As the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) continue to bicker over the rationale for the covert restoration of fuel subsidy, Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, says he can only wish Nigerians less misery in the coming year.Soyinka stressed that prevailing socio-economic circumstances in the country make a genuine happy New Year greeting an extravagant wish, adding that 40 years after the country passed through the same problems associated with scarcity of fuel, the ugly development is still rife.
Making reference to a Daily Times publication of June 7, 1977, the laureate said, “The accompanying news clipping from June, 1977 came into my hands quite fortuitously. It is forty years old. It captures the unenviable enigma that is the Nigerian nation. It is however a masterful end-of-year image to take into the coming year, not only for the individual now at the helm of government, General Buhari, but for a people surely credited with the most astounding degree of patience and forbearance on the African continent – except of course among themselves, when they turn into predatory fiends. When many of us are blissfully departed, an updated rendition of this same clipping – with a change of cast here and there – will undoubtedly be reproduced in the media, with the same alibis, the same in-built panacea of blame passing.”
In a statement on the state of the nation, Soyinka continued: “Let this be called to our collective memory. Even before the current edition of the fuel crisis, other challenges, requiring immediate fix, had begun to monopolize national attention, relegating to the sidelines the outcry for a fundamental and holistic approach to the wearisome cycle of citizen trauma. This has been expressed most recently, and near universally in the word ‘Restructuring,’ defined straightforwardly as a drastic overhaul of Nigerian articles of co-existence in a more rational, equitable and decentralized manner. Such an overhaul, the re-positioning of the relationship between the parts and the whole offers, it has been strongly argued, prospects of a closer governance awareness of, and responsiveness to citizen entitlement. An overhaul that will near totally eliminate the frequent spasms of systemic malfunctioning that are in-built into the present protocols of national association.”
Soyinka, who said he recently ran the gauntlet of petroleum queues through three conveniently situated cities of Lagos, Abeokuta and Ibadan, last Friday, added that, “even with ‘unorthodox’ aids of passage, this was no task for the faint-hearted. Just getting past fueling stations was traumatizing, an obstacle race through seething, frustrated masses of humanity, only to find ourselves on vast stretches of emptied roads pleading for occupation. As for obtaining the petroleum in the first place – the less said the better. I suspect that this government has permitted itself to be fooled by the peace of those empty streets, but also by the orderly, patient, long-suffering queues that are admittedly prevalent in the city centres.
“It is time the reporting monitors of government move to city peripheries and sometimes even some other inner urban sectors, such as Ikeja and Maryland from time to time to see, and listen ! Pronouncements – such as the 1977 above – again re-echoing by rote in 2017– are a delusion at best, a formula that derides public intelligence. Buying time. Passing blame. Yes of course, the current affliction must be remedied, and fast, but is there a dimension to it that must be brought to the fore, simultaneously and forcefully? This had better be the framework for solving even a shortage that virtually paralyzed the nation.”
He wondered for a moment, “what became of the initiatives by some states nearly two decades ago – Lagos most prominently – to decentralize power, and thus empower states to generate and distribute their own energy requirements? Frustrated and eventually sabotaged in the most cynical manner from the federal centre! The similarity today is frightening – for nearly four days on that earlier occasion, the nation was blacked out near entirely. We know that one survival tactic of governments is to keep their citizens in the dark over decisions that affect their lives, but this was literal! And yet each such crisis, plus lesser ones, merely reiterate again and again that this national contraption, as it now stands, is simply – dysfunctional!
“What this demands is that, in the process of alleviating the immediate pressing misery, we do not permit ourselves to be manipulated yet again into forgetting the main issue whose ramifications exact penalties such as petroleum seizures and national power outage. These are only two handy, being recent symptoms – there are several others, but this is not intended to be a catalogue of woes. Sufficient to draw attention to the Yoruba saying that goes: Won ni, Amukun, eru e wo. Oun ni, at’isale ni. Translation: Some voices alerted the K-legged porter to the dangerous tilt of the load on his head. His response was – Thank you, but the problem actually resides in the legs.”
The elder statesman said, “the providential image above sums up a defining moment for both individual and collective self-assessment, places in question the ability of a nation to profit from past experience. Vast resources, yes, but proved unmanageable under its present structural arrangements. As the tussle for the next round of power gets hotter in the coming year, the electorate will again be manipulated into losing sight of the base issue. Its noisome claque in the meantime, the automated mumus of social media, practiced in sterile deflection and trivialization of critical issues, unwittingly join hands with government to indulge in blame passing and name calling – both sides with different targets. From the anguished cry of Charley Boy’s Our Mummu Don Do! to expositions from academics such as Professor Makinde’s recent intervention, the public is subjected daily to a relentless barrage of awareness, underlined in urgency. Nobody listens. One wonders if many people read. And certainly, very few retain or relate – until of course the next crisis. The Labour movement declares that it awaits a guarantee of the ‘people’s backing’ before it embarks on any critical intervention. Understandably. There is more than enough of the opium of blame passing on tap to lull mummus into that deep coma from which – give it a little more time – there can only be a rude awakening.”
He added that, “sooner than later, but not as soon as pledged, the fuel crisis will pass. And then of course we shall await the next round of shortages, then a recommencement of blame passing. What will be the commodity this time – food perhaps? Maybe even potable water? In a nation of plenty, nothing is beyond eventual shortage – except of course, the commonplace endowment of pre-emptive planning and methodical execution. Forty years after, the same language of re-assurance? “There is something rotten in the state of Naija!”
Meanwhile, the ruling APC has thrown its weight behind the decision by the government to subsidise the price of petrol in the new subsidy regime. APC’s National Publicity Secretary, Malam Bolaji Abdullahi, in an interview with The Guardian explained that the decision must have been borne out of the desire not to allow Nigerians bear the brunt of any additional increase.
Assuring that the subsidy regime put in place by the administration would be transparent and devoid of malpractices, he faulted the notion that the APC was opposed to the idea of subsidising fuel ab initio. He said : “These are tough choices that government would have to make. Either choice you make comes with its own costs, either economically or politically, but at the end of the day government has to take the best decision in the interest of the people.
“The issue of subsidy became a problem in the previous regime because of the corruption associated with it and all other forms of malpractices. If you had followed the conversation around January 2012 on the issue of removal of fuel subsidy, it was not as if the people were opposed to the action at the time.
“Nigerians were opposed to the measure because people were making money out of it to the detriment of the nation. It was the fraudulent implementation of subsidy that Nigerians were fundamentally opposed to and not the subsidy itself. “So the decision to retain subsidy we believe is in the overall interest of Nigerians. It is to also ensure we don’t pass unnecessary burden on our people, which is the priority of this government.” But the PDP has charged the National Assembly to immediately commence a forensic investigation into the new subsidy regime, which was never approved and appropriated for, by the National Assembly.
The PDP spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, told The Guardian, yesterday that the introduction of the new subsidy regime lacks the transparent approach required in taking such an important decision.According to the PDP, the two arms of the National Assembly must go beyond mere declaration of the new subsidy illegal.Ologbondiyan said: “Beyond the declaration, the National Assembly must as a matter of urgent national importance commence a forensic investigation into the payment of subsidy by this APC-controlled Federal Government.
“We urge the APC government to stop its hideous approach to governance and tell Nigerians the truth.”The National Chairman of the party, Prince Uche Secondus, also yesterday expressed sadness over what he called the increasing failures of the APC government, pointing out that it has become very clear that the APC was never prepared and equipped for good governance.
Secondus noted that in the outgoing year, the APC administration dragged the country almost to the point of disintegration because of its parochial and exclusive approach to governance.He explained that having gone through the political furnace, the PDP has learnt its lesson and is now refined and focused to return to power since “the APC has shown clearly that it could not translate its power grabbing conspiracy into good governance.”
The PDP Chairman appealed to all critical stakeholders in the nation’s democracy particularly the media and civil society groups to stand up to their responsibilities and hold the APC administration accountable.He said that he expects these stakeholders to be more responsive in the new year and ensure that APC’s anti-democratic behavior as witnessed in 2017 like a disregard for court orders and resolutions of the parliament are prevented in 2018.