On The Path Of Winners
Lessons From The Nigerian Spring
By Bayo Ogunmupe
THE Nigerian Spring was the consequence of the removal of oil subsidy by the Federal Government on New Year’s Day 2012. The National protest occurred between January 9 and 16, 2012. It took its name from the Arab Spring which touched off revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya in 2011.
The Nigerian Spring is seen as part of the revolutions in North Africa. To ordinary Nigerians, the fuel subsidy was the only advantage they derived from petrodollars which pour into the national treasury every year. Thus, new year celebrations in 2012 were abruptly terminated when Nigerians woke up to learn that the government petrol subsidy had been withdrawn.
Nigerians immediately hit the streets, already angry because our corrupt and incompetent government has been unable to repair state-owned refineries thereby forcing Africa’s largest oil producer to import petroleum products.
What began as sporadic protests ballooned into a show of people power in Abuja, Lagos, Kano and Ibadan. The protests were led by Civil Society Organisations (CSO), the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), the Joint Action Front, and the Save Nigeria Group (SNC). Other towns and cities later joined in the protests with Abdul Waheed Omar, president of the Nigerian Labour Congress calling on workers around the country to go on strike until government rescinded its decision to remove the price hike.
Millions complied, paralyzing the Nigerian economy. The Jonathan administration had calculated that eliminating the subsidy in the new year would impede coordinated resistance, so the speed, the ferocity and the scope of the resistance caught the authorities by surprise. When the protest leaders’ grievances expanded to include the lavish provisions for the president in the 2012 budget, the abrogation of the corruption in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and government corruption, President Goodluck Jonathan realised that he had to back down.
First, he had to announce a 25 per cent cut in the salaries of political office holders. Next Jonathan promised to eliminate the waste in social services. Finally in a humiliating retreat, Jonathan had to capitulate to a reduction of subsidy from N141 per litre of petrol to N97 per litre. Thus, it came to pass during this oil subsidy removal protests that there was no record of refined fuel imports, that our refineries had been refining all the oil consumed by Nigerians. It also came to light that N1.7 trillion was deducted from our accounts in 2012 without any oil being imported with the money. Nigeria was merely fleeced, only crude oil was being imported to service the refineries.
Arising from these startling and mind boggling revelations, Nigerians decried these high level of sharp practices pervading our oil industry, particularly with regards to the NNPC management, the dubious activities of a cabal of oil marketers and oil production companies, who have now come to be known as the “oil subsidy cabal.”
The existence of this cabal seems to have been holding the government of Goodluck Jonathan to ransom. The cabal had been feeding fat on the nation, with the existence of this cartel being confirmed by top government functionaries, including the ministers of petroleum and finance and the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
Moreover, government had declared that it would no longer go on with the fuel subsidy programme without due consultation with organized labour. While the people were warming up for these engagements, the government struck with the removal. There was thus the feeling that government acted with impunity and arrogance. When the government indicated her intention to jettison subsidy in the last quarter of 2011, many interest groups expressed their opposition to it. And that was conveyed to the government by the media. All the more so, the labour movement was already shifting grounds on the policy of deregulation.
In 2009, both the Nigerian Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress rejected deregulation. But by 2010 they had been converted partially as they were strategizing with government on how union members can survive under a deregulated economy. But rather than leveraging on this favourable situation, government acted foolishly by raising fuel price by 120 per cent. Government thereafter alienated the very people which she was pretending to be wooing.
Also, there was anger and disgust over the value Jonathan places on the welfare of the people. This prompted Bola Tinubu, former Lagos State Governor to argue that Jonathan preferred to save money rather than save the people. In fact for the past 18 months, Lamido Sanusi, the Central Bank Governor had been campaigning for both the removal of fuel subsidy and downsizing cost of governance if we were to save the economy from collapse. Indeed, the Presidential Advisory Committee led by General Theophilus Danjuma had insisted Jonathan must cut down the cost of governance by merging ministries and parastatals. Moreover, Anya and Oronsaye committees were set up to restructure the public service with a view to cutting costs.
Kalu Idika Kalu, a former minister of finance captured the mood of the people when he said the subsidy removal smirked of wickedness and “it is an abomination for a king to commit wickedness – Proverbs 16:12.” Thus, the ensuing five day strike demonstrated the power of the internet, the creeping Arab Spring and anger and deprivation exemplified by the Almajiri infested Boko Haram menace.
Ranged against government in the protests were disparate groups: labour – exercising its legitimate duty of protecting its constituency; unemployed youths, middle class radicals who sought to stop government which seeks to take away their piece of the national cake.
A feeble defence of the policy was offered by Lamido Sanusi, Okonjo Iweala, Atedo peterside with Labaran Maku belatedly introducing the subsidy reinvestment programme (SURE). Some of us were stunned by government’s naivette in claiming to use money saved from subsidy removal to develop SURE. We know there is no such money anywhere and SURE had no budget. Who is fooling who? Without budget where will government find money to implement SURE?
It is hoped that everyone has learned wisdom from this Nigerian Spring. Jonathan now knows he cannot take Nigerians for granted. He has to be forthright and hardworking in order to regain the respect and trust given him before the crisis. Government can no longer dither on fighting corruption particularly the subsidy cabal, the fraudsters in the NPPC and the godfathers of the PDP. On the other hand, Nigerians now know that it is in the national interest to deregulate the oil sector. There is now a consensus around punishing the corrupt officials around NNPC and fuel importation. Commendation also goes to the Central Bank Governor who by painstaking analysis convinced the nation to abandon fuel subsidy for Ben Murray Bruce’s transportation subsidy and subsidy reinvestment and empowerment programme.