With the federal government approving the hike in the pump price of petrol and electricity tariffs, not a few Nigerians are bothered by the absent voice of 2012 protesters-in-chief. Bayo Akinloye reports
On September 2, an announcement was made to the public that the pump price of premium motor spirit (PMS), otherwise known as petrol, had been increased to N151.56 per litre.
Hitherto, petrol was sold between N148 and N150 per litre, while the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) through its retail outlets sold it at N145 per litre in August.
Earlier, on August 28, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) announced the September 1 take-off date for the new electricity tariffs regime approved by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The hike in electricity tariff and the pump price of petrol have come while millions of Nigerians are still reeling under the havoc wreaked by the COVID-19 pandemic.
There is a storm of opposition brewing as the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress (TUC) are consulting their civil society allies to go on strike. In fact, a pocket of protests was reported in Osun State on Friday, giving the federal government a five-day ultimatum to rescind the decision to increase the price of petrol.
There have been various reports and anecdotes indicating that Nigerians are now poorer than ever before despite the Nigerian president saying that the government can lift one million people out of poverty each year. This year must have seen more people fall into penury.
While many acknowledge the present gloom, others are wondering why yesterday’s activists who fought tooth and nail against the regime of former President Goodluck Jonathan’s decision to remove the country’s fuel subsidy have kept quiet in the face of grinding poverty now being worsened by the hike in the pump price of petrol and electricity tariffs.
The announcement in January 2012, of the removal of fuel subsidy by the government of Jonathan, was resisted by many Nigerians as protests began in Lagos with music and dance at the famed Gani Fawehinmi Park. The goal of the protest was to force the government of Jonathan to return the petrol price to the original N65 per liter from N120. In the end, everybody settled for N97.
Among those who spoke during the protests was Pastor Tunde Bakare.
“Whether they remove subsidy or not, we’ll still be in problem: if they remove subsidy, they’ll share the money. They’ve already shared it before collecting it. They say over N400bn will go to Jonathan’s government; over N400bn will go to state governments; over N200bn will go to local governments,” he had said.
“They have already spent the money before they earn it. They are just fooling Kolade to come and supervise an empty collection.”
Considered a fiery advocate for good governance, Femi Falana (SAN) told the fired-up crowd at Ojota, “Governor of the Central Bank, Sanusi, came to Lagos and said if we don’t remove fuel subsidy Nigeria will collapse. This country is not going to collapse. Those who are going to collapse are those who are cheating the Nigerian people.”
In tow, was Femi Kuti, who stated, “When my father was fighting, I was 13 years old. I am 50 in six months. My son is 16. We still have no electricity. We still have no health care. People are poor. People are dying because of N10,000 in this country and people are stealing….”
Then, there was Fela Durotoye, who motivated the crowd by saying, “Democracy is government of the people, for the people and by the people. Who are the people of Nigeria? If we have democracy, you must listen to the voice of the people.”
Many are now wondering: where are the characters who played a major role in forcing the hands of the government then to reverse its unpopular decision?
A prominent Nigerian lawyer, Monday Ubani, in an interview with SaharaReporters in July, explained, “Many of activists who fought in 2012 are in bed with this present government; they may not be forceful enough to take any position considered inimical to the interest of the elites in power.
“Nobody wants to be thrown into detention. This is a government where the DSS feel empowered to say they cannot obey any court in the East.”
Not a few people are wont to agree with Ubani; at least they can point to what has befallen the publisher of SaharaReporters, Omoyele Sowore.
However, many more feel that most of the protesters-in-chief of 2012 are now feeding fat on the government’s patronage in political and economical terms.
Another reason, according to political observers, is that labour unions and civil organisations have become taciturn.
On 5 January 2012, the NLC had issued an ultimatum to the Jonathan administration in unmistakable terms vowing to halt the economy of the country by Monday, 9 January 2012.
“We are shutting down the Nigerian airspace to local and international flights from Sunday night,” said Denja Yakub of NLC.
“If a revolution will solve our problems, why not, what is going on already shows that our people are prepared for a revolution. But we will not ask for a revolution that will bring back the military, they are a part of the problem.”
It appears, as some have claimed, there is no urgency about the socio-economic ills plaguing the country.
Besides that, many others agree on the fact that the apparent lack of a virile opposition is responsible for the continued outcry of the masses not to be heard by the Buhari administration.
They claim that if there is organised and vibrant opposition, the government should be preparing for another showdown that will match the 2012 Occupy Nigeria protests.
Perhaps, some say, Nigerians are even too weary to kick against the hike in the pump price of petrol and electricity tariffs.
As many Nigerians live on less than $2 per day, cheap petrol is considered the main benefit Nigerians receive from their government. In the coming days, it will be seen how exactly Nigerians will react to the latest announcements that affect their lives and livelihoods.
The TUC President, Quadri Olaleye, in a statement, might have summed up everything when he said, “They (the government) have developed a thick skin that our pleas and cries no longer mean anything to them. No government has raped this country like the present one.
“Ironically, it has enjoyed our understanding the most. They beat us and when we cry, they send security operatives after us or force us to pay a fine of N5m for ‘hate speech’. Our patience has run out.”