If you can’t walk, just limp
I started yesterday morning with just a “cackle” – by sending out a tweet to find out if anyone has information about the anti-subsidy-removal protest in Akure. It paid off. A friend replied. Another friend joined the conversation. We encouraged one another. And in less than one hour, we were all there. The Akure anti-fuel-subsidy-removal protest walk gathered momentum. We moved from Oja Oba to Cathedral, then turned along Arakale and walked all the way through NEPA Junction, towards Igbatoro Road, and then towards the Governor’s Office. We were told the Governor is not in town. How far that is true, we might never know. I believe he may not have fled the state or the country. We would keep marching to his gates every day until he gives the president our message in unequivocal terms, which is that we do not want the fuel deregulation at this time.
You know what? This is one long walk I believe in. I had injured my left knee while exercising on Christmas Eve. I have had to be on painkillers and physiotherapy since then. This past Friday, I went to my doctor – he advised me to rest the leg until it will be completely healed. Hence, I was on bed rest through weekend. Yet yesterday, I took the audacious step to defy medical advise – and I painfully limped all through the entire 6 kilometres of my participation in the day’s protest walk. It may have stressed me quite much, it may have undermined the health gains of my weekend of bed rest, it may further elongate how long I will swallow painkillers for my injured knee – but it freed my spirit and my voice. And that is what is important.
Now, I have the moral right to ask you – what did you do yesterday? What are you doing today? How are you helping this struggle? The struggle to free our land from tyranny – are you just sitting at home pinging and tweeting? See, like I said day before yesterday, all our pingings, tweetings and bloggings would amount to mere chicken cackle if we don’t join the freedom walk.
Be Encouraged to Participate
Friends, let us not be complacent in this matter. This struggle, this strike, these rallies are working! See, Government has taken to propaganda – but even their propaganda is hollow. At 4pm yesterday, I watched the NTA Government propaganda, while they were trying to show us that everything is going on as usual – one of their interviewees and coerced supporters said “Government shut down only the petroleum aspect of the economy, Labour has shut down every aspect of the economy”. I giggled. Government has tried to show that everything is going on as usual but they have inadvertently shown that the strike is very effective.
Let me share with you two things that were very encouraging yesterday – I met at the rally one of the labour union leaders, an acquaintance; he said to me “Wow, it’s very encouraging to see people like you here”. Number 1, he knows I don’t participate in labour union activities unless it is very important and unless I have weighed everything in an even-handed manner and concluded that is the best approach. Second, he knows that I always prefer dialogue to protests and rallies. The square truth, however, is that Government opted out of dialogue by unilaterally going into deregulation. Deregulation of petrol is a matter that would affect every soul in the country. While it is a sound economic theory, Government’s approach to it has the implication of further widening the gap between the poor and the rich and eroding the middle class. That’s why we must resist it and Government should revert back to the pre-deregulation position until a consensus approach to deregulation is reached.
Again, I was myself encouraged when I saw Professors and Senior Lecturers marching alongside bankers as well as unemployed youths, and mechanics and bricklayers. It shows that this is a course that unifies Nigerians from all walks of life. Even school children participated. So, what then is your excuse? See, professors earn up to 400,000 Naira per month. If the 141 Naira per litre petrol stays, the professors will not suffer as much as the average Nigerians. If Government insist on 141 Naira petrol, the professors could extend their own ASUU strike and collect a robust palliative from the Government for their own selves. Yet they are in this struggle because they know the facts. They are not fighting a selfish battle. We are not fighting for our own personal gains but for the collective good of out country. So, you don’t have an excuse not to join in.
Before I will tell you what the facts are, let me reiterate the premise that I have been a fan of Mr. President and, last April, I strongly advocated that he should be elected. I do not regret that decision. However, one of the marks of sincere friendship is being able to speak the balanced truth to, and about, your friend. In this case, the truth is that the Government has overstepped. The larger part of the populace has said “NO” to deregulation at this time. The House of Representative has said the same. And I would opine that if the Administration feels incompetent to handle the Nigerian economy without deregulation at this time, they might as well step aside and allow anyone who is confident to manage the economy without deregulation at this time to come on board. Personally, my view is that deregulation is good but the timing and method used by this Administration are unnecessarily burdensome.
Now for the facts:
- Nigeria exports 2.4 million barrel of oil per day;
- the 2011 budget was prepared with a benchmark crude oil price of $65 per barrel;
- throughout 2011, the average price of crude oil was $90;
- this means that the 2011 budget UNDERESTIMATED Nigeria’s crude oil incomes by $25 per barrel which translates as an extra $60 million dollars (N9 billion per day throughout 2011);
- this means that the 2011 budget underestimated the national income for the year by a total of $21.9 billion or 3.3 Trillion Naira;
- Government is yet to explain to the country how it successfully utilised its share of this 3.3 Trillion Naira unbudgeted national income for 2011;
- as a nation we deserve and demand a full account of how Government’s share of that 3.3 Trillion Naira was spent.
The urgent and pertinent questions that arise from these facts are these;
- How did the Government make use of its share the $21.9 billion unbudgeted money it earned in 2011. If you don’t understand the question, I will re-phrase; At the beginning of 2011, Government estimated that Nigeria’s oil exports will be worth $56.94 billion but eventually it was worth $78.84 billion, so where did Government’s share of the extra income go?
- Could the Government use the excess oil earnings of 2011 to finance the capital projects it intends to carry out in 2012 without removing the fuel subsidy? Why not, if not?
- If Government is sure that the N1.3 Trillion it wants take away from fuel subsidy and apply to other areas will have the tremendous impacts it projects, could Government consider experimenting with an alternative funding option, by selling bonds, for example?
- What can the Government do to secure our international borders, not only against fuel smuggling (as claimed) but against the unauthorised incursion of armed and unarmed foreigners? What would be the financial implication of such border security measures? Can the Government fund such border security measures by selling bonds and thus curb the alleged fuel smuggling? Would curbing cost of securing the borders be offset by the gains the Government would thus make by preventing fuel smuggling?
- In the few days we have used in 2012, oil has sold for not less than $100 per barrel internationally whereas Government budgetary benchmark was for $70. Again, it means we have had a bonus income of $72million (or N11 billion) per day. What is Government’s share of this N11billion per day? Could the bonus N11 billion per day accommodate the N4 billion per day the Government purportedly spends on fuel subsidy and still leave a balance for capital projects? Is it possible for Government to set up a committee that would meet on a monthly basis and use the excess crude oil incomes of N11 Billion per day or N330 billion per month to finance specific capital projects? If we see how judiciously they can manage the excess crude oil earnings of N330 billion per month, would we resist the deregulation move however painful?
- Who are President Jonathan’s personal friends and advisers? This question is very crucial, although it seems way off. Before you raise your objections, I will explain. It is often said, show me your friends and I will tell you who you are. On Wednesday 5th January 2011, the 7pm NTA International news showed a man speaking to Nigerians and the whole world from inside the premises of State House, Aso Rock, Abuja. That man’s name is Diepreye Alamieyeseigha. Honestly, my first reaction was to wonder if State House or NTA was under some form of voodoo spell. I’m not joking. I understand that Diepreye Alamieyeseigha was the Governor when Jonathan was Deputy Governor, but then Diepreye Alamieyeseigha was subsequently arrested in London for money laundering charges and was reported to have escaped to the country. He was impeached here and convicted. Even if he remains the president’s best friend, should such a man be shown on NTA International speaking from our State House, and talking to us to support the president’s deregulation plan at this very sensitive time? Even if the Administration does not consider that to be a wrong for its image, shouldn’t NTA have raised a question about the propriety of this?
- If Government could find no other person to endorse it’s deregulation agenda besides Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, who was arrested in London with 1 million pounds cash found on him, escaped from London and was subsequently convicted here, and still has a case to answer with the British authorities, why should we believe in and support such an agenda? (Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing personal against Diepreye Alamieyeseigha; his own people allegedly gave him an hero’s welcome after he escaped from London, but as long as that man still has a case to answer with the London Metropolitan Police and has not yet returned to clear his name, I don’t think he is in the best position to speak to me from State House and tell me to embrace the Governments deregulation agenda. My take is, if Diepreye Alamieyeseigha’s hand is in the baking of this cake, I’m not sure I’ll be biting it. Let him get to London and clear his name first, then come back to endorse Jonathan’s policies. Then, I will be the first to embrace it.)
So, my friend, that is why you would have to join the rallies and the strikes and not just stand aloof. There is at least one sure example that the people who are endorsing the deregulation of petrol at this time lack moral currency.
Don’t sit at home, if even I could limp for 6 kilometres, it means you can come out and walk – if your walk shall make you free, you shall be truly free. Don’t leave our country in the hands of Diepreye Alamieyeseigha.
PS: I’m resting my injured knee today, but I will participate again tomorrow. I have decided to keep participating in the freedom march on alternate days until Govt. Budges. But for health reasons, I’d go everyday.