Petroleum Subsidy Removal and the Rape of Democracy in Nigeria

January 2, 2012 § 3 Comments

Kenneth Amaeshi

She was raped once, twice, thrice, and so on. Her oppressors were powerful and were ironically meant to protect her. She had been often frustrated about her situation, but the resources and access to justice were largely controlled by her oppressors.  With the passage of time, she had come to accept the brutality and callousness of her oppressors. As such, she subsequently became a victim of both rape and learned helplessness. She accepted new measures irregularly introduced by her oppressors. Daily molestations became a normalcy for her. Suddenly, one day, her oppressors, as if they had a change of heart, asked her to trust them to protect her interest; but on the condition that she would allow for more temporary pains to be inflicted on her. They promised some palliatives to help her endure the pains they would inflict.

Whilst the thought of freedom sounded exciting to her, she was required to trust her oppressors ex ante – i.e. even before they put the palliative measures in place to help her endure the anticipated pains. She did not have any cause to trust her oppressors, and knowing their kleptomaniac tendencies, she did not equally have any antecedents to base the trust on. The oppressors promised further consultations to convince her of their genuine intention. Unexpectedly and surprisingly one day, the oppressors inflicted pains on her without any considerations of her feelings. Unsurprisingly, it turned out to be grievous pains, which could lead to her death.  Although she was prepared to give her oppressors the benefit of the doubt, their unanticipated behaviour convinced her more than ever that a leopard would never ever be spotless. She is Nigeria and her oppressors are her successive governments.

Only a couple of days ago, I watched them on Channels Television: Ngozi Okonjo Iweala – the super minister and the economic messiah from the World Bank; Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi – the very “erudite” economic scholar and Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria; and Deziani Allison-Madueke – the invincible minister of petroleum resources. They appeared human and genuine. They curried for trust. They banded tenets of neoclassical economics to support the removal of petroleum subsidy. They claimed we were in it together, although Sanusi Lamido Sanusi made it clear that he did not know where the fuel for his cars came from. The postulated date for the introduction of the subsidy removal was the glorious April 1 – not withstanding that it is a fool’s day! But what they did not say was that they would sneak in the petroleum subsidy removal from the back door on the New Year – very typical of the Trojan horse Greek gift. They were supposedly the best brains from the World Bank, the Central Bank of Nigeria and the uber Ministry of Petroleum Resources in Nigeria. They want the Nigerian populace to trust them, yet they have blatantly undermined the very trust they crave for.

The heinous and deceptive removal of the petroleum subsidy from the back door without the courtesy and civility of letting the public know beforehand, and on a New Year for that matter, has come to epitomise the decayed and distorted democracy in Nigeria. It is a rape of public legitimacy and trust, by an insensitive government oppressing innocent and powerless Nigerians – the very people they portend and pretend to represent. They carefully and intentionally avoided the fight for corruption, which is the bane of Nigerian politics and development, in their argument and actions for the petroleum subsidy removal. This is not surprising since some members of the cabal who have held the country hostage might have captured the government and its governance machinery. They could have been their friends, political supporters and cronies. Even rumour and conspiracy theories have it that it is all a gang up by the present government to disarm the groups armed by the previous government of Obansanjo. In other words, it is a struggle for GEJ to displace those empowered by OBJ. No matter how true or false these conspiracy theories might be, they mainly confirm the old long saying that the grasses are the obvious victims in a fight between two elephants. The masses will definitely bear the brunt of this callousness and insensitivity meted by a conscienceless and selfish government and its crème of arrogantly deceptive technocrats.

Unfortunately, despite the grandiose claim that the removal of the petroleum subsidy would make available resources for infrastructural and development initiatives, as well as spur foreign investments in the sector, it is very obvious that the claim is empty and bogus given the weak institutional context of the Nigerian political economy. Empirical evidence from institutional economics suggests that the main socio-economic problems in Nigeria are traceable to poor governance, weak institutional context, and lack of institutional trust. As a result, Nigerians who have suffered repeatedly under successive brutal regimes and have been disappointed many times by kleptocratic governments will find it difficult to believe a word of what the government of the day says.  This is a necessary context for the appreciation of the subsidy debate. Going by the tenets of institutional economics, before any subsidy removal, the government needs to win the hearts and minds of the people through tangible actions – including containing its own prominent financial extravagancy and profligate Epicureanism. To acknowledge that the government is over-bloated and do nothing about it, as a necessary first step, appears to me as a miscalculated judgment and a further manifestation of the old behaviour, which the people detest.

Poor governance and weak institutional context are recipes for creating successful markets for corruption. Corruption, as one of the deadly socio-economic ‘diseases’, has continued to threaten and diminish quality of life in Nigeria.  Pretending that the removal of the subsidy would work, without first addressing the issue of corruption in Nigeria, is an illusion.  The people are not as dull and passive as the government may want to believe. The people have been hard pressed for so long, which would prompt any reasonable person to conjecture that Nigeria is teetering on the edge at this moment and a cost shift in the name of subsidy removal could send the country over the cliff. The lessons from the Arab Spring are still very much fresh in the minds of people.

Suggesting that the rent-seekers are the main problem and yet do nothing about arresting, prosecuting, and punishing them if found guilty, is a million dollar question begging for a credible and trustworthy answer from a government that is struggling to win the people’s trust. Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, the government has chosen not to set our house in order, first, by enhancing our governance institutions, before removing the subsidy. This is the height of public deceit, which is tantamount to a rape of democracy!

 Dr Amaeshi writes from Edinburgh, UK; and is a Visiting Faculty at the Lagos Business School. He is the Founder of Nigerian Thought Leadership Forum

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