Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM

Govt created problem of fuel subsidy by not repairing refineries

Govt created problem of fuel subsidy by not repairing refineries

Segun Sango, General Secretary, Democratic Socialist Movement

This article was published in the Vanguard newspaper, published in Lagos, on Friday, 8 August 2008.

Come January 2009, the Yar’Adua government has announced a plan to once again officially hike fuel prices. According to Minister of State for Energy (Petroleum), Mr. Odein Ajumogobia, government currently subsidises petroleum products (petrol and diesel) to the tune of N1.5 trillion annually, a phenomenon which is not sustainable.

With this announcement, the Yar’Adua government has now finally come out in its true colours. Just like past capitalist, pro-imperialist governments, (both military and civilian), the Yar’Adua government is as insensitive to the basic needs of the poor people as well as the real growth of the economy.

In the past, government spokespersons and bourgeois economists had usually justified the need to hike fuel prices on the premises that money saved from having to subsidize prices of petroleum products would be used to develop necessary infrastructures needed to enhance the real growth of the economy.

Sadly to note however, the series of hike in fuel prices effected in the past had only worsened the overall economy growth, as well as the living standard of the people across the country.

So, the question should be bluntly posed: Why does the Yar’Adua government, whose well often touted seven-point agenda aims at making Nigeria to become one the 20 biggest economies by year 2020 as well as enhancing Nigeria’s human capital development, continue with the implementation of a well known counter-productive policy like hike in fuel prices?

The blunt answer is that the Yar’Adua government is merely an offspring of the imperialist capitalist looters that have maintained a stranglehold on Nigeria’s economy and resources from the colonial time up till this very moment.

As we socialists have always maintained, the capitalist, neo-liberal policies of privatization, deregulation of the economy, commercialisation of education, hike in fuel prices, etc, are deliberately designed by imperialist/capitalist elements to keep ex-colonial countries like Nigeria perpetually dependent on the whims and profit interest of the multi-national corporations and finance capital of the advance capitalist countries, while at the same time, making it possible for the local capitalist ruling elites to become stupendously rich at the expense of the masses’ overall needs.

Against this background, socialists urge the labour movement and youth as well as all those desiring a genuine growth of the economy and real improved living standard of the masses to rise up in arms against the proposed hike of fuel prices. Like past increments, the proposed hike of fuel prices would only lead to further collapse of the almost dead economy.

The policy will immediately create astronomical increment in the prices of all goods and services. In an economic environment, where most industries and individuals are forced to rely on petrol and diesel to generate their power needs, any increment in prices of petroleum products would only increase the overall cost of goods and services, a phenomenon, which would only compound an already aggravated situation.

If the real needs of the economy and the provision of decent living standards for everybody are the cornerstone of government policy, then, what is required is exact opposite of the anti-poor policy such as hike in fuel prices. To move Nigeria out of its present state of economic and social anomy, certain basic factors must exist. There must be stable and affordable supply of electricity across the country, for both economic and domestic activities.

There must be in place well integrated and functional infrastructures like roads, railways, waterways and modern telecommunication facilities accessible and affordable by everybody across the country. Education and healthcare for instance have to cease being regarded as private business of individuals. Instead, quality education functional healthcare have to be regarded as social necessities that would determine and define the country’s overall living standard and economic growth in the medium and long term period.

Instead of a profit-driven economic arrangement that makes it possible for a major oil producing country like Nigeria to virtually depend on imported and expensive refined petroleum products, a people oriented arrangement would immediately prioritise the building of local refineries, publicly owned and democratically managed in order to provide petrol, diesel, gas, kerosene, etc, to all Nigerians in sufficient quantity and affordable prices.

Here, the point has to be stressed that if Nigeria’s natural and human resources are properly harnessed and its products equitable utilized to better the lots of everybody, all the above enumerated objectives can be easily attained within a period of one decade.

However, as stated above, the imperialist/capitalist forces that dominate world economy are never really concerned about genuine economic development nor improve living standard for the masses. This is why a few elements in the world today, have enough personal wealth locked up in banks while billions live under man-made permanent misery.

Take Nigeria’s ruling class as an example. For the past nine years, the country has realized tens of billions of dollars as revenues from exportation of crude oil. Paradoxically however, Nigeria’s economy and overall people’s living standard have become diametrically worsened during the same period that Nigeria is making unprecedented money from crude oil sales. Instead of using the stupendous wealth being generated on development of infrastructures and social needs of the people, Nigeria’s ruling elite have merely been siphoning most of these wealth into their own private accounts.

For instance, the former President Olusegun Obasanjo administration was said to have spent $16bn allegedly to boost the supply of electricity in the country. At the end of the day, the country was plunged into a greater darkness than ever before.

As a result of series of plane accident, the Obasanjo regime decided to upgrade the standard of facilities at the nation’s airport.

And for this obviously laudable objective, a sum of N19.5billion was said to have been spent in this respect. Indeed, it was revealed at the Senate probe that one of the projects Safe Tower project contract was awarded to an Austrian company for N6.5bn when one other company that had bided for it at N1.5b.

Also, an ongoing probe of the NNPC by the Senate has shown that only a sum of $5million could be accounted for as proceeds from oil blocs allocation, whereas the allocated oil blocs was supposed to have fetched of $2billion.

As at the central level, most of the resources allocated and being generated at states and local councils levels are similarly being looted by top politicians and their dubious capitalist collaborators.

In this regard, the highly fraudulent and farcical elections that brought Yar’Adua and his counterparts at state level to power was not an accident but rather, a deliberate design. Those who put in place an economic arrangement where the vast majority live in permanent wants and sub-animal existence just to guarantee the insatiable greed of a few capitalist corporations and billionaires can never organize truly democratic and fair elections.

Against the background of mass outrage that greeted his stolen mandate, President Yar’Adua was forced at the maiden period of its tenure to announce two related concessions. Firstly, he promised to effect an electoral reform so as to deceive those still were bitter about the riggings which characterized the 2007 general elections that would be the last time that elections will be manipulated by powers that be.

Secondly, faced with a widely supported nationwide general strike and mass protest, Yar’Adua was compelled to announce a moratorium on hike of fuel prices firstly for six months and now extended by another six months.

However, going by the conduct and outcome of the recent bye elections and re-elections that have taken place under Yar’Adua’s presidency, it has now become crystal clear that under capitalist dispensation, the powers that be would always manipulate elections to win power at all costs notwithstanding the fact that their conducts and policies are widely hated and rejected by the vast majority of the people.

When his hold on power was still tenuous and his back was put to the wall by striking and protesting working masses, President Yar’Adua cleverly made a concession not to hike fuel prices. However, now that his mandate and that of many of his colleagues in the states and National Assembly have received judicial rubberstamping, those who put Yar’Adua in power have thus decided to show their true colours.

Assuming without conceding that government has been subsidizing petroleum products to the tune of N1.5 trillion, the blame for this should be squarely placed at the doorstep of the government, which has woefully failed to build functional and local refineries that can make the prices of petroleum products much cheaper than those being imported from Europe and America.

Besides, why should the government that has woefully failed to bring indicted public officials that have looted tens of billions of dollars to book be so desperate to remove the so-called meager subsidy that directly impact on the economic well-being and living standard of most people in society? The blunt answer is that the Yar’Adua government is put in power by forces that are determined to keep Nigeria and Nigerians in perpetual socio-economic bondage.

Basic lessons

The Yar’Adua government with the proposed hike of fuel prices has thrown a gantlet at the entire working people of Nigeria. Organized labour and all suffering people must therefore fully and properly appreciate this fact. First and foremost, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) leaders should immediately break their so-called strategic partnership pact with the Yar’Adua government.

So far, the political and economic conducts and policies of this government have shown beyond any reasonable doubt that the Yar’Adua government is irredeemably committed to the anti-poor policies, brazen corruption and electoral manipulations that formed the basic tenets of President Obasanjo, his inglorious predecessor and political godfather.

Consequently, trade union leaders, pro-masses organizations, youth leaders, revolutionaries and all change-seeking elements in general must immediately commence mobilisation of rank and file members and the people at the grassroot level in the communities across the country with a central objective of defeating this yet another onslaught on the deplorable conditions of the economy and the living standard of the masses.

In this respect, workshops, seminars, symposia, lectures, rallies, peaceful mass protests must be organized to demonstrate the counter-productive nature of the proposed fuel price hike and at the same time expose why the Yar’Adua government is hell bent at implementing this pro-rich anti-poor policy.

Very importantly too, the working people and its organizations need to draw the blunt conclusion that no socio-economic respite can come to the long suffering masses as long as the self-serving profit-driven capitalist policies dominate socio-economic ethos of the society.

From this fact, it is imperative that revolutionary minded youth and leaders of labour and pro-masses organizations put in place an independent working peoples political party that would be interested in fighting for a workers and poor peoples government wherein the basic satisfaction of the need and aspirations of all would constitute the essence of governance as opposed to the current unjust situation where profit motives forms the primary basis of governance.

Without this kind of approach, Nigeria and Nigerians would forever remain subjected to the rule of self-serving politicians whose overall policies would always make life a permanent nightmare for the vast majority of the people.