On January 1st 2012, the Federal government of the Republic of Nigeria gave its people the biggest New Year’s gift it could imagine; the subsidy on the importation of PMS was removed, causing the price of fuel to go up by about 115% (rough estimate).
The chaos that ensued almost immediately was to be expected. People crammed themselves into the fuel stations, in an attempt to get fuel at the old rate, and of course, people started talking.
As a young person, most of the information I received about this issue came to me through Twitter, and I saw what we all had to say about it. It started out with complaints, but there were more jokes than anything. The youth made the most ridiculous and hilarious jokes, while some sat back and asked themselves how it was that we could joke about that kind of situation. I have two explanations for this:
Firstly, we have taken so much punishment as Nigerians, that we have developed tough hides; and so when faced with a catastrophe, it seems much easier for us to laugh about it, than to be somber. Secondly, the realization of what the full effect of this subsidy removal would bring had not yet dawned on us.
Today, the 3rd of January, protests have begun all over Nigeria. Amongst the people protesting are market women, carpenters, commercial vehicle operators, newspaper vendors, mechanics, and every other manner of the common person that you can imagine. People have taken to the streets, putting their lives on the line as the police have been ordered to break up these protests in as violent a manner as possible. People have been beaten bloody; the police have thrown teargas and fired their guns right into the middle of the protesters, all in an attempt to stop them from marching to protest the injustice. The stark reality of it is, before the end of today, many people will die. Some people (such as myself), sit and monitor these activities, and try to supply as much information as possible. Some have mocked us, calling us “armchair activists”.
Some however, have said a lot of ridiculous things. I’ve seen statements on twitter that amuse me. Such as, “I don’t see why you people are complaining. Petrol is so much more expensive in Ghana and the UK”. Some are even condemning our right to come out and protest the increase.
It is them I address.
Unlike Ghana or the United Kingdom, Nigeria is one of the top ten producers of oil in the world. I will not attempt to go into the facts and figures, but by the workings of common sense, it is common knowledge that we should not be paying such a steep amount for such an essential commodity. Articles by educated people such as Mr. Lawson Omokhodion, Izielen Agbon Izielen Agbon, and Professor Tam David West have shown that we do not need this supposed “subsidy”, and that we’ve been suffering for no reason. We have been shown that our existing refineries are quite capable of producing the amount of PMS we need for local consumption, and even above it. The price of PMS by any standards, should not be above N40.05/liter, yet the local refineries have been crippled and we’ve been forced to import this fuel which some “individuals” seem to be profiting from, whilst the rest of the Nigerian populace suffered for, because we were forced to pay N65/liter, when it should be N40.05 if we produced it ourselves. And now, the government has removed this “subsidy” (which in essence never existed), and instead of creating an alternative to importation, have forced upon us the price of their incompetence and corruption.
And we are not to complain?
In countries like Ghana and the UK, putting aside the fact that they do not produce even half the amount of oil that Nigeria does, we must also remember that things work in those countries. They do not require PMS to power electricity generators because they have constant electricity, and also have functional infrastructure. So the price of PMS is offset by the fact that things work. Unfortunately, the same hasn’t been able to be said about Nigeria for a few decades.
With the increase in the price of PMS, a resultant increase in the price of… well, everything has occurred. Transportation, food, accommodation, goods and services… everything has gone up. Making it twice as difficult for the average Nigerian, who already struggles, to survive.
And we are meant to keep silent?
I refuse to believe that there are some people out there that can be so insensitive that they would not understand what this action by our government is going to do to Nigeria. No matter who you may be; Nigerian or otherwise, rich or poor. It is obvious that the entire nation is going to suffer if the government is permitted to place this manner of injustice on our heads like trays of fruit. Have we gotten to the point that the legendary Fela Kuti spoke of, simply accepting orders like zombies? Are we meant to watch our people degenerate even further as it becomes even more difficult to survive in a country where there is so much? Are we meant to watch our leaders sit back and remain the fattest and highest paid leaders and officials in the world, while the average Nigerian struggles to make less than $1/day, and then cry helplessly because the little made isn’t even close to enough for them to get a simple meal to eat every day? Amongst the people who supposedly deliberated on the rationale behind removing the “subsidy” without providing a means of making up for it, how many of them actually know what it’s like to not have any fuel at all? When was the last time any of them knew the true meaning of the word “lack”? What we have in Nigeria are rulers who are grossly insensitive to the plight of the common man, sit behind the confines of their havens, and make up laws and policies that make me question their sanity and quite honestly, their intelligence.
How? I ask you; how are we even meant to stay silent in a situation like this?
For too long, like a poet Amir Sulaiman said, we have been dead men walking, mute men talking and blind men watching our people die. It has gone too far. Some say words are little, but they are more powerful than many understand. Ask the people of Libya. They’ll tell you that their protests may have been painful and bloody, but they got what they wanted in the end. Some would argue that the way to do this should be via negotiations and nationwide strikes. And while I agree with that, at this point, we must do something. We should not sit and take it, just because we can. We have every right to speak out. We have every right to cry, scream, kick, bite, make a ruckus and fight for what is our right. And if the time is now, I believe that there’s never a better time than the present.
For those who do not understand why we protest, for those who are comfortable and question our sanity, I will say this; questioning our right to protest evil when it is thrust upon us, is like asking us why we have the audacity to breathe.
Asking us to go back to our homes and accept this yoke that our president and the rest of his government wish to thrust on our heads, is asking us to dig our graves, buy our coffins and clean our best clothes for our own burials.
I may not be out in the thick of things, shouting in protest with the rest of my brothers. I may be an “armchair activist” because I’m sitting on my bed typing this for whoever seeks to know the truth. But I will for no reason under the sun, ask anyone who wishes to protest, to stay at home. I will not be a party to this evil. I will not help the government kill us.
I’d rather die.
This post does not solely reflect my views. It’s also supported by other writers such as ‘Dania Idam, Wale Adetula, Joseph Parker, Martins Ekwe, Kelvin Steve, Efeoghene Ori-Jesu, Festus Okubor, Terdoo Bendega, Oluwafemi Adebule, Dare Falowo, Coco Anetor-Sokei, Jibola Lawal, Oyebowale Odutola, amongst others.