The increase in the pump price of petrol, caused by the sudden removal of fuel subsidy in January 2012 generated lots of reactions across the country. While the Labour unions called for strike actions, the average Nigerians trooped out in protest and in no time the country was grounded to a halt. It became the biggest protest in recent times in Nigeria and the whole country unanimously called for a reversal of the pump price of petrol. One year after, Nigerians are still counting the pains, the lessons and the gains (if any) of the protests that shook Nigeria for close to two weeks.
The situation drew comments from all the spheres in the country, the academia, the jurists and even the political class all lent their voices to the discourse that trailed the price hike. While the protests lingered, famous writer, Professor Chinua Achebe said “if the present Government reduced its own bloated budget, curbed the outrageous salaries and perks of parliamentarians, state Governors and local government officials, it would yield an additional hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars a year. And that, at least, would be a start. In an environment where corruption is truly tackled, a conversation can be had with the people about a gradual withdrawal of subsidies on petroleum products. But the way it was done was harsh and even contemptuous of the average Nigerian and that is why it is being resisted.”
Lending his voice to the issue, Retired Justice Kayode Eso, now of blessed memory said “the allowances of the executives are incredible. They are more than the subsidy they are giving us for fuel. They should remove all the allowances. They should remove the subsidy (constituency project funds) being given to the National Assembly. They have no right to have them. They are there to make laws and not to become contractors. The Governors are there to take care of their states. If we have all that money, there will be less demand for subsidy to go. The governors are the people to do the projects. Legislators have no right to do any project. We voted them to make laws and not to execute projects.”
The fuel subsidy removal no doubt inflicted some pains on the average Nigerian. Even strangers to Nigeria know that almost every business in the country depends on petrol to run effectively. With the sudden 125 % increase in the price, it would automatically mean that businesses would need more funds to run and of course consumers would be forced to pay more for goods and services.
Though till date, the Government claims fuel subsidy was retained because that is what Nigerians want, it has been partially removed. With the eventual review of the price from N 141 to 97, from the initial N 65, the amount paid by the Federal Government on each litre of fuel was reduced by at least N 44.
A lot of Nigerians also lost trust in the country’s leadership. Just about eight months before, millions of Nigerians had voted for “Fresh Air”, as the campaign slogan of the President promised. Many voted based on the fact that the President knows what the average Nigerian passes through, having had to go to school without shoes and school bags.
The pains would not be complete without the mention of the lives that were lost in the course of the protest. Protesters were shot by policemen in Lagos and Kwara States. A year after, no logical conclusion has been reached on the cases.
Till date, only a negligible fraction of the Nigerian population can claim to have seen the vehicles after they were commissioned.
Nigerians are yet to see the effect of the Committee headed by Dr Christopher Kolade while many are still looking forward to materialization of the promise to invest proceeds from the subsidy removal on infrastructure.
The protests obviously opened the eyes of the Nigerian Government to the investment opportunities. The (Subsidy Reinvestment Programme (SURE-P) seems to be the only gain that came off the protests and presently, it cannot be said that many Nigerians have benefited from it.
The government commissioned a number of buses which were to be distributed across the 36 states to ease the problem of transportation.
A 25% reduction in the salaries of members of the Federal Executive was achieved. Though most might not be affected as such since allowances were not slashed, the cut could still be counted as one of the gains. Moreover, the decision to slash the pay of Government officers is an indication of the President’s acceptance of the fact that his Exco are enjoying extremely fat packages.
One of the main lessons of the “Occupy Nigeria” protests is that Nigerians can indeed be united. Contrary to the notion that “when pushed to the wall, Nigerians instead of reacting would make a hole in the wall and move on”, people came all out and for once, Nigerians collectively came out to express their grievances. It also showed that the Government could be forced to reconsider its stand on some of its policies.
The fuel subsidy protests gave Nigerians an understanding of the kind of leadership they have. In the course of the protests, Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala urged Nigerians to tighten their belts and adjust to a 120% increase in the price of fuel. All what the Executive arm of Government was however going to part with was 25 % of their salaries. The promised cut in foreign trips has probably been forgotten as it seems yet to materialize. Even the promised cuts came as a result of the protest, an indication that the only language Nigerian leaders seem to understand is force.
Another lesson from “Occupy Nigeria” is that the country’s problem does not lie in the formulation of policies, but their implementation. The fact that the promises made by the Federal Government are yet to become noticeable to the ordinary Nigerian has confirmed the fears exercised then that “nothing new will happen”.