By Folabi Ogunleye
IN a live prime-time speech from Abuja on Saturday night, President Jonathan sought to woo Nigerians to his side in the petroleum subsidy debate. It is doubtful that he succeeded at wooing anyone.
Too little, too late.
That was what I thought
as I watched President Goodluck Jonathan’s address to angry fellow Nigerians on live television a few moments ago. It was Saturday, it was nighttime, and the speech was live. The ire of Nigerians over the sudden removal of the fuel subsidy apparently had gotten through the thick walls of Aso Rock, prompting a president now generally perceived as slow in action to scramble and put together a speech in order to make his appeal to Nigerians on the issue.
The president began his address with an attempt – albeit, one that is hardly noticeable for what it was – to remind Nigerians that barely a week ago, his decision to finally sit-up to his duties as Nigeria’s commander-in-chief (after Nigerians worst fears were confirmed through a series of horrendous attacks during the holiday season) enjoyed what he described as “widespread support and understanding.”
Yes, you read that right: the president said his decision enjoyed widespread support and understanding.
That was President Jonathan’s interpretation of what was for many Nigerians an admixture of frustrated sighs and tortured holds on bated breath. But the president’s misperception did not stop at that; he would also go on to describe Nigerians’ reaction to the January 1 announcement of the petrol subsidy removal as “mixed reaction”, whereas the reaction across board has been nothing short of a continued, widespread condemnation billed to snowball into a total industrial lockdown come Monday, January 9.
Perhaps Mr. Jonathan understands all of this, even if he may not be too eager to admit the truth behind the motivation for his Saturday night speech. Otherwise, why would a mere “mixed reaction” spur the president to show up unannounced on television screens across Nigeria on a Saturday night, addressing Nigerians about this same subsidy issue while promising Nigerians everything including a reduction of the size of his government and cutting the remuneration of his executive cabinet by up to 25%?
According to the president, he has “directed that overseas travels by all political office holders, including the President, should be reduced to the barest minimum,” adding that “delegations on foreign trips will also be drastically reduced; only trips that are absolutely necessary will be approved. For the year 2012, the basic salaries of all political office holders in the Executive arm of government will be reduced by 25%. Government is also currently reviewing the number of committees, commissions and parastatals with overlapping responsibilities”.
All of that would be a mighty big deal if those on the other side of the effect of this subsidy removal were people without much self-esteem. The expectation is that the people whose support Mr. Jonathan is trying to court would make rhetorical demands of him, asking to know what sense there is in prescribing medicine after death. People should ask if the president would have considered making the recent overtures if Nigerians have not begun a forceful communication of their affront as they have so far done, and continue to do.
The truth is that the government might indeed have a strong case for ending the subsidy on Premium Motor Spirit in Nigeria, in line with the overall attempt to deregulate the oil sector. But this same government abdicated its responsibilities on two levels. First, it failed to carry the Nigerian public along as it should before unleashing its latest brain wave and its attendant consequences on them, leaving the people at once perplexed and angry. Secondly, the Jonathan Administration obviously didn’t consider sharing with Nigerians the options that the president is now desperately reeling out in a rather belated attempt to woo Nigerians to his side .
It the end it all follows a pattern; a sub-standard, inferior one where leaders of third-world countries as Nigeria rarely show the kind of high regard that leaders elsewhere show the people they govern. What exists instead is a prebendalist, condescending relationship between the governor and the governed, even at election time. In such a situation, by commission or omission, there is very little sense of accountability on the part of the man or woman in power. The leader in such environment is further encouraged by a citizenry that is at best fatigued by years of deception and manipulation and failure, or at worst, one that is simply docile in the face the excesses of the political class.
Whatever the case is, all the ingredients are in play to serve a miserly concoction for Nigerians to feed on, such that when an issue as critical as the deregulation of a major economic sector with lasting, painful impact on the people is due for implementation, serious-minded consultations along with initiatives and palliatives are rarely exploited as they should. Instead politicians and government officials pull rabbits out of their hats and expect the people to buy their hat-tricks hook, line and sinker, without as much as a peep of protest or complaint.
Yet it appears this time that a popular umbrage is brewing out of a mishmash of real or perceived affront from across the country, including the widespread anger over the brutal excesses of the violent Islamic sect otherwise known as Boko Haram. It is complex, and if it is not properly managed by those in position to manage to it, the tinderbox may very well explode to consume all.
In the meantime, the tortured horse has bolted from the farmhouse barn, even as Mr. Jonathan arrives with bales of hay on his head to feed and pacify the horse currently galloping at full speed downhill. Too little, too late; President Goodluck Jonathan had all the time and resources in the world to do what was right but failed at it. The next few days will reveal how things will play out – whether Nigerians will use this moment to give vent to an unequivocal and unbending chant of “enough is enough!” or if, as always, government will have its way again, leaving the people to pay for the corruption and incompetence of others. Monday, are you here yet?