BY JEROME-MARIO UTOMI
It is common knowledge that the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) recently rejected the federal government’s proposed N5,000 grant for 40 million poor Nigerians when the subsidy on petroleum motor spirit (PMS) is removed.
While describing it as ‘nonsensical’ the argument that the complete surrender of the price of petrol to market forces would normalise the curve of demand and supply as it is being wrongly attributed to the current market realities with cooking gas, diesel and kerosene are very obtuse, the congress according to media reports warned that the bait by the government to pay 40 million Nigerians N5, 000 as a palliative to cushion the effect of the astronomical increase in the price of petrol, is comical.
Essentially, before going ahead to admit the fact that the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) captured what has been on the minds of Nigerians, there is a need that I add context to the present discourse.
It is public knowledge that prior to the 2015 general election when the word ‘change’ made its way to the nation’s leadership lexicon via our political “leaders”, who at that time, in the image of their actions, and in their quest for new but personal fields to increase their wealth and wellbeing, redefine the word and lavishly promised Nigerians same, Nigerians have never paid ‘disciplined attention to, or hobnobbed/romanced such a word.
Also lamentable is the awareness that without studying the various propositions presented by the change proponents, and failures by well-informed citizens to inform the masses accordingly, politicians persuaded Nigerians to endorse and applaud the lavishly promised ‘change’ without knowing or recognition that it was harmful to their interest.
With the above highlighted and in order not to allow the true meaning/obligation of change in any given society, state or nation, to go with political winds, this piece will further keep issues where they are.
Globally, the concept of change has been a subject of metaphysical discourse and dispute.
As noted by an author, the notion of change is always related to being, the relationship of being and becoming in infinite beings. Whatever change is and is not, it has a past, a present and a future. Change as it were, is a self-evident fact; we experience change. Hence we can say for certain that change is the primary datum of experience. Everything given to experience is subject to change. Hence, change is a universal phenomenon. Change involves movement from one pole to another. It is a transition of being from one mode of being to another mode of being. To change implies to be different and yet somehow to remain the same. That is, the past mode and the present mode are somehow different and somehow the same.
Second and very fundamental, like so many unpalatable experiences in the past (electricity tariff among others), this piece holds the opinion that engineering change is not the problem but how the government defines/understands the concept of change. This understanding daily reflects in the Federal Government choices and slanted decisions that today paints our nation with the politics of fear and bankruptcy of ideology, perpetuates poverty and promotes powerlessness, impedes socio-economic development, leaves our democracy down-graded and troubled; visits Nigerians with tears while eroding opportunities for sound policy formulation.
More importantly, aside from the fact that the planned fuel subsidy removal has recently seen the relationship between the government and the governed transcends to a chaotic coexistence, leaving Nigerians as both victims of blasted hope, there are of course more reasons why Nigerians are not particularly happy with such development and can no longer trust the social contract or the framework of rules that governs the state.
Here is my philosophy; recently, life in the estimation of Nigerians who once lived in comfort and loved to stay alive, has become not only a burden but the shout of the ‘good old days’ now rends the nations’ wavelength with the cost of living comparatively high and national security now a problem, our value system which used to be sound has gradually been eroded and people no longer have value for hard work and honesty.
The country is currently the direct opposite of what it used to be. There is uncertainty and collective fears of the future, stemming from state weakness, clientele and indiscriminate repression which has resulted in the emergence of armed responses by marginalized groups and nationalist, ethnic or other populist ideologies.
The situation says something more. Across board, there exist political and institutional factors like weak state institutions, elite power struggles and political exclusion, breakdown in social contract and corruption, identity politics. Socioeconomic factors such as inequality, exclusion and marginalization, absence or weakening of social cohesion, poverty among others.
Most importantly, with the promised change by the present administration; Nigerians thought that they (FG) will make conscious efforts to enhance primary health care facilities across the country, reduce costs and unnecessary pressure on secondary/tertiary health care facilities. Personally, I have personally thought that the promised change in 2015 would increase the number of, and improve the quality of all federal government-owned hospitals to world-class standards within five years.
In the area of education, Nigerians are particularly not happy that the present federal government is unable to carry out a thorough review of the education sector and tackle the main causes of the sectors’ decline, implement fully and enforce the provisions of the Universal Basic Education Act with emphasis on gender equity in primary and secondary school enrolment while also improving the quality and substance of the schools.
Without a doubt, Nigerians had earlier believed that the present administration would reinstate the now abandoned Teacher Training College to train teachers, make substantial investments in training programmes at all levels of the educational system, re-introduce technical and vocational education nationwide by giving adequate material support to such institutions. They (Nigerians) expected the APC-led administration to spend up to the UNESCO budgetary recommendation on the education sector.
Whatever may be the failures, this piece believes that we must as a nation return to where it started from. This is because, despite the validity of the federal government’s present argument, nobody will believe them particularly as Mr President had during a media broadcast on October 1, 2020, insisted that petrol prices in Nigeria must be adjusted as it makes no sense for oil to be cheaper in Nigeria than in Saudi Arabia.
Let’s again listen to that remark: “We sell now at N161 per litre. A comparison with our neighbours will illustrate the point, Chad which is an oil-producing country charges N362 per litre; Niger, also an oil-producing country sells one litre at N346; In Ghana, another oil-producing country, the petrol pump price is N326 per litre. Further afield, Egypt charges N211 per litre, Saudi Arabia charges N168 per litre. It makes no sense for oil to be cheaper in Nigeria than in Saudi Arabia,” Buhari concluded.
No nation, in my view, can become great under a leadership arrangement with such orientation/thinking.
Utomi is the programme coordinator (media and public policy) at Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA) writes from Lagos. He could be reached via [email protected] or 08032725374