• Wednesday, July 17, 2024
businessday logo


Oil cabals: For us to win, they must lose

SIDS4: Tinubu pledges more action to mitigate climate impacts, promote sustainable development

The President Bola Ahmed Tinubu (PBAT) inadvertent pronouncement of “subsidy is gone” during his maiden speech as a newly sworn-in president snaked out a lot of buyers who tried instantaneously to cash in on the last-minute fuel buying before the official increment. Prior to the end of the swearing ceremony at “Eagle Square”, the fuel prices have changed rapidly across the country, given the fluidity of the petroleum market. It is never meant to be sudden changes, but market forces reacted positively for the oil marketers, who see this as an opportunity to make extra money to restock, while ordinary citizens, who bear the brunt, perceive this as a negative reaction that is inimical to the well-being of an average citizen.

This pronouncement has sparked a conversation across the fulcrum of the nation. Sincerely, this is the most difficult and forthright conversation we have had in recent times that has affected all Nigerians equally. Opinions are divided, but this conversation is taking place in different places, from beer parlors to mosques and churches, workplaces, dinner tables, the bunker of our hearts, and even within the inner confines of our rooms and even at Aso Villa Sanctuary. The mood is tense because it affects the sensibility and jugular vein of all Nigerians at home and abroad. Everyone wants a good beginning and a working nation, irrespective of the umpire that will superintend it, among the leading presidential aspirants pursuing their supposed mandate in the court and the newly sworn-in president who is trying to assert his authority to impress the citizenry with his readiness to bell the cat.

The removal of fuel subsidies is not just a binary conversation between the federal government and oil marketers alone; it involves all the stakeholders: the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPC), the National Labour Congress (NLC), the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and its affiliate groups, major oil marketers, Federal, State, and Local governments, civil society organisations, and ordinary Nigerians. Interestingly, this fuel subsidy conversation has created individual personal conversations in every adult citizen’s head while taking a bath, brushing their teeth, sitting in the toilet to defecate, driving to work, or sitting inside public transport going to work or coming back.

Read also: Oil regulator set to release more rules to guide industry operations

Evidently, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu (PBAT) is facing a litmus test that will define his presidency, resulting from the fact that many of the politicians have stakes in or have friends or relatives with stakes in the oil industry. In this precarious situation, Tom Burgis, the author of “The Looting Machine,” narrated his interaction with the late Yusuf Maitama Sule, who analysed the historical development of ‘petro-politicians’ in Nigerian politics and emphatically stated that ‘for us (the people) to win, they (oil oligarchs) have to lose’. These oil cabals or oligarchs are privileged Nigerians who were favoured during General Ibarahim Badamosi Babangida’s eight-year rule. Burgis wrote that Maitama Sule explained that “it was during Babangida’s regime that for the first-time private individuals started getting oil blocks, and they made a lot of money”. According to Burgis, Maitama Sule unequivocally stated that Babangida’s gesture to pacify his allies breeds an insatiable love of materialism. “Everybody wants to make money. The housewife wants to make money. Her husband wants to make money. The ruler wants to make money”. Even the traditional ruler, who is the custodian of culture and used to command a lot of respect because he had no interest in anything but his rulership, today exhibits a gluttonous frenzy to make money, irrespective of whose ox is gored.

President Bola Ahmed Tinubu (PBAT) is facing a litmus test that will define his presidency, resulting from the fact that many of the politicians have stakes in or have friends or relatives with stakes in the oil industry

More than ever, Nigerians experienced immeasurable sharp political polarisation and media segmentation, to the extent that friends and long-time acquaintances shivered the apron strings of enduring relationships for their tribal and political affiliation. Religious and tribal card bars were raised beyond tolerable levels. Social media is mischievously manipulated to create subsisting, unabated enmity. Nigeria’s political history of struggle and endurance is deep and replete with mixed feelings. I have seen how bloodlust and ignorance combust to snuff out innocent lives unabated on several occasions, and the leaders pretend not to see or notice if it does not affect their economic interests.

The flagrant usage of court injunctions as mufflers to stop NLC protest should not be construed as total acceptability by the citizenry; rather, people are watching PBAT’s steps during this honeymoon period to assess his veracity and his readiness to turn things around for good. There is palpable hunger in the land. The sudden removal of subsidies has catapulted the prices of goods and services. The major foodstuffs and groceries are expensive, outrageous, and unaffordable. The skyrocketing rise in the prices of goods and services, coupled with bad remuneration, is causing increased mental neurosis, depression, and sudden death across the country. Nigerians are at their wit’s end and, incidentally, at the tipping point. The present situation is analogous to that of a hen which perched on the rope; neither the rope nor the hen shall be convenient until it disengages from the dangling rope.

What is the give and take for the ordinary people who are not salary earners: the farmers, the artisans, the retirees, and the pensioners? The palliatives proposed by the government should not be for the civil servant alone. The increment in the wages of workers, the minimum wages, should be objectively the minimum to feed a family of four in a month. Apart from the incentives for artisans and medium- and small-scale enterprise owners, refundable loans should be made available for these classes of citizens to boost economic activity. Large-scale farmers and subsistence farmers should not be left out. It is expected that 25 percent of the so-called subsidies should be indirectly infused into people’s well-being to stimulate a vibrant subsistence economy. The pensioner’s monthly allowance must reflect current economic reality.

I am stunned at how some citizens and fastidious television presenters showered accolades on PBAT, while I sincerely respect their truthfulness and thought-provoking praise for his few touches so far. For me, much still needs to be done to alleviate the age-long suffering of the downtrodden masses. Until the PBAT policies germinate and are unreceding, it is not yet uhuru. Apparently, he has made some bold moves that exceed people’s expectations. I will suggest that Nigerians hold on to their accolades until he crosses all the t’s and dots all the i’s and removes all the specks and impurities that held the jugular vein of this great country. The journey is far, and he has just taken a few steps. His subsequent steps in the next couple of days, weeks, and months will surely determine the social, economic, political, administrative, and technological direction of the country. All in all, it is a good start, but not yet Uhuru Torch for the battered and tired nation and its people in search of a rescuer.

Rotimi S. Bello, a social commentator, writes from Canada.