SUBSIDY IS GONE! PALLIATIVES GONE!! WHAT NEXT?
By; Augustine Omilo
In the days of the military regime of General Yakubu Gowon, Nigerians were greeted with the notion that the country had so much money to the point where spending same became the problem of the country. That was the oil boom era of the 70s. In 1973, the pump price of the premium motor spirit (PMS), popularly known as petrol was about 6K per littre until the head of state increased it to 8.45k. The price did not exceed 70k until Chief Earnest Shonekan who became the nation’s interim head of state for about 82 days increased it again from 70k to N5 in 1993.
After his palace coup of 1993, General Sani Abacha reduced the pump price per litre to about N3. He later moved it to N11. This was however moved to N20 by the Abdulsalami Abubakar before leaving office in 1999 as head of state. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo took over as civilian president in 1999. After much resistance from the Adams Oshohole-led Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), OBJ “tampered” with the price many times and left it at N65 at the end of his tenure in 2007. Since then, the price of the commodity in Nigeria has not “known peace”.
The trend continued throughout subsequent regimes. Suddenly, Nigerians woke up to the reality that petrol price in the country was heavily subsidized by the federal government of Nigeria. The people were not informed about the person who actually introduced subsidy and when it came into being. But the awareness became rife during the time Goodluck Ebele Jonathan as president.
GEJ left office in 2015 with one litre of the product selling for N87 at filling stations nationwide. Within eight years of Muhammadu Buhari and his APC administration (2015-2023), the price jumped to about N250 for the same measure.
Then came; “subsidy is gone” by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu on the 29th of May, 2023. From that moment, the price went up to about N520 per litre. Nigerians applauded the action and courage of the number one citizen along line but demanded for palliatives. The president went ahead to respond to the yearnings of the people. He secured a whopping sum of N819B being 2022 supplementary budget from the national assembly. With this, the president proposed the payment of N8000 as monthly cash transfer to twelve million poor and vulnerable people in the society for six months amongst other palliative measures.
The sum of N500B out of the budget was set aside for this with the approval of the national assembly. In addition, the government plans to procure 500 hectres of land for agriculture. Apart from this, BAT also hopes to revive 11 out of the 12 River basin authorities to make farming an all-year round activity. Reacting, majority of the Nigerians objected to the N8000 help line. They insist that the federal government should instead fix the nation’s three non functioning refineries in Portharcourt, Warri and Kaduna. Many also prefer the increase of workers’ salaries and provision of alternative means of transport.
Going by the definition of palliative, one has no option but to believe that “palliative is gone”.
For the avoidance of doubts, a palliative is a temporary measure applied to a problem or sickness in order to have a quick relief pending when a curative measure is put in place. None of the preferred actions of the populace can be successful within a short period. For example, even if government starts the process of revamping the refineries and the people embark on farming on the 500 hectres of land, none of these can materialize before next year. Anyone who survives the current economic crunch till then does not really need palliatives.
Meanwhile, since 29th of May, 2023, the price of fuel has remained on a “speed lane”. This has made the cost of living to go beyond the reach of the ordinary Nigerians. The federal government has increased the school fees paid by students in her secondary schools and universities. Bread that used to be the preferred meal for children has become so expensive that even bakers are complaining of low patronage. It is an understatement to say here that many civil servants no longer go to their workplaces on regular basis.
As the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) gears up for strike and protest with effect from 2, August, 2023, the country’s economy faces a stiffer condition that portends untold hardship on the inhabitants of Nigeria. And if the federal government stops labour through the instrumentality of the court, what happens when the citizens are so pushed to the wall that they begin to rally round the civil society organizations for mass action?
For now, the importation of fuel into the country requires foreign exchange, especially dollars. Therefore, the invisible hands in the country’s free market economy that is heavily dependent on oil will influence the people’s living standard for a long time to come.
Now, that subsidy is gone and palliatives have followed suit, what is the next to leave? Everyone must work hard to ensure that the value system of the country do not go the way of the subsidy and palliatives. We can maintain hunger without being excessively angry. Let all else go but Nigerians of today must bequeath love and good governance to generations yet unborn.