Monthly Archives: January 2012


This piece is a challenge us, as African people. Truth hurts but it must be told. This piece is about the reality not just in Zambia but the African continent.

Mind of Malaka

So I got this in my email this morning…


They call the Third World the lazy man’s purview; the sluggishly slothful and languorous prefecture. In this realm people are sleepy, dreamy, torpid, lethargic, and therefore indigent—totally penniless, needy, destitute, poverty-stricken, disfavored, and impoverished. In this demesne, as they call it, there are hardly any discoveries, inventions, and innovations. Africa is the trailblazer. Some still call it “the dark continent” for the light that flickers under the tunnel is not that of hope, but an approaching train. And because countless keep waiting in the way of the train, millions die and many more remain decapitated by the day.

“It’s amazing how you all sit there and watch yourselves die,” the man next to me said. “Get up and do something about it.”

Brawny, fully bald-headed, with intense, steely eyes, he was as cold as they come. When I first discovered…

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Fuel Subsidy: Review not Removal – A Call for an Expanded Objective ….by Aja N. Aja, esq.

I was still in bed early this morning when my phone rang. A friend was on the line from Lagos and he wanted to confirm a rumour making the rounds that the Federal Government had backed down and reverted to the old pimp price for fuel I instinctively hollered GOD FORBID. It may sound ironical but I really want a reversal of the removal but definitely not before the nationwide protest had begun. This confrontation between the people and the establishment is long overdue so that we know once and for all who owns this entity called Nigeria, and from which direction legitimacy flows. It will by and large signpost the direction governance will subsequently take and reiterate the primacy of popular opinion in the articulation of government policies. Of course some may argue that the government conceding a reversal of the atrocious removal even before the mass protest will be a sufficient demonstration of the supremacy of the people; I agree totally. However, the protests have assumed so huge a profile that it can and must accommodate larger and more fundamental issues and objectives rather than just the reversal of the New Year gaffe.
I do not have enough conclusive facts to conclude that subsidy exists or not. Several distinguished commentators and analysts have argued on both sides of the coin. However, I will use the view that it exists as a working assumption. By the texture of the government’s position, it appears, and strongly too, that there is fundamentally nothing wrong with the economics of subsidizing petroleum products. The removal is rather predicated on the existence of a so-called cabal which has been feeding fat on subsidy. The government has been consistent in saying that the true beneficiary of subsidy is the cabal and not the masses for whom it is theoretically intended. If this be taken as true gospel, then the job is simplified since the word CABAL in this context is not a description at large but refers to known persons and corporations, thanks to the Senate Public Hearing.
The government has sought to project its position on the mantra that it is far more just, equitable and sustainable to retrieve the subsidy money from the cabals and deploy same for the good of the people. Very noble and patriotic intentions, I must say. The money of the nation must be used in uplifting the nation through the provision of the necessary infrastructure. The government also insists that this coup against the Cabal must of necessity inflict hardship on the people. That is just where I disagree. The Cabal can be cannibalized without necessarily smothering the very people it is meant to serve.
Cabal can be cannibalized without necessarily smothering the very people it is meant to serve.

Now, let us look at it this way. If those who import refined petrol, and who are classified as constituting the cabal, receive just returns for the services they render, then the government will not be justified in reviling them and seeking to run them out of business. However, the very fact that the government wishes to dismantle them by removing subsidy suggests that the cabal benefits from a system warped beyond acceptance. In effect, it is the system that needs cleansing and not the cabal. It must also not be forgotten that whatever the cabal does is done in collaboration and collusion with top government officials. So the issue of corruption rears its ugly head again.
There is no argument that corruption is the worst single headache Nigeria has. As long as corruption remains, no reform can work, and no matter how sincere the government is, every effort to save money and plough same to developing the economy will end fruitless. Nigeria has remained unenviable at the top of the Corruption Index, and this accounts for the near-impossibility of attracting foreign investors. It will amount to sheer Pyrrhic victory to remove subsidy and then have it go down the normal route. Therein lies the fundamental challenge facing the protesters: how to pull the institutionalized structures of graft down.
Those who protest are super patriots. They are not just driven by the personal economic imperatives of the subsidy removal but by the larger picture of instilling accountability into the process of governance. It is immoral to suggest that they are paid agents of the cabal. In fact, we hate the cabal who have caused us so much pains and stolen so much from us. We truly hate them with a passion. So, calling for a reversal of the removal is not tantamount to acquiescing to the continued plunder of our treasury. No, we are only saying that President Jonathan must not disrupt our already ragged life in order to bring FRESH AIR. Bringing back the subsidy may have provoked and coalesced the protest but bringing down corruption and installing an accountable and responsive government are the sacred objectives of the ongoing protests.
Let no one be deceived; fuel subsidy must be retained and reviewed. The government must demonstrate the will to sanitize the system even as it keeps faith with the collective demands and aspirations of the citizens. If it took less than N300 billion in 2007 to service subsidy, we are convinced that barring corruption in the system, sustaining the subsidy regime should not present a significant impediment to the TRANSFORMATION agenda of President Jonathan. If our local auditors and accountants cannot be trusted to help in cleansing this Aegean Stable, we may as well ask for outside help from reputable firms to look at the books, review the process and let Nigerians know where the rain started to beat us.
So, let the cabal not rejoice; we are not fighting their battle but are coming for them. Let those who short-changed us in the privatization programme not be at ease; we shall revisit the matter. Let those who have mortgaged our power projects, who have benefitted from the stagnation of our steel mill programmes, who have converted their positions of trust into personal empires of rot be on their toes; the day of reckoning is here. The tide has turned and Nigerians now demand answers. We have come to believe that having an attitude of civil disobedience is also part of our civic responsibilities, and no religious difference, ethnic divides or political affiliations can stop this movement. Nigeria for Nigerians, that is the new mentality. If the President cannot extricate us from the grip of those who besmirch our collective fortunes, the least he can do is allow us to save ourselves.
This is just the beginning.
Aja N. Aja is a legal practitioner, human rights activist and a public affairs analyst. 



I do not intend to sound apocalyptic but events are moving at such breakneck speak that I nurse fears that Nigeria will never remain the same after the fuel subsidy agitations, no matter who wins. This is predicated on what is happening across the globe as well as the peculiarities of the Nigerian situation. The Arab Spring has created a model of passive resistance built on defiance and peoples all over the world are appropriating this example to press their demands on the government of the day. It is the nearest thing to a non-violent revolution and the contagion effect has been bewildering with virtually all corners of the world actively espousing one form of it or the other. However, Nigeria stands at a security crossroad and this makes the impending strikes and protests portentous.

The story of how we have come to this sorry pass is due largely more to government’s insincerity and insensitivity than to sabotage by organized labour and civil societies. The issue of removing fuel subsidy has been protracted, spanning several governments and decades. Successive regimes have tinkered with the price regime of petroleum products increasing it marginally over is on record that Obasanjo did more to hike the price of petroleum products than all previous governments combined, and during the last days of his administration, the Otta farmer raised it to N75 which the government of late Yar’Adua shot down to N65. It should be noted that the incumbent President was the second in command when the raise was reviewed downward.

Then stepped in Goodluck Jonathan. Let me start by stating here and now that Mr Jonathan never raised the issue of fuel subsidy in his campaign trips. He probably did not have an idea of the full picture of the subsidy matter until Ngozi Okonjo Iweala made a grand entrance on her 2nd missionary journey as a minister. Having recorded partial success in her World Bank-prodded reforms through the removal of subsidy for diesel in 2006, she hit the ground running this time around, exploiting her position as the coordinating minister to nudge Jonathan into acquiescing to removing subsidy on fuel. However, while the populace was still mulling over the idea and debating its merits, the government gave the nation a New Year gift of shock and since then, we have all been on tenterhooks .

I believe that the government has been shoddy in its management of the issue. Let us, for the sake of dialectics, assume that there was subsidy on petrol. The vital question is whether the subsidy on its own has the potential of inflicting the economic injury predicted by the protagonists of subsidy removal? I deign to say NO. I say NO because there is yet no consensus as to the actual value of the subsidy, vis-à-vis the actual consumption. During the Town Hall meeting organized by the Newspapers Proprietors, Sanusi and Oshiomhole admitted as much that Nigeria does not consume the amount of petrol that approximates to such hefty sum. Mallam El Rufai said, and nobody in government has contradicted him, that the Obasanjo administration spent less than N300 billion in 2007. There is equally yet no explanation as to how the cost of subsidy has mushroomed to about 1.3 trillion naira in less than five years. The corollary is that corruption accounts for whatever is the difference between the value of the actual consumption and the amount bandied by government apologists.

It is a fact those who have licence to import refined petroleum products are the very people who doled out money to fund the election of the incumbent government. They are the so-called cartel, who scores of commentators have described as being untouchable. In fact, Sanusi admitted that they were so rich that they could compromise anybody. It is instructive also to note what Oshiomhole said concerning efforts to sanitize the system by inviting external auditors to look at the books. The forum that suggested that was promptly disbanded and their input shelved to gather dust, if it has not even been destroyed. To put the icing on the cake, the President himself expressed on national television during the last Presidential Media Chat on December 23 that he nursed no agenda to go after the so-called cabal because he did not want to indict anybody.

There is no sense in the apparent conviction by the government that removing subsidy on petroleum will translate to an economic fillip. My people have a saying that a child should not go asking what killed his father until he is ready to confront the thing, else he will go the way of his father. The relevant question to ask, then, is whether the government has demonstrated sufficient will to fight corruption; whether the body language of government officials gives Nigerians any confidence to believe that a departure from the past is imminent; whether the government has the moral authority to demand such onerous sacrifice from the people while the so-called cabal walks free and continues to plot further banditry against our common purse.

Ben Murray Bruce played a song for Okonjo Iweala during the Town Hall meeting to the effect that government should lead by example by practising what it preaches. If that be the best canon of leadership, then Jonathan and his officials have failed to provide the Spartan model for us to follow. Convoys of government officials still stretch beyond the horizon when they move; government still maintains the best fleet of automobiles in the market and even budgets for more; countless meaningless trips outside the country on spurious engagements are still the hype; India, Germany, Saudi, the U.S. and the UK remain destinations of choice when an ailment as common as cold afflicts our public officers. Yet they do not have to queue and buy fuel with their personal funds. So where lies the example we ought to follow?

In deep sea diving, a diver is outfitted with gears that enable him to survive the high pressure environment. However, when he ascends to the surface, he must observe his decompression stops, which is designed to eliminate the formation of bubbles of inert gases within tissues of the body and thus prevent what is known technically as the Bends, which is a potentially fatal condition. An accomplished diver, even where he runs the risk of exhausting his oxygen supply, knows better than to skip the ritual. This analogy applies to Nigeria. We have been having been in the deep but have to come up for air by way of deregulating the petroleum sector. However, rushing into it without putting the necessary facilities in place to absorb some of the socio-economic dislocations that it will occasion will create so much contortions in the polity and heighten the already frayed emotions in the land.

That is my fear. Our leaders are already on the phone to Washington to inform the capitalist overlords of a successful deregulation even as the fates do hi-fives as our nation rolls closer to the precipice. The moment is truly momentous and we stand on the threshold of joining in the global fraternity of those who insist that the government is for the people and not the other way round. As the countdown clock ticks to Monday, it may be wiser for the government to err on the side of caution by having a rethink on the issue of removing the subsidy for now than allow the frustration of the masses to point out the direction for our distressed nation.

On a final note, I wish to be educated whether subsidy is really such an economic monster as it has been projected by agents of the West. If it is, why is the USA paying about $20 billion a year to its farmers to subsidize agriculture? And if it is not, why this hullabaloo about our spending our own money to make life easier for our own people?

Aja N. Aja is an Abuja-based legal practitioner, human rights activist and public affairs analyst. I chose to publish this article on my blog because I share his views on the subject.