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“There never would be a perfect time for Nigerians to pay more”

A compromise deal to end Nigeria’s fuel subsidy crisis would see the government paying about forty-four naira on each litre of petrol. However it falls short of the president’s New Year resolution, reports Nnadozie Onyekuru, 23, an aspiring journalist and Commonwealth Correspondent from Maiduguri.

“If we cannot build good roads for our children; if we cannot leave hospitals for them, then one thing we must not leave for them is debt” – Goodluck Jonathan, President of Nigeria.

Divided on opinion but united in suffering, there never would be a perfect time for most Nigerians to pay more.

Not since the USA’s healthcare debacle have I seen a battle so fraught with dirty tricks and character assassinations that even the President had a tinge of weariness in the broadcast that surrendered the concession which broke his truce with labour unions.

The new deal which would see the government paying about forty-four naira on each litre of petrol to accompany the citizen’s ninety-seven falls short of the president’s New Year resolution to break the subsidy jinx.

The struggle to end the subsidy era dates back to the undergraduate days of the current government spokesman, Mr. Labaran Maku, who led student protests against the then military government for contemplating removing the fuel subsidy. Now, Mr. Maku’s office is promoting a programme, SURE (Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment) in which the subsidy funds would be redirected to building world class infrastructure and tackling the employment deficit.

To critics who are banging tables on current affairs shows, SURE is nothing more than a fiction paperback. Across Nigeria, the mistrust in government is such that even supporters of the subsidy removal seem to be saying to the other side: “Give government one more chance.” There is no doubt that President Jonathan is paying for the sins of his predecessors, but his opponents would quickly say that he is also spendthrift. The new age has brought a neighbourhood of information; with a Google click, civil society groups can download and fester to protesters the latest national budget which earmarks the presidency’s catering at about a billion naira ($6.25m).

In Kano, rioters barged into the government residence on a looting spree and in Ekiti, more enlightened grievants were led by the Catholic Bishop. In Lagos, a gathering of digital natives and Arab spring romantics gyrated to the lyrics of Fela Kuti, an Afrobeat legend who was fond of irking Nigeria’s juntas.

Good governance activists who accuse President Jonathan of punishing the many poor for the mistakes of the few rich say he should exert his bravery instead on policing how the subsidy payments leapfrog annually. Some even suggest that petrol in Nigeria should be as cheap as in the Gulf nations. The government points to Nigeria’s population of more than a hundred and fifty million and to the fact that Nigeria’s neighbours do not have black gold, which gives a perpetual opportunity for marketers to abuse the subsidy system.

There is also the valid point made by the Central Bank governor of marketers using the $8bn subsidy at their disposal as a sturdy tool of frustrating government vigilance. The governor, who in the past opposed subsidy removal, now explains that Nigeria would get into the Greek crisis if the fuel subsidy continues. If the governor’s economics is true, should Nigerians have frustrated the total removal?

If you ask me, I would repeat something I read in a tweet: “That’s a billion naira food for thought.”

This was first published on YourCommonwealth.org here.

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