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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Nigeria On The Brink

The Nigerian Nation was indeed shut down today Monday 9th January 2012 by a Nationwide Strike Action led by the Nigerian Labour Congress NLC and The Trade Union Congress TUC who were joined by various Civil Society groups in the action. The protest was to register the wide spread disapproval of the Nigerian citizens over the removal of fuel subsidy by the Jonathan Government on 1st January 2012 which resulted in the price of petrol moving up from N65 to N140 per liter. All Airports, Sea Ports, Markets government offices etc were shut down across the country. Rallies and demonstrations in virtually all the state Capitals notably in Lagos and Abuja were broadcast live on the main local television.

The fuel subsidy removal crisis is compounded by the actions of a so called Muslim extremist group - Boko Haram - which has for long unleashed terror across some States in the Northern part of the country. On 25th December 2012 - Christmas Day - Boko Haram attacked St Teresa's Catholic Church, Mandala - Suleija, Niger State detonating a bomb which killed about 40 innocent worshippers attending Christmas Day Mass. A week later the mindless group attacked Deeper Life Church in Gombe murdering 8 Christians and simultaneously in Mubi Adamawa State in various attacks 20 Southerners were gruesomely murdered. The Mubi action was perhaps to actualize a threat they made a week earlier that all Southerners should depart from Northern Nigeria.

I have personally found these attacks on Christians totally unacceptable and recalling the incident that occurred in Mubi Adamawa State, in 1966 when one Ibo trader was murdered buy a Northern business rival, which was the incident that ignited the 30 month civil war, I shudder to imagine our country treading that slippery dangerous path again.
While I have in the meantime refrained from joining the debate on the fuel subsidy removal crisis which in my view is an unnecessary escalation of the security mess in which the country finds itself at this time, seeing the country inching towards a brink, I am constrained to make a few preliminary comments.

1. The Christmas Day Bombing of a Catholic Church has shaken me deeply. I am a Catholic and a Papal Knight and the cardinal duty of a Knight is to defend the faith. I was indeed surprised that it took President Jonathan seven days to make his first visit to the church site. His eventual statement that these bombings would be a feature that Nigerians would have to live with was very unfortunate and incompatible with his request of almost one trillion naira in the 2012 budget for security. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) now helpless, has asked Christians to do whatever they can to defend themselves from these incessant attacks. In the circumstance there is obviously an urgent need to address the security situation in the Country decisively in a manner that will give hope and confidence to all citizens. When the United States was attacked - 9/11, President Bush vowed to pursue and bring to book the perpetrators. He kept faith with that commitment. He immediately established the Homeland Security and since then the United States has enjoyed a good measure of internal security and safety. President Jonathan should act in a similar manner by pursuing vigorously the perpetrators and quickly sharpen an obviously blunt security outfit. Throwing up his hands in despair and blaming these acts on the presence of so called fifth columnists in his system is definitely not acceptable. I can therefore understand the attitude of a large section of Nigerians who cannot be bothered by the fuel subsidy issue if the protests did not give equal space to the actions of the Muslim Extremist Group - Boko Haram!

2.As regards the fuel subsidy removal issue, I watched with interest on TV the debate in the House of Representatives yesterday and I commend the initiative of the Honourable Speaker, The Rt Hon Tanbuwal for rising to the occasion. Notwithstanding my reservations as to the quality of some of the contributions I believe this initiative may help to restore the situation back on track. I understand the Senate will convene tomorrow and it is my hope that they would build upon what the House of Reps has done. Hopefully these interventions among others, should focus on unravelling the mysterious 1.3 trillion naira said to have been paid in 2011 to some privileged individuals as subsidy for alledged fuel imports. This sum which is more than three times the sum paid in the previous year for fuel subsidy is claimed to have been spent on fuel subsidy in a General Election Year and in an election where the PDP displayed the most reckless show of unlimited funds. Some of the fuel merchants are known to be the heaviest open and secrete donors to the PDP campaign..

3. I align with some previous Ministers of Petroleum who have stated that the cost of refining one liter of petrol internally is no more than N40 and selling it at a pump price of N65 is no favour to Nigerians. We have four Refineries in the country which have been abandoned through the past 13 years of PDP rule and if they were functioning all our internal needs would be met. It is crazy but deliberately fraudulent to ship our crude oil abroad to foreign refineries to refine at extravagant oversea costs, ship back the refined product at further cost making up the so called subsidy. The solution is clear that we have to produce our requirements internally. Suggestions that small cottage refineries be built in some states have been rebuffed by callous officials who benefit from this fraudulent dealings. The quantity of petrol allegedly imported for internal consumption in 2011 is clearly more than double what is needed in Nigeria. Fifty per cent of the fuel allegedly imported is just paper work for which huge sums have been paid.

4.I have noted with grave concern the GEJ proposed plan to distribute the expected subsidy windfall in the order of 478.49 billion naira to the Federal Government, 411.03 billion naira to State Governments and 203.23 billion naira to the Local Governments. If this does not happen the Government which budgets more than 70% of national revenues to recurrent expenditures will have nothing to fund capital development. But this Government has lost credibility and no one can trust them now. The performance of the the three tiers of Government over the past thirteen years towards capital development has been woeful. In an oil based economy where the price of crude oil rose from a paltry $8 per barrel in 1998 to an unprecedented $130 per barrel in the OBJ era Nigeria possessed a wealth never seen before, that could have transformed the country into one of the foremost developed in Africa if not the world. Rather our Power generation, Transportation, Agriculture, Health Service Education etc remain Stone Age! In the period a number of selected favorites have acquired the status of World Billionaires frequently quoted in the Forbes Magazine!! An over bloated Administration and the World's most expensive National Assembly is foisted on the Nation.

5.It is well known that only a handful of State Governments are working. The Local Government system Nationwide has collapsed - the officials at that level merely collect allocations monthly which they connive to divert in a manner agreed between them and their sponsors. No meaningful project to the benefit of the Local Government is ever executed at that level. Therefore the distribution of the so called subsidy windfall to these three tiers in the manner suggested will be unfortunate. I can very well see why this proposal has been eagerly supported by State governors who may now get enhanced monthly allocations that will in most cases not be deployed to development projects in their States.

Nigerians across the Country are angry witnesses to the recklessness of many State Administrations who have looted their States with impunity. The have lost confidence in a system which established with great fanfare an EFCC that has arraigned also with fanfare high political officials including former Federal Speaker, Governors, Party National Chairmen etc for corruption charges but has so far failed to secure any conviction.

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Item Reviewed: Nigeria On The Brink Description: Rating: 5 Reviewed By: SEGA AWOSANYA
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