The debate on fuel subsidy has been raging on and is becoming more intense as the OccupyNigeria protests gather momentum. The government officials – Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Central Bank Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi and several others – have been appearing on television stations presenting convincing economic arguments supporting the removal of fuel subsidy. Yet, the protests grow larger across the country. Why are Nigerians unconvinced?While listening to the CBN governor present his case at the town hall meeting broadcasted on Channels television, I wished I had paid more attention during economics classes in secondary school and university. He was too fast for me, some words were just flying over my head and before I could process this statement, he was already saying something else. But despite my layman status, I still understood that his argument made economic sense. Many others too, agree, including some of the people protesting on the streets. But then, Sanusi and Okonjo-Iweala have refused to accept that this is not just an economic issue. They forget that most Nigerians affected by this change do not understand those principles of economics and big figures they invoke in their arguments, they only understand that now they have to pay more for fuel, food, transport, education, healthcare, everything!
Teju Cole, author of Open city, described this situation clearly on his twitter post: “Some non-Nigerian commentators on the fuel subsidy, deranged by macro-economics, forget the human dimension.” Sanusi, during the Town hall meeting, said that the hardship people will face is not an economic issue, implying that only the economics was important. It is not an issue to Mr Sanusi because, whatever the price of petrol is, he remains virtually unaffected. He is on record as saying he does not remember the last time he bought petrol at the filling station.
Sanusi is not the only one who shares this disconnect with the people, most public officers, bloated by their oversized allowances are incapable of empathizing with the minimum-wage-earning civil servant, who has to pay for his food, support a wife and two children, provide electricity and water on his paltry salary. Now, he faces a bleaker future. Why won’t he protest? He has been pushed to the wall.
While we appreciate that removal of fuel subsidy is a legitimate concern, and our national development is dependent on it, the moral side, which the government is not seeing, is much more compelling. The question to ask is this: Is the inevitable hardship millions will go through worth the projected economic benefits? Is it morally right to allow struggling, ordinary Nigerians suffer for the ineptitude and corruption of governments past and present? Governments whose core competence has been in broken promises and wanton waste of national resources, how can Nigerians trust that the saved subsidy money will benefit them?
This is a moral case as much as it is about economics and national development, and the economics must not be addressed at the expense of the moral concerns. I know someone might say that I’m being sentimental. I agree. But then, there are times – like this – when sentiments, emotions and feelings must triumph over logic so that we can preserve our humanity.