So, from January 1, 2022 or thereabout, a litre of fuel will cost N320 or perhaps N360, to make it sound more rounded. So, the government announced this week.
I understand the economics and the English Language of it. I understand that it is the only way to avert a six trillion subsidy bill for next year. But it doesn’t answer the question of questions: How will the people cope?
I have been pondering the problem of poverty in Nigeria for years and for someone who has reflected on it day and night, I have very simple explanations from which solutions can be developed. The more you ponder a matter, the simpler your position.
- The issue here is not about policy correctness, but about how the people’s standard of living can carry what is coming at them. It is about how much they have left after buying necessary food and shelled out something for shelter and gone to work and back. Too many Nigerians have slipped below poverty lines in real terms that you cannot impose on them further realistic economic costs – not even on basic things like fuel and electricity. That’s the problem. It is like law enforcement. You can fully enforce laws only in a normal society. If there are many extremes of life, those enforcing the law will become overwhelmed or even partly consumed by the circumstances that they will have to overlook a number of what they consider lesser crimes.
I am certain the government itself somewhat understands this but it is just committed to going ahead because we have pushed ourselves into a necessity. Subsidy has become an existential matter and the leadership is going to just ram this in, hoping the people will be able to stretch themselves even thinner to cope. It is a hopeless situation. We are reading about incoherent things like N5000 being given to the poorer segments of society. Those are signs of trepidations and decoherence in the government itself over this matter.
I wish the government has drawn at least a two-year plan to make this move. I can sense that this standard gearshift approach will result in a concatenation of unintended consequences because of the level of poverty in the land which I am certain the government does not fully appreciate. Poverty in Nigeria is a special type that is caused by a culture of dishonesty, foisted by the leadership itself at all levels and mocked by wanton affluence just next door. These are very special issues to unravel carefully and address. Remember they have also become the culture and the essence of the Nigerian state and addressing them will mean wholesale changes for society.
- And in that two-year plan, one thing should have been implemented. I call it Identification Policies.
This is something critical to the Nigerian situation and to leadership in its basic sense. You cannot have the people earning light wages in the midst of soaring inflation while those in government leave large off the best of the fruits of the land. Measures should be implemented to make the earnings of leaders make sense in light of the reality the people face daily. I sometimes wonder what will happen, for example, if the federal and state governments issue orders that cabinet members should travel strictly by road for the next three years. It will bring them and their plans down to reality so much all the roads will be fixed as if in a day! That is the sort of thing I am talking about.
This is my position on the impending removal of fuel subsidy and I see that the essence of all its consequences, both foreseen and not, will flow from these two items above.
The silver lining on the fringes of its dark cloud is that it will force the leadership to correctly gauge how the average Nigerian is living. Pretences will evaporate, reality will be forced on us all and this is likely to force the leadership to address 1 and 2 above, namely, wage war on poverty and the culture of gross inequality. Without these, you cannot suddenly hope to successful bring Nigerians to paying what the rest of the world pays for basic things.
Ogunlela is an entrepreneur based in Ikeja, Lagos
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