I am an ardent supporter of the total deregulation of the oil and gas sector and removal of everything by the name of subsidy in Nigeria. That sector is, in my opinion the breeding pot of most corrupt practices in Nigeria and I think that getting the hand of government off this pie and allowing the private sector run the affairs with minimal government contribution would not only reduce, (if not eliminate) corruption but also enhance efficiency.
Forget whatever anyone says to you, there is no human being (well, there are testimonies about President Muhammdu Buhari) who would see the possibility of getting back at this uncaring country and say: “I‘ll pass.” The deprivations in Nigeria are so wanton that holding a piece of the national cake and walking away from it, (except that we are adept at denying our reality) is almost foolhardy.
The temptation to steal from public coffers are not only present, they are real and pressing and it would take a saint, many of whom this planet does not harbour, for such an opportunity to pass them by. The only restraint that I know is to dis-incentivise corruption by putting up structures that make it difficult for people to steal even as you work towards improving their living conditions.
This is the reason why I supported the attempt to deregulate in 2012. I still do not agree that resistance to that initiative was a function of the lack of trust in the Goodluck Jonathan administration. What know is that if the process was allowed, Nigeria would most definitely not be at this juncture of struggling with refining and supply of petrol. I am also persuaded to believe that so much of the corruption that Nigeria witnessed between then and now would never have happened. But then, that is spilt milk.
So do I support the current initiative by government? Well, the natural progression from the foregoing would be for me to support it although I need economically savvy people to explain this government move to me.
For instance, feelers from government are that this isn’t the deregulation that we expected. Government also says that the conversation isn’t about removing subsidy since subsidy was not contemplated in the 2016 budget. My understanding is that this decision is a fallout of the foreign exchange crisis that the country is grappling with, government hasn’t totally taken its hands off the sector as its still going to be involved in price fixing. So this looks like a tentative measure to ensure adequate supply of products in a tough dollar environment. It is not our silver bullet. What I have read even validates my gut feeling that some subsidy is still being paid somewhere and that we will continue to hope for probity because everyone knows that the president hates corruption. I wish I could be that optimistic even as Nigerians devise ways to live with this sudden reality.
But then I have issues with this government: Like in the lives of men, nations suffer untold repercussions when they procrastinate and fail to take decisions at the right time. Make excuses on behalf of the administration all you want, this right pricing or deregulation or whatever it is called should have been done in PMB’s first few weeks in office.
Why? The government had unusual goodwill. Two, it met a lingering fuel scarcity on ground and could have gotten away with anything. To say that it didn’t know the extent of the rot would be escapist because some members of this administration have contributed to the debate forever. The government believed in the fallacy of the potency of its integrity until the realities of its foreign exchange policy and the manipulation of the system as signified by unbridled diversion and hoarding showed that human beings are irrepressibly dynamic at anything they choose. The fear of the president couldn’t stop hoarding, it couldn’t prevent cross border diversion! Hence the need to do something about pricing.
Even then, the administration succumbed to the temptation of issuing a military fiat. Two weeks ago, my jaws dropped when the minister of state for petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu said that the solution to diversion of petroleum products was mounting of trackers on trucks. But I reminded myself that he was the expert.
And then two weeks later, you announce a near one hundred percent increase without a jot of consultation, not even with workers who will bear all the brunt. Who does that in a democracy?
Now, those who think Nigerians protesting this increase are being dramatic should imagine the ripple effect on the lives of businesses and Nigerians. Take a welder who has had to depend on his generating set since power supply has become like the woman’s monthly visitor. Suddenly, he realises that he now needs close to 400 percent of what he needed before to fuel his “I better pass my neighbour” gen set. What option does he have than to take it out on all his patrons who also increase the cost of their products and services? So the driver, barber and food seller react to the increase and live becomes more unbearable for the common man. It is just impossible to dismiss the effect of this intervention on the ordinary Nigerian.
But does this mean that Nigerians should fight this idea to a standstill? I think not. Nigerians should learn a lesson from the Israelites’ journey that has brought us to the same spot after four years.
We cannot continue with this impulsive reaction to things by allowing politicians and activists continue to colour our perception of issues-they are almost always motivated by everything but our interests. And for government, where exactly is this leading us to? How does it improve our refining capacity such that importation would soon become a thing of the past. What is the fate of the PIB, how much confidence does this give to investors in the sector? Someone should please tell us.