these days, then Fashola has failed by his own standards, period!
What about the federal highways, are they any better under him? Are we now seeing the standard highways he talked about on the campaign trail? I want to drive on federal highways without running into craters. What has happened to the Lagos-Ibadan expressway under Fashola? What about housing?
I have consistently stated in this column without equivocation that the APC is a party woven together by the mastery of political communications with a delight for propaganda and a total disregard for facts and reality. It thrives very well on mischief and falsehood, and it will soon get old telling Nigerians I told you so. I have always said that you can win an election through propaganda but you cannot govern by propaganda. Performance is key, but unfortunately, the party doesn’t seem able or capable of moving away from the core of its make-up. Its demons are eating it up from the inside.
It is interesting now that the cold hard facts of yesterday are coming to haunt the party today. We owe it a duty to ensure history doesn’t spare them the ignominy of having paved the way for the economic crisis in the land today, lest they once again steal the moment and parade themselves as heroes. We must record their names in the hall of short-sightedness and pettiness. When they die without repenting, we must write this epitaph on each of their tombs to warn future generations about their kinds and the legacy they left behind: Beneath here lies a hypocrite, a demagogue, a liar, and a man who approbates and reprobates.