(Flash back to Occupy Nigeria Protests in January 2012 when this article was first posted: 8th January 2012)
Don’t mind the title; I had to grab your busy attention from the onset. But really, are we sure we are not all Corrupt in the true sense of the word? Corruption, corruption! All this talk of not trusting our leaders, even when they make policies that are sensible is rubbish. Okay we are corrupt in Nigeria. But do you think we are more corrupt than the Italians, the Chinese, the Indians or the South Africans? We are just a whole lot more lazy, it would appear. We prefer easy Government jobs that guarantee steady salaries and afford some privileged Nigerians the opportunity to sit around doing nothing for weeks without end, giving them time off to do their own personal stuffs at the expense of public funds, allowing them to go on pointless labour strikes for any reason at the slightest prompting.
They incredibly get to buy very expensive modern cars they can not ordinarily afford with five whole years of untouched regular wages. Nigerians spend huge fortunes on festivities and live well beyond their formal means. Most ordinary Nigerians are indeed as corrupt as the worst politicians and actually even more dubious in their own micro sphere of operations than is popularly admitted. A whooping eighty percent of working Nigerians, in every sector are just like their leaders that rob them. The only difference is that they can only nick the odd naira off fellow Nigerians as a mere bribe or as the unwarranted overpricing of essential items. Some of Nigerians are even worse because they as easily kill their own neighbors in their worship places and burn up their fellow citizens’ homes while they are in bed, for the flimsiest reasons. Their leaders do not do that to their neighbours but they easily give them pittance to murder their fellow masses.
At this juncture let me define corruption from the Nigerian’s general perspective, which incidentally doesn’t differ from the conventional one but emphasizes one Nigerian’s misgiving and particular distrust for another Nigerian having the means to exercise their advantage over him. Corruption to the Nigerian means ‘having undue advantage’ and the definition of the phrase ‘undue advantage’ is relative to the individual, his orientation or bias. Already some Nigerians have started exercising their advantage by making fellow citizens pay over hundred percent more than they ought to after just a few days of no fuel subsidy, making them pay more for stuffs that don’t even have anything to do with fuel.
We blame everything on Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan because he is the president and rightly so, but then we find ourselves completely blameless for the pains we inflict on our fellow citizens and our own lazy carefree-ness, for craving so much more than we earn. We need a pinch in the arm so that we would wake up and grow up to the reality of things. When we grow up to our own simple honest responsibilities then maybe we can have the moral right to “Occupy Nigeria” as progressive citizens and not the disoriented, cheapened & perpetual government welfare population we have made of ourselves.
It is such a pity that so many intelligent people can not understand the simple economic advantage of removing oil subsidy. It is such a pity that they actually chose not to because it quite conveniently fits into their larger plan of discrediting this president for either fraudulently ‘winning’ an election, or ‘hijacking’ the PDP apportioned Northern Nigerian presidential slot! It is a huge insult to our teachers who had painstakingly taught us the viability of market forces. We either conveniently dumped their lessons on demand and supply, with their elastic curves or actually failed our O’levels school certificate.
If we would just study the GSM progression in Nigeria and the glorious demise of NITEL as a direct result of this, we would draw parallels on why the over pampered civil service is in the forefront of the Pro-subsidy campaign. The old NITEL staff had tried to compete with the flock of new telecommunication companies then. NITEL floated a GSM venture (M-TEL) and it was always destined to be a stillbirth. With this deregulation drive, the old NNPC and old NEPA entities seem destined to go in that direction. It will be a pleasure to see this because it would mean an efficient market driven economy with less idle civil servants to pay with public funds for inefficiency.
I have woken up to the fact that a lot of Nigerians are hell bent on having an economy that is predominantly dependant on government policies and not on market forces. The former (Government Policies) is prone to corrupt practices while the latter (Market Forces) is mainly in the hands of the people. The developed world has since come to terms with the fact that there is no substitute for a market economy. This debate has since left the realm of academic theories and transmitted into proven practical facts. The demise of USSR and other nations of the Soviet bloc is an eternal endearing case study.
Presently the Chinese are cheating their way to world dominance through the rewards of demand and supply; cheating because they steer the factors to ensure that it is more of the western world’s demand and their supply. The simply practicality of market forces makes it virtually impossible for prices to go beyond adjustments of Productivity, Availability, Profitability and Acquisition (PAPA). We must discipline our minds and perspectives.
Nigerians prefer the former because they love to demand and wouldn’t bend over and supply. Most Nigerians lack the personal discipline to be progressive and task themselves to persevere under a strenuous regime of creativity and its prolonged lingering changing effects. This is plainly because of the popularity of the age old quest of hanging to the past way of doing things and lying to ourselves that we live in a market driven society.
We grew up hearing tales of new university graduates driving into waiting jobs in brand new company cars. We learnt of; and sparingly got, education scholarships from the Government and glutted on how easy life should be if it isn’t. The persons who had shouted to the roof tops about our corrupt officials are now old in Government and they are worse than those they complained about, when things were a whole lot better that they are now. As such it seems better for most Nigerians to just sit back and watch, while amassing more fraudulent wealth for themselves and their kith & kin. Thus the corruption hydra would only thrive if the status quo remains as we endlessly pursue a vicious cycle.
We are still under the impression that Nigeria is rich and we can some how get all our stolen money back and have incorruptible diligent leaders in waiting to take over and take us to the promise land. We are dreaming still. For these reasons I am therefore so sure the Occupy Nigerian movement will lose in the very end, if it indeed succeeds in getting the status quo back. We will go the way of Greece, Ireland & Iceland when our corrupt cronies are done with us and we haven’t taught ourselves to market our resources and trade amongst ourselves but to rely on the flow of our abundant oil that is dwindling fast.
We also forget that we have a lingering sentimentality problem which is ceaselessly harnessed by a small portion of our parochial ethnic, religious and political elite in pursuit of their own selfish quests for relevance and dominance. So it is very difficult for the typical Nigerian to rummage through all these factionalized mess and determine the reality of thing as they truly are. It is important that we are not fooled about the true state of things about our national economics as they are now. These facts are in summary;
– The Nigerian nation is broke; how or why it is broke doesn’t change this fact.
– Nigerian can not gamble that things will change if they remain as they are.
– Nigerians must pay their way through this period ultimately, now or later.
– The Government is unreliable and can not be depended upon, now or later.
– The people can not guarantee fuel subsidy but can determine every price.
– Market forces will empower Nigerians economically and thus politically.
– Only empowered Nigerians can change the nation with their votes and activities.
Nigeria needs the price of fuel to be determined by market forces more than it needs anything else now. A lot of things rest on this, from the price of a cup of Gari to the exchange rate of the US dollar. The capability to determine the unit prices of every single item in the country should be in the hands of the final consumers of these items, to a very large extend! With proper handling the Nigerian economy will explode and we will stop stocking dollars indoors and waiting for its dilly dallying exchange rates to guide us. As it is now the dollar continues to have a dual rating; an unrealistic pegged government one and another unrealistic Black market maneuvered one, both playing games with us.
We will weep for Nigeria if all is lost when we refuse the present truth because of the old lingering lies. The world economy is not healthy, why do we think that somehow we will be immune to that effect. In the last five years Fuel prices in Nigeria has been fixed and unchanged. Within the same period every other price elsewhere soared and it is amazing that a lot of intelligent people can not understand the need to put an end to this uncertainty. Just as the decision to favour either creation or evolution theory is beyond the academic minds of a lot of very educated persons, they likewise find it difficult to see how increasing a price today will make the same price to fall and stay down tomorrow.
Already the fuel pumps that were selling fuel at crazy astronomical prices after the first few days of subsidy removal have dipped their prices by as much as 5% after a single day, without Government interference. That is unheard of before now. Also a majority of the urban commuters that paid rates increased with 100% overnight were confronted with newer rates reduced with as much of 40% after just one day! That is market forces at work, reflecting the simple fact that commuters reduced and transporters bought less fuel. There were even early signs of the naira gaining on the US dollar because confidence in the world economy toward Nigeria soar suddenly, making the Nigerian economy a potential home for more foreign investors orphaned by the financial crisis in the west.
Now the almighty Nigerian Labour Congress decides to sit back at home again for so long, because their predominantly civil servant members’ salaries are fully guaranteed to be paid while all those daily earning masses suffer the strike they call for. Everybody that is Pro-subsidy forgets the fact that any other president that wishes to have an easy time in office will gladly keep the subsidy in place with a brave face and leave office a small hero. The nation suffers eventually with a lean purse, huge debts and angry citizenry still.
President Jonathan is considerably unpopular up and down the country because he is sitting in a northern Muslim‘s presidency and he is not a Yoruba or Igbo southerner. These are the three major factions in the country that form popular opinion. It is now common knowledge that this president inherited a mine field for an economy and those who know better agree that the end to all subsidies is inevitable. There is hope still, if we could put measures in place to fix the real trust and corruption issues we all have against our leaders. Once empowering the masses is prioritized, subsidies will not me craved for.
Most feelings generally accept that removing the subsidy is not in itself wrong, but many people had emphasized that plans to subsidize mainly the transport sector and agriculture while enforcing existing laws that are presently ignored, will curtail excesses amongst those saddled with managing public resources. There must also be a drastic reduction of the crazy fraudulent overhead costs of government. As it stands now, it just amounts to ostentatious waste that gives the impression of blatant thievery. Still this endless Government intervention in prices only empowers the black market, it only enthrones a dual economy in parallel contradiction, discourages investment because of the lack of confidence in the profitability of returns and that ultimately transmits into less viable paying jobs for the teeming unemployed. With the right handling, this subsidy removal would make Nigeria‘s economy more viable and definitely more realistic; at last.
In Nigeria, all prices go up around the end of every calendar year anyway. Business would then slow down around mid to late January and the prices start to fall. Hence this hike in prices fitted into this period snugly, making a good unexpected cushion for the increase in fuel prices. The timing isn’t the best but what timing will really be, honestly? The people in Government and the rogues in the Black market are persons that only seek to please themselves firstly, so the masses can really only rely on their demand and supply to force the hands of everyone else, even the organized private sector. Also a free market will ensure competition and not a monopoly that is impossible to regulate.
As long as the old practice of the federal Government, the informal Black marketer and a monopolistic sector continue to controls prices in Nigeria and not the real market forces, the masses will never have a real say in these matters or any for that matter, no matter what impression is created by some aspiring future government leaders who are still making unrealistic and utopian economic promises to the naïve and gullible masses.
A partial removal of subsidy is as good as useless. Actually it will possibly be the most detrimental outcome if the present pro-subsidy campaign results in such a compromise. History should teach us this lesson best of all. Every single time the military regimes of old and their civilian successor removed a tiny piece of the subsidy, prices still soar by as much as fifty percent at least; much more in some regards, irrespective of the percentage of subsidy withdrawn. This has over time been the sole driver of high inflation in the Nigerian economy. As such a partial removal will virtually have the same effect on prices as would a full withdrawal, without the many gains of the finality of a full withdrawal.
The people can only control market forces and the complete removal of fuel subsidy is the only certain way we can end the annual year ending fuel panic buying, hoarding and price increases. It is the first essential step in ending the habitual inflation gallops based on the arbitrary surging of prices in general because of our huge reliance on fuel. Market forces also guarantee diversification of the economy, investments and jobs. These are all devoid of whatever any government would promise now. This is the only true substitute for the removal of fuel subsidy, which will actually empower Nigerians more, rather than further enslave them. Keeping the subsidy is mere postponing the inevitable anarchy.