Oil Subsidy removal protest

The whole of Nigeria was brought to a stand still during the January 9th Labour strike to protest the removal of oil subsidy, Lagos streets were like ghost towns. Every business establishment was grounded, and people came out en mass to protest the unpopular policy by the government. As a photographer I had to give an eyewitness¬† report of events at the protest square which was a replica of the Tahir square protest in Egypt. Both young and old came out to show their discomfort and disapproval of the present government. People who came out to protest also included music artists, Nollywood stars, human right activists etc, to mention a few. They all had one voice and to cap it all, it was violence free. The police were seen around but the expressions on them was that of sympathy and support for the cause the people were protesting against. The atmosphere at the protest ground was replica of a concert or carnival. The musicians present, entertained people with music that were politically motivated, with the likes of Femi Kuti mentioning names of corrupt leaders, and referring back to when his father Fela Anikulapo Kuti was alive and fighting for this same cause years ago. It is obvious the government has failed the people with their unpopular policies, and the people, together with Labour congress will stop at nothing to protest and fight for their right, It will not be business as usual as any saboteurs will be punished. The images below will tell stories words cant. Also i will like you to read the response written by a friend to the president’s speech.

My response to GEJ’s speech last night.

Mr. President, I read the transcript of your speech last night. You used words we have all come to expect. But, how many of your audience know that the basic salary of civil servants and political appointees is too low and relatively immaterial.

That 25% cut in basic is a sham and not far-reaching enough. That the major cost areas are in overheads and official corruption; Mr. President you just glossed over those and issued vague directives to curb overheads and official corruption.

Mr. President, each of the over 370 members of the NASS, on average, costs us N240m annually to maintain. That is over N900bn. How much do other countries spend on their NASS? Sacrifice is powerful when it concerns important pleasures and not mundane ones. When it is costly and not cheap… as in the sacrifice of life. You approved an increase of over 100% on a very important product and have not made sacrifices yourself.

Mr. President, u asked that overheads be reduced to ‘barest minimum.’ Sir, ‘barest minimum’ is not a number. It is vague and not executable. The so-called palliative measures are really what govt should be doing in the first place. Provision of mass transit, good roads, affordable healthcare and qualitative education are primary duties of govt and not palliatives to subsidy removal. The Federal Government for decades have failed in its primary responsibilities and have not earned the trust of the masses.

We spend so much on a govt that does not perform. How have you fared on Boko Haram? How have you fared on healthcare, education, employment? Do the indices show improvement? You blame past govts yet you heap national awards on members of those past govts. You indirectly commend them for doing a bad job or for just showing up to work. Our non-performing govt is now asking us to commit the only thing that keeps our costs relatively low to their care. We will ONLY do so when trust is built. Without a solid plan and without doing 1st things 1st I cannot trust your govt and will side with those calling for reversal of the subsidy removal.

Mr. President, the first thing you should have done is tackle the economic saboteurs who you say are undermining the downstream industry. It is easy to find them because they are few. From my experience, the major or independent oil marketers are not to blame. They are operators and not regulators. Yet, your govt has heaped blame on them.

Mr. President, experience has taught us not to believe 95% of what you say. If timing is not everything, why didn’t u announce subsidy removal in 1st quarter of 2011, and see whether you will still win the election. You have timed the subsidy removal so wrongly. Who pressured you to announce while still consulting with stake-holders. Are u really in control? Do you really get the big picture?

I don’t agree that subsidy is wrong. Governments around the world offer subsidy for various reasons: to support local producers, to keep cost of essential items such as food and education affordable, and for national security. The subsidy we have is one that funds importation; I agree this is injurious to the economy. But so is the corruption, ineptitude, and sabotage of our local refineries that made importation inevitable.

Mr. President we are now paying N140 because over N40 goes to paying for import-related costs and PEF and ‘regulated’ transporters and dealers margins. Today, PMS sells for less than N110 per litre at gas stations in Houston (USA). We are paying more because you, our govt, have not made sound decisions to promote self-sufficiency on petroleum products.

I would have supported subsidy removal if I had seen a plan 1st to transfer the subsidy on importation to subsidy to local production as a way to attract investments. That our borders are porous is a failure of govt; that our ports are inefficient is a failure of govt, that we have not seen the fruits of the past ‘so-called’ massive investments in education, infrastructure, healthcare and agriculture is a failure of govt, that Nigeria is even embroiled in a debate on a downstream petroleum industry that relies 70% on importation is a failure of govt. Now same govt is asking us to trust it with the only thing that the masses enjoy (it is now clear to all that the argument that subsidy doesn’t affect the real masses is flawed) even though our economy revolves around petroleum products (that is imported) as need for it is high because of poor mass transit, poor power, bad roads that make journeys take longer time to complete.

Mr. President, simple logic says you should do first things first. People say subsidy removal is ur first real bold act since assuming the Presidency. I think not. I think the decision to remove subsidy is not bold, rather it is weak and escapist. It is not transformational, rather it is cruel and its implementation and scale not well thought-through. Sadly, it does not solve the problem that beset the downstream industry or our economy.

You know the problem. Be bold. Solve it, if you are not part of it. Some of your cronies and associates are definitely part of it; some of them are the economic saboteurs, not the helpless Nigerian masses. If u behave like the ostrich and tackle the symptom instead of the root cause, posterity will not be kind to you. Enjoy the post.