Saturday, 27 April 2019 07:17

[OPINION]: Trouble de sleep, yanga go wake am… - Duro Onabule

Let’s go straight to the point – Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari must continue to disagree with both International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank on their insistence that the country must phase out fuel subsidy. That is the only sincere advice from a well-wisher. If, however, Buhari feels like bowing to IMF and the World Bank, the Nigerian President will do well to listen to one of the immortal works of late maverick musician Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.

Admittedly, on Buhari’s first coming, he and Fela hardly agreed. But were Fela alive today, some level of mutuality would have existed between the two men. Thanks to Buhari’s current liberal posture. It is in that spirit that Buhari should listen to  Fela Anikulapo’s album “Trouble de sleep, yonga go wake am…” it is possible state duties may consume time to make it impossible for Buhari to have the time for what should now be a very essential fun. In which case, Buhari should request his special adviser on media affairs, Femi Adesina, to write out for him the entire lyrics of Fela Anikulapo’s album referred to earlier.

For now, there is a disturbing uncertainty on Buhari’s stand on the future of fuel subsidy. It is not as if his body language is NOT against further withdrawal of subsidy but the whole show is becoming epileptic by the day. One moment, Nigerians are assured that subsidy will not be withdrawn. The next moment, IMF’s generalissimo, Christine Lagarde, would call and hold secret meetings with ministers/government officials and publicly pass her judgment on Nigeria’s economy, usually with gloomy future cloaked in uncertainty.

Then, ministers would follow with series of gobbledygook. Latest episode is even more confusing for its timing and uncertainty. It is impossible for the entire discerning Nigerians to have misunderstood ministers in their clear-cut testing of public feelings towards planned withdrawal of subsidy, all at the instance of both IMF and World Bank, only for the same ministers to be tactfully changing the story. This seeming hit and run tactics is clearly aimed at calming growing public hostility to any idea of increasing fuel pump price.

 

By the way, mouthing withdrawl of oil subsidy is beating about the bush. The simple language for ordinary Nigerians is massive increase in price of petrol. So, everybody should know what the controversy is all about. On this score, President Buhari is the luckiest Nigerian leader for some time. Every withdrawal of subsidy in the past was preceded by fuel scarcity caused by refusal of fuel importers to deliver to NNPC, thereby forcing fuel pump price to be increased as one of the measures of ending the scarcity. Inevitably, its effects on poor Nigerians in terms of rise in transport fares, food prices and ripple effects on cost of living on the poor always led to violent protests and riots all over the country.

Not long after Buhari was elected in 2015, the oil importers were back at their economic sabotage and hardship to the public who experienced fuel scarcity. Ordinary Nigerians, harping on Buhari’s integrity not to loot the treasury, voluntarily demanded that, as long as fuel would be regularly available, the outstanding subsidy could be withdrawn, irrespective of the consequent astronomic rise in cost of petrol.

Hence, subsidy was removed and petrol pump price shot from N97 to N145 per litre. Nothing could be more celebratory for the newly-elected President Buhari (in 2015 that was) as the increase in fuel pump price by almost 50 per cent passed without the slightest public protest. How more understanding and co-operative could Nigerians have been. 2019 is far away from 2015, in between which cost of living has tremendously increased and not in any way reduced by the upward review of minimum wage. None of Buhari’s military or civilian elected predecessors enjoyed such goodwill and understanding.

There was this convenient excuse being employed in a mischievous attempt to force withdrawal of subsidy, in effect high rise in the cost of petrol, on us. Last time, trillions of naira (being) paid as subsidy was shrouded in mystery and fraud. In the process, everybody became, indeed, posed as oil importer collecting billions of naira as subsidy for oil not even supplied to NNPC in some cases. There was neither rhyme nor reason. When the criminals were exposed to have defrauded the nation of over N2 trillion, former President Goodluck Jonathan denied any knowledge of the payment. The then Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s approval was not obtained. Neither did the National Assembly appropriate a kobo as subsidy. In short, the subsidy scandal Buhari inherited was mind-boggling.

 

Is the situation with oil subsidy the same today? Surely not or, better still, any information to the contrary should be disclosed to the public. It is, therefore, untrue that fuel subsidy benefits mainly the elite. How much does fuel  subsidy benefit the elite? If the subsidy is removed today, private vehicle owners will still adjust to the new fuel pump price, even at N1,000 per litre. The danfo driver? The inter-city and inter-state vehicle owners? The taxi, or Marwa/Keke Napep shuttlers? Okada riders? None of these serves the elite. Rather, the major patrons are the masses who will suffer transport fare rise, the inevitable consequences of withdrawal of fuel subsidy.

Would that be all? In the build-up to the 2019 elections, one campaign weapon, which almost ruined APC’s chances was the opposition parties’ focus on ordinary man’s hardship caused by high cost of living, which, instead of abating, is getting higher. Accordingly, any planned removal of oil subsidy will negatively impact on food prices all over Nigeria. Again, in such situations, the so-called elites presumed to be hit with that development will adjust, while millions of poor Nigerians will bear the brunt. It is too early to forget that protests over rise in food prices caused problems for the government in Sudan.

What is the history of nationwide violent protests in Nigeria, especially against increase in fuel pump price? Elites don’t ever participate in such protests. Yet, they are supposed, as beneficiaries of fuel subsidy, to lead the protests. Rather, only the poor masses, hardest hit by rise in transport fares as well as rise in food prices, always lead the protests.

One major question is, why do IMF and World Bank always focus on developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America? The economic prescription for developing countries always destabilise. To worsen matters, IMF in particular would thereafter be pressing for the naira to find its value, an indirect call for devaluation. Will it ever be in Nigeria’s interest to allow the naira to depreciate to N1,000 to the dollar? Again, what would be the effect on cost of fuel, cost of transportation, of food items and transport fares? A landlord affected by the rise in cost of living would then increase rent of the tenants.

 

As if withdrawal of subsidy and devaluation of naira were not enough, the same IMF would still pressurise Nigeria to increase rate of value added tax. Why? But for the hostility of Nigerians towards such proposal, Budget Planning Minister Udo Udoma was projecting such.

To bring it home to President Buhari on the so-called thoughts on withdrawal of subsidy, he should consider this. How is his concern for the poor in the country? Any idea of withdrawing oil subsidy or devaluing the naira will, among others, affect manufacturing industry and production costs, all of which would be passed on to the consumer. Those to be instantly and heavily affected are millions of Nigerians who, today, rely on pure water. From 50 kobo in the past, this choice forced on masses, millions of them, today costs N10. Withdrawal of subsidy on petrol will force cost of pure water to possibly N20. How many of the poor masses can afford such high cost of ordinary water?

What will Buhari tell voters in Kogi and Bayelsa states during the campaigns for the November elections? And of course, 2023 is around the corner, instead of the presumed four years away.

Nedu, all on his own

Are you ever bored? If so, stop yawning. A newscaster in pidgin English in one of the numerous radio stations in Lagos will solve your problem. The station concerned has branches in some parts of the country like Onitsha, Kaduna, Abuja, Port-Harcourt, etc, where pidgin English-speaking residents abound.

The newscaster’s name is Nedu, which in itself is curious because he does not answer to any surname, if at all he has. Nedu is in a world of his own with jaw-breaking, nerve-cracking peculiar style. Nedu’s translation of the day’s news from all parts of the world relaxes even the most angry mind. With Nedu, there can be no tension around.

To sustain your listening, when Nedu breaks for advertisements, he tells the listener, “I, is coming back,” with such confidence and affection. Who can beat that? If you think you would have had enough at the end of the news in pidgin English, the next programme on the station at 8.15am, immediately after the news, is even more hilarious. Called newspaper review at town hall level, about five of them are real country people.

One of them is “Balogun” and three others, including Echei or something of the sort. The most outstanding on that panel and they all defer to him to avoid his trouble, is one Alhaji Malam “Musa,” presumed to be a Northerner with deep-rooted northern accent even in pidgin English, when commenting or analyzing the day’s items from newspapers.

Alhaji Malam Musa? That is the same Nedu, so versatile when he also interjects his pidgin English with Yoruba slangs, you will be listening to the same Nedu in Ibadan/Ogbomoso dialect. It is incredible.

Irredentist Easterner, irrepressible Northerner and local Oyo/Ibadan bar man, all in Nedu.

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