With the spate of protests sweeping across Nigeria, it is clear that Nigerians are determined to fight fuel subsidy removal. This seems to be the beginning of a tug of war between the government and the people.
Protests have escalated in the country and abroad after President Goodluck Jonathan announced the removal of the fuel subsidy. The price of petrol has since increased from N65 (US $0.40) to at least N140 (US$ 0.86) a litre. While transport costs have already skyrocketed, other essential daily expenses will also rise considerably.
Defending the cut, President Goodluck said he had no intention “to inflict pains on Nigerians,” adding that the cut was in the “best interest of all Nigerians”.
He appealed to Nigerians to make sacrifices for a better future: “We must act in the public interest, no matter how tough, for the pains of today cannot be compared to the benefits of tomorrow.”
He also insisted that deregulation of the petroleum sector was an effective way of fighting corruption and helping the economy grow. “The truth is that we are all faced with two basic choices… either we deregulate and survive economically, or we continue with a subsidy regime that will continue to undermine our economy and potential for growth, and face serious consequences.”
Ordinary Nigerians who are seriously affected by this controversial policy went on strike on 9th January 2012. The protests, initially called to ask the government to reinstate fuel subsidy, have now included calls for good governance and for President Goodluck’s resignation.
But the president has vowed not to rethink his decision. He said: “I will not back down, I will not resign, nothing will happen.”
President Goodluck and his government may have what they consider to be good reasons for removing the fuel subsidy. But they should not forget that in a democracy, the will of the majority must be respected.
Having failed to convince Nigerians of the importance of this measure, they should not use force to implement it.
A government that fights its own people is destined to lose the war.
While there has been desire for serious political change in Nigeria, nothing has previously motivated Nigerians to embark on that path.
The removal of fuel subsidy and the government’s adamant refusal to back down on this issue may be the trigger that leads to a peaceful revolution in the country.
It is wrong to think that by shooting at protestors, Nigerians will give up the protests and accept to live with the new policy.
When people are poor and already struggling to survive, then you come up with a policy that automatically leads to sharp increase in the cost of living, it is insane to think that they will easily accept such a policy.
How can people accept to buy food they can no longer afford? How can they travel to work if they can’t afford transport?
The government of Nigeria should listen to the voice of the people and re-think this measure. Any political decision that makes people starve will always meet the strongest possible resistance.
By Stephen Ogongo Ongong’a