Last week Wednesday, when the Federal Government announced the increase in the price of petrol, from N86. 50 to N145 per litre, I went to a filling station to buy fuel. The time was 11.15pm. On the queue before me was this commercial tricycle operator, who was, surprisingly, excited that he was paying N145 for a litre of petrol he had bought N86. 50 a few hours ago. As he handed his money to the filling station attendant, after being served, he said, with a wry smile on his face: “If they (government officials) like, they should increase the price further. We will continue to buy fuel. Nigerians must survive, whether government likes it or not.”
I saw on the man’s face an obvious scorn for government. Where he was supposed to be angry that a government and a group of politicians, who had made Nigerians to believe that the previous government was clueless, incompetent and unpatriotic, are simply hypocrites, who say one thing and do completely another, he appeared overwhelmed by shock, which has turned to disdain and derision. Like this tricycle operator, most Nigerians would rather mock the government than cry for an action, which would definitely increase their suffering and hardship. It is a feeling of regret, a feeling that one has when his trust has been betrayed. It was such a feeling that Julius Caesar had when he was stabbed by Brutus, during the conspiracy that claimed his life. Caesar had exclaimed, when Brutus thrust the dagger into his back: “Et tu Brute?” (Even you, Brutus?).
To be sure, when the hike in the price of fuel was announced last week, most Nigerians felt betrayed. Who would have believed that President Buhari would approve the hiking of fuel price, having opposed this previously? Indeed, Nigerians will not forget January 1, 2012, when the government of former President Goodluck Jonathan announced the removal of subsidy and effected an increase in the pump price of fuel to N141 per litre. When this happened, President Buhari, who was then smarting from defeat in the presidential election of 2011, about seven months earlier, condemned the action. Former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, kicked against it. Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, rejected it. Erudite Pastor Tunde Bakare not only preached against it but also participated in a mass action organised by the Save Nigeria Group he co-convened and other groups. Many members of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who were in Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP) then, spoke against the increase in fuel price. The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC), human rights groups and activists opposed the price hike. Indeed, the groundswell of opposition gave fillip to a street protest, wherein the opposition took over a square in Ojota, Lagos to hold what could pass for “political adoration.” And for days, Lagos and some major cities were grounded. We remember that the President Jonathan administration, face-to-face with imminent crash of government and democracy, buckled and reversed itself, only making a slight increase to N87 per litre.
Today the sins of 2012 have caught up with us. The subsidy, which President Jonathan was blackmailed into retaining, has remained an albatross, which has done the economy no good. Seeing now what Jonathan saw four years ago, President Buhari has announced the increase in fuel price to about 70 per cent. Surprisingly, instead of vehement opposition or sustained strike/mass action, what we hear these days are that President Buhari’s hands are tied (Vice President Yemi Osinbajo); Nigeria is broke and, therefore, cannot sustain low fuel price (Lai Mohammed); President Buhari has, with this decision, “put an abrupt and just end to this assault against our economy” (Tinubu). Now those, who sponsored/financed, spearheaded and participated in the Lagos street protest (Occupy Lagos) and other major cities are talking from the other side of their mouths. They no longer see the increase in the price of fuel, as sign of failure or lack of planning.
If President Buhari could authorise the increase in fuel price, if Tinubu would support this, if Lai Mohammed would justify it, if Pastor Bakare would keep quiet and if Professor Soyinka and others, who came out in opposition four years ago when ex-President Jonathan increased fuel price, are not saying anything, then we have to send our condolences. Injustice has gone full circle and most of those who criticised fuel price increase in the past have eaten their words.
No matter what they say, increasing fuel price at a time when reduction is expected, is provocative, vexatious, insensitive, inhuman, obnoxious and wicked. It is worse when this was done without notice. This smacks of arrogance. Besides, government’s tendency of passing whatever extra cost to be incurred to Nigerians, instead of finding an ingenious way to avoid the cost is an anathema. At present, there is no palliative whatsoever in place. Income is static. Standard of living is shrinking, while cost of living is rising. What this means is that Nigerians will pay more in accommodation, food, transportation and to provide the necessities of life.
President Buhari and his associates ought to apologise to Nigerians for opposing the removal of subsidy in 2012. If not for what they did, Nigeria could not have paid oil marketers N16.4 billion monthly, as subsidy for the last four years plus. If not for what they did, the country would not have lost a whopping N852 billion (by conservative estimate) in four years, at the rate of N16.4 billion per month. Indeed, had subsidy been removed in 2012, Nigeria would have saved N852 billion, which could have been used for other things in the socio-economic programme. This is what politics has caused.
Looking forward, the onus is on government to get Nigerians’ understanding in the fuel price hike controversy. The government should stop the sermonisation, as the citizenry has seen through the hypocrisy and pretension. Measures should rather be taken to cushion the effect of increase in price of fuel. And when Nigerians accept this unsolicited plague, the government should, in likewise, make a painful sacrifice. What that would be should be left to the conscience of those in power.