Following the truce reached by the organised labour and the federal government over the disagreement and subsequent mêlée over President Goodluck Jonathan’s fuel subsidy removal, which was later, partially reversed, LEADERSHIP SUNDAY can confirm that prices of commodities which shot up as a fall out of the fuel pump price increase have refused to come down. CHIKA OTUCHIKERE and CHIBUNMA UKWU write.
Nigeria is a country, without any shadow of doubt, immensely blessed, with nearly everything on earth. Moreover, her citizens are reputed to be very hospitable and resourceful, among the best in the world. The only snag, however, is the endemic corruption which all and sundry aver, is turning the country into shreds and making a mockery of all the invaluable investments and endowments bestowed on it by the Creator. Laughably, persons fingered in corruption incidents are turned to sacred cows and regarded far above the country and so are untouchable.
Corruption presents all the sociable and affable citizens of this great country as a bunch of unpatriotic and perfidious fellows who, as an African adage puts it would ‘cut off their nose to spite their face’. As a consequence, while there is an evident prosperity flaunted with glee, among a minuscule segment of the populace, the masses are condemned to a life of deprivation, misery and agony.
As if in a quirk of fate, the populace is also reputedly, the most religious people, perennially in an ecstasy. Perhaps, the only explanation is that since religion exerts the same influence like opium, it also keeps them on cloud nine. However, the stark reality of their ugly situation never stops to stare them in the face, choking the life out of them.
In spite of the people’s supposedly benumbed state they are not inured to the excruciating pains poverty and deprivation wield on them. This pain has always been expressed whenever the government of the day comes up with policies perceived as obnoxious and meant to exacerbate their sufferings. They find a situation where the country has never moved from being called a poverty-stricken one in spite of the indices of a potentially rich nation including being the sixth largest producer of crude.
The last mass protests over the removal of fuel subsidy could have given an indication of what could happen to the country when the masses, for too long, have been pushed to the wall. In the minds of Nigerians if the country’s wealth were to be distributed equitably and officials found wanting in corruption cases are visited with due desert and social amenities were readily available in all nooks and crannies of the country, nobody would entertain any wish or ambition for the country to go the way of Tito’s Yugoslavia.
Also, nobody would be particularly interested in the ethnicity or religion of the leaders if such leaders looked beyond their ethnicity and religion. Unfortunately the country’s wealth has been reduced to a national cake which only a privileged few from nearly all the ethnic and religious groups have access to. The masses of Nigeria are insisting that until equal rights and justice are equitably guaranteed without regards to ethnicity and religion, there may never be peace in this God’s own country.
One fear many Nigerians raised and which informed their disapproval of President Goodluck Jonathan’s New Year day fuel subsidy removal, was the attendant and uncontrolled hike in prices of other commodities.
They are quick to lament that going by experience, every hike in the pump price of fuel has brought about a spiralling hike in prices of commodities which they noted, successive governments which hiked the fuel were unable to arrest. According to them, contrary to the law of gravity which says whatever goes up must come down, ‘whatever price goes up after any hike in fuel price never comes down. Rather they continue in an unstoppable upward ride.
Just like transporters who cash in on fuel price hike to shoot the cost of transporting goods and persons up, traders in the markets are also quick to hold fuel hike responsible for the rise in the price of their wares. The man at the receiving end, the consumer, is made to bear the brunt.
Mallam Ali Usman deals in grains and disclosed that since the fuel crisis, he has realised that he could not afford to buy his grains because his own customers would not be able to afford it at the price he would be forced to sell to them. According to him, fuel is a major determiner of price as goods sold in the market must be transported to the consumers.
“Government needs to find a solution to this recurring fuel price increase, as this has a direct effect on every activity in this country. The government has to get more serious and effect alternative means of transportation such as the railway, and waterway means of transportation to reduce the effect of the fuel crisis on the masses and the economy,” he said.
A trader in pepper and tomatoes, Hajia Amina Iliyasu pointed out that with the end of the yuletide season the prices of tomatoes and pepper should naturally have come down when new harvests commenced. She, however, lamented that the high cost of transportation has defeated that expectation. According to her, she could not purchase the quantity she used to because her customers were already grumbling that they could not afford the costs of her wares.
“The president did not try at all. He could have found a solution to the problem of transportation before he went on to remove the subsidy. Now it is not only fuel price hike that the people are suffering, they are also suffering from the rise in the cost of nearly everything in the market.
“Just as people buy tomato and pepper from me, I also buy other things from people. I can tell you that the president was not kind to us. Even if he wanted to punish us it should not have been at the beginning of the year when people were already complaining of lack of money,” she said.’
For Barr. Nath Obiokoli who is an Abuja based legal practitioner, the fuel price hike was not wrong but the time at which it was introduced was not welcomed to the masses. According to him, the fuel subsidy should not have been removed now that Nigeria is at her crossroads with regards to the security challenges being experienced in the country.
“The fuel subsidy removal should not have been a top priority of the government now, that is why the masses resisted it. What the government should have done was to tackle the security challenges in the country, improve on the people’s well being before embarking on the subsidy removal”.
Barr. Obiokoli went on to state that the effect of the policy on the populace has been devastating. “In the first place, it resulted in several unrests across the country; this further aggravated the Boko Haram crisis, which has already caused havoc. Again, the economic effect is better imagined as the prices of all commodities have skyrocketed.”
Sharing this view, a computer analyst, Mr. Oluwani Valentine told LEADERSHIP SUNDAY that the fuel subsidy which was removed at this time could be likened to bringing out fish from the water and leaving it on the dry land. Speaking further, Mr. Valentine asserted that the president should have made provision for a palliative measure which should precede the removal of the fuel subsidy.
Speaking more on the timing of the hike, Mr. Valentine said that the timing was not as though there should have been a specific duration. However, he would have loved a situation where the president had put a quotient effect between January to March. This, he believes would alleviate the sufferings and pains which the policy had come with.
“The president could have imported mass transit buses as part of the quotient effect that would precede the removal of the fuel subsidy. This would aid an average Nigerian who earns N15,000. 00 and spends N600 daily on transportation to still feed himself as well as meet with his other needs. You see, most of these Nigerians work with private firms and as such, may not have immediate increase in salaries. I look at the water vendors, the commercial drivers, the roadside restaurants ‘mama put’, as well as the unemployed in the society who still have house rents to pay. These things have a chain effect.”
Still on the economic effects of the fuel price hike, LEADERSHIP SUNDAY also gathered that the prices of goods in the market as well as services have blown up. Whereas some have taken immediate effect, others are underway.
A roadside photographer, Mr. Friday Dimgba spoke to the LEADERSHIP SUNDAY on how the hike on fuel pump price has affected patronage for them. According to him, the prices of working materials have an immediate increase in price which affects the way they render photo services to customers.
“Prices of photo materials have gone so high. Papers that we used to buy at N3,500.00 now go for N5,000.00. Whereas in time past, four copies of passport photographs go for N250, they are now N400. Customers cannot afford this, they complain and we watch them walk away because we cannot help the situation. It is indeed saddening.”
Car washers are not also left out in this experience. Speaking to the LEADERSHIP SUNDAY, a car washer, Danlami Sani lamented the ordeal which the fuel price hike has brought on them. According to him, though they are yet to inflate their prices, patronage has gone so poor as people no longer bring cars to be washed for them.
“Before the fuel price hike, we used to wash 30 cars in a day but presently, we do not wash up to 10. We have not yet taken up our prices and things are like that, it leaves us with a lot to wonder because we would still increase our prices. This is because the situation is going beyond our control. In time past for example, we could wash up to 10 cars with N500 worth of fuel but as it is now, fuel worth of N1,200 is not enough to wash 7 cars anymore.”
The situation of things notwithstanding, Nigerians are still expecting the President to look into the situation and listen to the cries of the masses.
A corps member, Mr. Suddru Nasiru narrated to the LEADERSHIP SUNDAY their experiences due to the removal of the fuel subsidy and subsequent partial reversal and pleaded with the President to put measures on ground that would alleviate the sufferings which Youth Corps members encounter especially in the area of transportation.
“It has not been easy; the new price of fuel has made life more difficult and challenging for Youth Corps. Members especially those of us that are serving in Abuja. Everything is now on the increase, I do not know how one would continue to cope but I urge the Federal Government to put measures on ground that would facilitate things for the Corps. Members even if it means assuaging their transportation costs in major cities.”
For Barr. Obiokolie, the government is expected to do something about this hike in the cost of living. He recalled the several unrests that have been brought about by the hike in the pump price of fuel and cautioned against an impending revolution.
“I expect our president to guard against implementing a policy which was resisted by the populace. This is an invitation to anarchy. Let the government intervene in the sky-rocketing prices. Nigerians would still see the president as a ruler that listens to the ruled.”
A poet and Comedian, Mr. Dozie Ezeh, called on the president to listen to the views and opinions of the masses.
“I would advise the president to listen to the masses who voted him to power. He can sensitise them before taking up any action, he can also organize programmes on the television that will let the masses be aware of what he is doing rather than taking them unawares.”
An unemployed graduate, Damian Chidubem, who spoke with LEADERSHIP SUNDAY lamented that government has made it more difficult for him and others in his shoes to get any job. According to him, whereas in the past he could see somebody to borrow some money from in order to go on his daily routine of job hunting, now nearly everybody approached would give an excuse that they were broke.
“I used to go out everyday to look for job but as I am talking to you Ihave reduced the number of days I have to go out in search of job. The cost of transporting oneself is so much that I can’t make it every day. When you ask anybody they would tell you that transport has finished all their money. There is just nothing I can do about it. I have to wait for when God will answer my prayers.
“Government needs to act quickly in the issue because more people are suffering and there seems to be no other way out. Things are getting more expensive in the market, and the jobs are not just there. How does the government want people to survive? The government at all levels must intervene by creating more employment for the people and reducing the nation’s dependence on the oil sector,” he said.