By Jide Olatunbode
I’m largely apolitical. I believe that in a democracy, the people deserve the kind of government they get. I also believe that in an argument, especially one where both sides are largely intellectuals, it would be foolhardy to blindly pitch camp with any side. Truth is, given certain facts, people have a way of viewing it through their own lenses – the half-full/half-empty conundrum.
It is in light of the foregoing that I hardly comment on various opinions flying east and west across cyberspace, especially as regards the fuel subsidy removal. If you stand in the shoes of every debater either pro or against subsidy removal, you will see that a good number of them have solid arguments. I will not bother you here with any of these arguments, but I’m sure you get the point.
But on reading Sanusi Lamido Sanusi’s response on subsidy removal, I was amazed by his tone and some of his thoughts on the issue. I decided to address same. You can read Mr Sanusi’s response here.
Let me first state categorically that I’m not writing to debunk Sanusi’s arguments. I’m certain that deep intellectual thought must have gone into the decision to remove fuel subsidy. Sanusi, in his response, gave reasons why the subsidy removal was the way to go, and his reasons seem very sound. I have no problem with that. My grouse is with the attitude with which this highly placed economist touts while giving his reasons.
First, he begins with the faulty premise that PMS is the “fuel used by the middle class and car owners to drive around town and from city to city not to employ workers and produce goods and services.” He goes on to say that when the subsidy on diesel was removed, nobody seemed to blink because it only affected the blue-collar workers; and the noise being made in all media now is simply because the rise in PMS price is going to affect the way the middle class fuels their ‘smart cars’. The final straw was the plea to stop all ideological pretenses. He says this discourse should be between the elite. In other words, it has nothing to do with the masses.
Let’s look at those statements closely. Is it really true that PMS does not produce goods and services? What powers the large majority of the road transport system? Diesel? Of course not. Can every business afford the high-powered generators that consume diesel? Of course not. And who says this isn’t about the masses? Trust me, when push comes to shove, the middle class will survive, and we would not be having this debate. The brunt of this whole fiasco is borne by our electrician who was booed out of the bus because he protested the fare that had doubled (“Abeg comot for my moto. You no hear say fuel na N145?). The brunt is borne by the factory worker whose lunch of boli and epa has suddenly become pricey. The brunt is borne by the ordinary worker who stays in Festac, works in Ajah and commutes to work via public transport. All these people don’t own smart cars, and cannot be said to be middleclass or elite. Yet their lives have been changed dramatically by this very smart economic policy.
This snotty attitude – the belief that the problem boils down to a discussion between the elite – is perhaps one of the reasons why a sound policy like this could be rejected by millions of good thinking individuals. How else would you explain the rationale for announcing the removal of PMS subsidy right in the middle of the New Year festivities? How else could you explain the absence of any palliative measures until the country erupted? Sanusi does not deserve the credit entirely. You see, until we begin to elect ordinary Nigerian citizens into public office, there would always be a disconnect between the policies they develop and the realities of the common man.
And that, my friends, is where the problem lies. Think about it: When these policies were being formed, it would seem that no thought was given to the condition of the masses and how they would be affected by it. Even when every single social medium was overflowing with tales of woe that would befall the masses once the subsidy is removed, my CBN Governor called it ideological pretenses! Amazing! This begs the question: who then do you create economic policies for? The elite? Or the teeming masses? It is this myopic perspective…this seeming inability to look past the economics and see the big picture that has brought us to the impasse we’re in now.
I believe we have the intellectual wherewithal to effect considerable change in this country. But I also believe that mind-sets like the one Sanusi portrayed in his statements need to be changed for effective and seamless change to be possible. Nigeria is not just made up of middle-class elite that require an intellectual discourse on the tenets of sound economic policy each time a controversial decision is about to be taken. In fact, the middle class form only an infinitesimal fraction of Nigerians. The majority of Nigerians are people who, on a daily basis, struggle to survive. These people must be made to understand what the future holds for them in the light of these policies – communicated to them in a way and manner they understand. Measures should also be put in place to ensure that the brunt is not too blunt that it bruises. I sincerely do not need to say all of these. The simple realization that the masses exist and are affected would create the right atmosphere that would engender the right kind of thinking.
On a final note, compare Sanusi’s response to the one given by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. You can read it here. The stark contrast between the two becomes apparent. One could argue that NOI understands the role the masses play in an economy, or that she has interacted with more sophisticated economies, or some other delicate arguments. But I’d leave that discussion for another time.
God bless Nigeria.
I’m on twitter: @olatunbode