I am almost afraid and weary to write this article. This is probably because of my penchant to dwell very long on issues that are very close to my heart, but don’t want to bore the reader with a long treatise.
Unfortunately, however, the problem of Nigeria is my problem, your problem, and you know what, the world’s problem.
In sitting down to write this article, I have had to rely very heavily on comments made by my friends and other people in the newspapers, internet media, the social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook, etc., not because I cannot come up with my own, but because they are very interesting, inspiring, sagacious and like our elders will always say in, two heads are better than one.
Nobody has a monopoly of knowledge or opinions. We all have to learn from each other, and believe me; I have learnt a lot from my countrymen and women in the past two weeks of the oil subsidy removal imbroglio.
Let me state that I am in full support of removal of oil subsidy and deregulation of our nation’s oil industry as long as it is driven by very sound economic planning and decision and, very importantly, as long as it is handled with a sincere, transparent, efficient, effective and well-meaning government that is not as corrupt.
That is, a government that has a genuine interest and welfare of its people at heart and such that is not bogged down by pettiness, political game-play and lack of direction... but rather guided by sincerity of purpose and handled by competent hands in all positions of decision making.
Alas, we are yet to witness a government with such demonstration of will power and purpose. In fact our country has not been lucky enough to witness many changes.
For long, what we have seen is mediocrity, with purposeless, clueless, corrupt and selfish leaders (I prefer to call them “rulers”) handling the affairs of our dear nation, at all levels of governance; governments that have taken the generality of our people for granted especially in the past three or four decades.
Hence the justification for the current permeating anger and protest as demonstrated by the people.
I hold the same position with the people as a passionate Nigerian and that is the reason for my opposition to the recent deregulation imbroglio.
Many Nigerians currently in opposition to this decision I know are thinking along my line.
However, the reason for the recent protest, (which I believe have shaken this government, especially the greedy, political ‘thieving class) has gone beyond the popular Oil Subsidy removal.
We must let our people know, even after the end of the strike that there are many challenges facing our dear nation that are far beyond removal of oil subsidy.
We are currently faced with bad governance, corruption, insensitivity to the people’s plight, lack of vision and purpose, mismanagement of our natural resources and many more maladministration drives; looting of our common wealth, cheating, fraud, deception and deceit, mostly by people in government and their backers outside the government.
So, the protest goes beyond the subsidy removal. It is about sounding aloud to those usurpers of people’s rights that enough is enough. There is a general drive about taking our country back from those usurpers of power and unlicensed authority, who had condemned us to poverty, hopelessness and idleness.
There are new dreams about setting a new groundwork and framework for a New Order; a new power arrangement, a new system of government, such that will be answerable to the people always.
I have always opined in this forum that our true problems are not tribe or religion. It is about corruption in positions of authority, bad leadership, bad governance, lack of foresight and all these go beyond ethnic or religious composition.
I saw NIGERIANS of all professions, ethnic and religious affiliations taking part in the protest everywhere in the country and I loved my people and I was very proud them that at last, they are taking the initiatives. They want their country back from the usurpers. I saw a renewed hope that may turn things around for our deprived nation.
The expression of our disenchantment through this protests must be sustained until we achieve a positive result getting rid of corruption and bad leadership in our political system.
This recent action may be our only resort, our only and the only path to true freedom, snatching back our pride and our rights.
Even our respected Finance Minister, a staunch proponent of the fuel subsidy removal, Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala appeared to mirror my concerns: ''The issues on ground go beyond fuel subsidy. We need to manage our resources so as to avoid the situation in Greece”, she said
She continued: “The cost of refining fuel is the problem (from N250 billion to N1.3 trillion). A responsible government should find a way of costing waste in the system. The fuel subsidy gains will be directed towards the following under mentioned projects”
And our Governor of the Central Bank, Lamido Sanusi, another strong supporter of subsidy removal, contended that: “We are an oil producing country; our refineries should be in place, the solution is not to undertake a short term approach but a short term pain for a long term gains or benefits”.
“Let us look at the costs (250 billion in 2011 to 1.3 trillion in 2012), some people are milking the country and a system should be put in place to block all financial leakages. Our borders should be closely monitored to reduce the incidence of border fraud of oil products. It is in the economic interest of the country to remove it”, he added.
“Our constitution is partly to blame for the cost of running the government e.g. 776 local governments, 36 state governors, 26 ministers, special advisers at both state and federal levels, bicameral legislature''. He strongly believes that the type of political structure we operate now is too costly and we need amendments to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”, the Central Bank Governor opined.
According to him, the cost of running the government is too high and this is where the problem lies.
In the words of Olutoyin Eweje, a Constitutional Lawyer based in the UK: “The government should tackle corruption in the system, operate a welfare system of government, address the gaps between the rich and the poor and then remove fuel subsidy.”
She went further: “If the Federal Government is really sincere in fighting corruption within the Oil and Gas sector they should institute an independent and unbiased regime to investigate the going-on within the petroleum industry so as to bring all the perpetrators to book”. (Easier said than done, in our country, but it could be done with the right people in authority, if we put our mind and backs to it)
“But the probes as presently being done will not see the light of the day. A case in point was the panel on the Power sector (The Hon Elumelu & Co) which was never concluded and all the culprits are back to their respective offices...”The FG should stop making mockery of the system and need to show commitment in their handling of matters of utmost importance to the generality of Nigerians. Until the perpetrators of all these corrupt practices are made to face the music, the people would never believe the ability of the Government to fight corruption. Corruption is a malaise and must be nip in the bud”, Eweje concluded
So what is next on the agenda?
I believe Nigeria will not (or maybe I should say – should not) be the same after this protest, which has opened more Nigerian eyes to the reality and frustration of our existence.
Many more Nigerians, including our rural dwellers and market-women, whom our rulers (I won’t call them “leaders” anymore) have generally regarded as illiterate and not knowledgeable and usually disregarded and deprived, are now aware of the poverty and hopelessness which their rulers and their corrupting backers and cohorts have been subjecting them to for many decades, stealing their common wealth and literarily causing them death and other untold inhumane torture and degradations.
In a highly corrupt country such as ours with abundant natural resources, there is one solution to our profligate and corrupt culture. We need to go back to the Parliamentary system of government where cost of governance and corruption in all facets of our national life will be drastically reduced by checks and balances from a vibrant opposition with its own shadow cabinets and less political hangers-on, thus making politics less attractive to the present crop of political misfits, opportunists and charlatans.
Nigeria, with endemic corruption, is not a good ground for the current Presidential system of government. Let's give it an objective thought!
This democracy is built on a very shaky foundation. Perhaps it is time to get an interim national government (ING) of civil society leaders for 18 months, convene a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) to determine our Union, work out and establish a new Constitution, and then organize fresh elections and thereby build a new democracy on a solid rock foundation.
I know the above suggestions are fraught with dangers and uncertainties, nor are they infallible, and are not a definite panacea to our problems. But, we could at least consider some, if not all of them.
There are other suggestions such as a 100% commitment and utmost sincerity in tackling corruption, ensuring total transparency, total accountability, and attaching 100% importance to managing and cutting waste in government. A 75% reduction in the salaries of government official and political office holders will go a long way in accomplishing the last.
Government must be made unattractive to thieves, hangers-on, charlatans and the mediocre. It is only then that we will be able to identify patriotic intellectuals and technocrats who really want to serve and are not going into government just to make money. We have too many thieves and clueless people in government right now.
We need people in government who are relentless promoters and practitioners for greater transparency and who are against corruption and who will strongly support the need for greater social accountability, responsibility and civil society engagement.
There are too many conflicts of interests and private and selfish agendas. It seems like it is only in our country that conflict of interest is not an issue.
The current Petroleum minister and her husband are key players in the industry she is meant to supervise. Many former ministers and top government officials own oil companies; and an incredible number of retired military officers and politicians. When they are not stealing the money, they are getting N1billion feeding allowances.
In conclusion, apart from those mentioned above, why are our four refineries not working and why is the government not taking steps to fix them and build more
Nigeria produces 2.5 million barrels of oil per day and our domestic consumption is only between 300 and 400,000 barrels per day, what is happening to the huge excess?
What steps, if any, is the government taking to tackle the oil marketing cabals who have been defrauding the country for several decades? Is there any connection between the cabal and the refineries’ inability to work?
A final word on the military occupation of Lagos.
And finally, regarding the sending of armed soldiers to occupy the City of Lagos; when a democratically elected government tries this kind of intimidating technique on its citizens, it does not portray Good Governance.
Good Governance demands that governments (and leaders) are more accountable to their citizens, and more importantly, that citizens have a VOICE in how the state is run.
What the Federal Government has done has a strong undertone of totalitarianism - which alienates citizens, reduces trusts, and engenders social unrest as we have seen in the Arab spring. It also firmly portrays the government as a weak and cowardly institution afraid of its own people. The government was obviously ill-advised to take this step - military on the streets - to intimidate law-abiding citizens carrying out protests, voicing their displeasure at unpopular policies, and demanding for a concerted fight against corruption.
Please give it a thought.
The Truth must be told always