They Have Unleashed Another Pain!


Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye


Today, Wednesday, September 14, 2005, labour organizations led by the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Civil Society groups, Human Rights bodies, and millions of Nigerians, carried out peaceful rallies and processions to protest the new regime of pain and anguish unleashed on the already impoverished masses of Nigeria by a government  that no longer wishes to pretend about the fact that it has a serious score to settle with Nigerians. The days ahead will, no doubt, be marked with so much pain, suffering, and abundant stress, and a lot of wailings and lamentations will be heard in many homes in Nigeria. Hunger, anaemia and untimely deaths will certainly increase and multiply. The illiterat e village woman may never hear that President Olusegun Obasanjo, the substantive Minister of Petroleum and undisputed Oil Sheik in Africa, has increased the pump price of his oil, but she will suddenly realize that the prices of essential commodities have suddenly gone beyond her reach, and would be wondering why!  If you ask me, it does seem that the leading lights of the Obasanjo government derive peculiar animation and immense pleasure from watching Nigerians groan and writhe in pain.


Given its solid reputation for extreme insensitivity and callousness (some say it has reached the point of sadism), expecting the Obasanjo regime to be moved by the cries and untold sufferings of Nigerians, as the fuel price hike begins to, most excruciatingly, exact its toll on hapless Nigerians, will amount to stretching optimism beyond its malleable limit. With totally confused, dry-as-dust, specious logic mongers like Engr. Funso Kupolokun urging him on with words and theories Funso himself neither fully understands nor actually believes in, any hope for some form of reprieve in this land while Obasanjo still holds court in Aso Rock can only meet with tragic evaporation.


Indeed, if the masses of Nigeria are yearning for the slightest bit of relief and happiness, they will have to look beyond the irremediably corrupt and soulless Obasanjo dictatorship, because, from every indication, these are clearly not in its list of priorities.


Take the issue of the so-called debt forgiveness, for instance. How can anyone that has the heart of a human being, just wake up one morning, and carry Nigeria’s twelve billion dollars and hand over to the Paris Club, partly to “demonstrate that all the President’s globe-trotting which were harshly criticized by Nigerians have now yielded great dividend”?  Indeed, the indecent haste to foreclose any further negotiations for more humane terms on the debt issue is grossly suspicious. I seriously doubt the genuineness of the “patriotism” that fires this fiery zeal.


There were reports that even before Gen Obasanjo left for the G8 meeting in Scotland, as the Chair of the African Union (AU), to campaign for “total debt cancellation” for Africa, Nigeria has already pledged to accept this utterly prodigal and impoverishing condition from the soulless Shylocks at the Paris Club. So, assuming Obasanjo’s grand campaign had paid off at the G8 Summit, and total cancellation of debts was secured for African nations, Nigeria would not have even been part of it! Because, I can imagine our brilliants “experts” drumming it into our ears that, since we have already given our word to Paris Club, the “honourable thing” would be to part with that massive sum.


As I read the numerous ferocious, incoherent and rambling attacks on Simon Kolawole, the Editor of Thisday (Saturday), by government’s “experts” and faceless hack men, I just wondered whether all those rage and venom were being lavished just because Simon had asked very simple questions about a major decision by his government which will grossly affect the lives of majority of Nigerians. Or are there some entrenched interests in the matter which his mild questions and humble suggestions had threatened? Because, honestly, it is really difficult to understand all the fury, name-calling and undisguised desperation, simply because, a journalist just decided to engage his country’s “experts” in a simple, straightforward debate in a “democratic” era. 


No one is advocating debt repudiation in this particular case now, even though, we may certainly get there soon. Indeed, the rising tide of adverse public opinion globally on this debt issue must be unsettling to these unsparing creditors at Paris Club, especially given the deep questions currently being raised all over the world about the origin and true history of these “debts.” So, if bodies like the Paris Club can hastily get their lackeys and paid agents in debtor countries to arrange a pound of flesh in the form of the kind of “debt forgiveness” that Nigeria has just secured, they would be too glad to let go.


 Nigerians know that the most effective weapon against 419 is delay, and that time is one commodity that is extremely scarce in their business. That is why everything is done to put undue heat on the prospective victim, to hurry him to his doom. Indeed, a number of people are becoming very uncomfortable with the extreme impatience in the camp of the nation’s  financial “experts”. We are simply scared that the Nigerian government would just sign away this twelve billion dollars, the product of an oil windfall we may never get again, when it can take out more time to negotiate favourable terms, because, if you ask me, the details of the over-celebrated “debt forgiveness” given to Nigeria is, to say the least, suicidal. Why is it that almost every move of this government ends up multiplying the pain of the populace?


Indeed, twelve billion dollars can help change the face of Nigeria, and equip it for a grand exit from its current beggarly status. Indeed, Nigerians can’t help feeling terribly scared when their rulers behave like unfeeling task masters sent to further enslave them by soulless institutions like the World Bank, IMF and the Paris Club! Right now, industries are closing down in Nigeria, and relocating to Ghana, and other neighbouring countries, because Nigeria is a nation engulfed in endless, impenetrable darkness, due to the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA)’s crying inefficiency.


With a chunk of that money, Nigeria can crawl out of shameful and crippling darkness and embrace the liberating showers of light. Then big and small businesses will begin to thrive, more employments will be created, and prices of goods and services will nose-dive! Assuming NEPA is able to give light, fuel price increment may even not mean so much pain to the populace, because, the man running a barbing salon, for instance, would not need to know how much fuel costs, especially if his house is close to his business place. But today, he cannot work without generators, so he must regularly purchase fuel.  Ditto for the woman grinding beans, tomatoes or pepper in the market. And the prices for these services will keep rising daily!


Yes, with this money, government can fix the roads and put in place an effective transport system. If one could get decent buses or city trains to take one to work as obtains in better-managed climes, why would one want to take the trouble to drive oneself to work every morning? If there is constant power supply, why would majority of housewives bother themselves with cooking gas and kerosene, when all they would do is get an electric cooker? Why, for instance, should I own a toy generator from China which I must fuel in order to write this essay if there was steady and stable power supply that can carry the tokunbo computer in my study?


But why, if  one may ask,  are the refineries not working? I am told that it is in the selfish interests of oil cabals, with strong links to the Presidency, that the refineries never work. The aim is for the nation to depend on imported fuel, until, perhaps, this callous and corrupt government goes with its bunch of  garrulous  and under-achieving “experts”.


The story is that very impossible conditions have been placed before those granted licenses to build private refineries to hinder them from taking off. They have been clearly assured they would get crude oil at the same price it sells in the international market. And we all know that unless this wicked condition is changed, no one would venture to build a refinery because, such a one won’t be able to make any profit. But, why should it be so?  Why should I get the fruits plucked from my father’s backyard at the same price it is going to be sold in the open market if my father does not hate me so much? In Saudi Arabia and Iran, for instance, where rulers have good intentions towards their country and people, there is a different lower price for crude oil purchased for domestic use.


There is a totally disgusting body that calls itself the Petroleum Pricing Regulating Agency (PPRA). Every day our ears are assaulted by government’s propaganda machines  proclaiming that the down stream of the petroleum sector has been “deregulated”. Now the question is: if this is so, what is the PPRA then “regulating”? Can deregulation and regulation be operational in the same sector at the same time? 


The other day one fellow from PPRA was on TV and it was such a searing pain watching him telling Nigerians that each time the price of crude oil goes up in the international market (which should mean huge gain to the country) the price of fuel at home must go up as well. Why? Oil, Nigeria’s oil, he says, is an international commodity! And so, while citizens of other oil producing countries enjoy immense benefits from their governments each time there is an oil windfall, Nigerians must have to get more pain through fuel price increase. Have you heard that kind of thing anywhere? So if the price of crude oil starts selling for say, $200 a barrel today, instead of rejoicing at such a boom, Nigerians must start mourning immediately, because, suddenly the price of fuel must shoot up i n their country! This is the only country where gain has become a bringer of pain. Should Nigerians now go to bed every night praying that crude oil prices should never up go up, but drop so low, so that fuel can be affordable in their country? So, said  the PPRA man with sickening solemnity: they are working hard daily, monitoring crude oil prices; each time the thing drops by one cent out there, then, the price of fuel may go down by, maybe 30k or 50k or even one naira here! Now if you are not a Nigerian, and anyone told you this, you will certainly not be able to believe that anyone living outside a lunatic home can utter such a nauseating nonsense to rational human beings. That is Obasanjo’s Nigeria for you!


Now, look at it this way: You are a parent and a trader. Your family must expect a drastic reduction in the housekeeping allowance each time you record bumper sales! That is exactly what the Obasanjo government is telling us. Please, dear reader, if you have another definition of sadism, let me have it.  


Somebody was on TV a few weeks ago and saying that from Tafawa Balewa to Murtala Mohammed, there was not a single fuel price increase (despite even the Biafra/Nigeria War!) until Obasanjo did so in 1978 Also, since 1999, fuel price has been increased seven times, all in an attempt to remove the phantom subsidy, and with the same dubious promise to channel the money realized to the provision of social amenities. Now, where are the social amenities? Has anyone been to our schools and hospitals? Has anyone plied our roads recently? What of power supply? Is the nation not still engulfed in impenetrable darkness due to NEPA’s non-performance? The “social amenities” they are talking about, can it be the posh houses being purchased for innumerable wives, girlfriends, concubines and countless children in choice areas of Europe and America?


When late Abacha increased fuel price, he set up Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), which built roads, supplied drugs to hospitals and equipped schools. Has this government had added the slightest bit of value to the life Nigerians? Ask Funso Kupolokun today to show you the evidence of government’s subsidization of oil, and he will start talking of “landing” and “bridging” “costs” and such bunkum. But we know that there is no subsidy, and that the current fuel increment cannot be justified, no matter how it is viewed. It is just another way of unleashing needless pain and suffering on the populace. 


Maybe, they do really have a point about the existence of subsidy. Yes, we are subsidizing the abysmal incompetence and boundless corruption of our rulers.


The NLC may probably go beyond the rallies and processions of today and call out Nigerians for a strike after the government, predictably, ignores its warnings. But who will suffer eventually? The same impoverished Nigerians! Because, rather than worry about the effects of any strike on the economy or the people, Gen Obasanjo may just go abroad with great flourish, and from there “strategise” on how to kill the NLC. For this government, the problem of Nigerian masses has ceased to count. They in fact find it greatly exasperating.  


 Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye