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Opinion / Editorial

Oil Subsidy and the Hunt for Hypocrisy – By Pius Adesanmi

Buhari-TTAJ
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In this explosive piece, eminent Professor Pius Adesanmi tackles the issue of fuel subsidy and the insincerity of Buhari’s administration.
1) I remain unpersuaded by the arguments I have read in favour of oil subsidy removal. I am not talking about the mostly hot air, ill-informed, half-informed, and politically-jaundiced propositions being pushed on all sides on social media. I am talking about conversations I’ve been following or contributing to in other spaces. Until I read superior arguments and logic from those arguing in favour of this move by President Buhari, I remain persuaded that subsidy removal is wrong and I condemn it without equivocation. President Jonathan was wrong to have removed it; President Buhari is wrong to have removed it.
2) I am not unmindful of the basic problems with the subsidy regime. We don’t need to go into details here. The problems have been retailed ad nauseam in our public sphere for years and are being retailed now by supporters of President Buhari to justify the removal. Let us just say that all those problems lead in one direction: corruption. If oil is Nigeria’s most corrupt sector, the subsidy regime has been by far the most “fantastically corrupt” wing of that spectacularly corrupt sector of the Nigerian economy. The subsidy regime is the home turf of Nigeria’s shadiest and most powerful characters – the breeding ground of petro billionaires and multi-billionaires. These are the criminal patrons of the Nigerian state who are paid billions to import air or water or sand or nothing and declare it as imported fuel. Some of them even import non-existent fuel in non-existent fuel tankers and are paid handsomely by the Federal government in the subsidy regime.
3) There is also the other argument about market forces and market dynamics. Supporters of the removal are saying that we cannot continue to pretend that we can somehow defy the market, etc. I know this argument too. In fact, it is sexy and seductive on the surface.
4) Everybody arguing in favour of oil subsidy removal is combining numbers 2 & 3 above and their variants in their submissions.
5) Here is my problem with number 2. No administration in Nigeria has ever really had the courage, the moral resolve, and the ethical willpower to go after the saboteurs and beneficiaries of the oil subsidy regime; those who decade after decade have prevented the dividends of oil subsidy from reflecting on the quality of life and purchasing power of the masses. None has ever been arrested or prosecuted. It means we have never operated the oil industry with minimal corruption and therefore have no national experience in what possible benefits are accruable from a corruption-free oil sector.
6) When you remove oil subsidy, my understanding of it is that the Nigerian state is capitulating to corruption. She is saying that because she lacks the courage to go after the usual suspects and charge them with treason and cleanse the Augean stable in a comprehensive manner, she will just kuku give up and pack up the subsidy regime entirely. Until we try a corruption-free petroleum sector with subsidy, it would be illogical to conclude that subsidy does not work. It does not work and has never worked because there are too many entanglements of corruption. The untouchable fat cats making subsidy impossible are PDP and APC, Christians and Moslems, they are from virtually every ethnicity. And President Buhari is basically saying that he lacks the resolve to fight them.
7) The same thing applies to Number 3. I remain unpersuaded by market fundamentalism. Let market forces determine things bla bla bla. The Western owners of this doctrine hardly ever subscribe to it. Whenever something is determined to be the life wire of the middle classes and the masses in their society, they subsidize it heavily while describing others trying to do the same thing for their own people as “rude” and “fantastically corrupt”. No Western country is a genuine market fundamentalist. Market fundamentalism is what they prescribe for you if you are Chinese, Arab or African.
8) Read up on farm subsidies in the United States, Canada, and Western Europe. There are critical sectors that these imperialists protect at all costs for their people with subsidies while advising you to remove subsidies and be at the mercy of market forces in the Third World. For much of the decade of the 2000s, African governments complained bitterly about how US and European farm subsidies were ruining the lives of African farmers. They protect their own farmers with subsidies and advise you to leave your own farm products to market forces! What farm subsidies are to the developed world, oil subsidy was to the Nigerian people: the only remaining safety net for the people in a state run exclusively by the corrupt rich for the corrupt rich. Subsidy was the only thing the people could still theoretically benefit from (if you take out the corruption). Instead of fighting members of his own corrupt ruling class who were making it impossible for oil subsidy to work for the people, President Buhari has elected the laziest escape route. From experience, the lazy escapes of the Nigerian state from her responsibility always ensure that the people bear the brunt. This is not acceptable to me.
9) President Buhari, go and fight the subsidy buccaneers properly. If your government fights them in a way that commands the respect of the people and market forces still overwhelm you, even with reduced corruption in the sector and the installation of better refineries, then you may come back and make a case for subsidy removal. The purported benefits of this removal are at best fanciful. The economy is still largely in the hands of saboteurs and traitors. Even your 2016 budget will be implemented and monitored by the same people who padded it. You said you would punish them only to end up shuffling them in the system.
10) Whatever your government is also preaching that the people will gain from subsidy removal in the long run is not supported by our history and experience. Just look at Fashola. What kind of noise did he not make about the “dividends and benefits” of higher electricity tariffs? What the people have gotten instead is higher tariffs multiplied by longer spells of darkness.
11) These are the issues. Luckily for you, President Buhari, you will get away with this subsidy removal because there is no opposition in Nigeria. When President Jonathan tried it, there was opposition against him. His opposition organized and mobilized and he was forced to reverse his decision.
12) Those who say they are your own opposition today are pea-brained caterwauling efulefus trolling the Walls of your supporters instead of mounting principled opposition to you the way those whose Walls they are now trolling mounted opposition to their hero. Fools that they are, they are heehawing over who is an APC or PDP supporter. They have been on the hunt for hypocrites in the past 48 hours, branding those who opposed fuel subsidy removal under Jonathan and are now supporting it under you. They can never organize like those who were in principled opposition to Jonathan their hero. In fact, the closest they have come to organizing in the Buhari era is to organize ‪#‎IStandWithBuhari‬ after fighting each other on Facebook over who got what from Jonathan’s campaign funds.
13) But for the fact that I gave up on them a long time ago in terms of one’s hope that they could evolve into a principled, issues-driven opposition that could grow our democracy by not letting you get away with decisions such as this subsidy removal, I would have advised them to look into the mirror in terms of their search for hypocrites. How can anybody have argued that subsidy removal was the only way to go under Jonathan but not under Buhari and then turn around to look for hypocrites?
14) Sadly, President Buhari, there is more to the tragedy that is your opposition: they hardly ever come after you. They are always after anybody they label your supporter. The absence of an opposition explains why you have gotten away with issue after issue, especially on the terrain of pre-election promises denied, modified, not kept, or ignored. They cannot take any of these issues and develop it into a coherent template for patriotic national dissent. Instead, they troll social media looking for hypocrites writ large in their own mirrors.
And you get away with things, President Buhari!
– Written by Pius Adesanmi

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