Archive for January 2012

JONATHAN’S SHAMEFUL AU CHAIRMANSHIP LOSS   9 comments

After observing a trend of major embarrassing and ridiculous foreign policy actions by President Goodluck Jonathan in the period leading up to January 2011, I wrote a damning piece entitled President Jonathan’s Foreign Policy Blunders which was published in the February 2011 issue of the prominent pan-African monthly, New African magazine. Vide http://www.exacteditions.com/exact/browse/432/532/8283/2/4.

The blunders I cited, like for instance, when Jonathan naively announced, soon after the 2010 World Cup, that he was pulling Nigeria out of all FIFA engagements for two years, clearly violating an existing statute, only to disgracefully backtrack a few days later following a warning from FIFA, were so glaring that they didn’t need a rigorous political mind like mine to decipher.

For the benefit of the doubt, one would have said Jonathan was only a few months old in the presidency then and really was yet to master how to go about, especially, the tough domain of foreign policy.

Fast-forward to January 28, 2012. On this auspicious first day of the 18th Ordinary Session of the African Union assembly, credible news reports emerged from diverse local and international news agencies that President Goodluck Jonathan was going to bid for the one-year rotational African Union chairmanship – since the slot had been given to the West African region. Without thinking, I, like many other discerning Nigerians immediately picked holes with the idea and took turns to lambast Jonathan for it on twitter and otherwise. Jonathan must be a very clueless president indeed to have even given the idea a thought. Here’s why.

To begin with, Jonathan evidently has the most pressing domestic agenda in West Africa in 2012 if not beyond. From security to much-needed petroleum industry reforms, to combating extreme corruption to education, agriculture, infrastructure and others, Jonathan’s domestic plate is so full that only if he didn’t realise that it needs his total and squarely undivided attention, would he stupidly consider wanting to add some other post, especially one with foreign policy implications, even if it would be the largely ceremonial AU chairmanship.

Beyond that, only a naive President Jonathan would have thought that he was in the good books of his West African (ECOWAS) colleagues and had their support going into the contest. An Aso Villa source on Nigeria’s AU summit delegation said Jonathan made a last-minute thrust for the position but was ferociously opposed by Ghana and other West African leaders who preferred to queue behind Benin’s president and the eventual winner, Boni Yayi. “The president decided in the last minute to stand as a way of boosting our country’s profile but it turned out to be very damaging for our country’s reputation as tiny African countries rose against us. We felt ashamed,” the presidency source said.

Indeed, and as the presidency source also added, “The truth is that a lot of members believe President Jonathan’s chairmanship of ECOWAS has been anything but inspiring.” I fully concur. Recall that at the onset of Cote-d’Ivoire’s political stalemate, following the disputed 2010 presidential elections, Jonathan, as ECOWAS Chairman, singlehandedly and again naively committed himself to backing a military ousting of Gbagbo when African and even international bodies were still seeking diplomatic means to end the quandary. West Africa’s other powerhouse, Ghana, had notably opposed the military option.

Secondly, when the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, recently threatened to cut aid to African countries that do not support gay rights coming as it were, on the heels of the passage of an anti-gay bill by Nigeria’s Senate, it was surprisingly Ghana’s President, Atta Mills, who, showing great regional leadership, spoke openly and boldly against the British threat, emphasising his country’s and Africa’s overwhelming opposition to homosexuality. Jonathan has never personally spoken on the issue.

In addition, Nigeria presently holds the ECOWAS chairmanship and also has the current Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament in the person of the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu. It is only normal and fair that any other major regional responsibility should not be shouldered by yet another Nigerian. I just can’t fathom how President Jonathan and his advisers couldn’t see this.

Furthermore, on January 7, 2012, Jonathan, in an effort to commit his government to cut its hugely wasteful costs, announced that “overseas travels by all political office holders, including the President, should be reduced to the barest minimum…only trips that are absolutely necessary will be approved.” If Jonathan had won the AU chairmanship, he would have been forced to seriously act against that commitment and further strain an already capital-unfriendly budget as it would have required him to move around Africa more regularly than otherwise to preside over key AU functions. Mind you, the AU does not fund its ceremonial Chairman’s travels. This begs the question if Jonathan really knew what he was going into after all.

Thus, from the domestic, diplomatic, and moral standpoints, Jonathan was never going to qualify to earn West Africa’s 2012 AU Chairmanship slot. Not even an unconvincing reaction today by Jonathan’s spokesman, Reuben Abati, denying that Jonathan contested for the office can assuage the fact of the matter. Indeed, most of what this administration has treated Nigerians to in recent times, has comprised lies and counter-lies. In all, by being asked to back down by his fellow West African leaders after he uninstructedly indicated his interest in the AU Chairmanship, Jonathan and Nigeria became the subject of yet another diplomatic ridicule and deservingly suffered what would constitute good riddance to bad rubbish!

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Posted January 30, 2012 by Raymond Eyo in Aso Villa

NIGER DELTA SPILLS: JONATHAN SHOULD BEAT THE HELL OUT OF SHELL   Leave a comment

In a critique of President Goodluck Jonathan published in the February 2011 issue of New African magazine, I posited that Nigeria needs a leader who can confront the West in the face of bad deals by especially Western oil majors. President Jonathan’s very poor, almost negligent response to the recently published damning United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report on the massive Shell oil spills in Ogoniland (New African magazine January 2012), as well as his naive handling of the very recent Shell spill in Bonga (said to be the company’s worst spill in a decade) validate that opinion.

If Jonathan can show just a pinch of the passion he showed in opposing Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo or better still, in his obviously mistaken January 1, 2012 removal of the fuel subsidy that has since attracted widespread popular opposition and sorely harmed the Nigerian economy, in marshalling the requisite political will to charge Shell over the Ogoni and Bonga spills and their attendant damaging effects on the ecosystem and human health, he would go a long way to beat the hell out of Shell and find a sustainable solution to the problem.

As the cover story on the subject in New African magazine of January 2012 entitled “The Curse of Oil: How Oil Companies Have left the Niger Delta in the Lurch” explains, a “demonstrable political will on the Federal Government’s part, to force the hand of Shell and other oil companies operating in the region to change their ways, is vital.” My take is that such political will should involve decisively combating corruption which is majorly responsible for the lack of proper government oversight on the oil companies. Nigeria’s controversial Justice Minister, Mohammed Adoke, for instance, has, hanging over his head, a probe of US$26 million which he allegedly collected as bribe to withdraw charges against 10 multinationals under investigation over the Siemens and Halliburton bribery scams.

In the Halliburton bribery case which surfaced in September 2008 and saw the company pay bribes to win a contract to build an LNG export project on Bonny Island, Adoke used plea bargain to negotiate undisclosed settlement terms with some of the accused, including high-profile firms whereas Nigerian investigators discovered that the country lost hundreds of millions of dollars through over-priced contracts and bribes linked to the project. It is fitting to know that the new Chief Justice of Nigeria, Dahiru Musdapher, has vehemently condemned the use of plea bargain. Speaking at a conference in November 2011, Musdapher said, “[plea bargain] was invented to provide soft landings to high-profile criminals who loot the treasury entrusted to them…[it is] an obstacle to our fight against corruption…and it should never again be mentioned in our jurisprudence”.

Jonathan needs to investigate and prosecute such high profile cases else he would lend credence to the Wikileaks disclosure that Shell has influential elements in the Nigerian government’s top brass safeguarding its interests. For her relative inactivity in pursuing the much-needed Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) until recently, and the very fact of her being a former Shell executive, oil minister, Diezani Allison-Madueke, sadly appears to be one of such, and her passionate support for the unpopular and controversial removal of the petrol subsidy has only fuelled this suspicion more.

Jonathan should muster the resolve of Brazilian authorities who fined oil giant Chevron $83 million for an oil spill off the Rio de Janeiro coast in November 2011 which a Brazilian government official said could complicate Chevron’s chances of gaining access to new offshore exploration.

Indeed, Jonathan’s admiration for Obama should make him appreciate the latter’s action that pressurised BP to expedite the 2010 Gulf oil spill clean-up. In fact, in December 2011, it was reported that US prosecutors were readying charges against BP over that spill. In October 2011, the US government issued BP, Transocean – the Swiss owner and operator of the drilling rig – and US oil giant, Halliburton with citations for violating oil industry regulations in what is expected to lead to massive fines. BP – which leased the rig and was ultimately responsible for operations – has spent more than $40 billion on the disaster and could still be liable for billions in fines, compensation and restoration costs. Such is the bold action expected from the Jonathan administration given the obviously worse spill scenario it is faced with.

Thankfully, it helps that Shell admitted its mistakes over its Niger Delta activities in October 2011 at a Rotterdam conference in which Dutch MP, Ms Gesthuizen, berated the Dutch government for not ensuring that Shell met global standards in Nigeria. “Shell is a Dutch company. So the government cannot remain aloof when it is involved in corruption and breaching environmental standards in another country,” she said. Gesthuizen said visiting the Niger Delta for only five days in December 2010 was not enough to understand all the issues but what she saw was mind-boggling. “I have been to the Niger Delta. I flew over the region and I saw illegal refineries and how the environment was being destroyed,” she disclosed. Gesthuizen proffered the way forward for the region, saying the Niger Delta environment must be cleaned up. “That is the first thing for the region,” she said, adding that “Shell must follow strict rules on the Niger Delta environment the way it obeys rules in its home country.” Also speaking, a Dutch citizen and social worker, Marieke vander Bos, equally lambasted the Dutch government for the same reason. In a brief scathing remark, she said: “The Dutch government is guilty over the Niger Delta situation and it is very said indeed.”

More importantly, Jonathan will have ready legislative support if he embarked on such a course as on January 3, 2012, the Senate deferred to give Shell a clean bill of health over its faulty containment of the Bonga spill and two days later, the House of Representatives threatened to sanction Shell over the spill.

Jonathan cannot delay direct decisive government action on this matter any further as that would only worsen the plight of the Ogoni people in particular and the Niger Delta in general. Creating a committee to review the already comprehensive UNEP report as he has done, which is reportedly yet to even meet, is only another wasteful bureaucratic step in the wrong direction. Even so, it is saddening that the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs has not played a leading role in proffering and coordinating the Federal Government’s action on this vital issue. The idea of creating the Niger Delta Ministry was never a credible one in the first place. It has proven that it is one of those additional ministries that simply balloon recurrent spending with very little or nothing tangible to show for it.

Perhaps, the PIB is the missing link in this whole saga and it is unfortunate that it has faced heavy opposition from the oil majors like Shell whose lobbying may have compromised some of its innovative aspects. That some local companies are showing more innovative drive than before following a recently passed local content law is proof that creative legislation such as which the much-desired PIB represents can significantly boost Nigeria’s fortunes. Clearly, Jonathan and his oil minister must work towards getting this all-important legislation passed for until that happens, several prospective multi-billion dollar investments will remain frozen for lack of the appropriate regulatory environment. It is a good thing though that they have been jolted by the recent popular protests into taking action meant to speed up the process leading to the passage of the PIB. It however remains to be seen whether that will soon translate into the actual passage into law of this vital piece of legislation at the centre of Nigeria’s crucial but hugely mismanaged mainstay.

Posted January 20, 2012 by Raymond Eyo in Aso Villa

MY TWEET-CHAT WITH PROF. SACHS, UN SG’s SPECIAL ADVISOR, ON THE FUEL SUBSIDY REMOVAL   2 comments

“‎I believe the [Nigerian] government didn’t prepare [the fuel subsidy removal policy] well… I support OccupyNigeria’s fight for clean and honest government.” –Prof. Jeff D. Sachs, Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General

On January 6, 2012, Nigeria’s Vanguard newspaper reported that the United Nations (UN) had commended President Jonathan for withdrawing the subsidy on petroleum products, describing it as “a bold and correct policy”.

Vanguard attributed that commendation to the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser and renowned Economist, Professor Jeffrey Sachs.

So, when on January 8, 2012, Professor Jeffrey Sachs @JeffDSachs tweeted this: “Ghana on the move. Fast-growing & looking to solve poverty in dry north. Spent great day with villagers discussing health, [agric], and water!” I replied him, situating his reported support for the fuel subsidy removal in context as follows: “@JeffDSachs Ghana on the move…yet you come to Nigeria to endorse the President’s policy plan to worsen our poverty even more. How unfair!”

Feeling compelled, Prof. Sachs responded saying, “@Raymond_Eyo In Nigeria I worked with Gov to scale up fight against malaria & for maternal survival. Powerful ways to fight poverty!”

I reacted further: “@JeffDSachs Agreed, Sir, but removing the only welfare package that Nigerians get from gov’t in the midst of worsening poverty is unfair!”

On January 14, 2012, Prof. Sachs tweeted this in relation to a domestic issue in the United States: “More lies from Wall Street Journal. WSJ says Gov employment is soaring. Actually lower in 2011 than at the end of Reagan Admin in 1989.”

Again, I responded, making sure to contextualise his reported support for the fuel subsidy removal. I said: “@JeffDSachs Then you support the removal of our fuel subsidy in Nigeria so that our own unemployment will skyrocket even more. How sad!” Prof. Sachs didn’t reply.

Later in the day, Prof. Sachs again tweeted: “Please see my Huffington Post blog to find more details on how The Wall Street Journal misleads about gov employment.huffingtonpost.com/jeffrey-sachs/…”

I again replied, making my case against him thus: “@JeffDSachs And you, the IMF and the EU mislead the weak President Jonathan into removing our fuel subsidy and worsening our unemployment.”

This time around, Prof. Sachs responded saying, “@Raymond_Eyo Give it a break. I had NOTHING to do with this decision whatsoever, and believe that the gov didn’t prepare it well.”

It was obviously going to be a mini-debate so I took my turn and said: “@JeffDSachs But Sir, it was reported authoritatively that you, on the UN Scribe’s behalf, endorsed Jonathan’s subsidy removal policy.”

Prof. Sachs retorted: “@Raymond_Eyo First you wrote that I helped to create the policy. No! Second, you read a short press article, not an authoritative report.” “@Raymond_Eyo In both my original very brief statement to the press and in what I just wrote to you I’m not speaking for the UN.”

I certainly had to clarify him. I said: “@JeffDSachs By the way, Sir, I didn’t say an ‘authoritative report’. I said ‘it was reported authoritatively’, meaning by a trusted agency.” I added that, “@JeffDSachs Sir, that’s the impression you gave when it was reported in the press article that you commended Jonathan and you didn’t question it.”

Prof. Sachs replied saying, “@Raymond_Eyo Thanks for writing back to clarify. I didn’t give any such impression, but the press took it. You know how that goes!”

Prof. Sachs then stated this: “@Raymond_Eyo I support OccupyNigeria’s fight for clean and honest gov. Oil sub is wasteful though. Better ways to help poor.” He added: “@Raymond_Eyo I spoke one short sentence about a complex topic (alas). Since then, I’ve tried to elaborate in several ways.”

I responded: “@JeffDSachs Ok, Sir. Noted. I am very grateful for your time and your openness. I hope I can learn more from you in other circumstances.”

To that, he replied saying, “@Raymond_Eyo And I appreciate your approach to me. I am a fan of Nigeria’s civil society, and no friend of neoliberalism or corruption!”

I was impressed by Prof. Sachs’ pledge in favour of Nigeria’s civil society and against corruption so I replied, respectively, saying, “@JeffDSachs Thanks for being on the Nigerian people’s side, Sir. With honest men like you, mankind has a fair chance of beating the odds.” “@JeffDSachs That’s very good to know, Sir. Therefore, in you, we’ve got a trusted friend and partner. Together, we’ll rid Nigeria of graft!”

Broadening the scope of our discussion on Nigeria, Prof. Sachs disclosed this: “@Raymond_Eyo Some Nigerians were upset with me when I spoke of cautious optimism. But I am optimistic. Keep up ur efforts for good gov.”

To that, I said: “@JeffDSachs Absolutely, we will, Sir. Thanks. That must have been because cautious optimism hasn’t helped b4. Now, we’re actively involved.”

On a concluding note, I referred a question to Prof. Sachs that had been asked President Jonathan via twitter by prominent CNN anchor, Jim Clancy @clancycnn. Here’s the question: “If corrupt cartels and fuel importers are the problem, why not crack down on them?” I asked Prof. Sachs what he thought of it. His brief but poignant reply was thus: “@Raymond_Eyo I’ll learn more. Nigeria’s bigger issues, though, are: (1) to tax the rich; (2) invest honestly in health, edu, and infrastructure.”

Posted January 14, 2012 by Raymond Eyo in Economy

THE CONS OF THE FUEL SUBSIDY REMOVAL (2)   3 comments

On January 7, 2012, I wrote a piece on the above subject matter. Sequel to other developments on the same and in the light of more intriguing revelations, I thought it only proper to write this second part.

First and foremost, and to be realistic, ours is a fundamentally unequal society with very huge disparities between the rich and the poor. As such, there’s no how N1.3trillion even if efficiently utilised for infrastructure and other investments would, in the short or medium term, as President Jonathan says, benefit the majority poor. Such an argument is simply untenable. As always, it would benefit the rich so much more than it would the poor or even the middle class. Until such a time as when we can significantly curb corruption and drastically cut the size of government would we be able to see massive financial investments having tangible, transformational effects on our economy.

Secondly and interestingly, the fuel subsidy regime that the Jonathan administration has removed was provided for in the 2011 budget circle which is yet to come to an end. That budget circle is to end in March 2012 after which the 2012 budget, expected to have been passed by then, will go into operation. The question that then arises is why would the Jonathan government remove a subsidy that was provided for in the 2011 budget whilst that budget is still in operation? The alternative should have been to allow the budgetary circle to come to an end by March/April 2012 by which time the removal could have been effected. That makes sense as it would have allowed ample time for the government to undertake sufficient consultations as well as give the people some time to make spending and saving adjustments.

In addition, it surprises me lots that the Jonathan administration appears to be so bent on removing the fuel subsidy using the unconvincing argument of working to secure the future for Nigerians and posterity. The PDP-dominated political class in Nigeria has never been interested in securing the future of Nigeria so they shouldn’t pretend to only be now. After all, they had advanced the same arguments with the NEEDS initiative with hardly any substance to show for it finally. This fact only goes to emphasise that there’s more to the fuel subsidy removal than meets the eye!

Furthermore, if President Jonathan was so sincerely desirous of withdrawing the fuel subsidy just to release funds for development, rather than asking several millions of poor and struggling Nigerians to make sacrifices by pushing them into even more suffering, why can he not direct equal energy and commitment to remove the huge political ‘subsidy’ of the country’s stupidly large and inefficient bureaucracy consisting of just about 1% of the population? When it comes to removing the fuel subsidy that benefits the masses, it takes the Jonathan administration less than no time to do so, to the point of even undermining needed consultations whereas when it comes to cutting down on the cost of governance (removing the political ‘subsidy’), Jonathan tells us the trademark lies the government has become obsessed with. In his January 7, 2012 speech, Jonathan said, “we are taking several measures aimed at cutting the size and cost of governance, including on-going and continuous effort to reduce the size of our recurrent expenditure and increase capital spending…Government is also currently reviewing the number of committees, commissions and parastatals with overlapping responsibilities. The report on this will be submitted shortly and the recommendations will be promptly implemented.” We have had more than enough reports and reviews on cutting the size of government – a thing which doesn’t actually need any in the first place. Beyond that, if 72% of the 2012 appropriation bill is anything to go by; I can boldly tell Jonathan that his government is, in reality, taking no steps to reduce recurrent spending! Again, if N1bn can be allocated for food and refreshment alone for the presidency in 2012, this means Jonathan is so actually insincere in claiming to cut the size of governance.

Yet another pro-fuel subsidy removal argument I find so silly and indefensible is that which the government has been touting all over the place namely that Nigeria’s economy will crash in two years’ time if the subsidy is not removed now. The same fellows who are saying this are also saying that there’s data showing that Nigeria is presently one of the fastest growing economies in the world. In fact, even the EU envoy who visited Jonathan recently said most European countries envy Nigeria’s economy – especially given its favourable growth rate prospects. Now, here’s the big deal. It is a fact that the subsidy regime has been in place for many years. It is also a fact that Nigeria’s debt profile, though rising now, has been worse off before. If Nigeria’s economy did not crash when the going was rough and when growth prospects were very minimal, how come it would suddenly crash now when the prospects are present? Who is fooling who?

Again, is it not contradictory and ironical that the same fellows that comprise the oil cabal which the government says has misused the subsidy funds are members of the President’s economic management team? It is a known fact that someone like Femi Otedola whose company, Zenon Oil, was named as one of those misappropriating and misdirecting the subsidy funds, was a major funder of President Jonathan’s 2011 campaign. It therefore should come as no surprise why a normally malleable president appears so shamefully handicapped to bring to book such a very negligible number of persons sabotaging the country’s mainstay and rather seeks to punish the suffering masses for their wrongs – an act of cowardice from a president who, on September 18, 2010, had promised to tolerate “no sacred cows” in fighting corruption. Mind you, it is this kind of fiscal indiscipline by America’s greedy entrepreneurs, such as which Otedola represents, that led to the 2008 financial meltdown in that country.

Let me conclude by saying that the West has never been interested in the welfare of masses in the developing world, notwithstanding their pretence otherwise. Indeed, Western institutions and governments are particularly jittery now and ever more determined to get pliant states around the world capitulate to their often unsuspecting but eventually exploitative schemes given the changing balance of power in the world economy and their own attendant domestic crises. The very fact that in the past one month, the IMF Managing Director, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser and a special EU envoy have visited Jonathan, taking turns to commend him for the so-called ‘reforms’, smacks of a hidden but sinister Western agenda that Jonathan sadly cannot decipher. It was the first US President, George Washington, who declared in his presidential farewell address on September 17, 1796 that, “Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence, the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government.”

Nigeria, this is the challenge now confronting us and the survival of our patrimony. But give in we won’t! We must remain vigilant, steadfast and resolute in our opposition to the removal of the fuel subsidy.

GOD bless Nigeria!

Posted January 11, 2012 by Raymond Eyo in Economy

THE CONS OF THE FUEL SUBSIDY REMOVAL   4 comments

“After 20 years of implementing [IMF and World Bank-initiated] structural adjustment programmes, our economies have remained weak and vulnerable and have not sufficiently transformed to sustain accelerated growth and development. Poverty has become widespread, unemployment very high, manufacturing and agriculture in decline; and our external and domestic debts much too heavy a burden to bear.” –Kwabena Bartels, Ghana’s former works and housing minister, May 2001

Let me begin by saying that for Nigeria’s very huge oil endowments, the Nigerian people do not deserve to pay the same price for petrol such as which obtains in the world market. For crying out loud, Nigeria is the 6th largest exporter of crude oil in the world and she actually has the capacity to refine her crude locally.

When President Jonathan announced in October 2011 that his administration planned to remove the N1.3trillion subsidy for fuel in January 2012, threatening that if he didn’t, Nigeria’s economy would crash in two years’ time, the first thing that struck me is if indeed Nigeria’s economy was going to crash in two years’ time, why didn’t the Yar’Adua administration (of which Jonathan was a key member) see the warning signs as early as in 2007 or 2008 given the nation’s growing debt profile at the time especially with the creation of the National Planning Commission? If they did, why did they have to wait till the last minute to undertake an extreme measure which further compounds the sorry plight of the masses? If they didn’t how come it took a Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (NOI) less than a month to make the finding? Mind you, NOI resumed work as Finance Minister with broader economic management powers on August 17, 2011 while she made the case for the removal of the fuel subsidy in two briefings to the cabinet between September 11 and September 17, 2011. Indeed, by October 14, 2011, Jonathan had already bought the idea and announced the removal of the subsidy for January 2012!

It is the controversy surrounding NOI’s widely-suspected IMF/World Bank backed-agenda that comprised prominent constitutional lawyer and human rights activist, Fred Agbaje’s analysis that “One of the things the Finance Minister told them (Jonathan’s advisers) when she was coming to serve is that she must implement the IMF policy which is the removal of the oil subsidy. She said if you are not going to do it, I am not going to serve in your government and the Federal Government foolishly and sheepishly acceded.”

Indeed, the IMF Managing-Director, Christine Lagarde, did not help matters when, on a visit to President Jonathan on December 19, 2011 after meeting NOI, she endorsed the so-called reform programmes being pursued by his administration. Worse still, yesterday, January 6, 2012, the United Nations (UN) joined the chorus by commending President Jonathan for withdrawing the subsidy on petroleum products, describing it as “a bold and correct policy”. Speaking while visiting President Jonathan at the State House, the UN Scribe’s Special Adviser, Prof. Jeffrey Sachs, claimed that the funds from the subsidy removal would go a long way to boost rapid infrastructural development and investments in the health sector. Similarly, following the subsidy removal, the European Union (EU) has said that it has confidence in Nigeria’s economy. Finnish Foreign Minister, Erkki Tuomoija, disclosed this while speaking to President Jonathan during an audience at the State House yesterday as well.

Whereas President Jonathan can take confidence from these Western endorsements, it is actually the very fact of them that comprises a reason to suspect the idea behind the forceful and quick removal of the subsidy by many a discerning Nigerian. To put that in context, it remains a fact that the EU, whose economic growth prospects are as bleak, and the UN’s major financers are badly in need of better oil prices in the world market especially considering the latest round of sanctions on Iran’s oil. This is the main idea behind their quick approval and support for this very unpopular policy by the Jonathan administration.

Meantime and more importantly, the removal of the fuel subsidy immediately throws up many controversies and disadvantages for the suffering Nigerian people. For instance, in making the case for the fuel subsidy removal, Petroleum Minister, Diezani Allison-Madueke, listed some of the things the government will use the money for but interestingly, these projects are in the budget already! She mentioned that the South-West Road will be constructed with the money saved if the subsidy is removed; that is quite shocking because the contract for that road has already been awarded.

It has already been said that the greatest undoing for whatever good there may be in the removal of the subsidy is the controversial haste with which the Jonathan administration has handled it. Indeed, three of Jonathan’s ministers, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (Finance), Diezani Allison-Madueke (Petroleum) and Labaran Maku (Information) as well as the NNPC Group Managing Director, Austin Oniwon, assured Nigerians that the policy would not be implemented until negotiations were completed and the 2012 budget was passed. However, as at January 1, 2012 when the removal was announced, and till this moment, neither of the above had happened. Clearly, the Executive Secretary of the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), Reginald Stanley, lied when he announced on January 1, 2012 that “Following extensive consultation with stakeholders across the nation, the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency wishes to inform all stakeholders of the commencement of [the] formal removal of subsidy on Premium Motor Spirit…”

Why President Jonathan surreptitiously removed the fuel subsidy on January 1, 2012 after saying negotiations were ongoing and after earlier disclosing that it would actually be removed on April 1, 2012 remains a matter of deep suspicion as to the real motive behind the removal of the same. I mean, where on earth does a government proceed to act on a hugely unpopular policy and even creates an implementation committee only to invite the labour unions and civil society for ‘consultations’? This is not only stupid but provocative!

Evidently, Jonathan missed the golden opportunity to engage Nigerians to buy into the scheme. He should have held on till April as earlier announced to give the already very impoverished masses some time to see reason for, and make spending adjustments to mitigate the effects of the policy. Besides, it beats one’s imagination that Jonathan was urging Nigerians to make sacrifices while busily allocating a whooping N1bn for food allowance for himself and Vice-President Sambo in 2012. This, coupled with the still very hefty recurrent spending (72%) as against a minimal 28% for capital doesn’t do any good to his much-touted transformational agenda for Nigeria. If anything, it simply shows that he lacks the requisite political will to make the much needed recurrent budget cuts and cannot therefore be expected to earn the trust of the masses he’s demanding even more painful sacrifice from.

Another con against the removal of the fuel subsidy is the huge and popular opposition to it by virtually all segments of Nigerian society from the legislature to the civil society to labour, clergy, youth groups, the NBA, leaders of thought and opposition political parties and so on. Democratic ideals demand that no government should wave aside such a massive chunk of her population for whatever reason. Indeed, the reaction of some members of the House of Reps and labour unions to the announcement of the removal of the subsidy begs for citing here.

Members of the National Assembly said on January 1, 2012 that the Federal Government’s decision to remove the subsidy on petrol would not succeed, vowing to oppose the policy. Opposition lawmakers in particular threatened that they would do everything within their power to stop President Jonathan’s “ambush tactics”.

The Senate Minority Whip, Senator Ganiyu Solomon, faulted the government’s decision, expressing surprise that it went ahead to remove the subsidy on petrol in disregard of the masses’ opinions against the policy. Solomon stressed that the government had been inconsistent in addressing the problem, saying it would not remove subsidy until April and then suddenly taking the people by surprise.

On his part, House of Representatives Deputy Minority Leader, Suleiman Abdurahman-Kawu, reacted, saying, “We will use the law to stop this inhuman act. It is another form of terrorism against Nigerians who are already impoverished. We will not fail to salvage them from this bondage and enslavement. This is another form of terrorism against the Nigerian people which we as their true representatives will not allow.”

Late last December, the Chairman of the House Committee on Media, Zakari Mohammed, had said “On this issue, we are on the same page with Nigerians. Nigerians say that they don’t want fuel subsidy to be removed. As their representatives, we will do what they say; we do not support the removal of subsidy”.

Also, the Nigerian Labour Congress said the decision by the government had revealed that it came to the Nigerian public on the subsidy issue with a mindset that was already made up. NLC Mobilisation Officer, Yaqub Denja, said government cannot arm-twist the populace into accepting a proposal that is not well thought-out, and geared towards adding to the suffering of Nigerians.

The TUC complained that the development was a stab in the back by the government, which only entered into a dialogue with the organised labour late last December on how best to forestall a looming anarchy in the New Year if the plans materialized. It added that the congress was surprised that the government could implement the removal without the National Assembly’s approval.

The TUC said, “This action by President Goodluck Jonathan is therefore, dictatorial, undemocratic and a total declaration of war on the poor masses of this country that are being punished by an inefficient system that is anchored on a few corrupt oil thieves who are major sponsors and backers of government. This is why the government cannot muster enough political will to arrest and prosecute them. What we expect the Federal Government through the PPPRA to do is to tackle the corruption in the system first before this present action. For the avoidance of doubt, the TUC insists that until new refineries are built and the old or existing ones are made to function optimally, there cannot be a removal of petroleum subsidy.”

Former Heads of State, Yakubu Gowon, Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida and Olusegun Obasanjo have also been opposed to the policy, especially to the issue of its wrong-timing.

On December 9, 2011, Gowon urged the government to ensure that all the nation’s refineries are functioning at full capacity before they carry on with the policy so that the people would not suffer much.

Speaking on the same wavelength as Gowon, Buhari advised the Jonathan administration to shelve the idea of removing the subsidy for now, “fix our refineries and facilitate the building of new ones, so that we can refine locally for the benefits of our economy and the people and derive maximum benefits from oil.”

Also, on January 2, 2012, Babangida condemned Jonathan’s removal of the fuel subsidy saying the move is ill-timed. He also wondered why the government had to rush into the policy when it had promised the people that consultations were still ongoing.

Even Jonathan’s mentor, former President Obasanjo, decried the policy when he told President Jonathan on December 18, 2011 to forget the idea of ending it for now so as to allow stability to reign in the country.

Seriously, it is quite embarrassing that the Jonathan administration would consider removing the subsidy before seeking to make Nigeria’s refineries work. Reacting to this, an analyst, Martin Ayankola, said “Rather than probing the wastage of billions of naira on the Turn-Around Maintenance of the refineries over the years, the government has simply turned a blind eye to all the malfeasances and opted to make the masses pay for its failure to manage the refineries efficiently and prudently.”

Interestingly, a group of Nigerian children under the aegis of the Association of Conscious Nigerian Children (ACNC) wrote the president on the fuel subsidy removal saying, “We imagined that instead of shouting about that other subsidy you want to annihilate Nigerians with, why not focus on getting the Petroleum Industry Bill passed? Imagine if you had spent half of the energy, time and resources you spent on that wild goose chase trying to get this bill passed?”

In addition, it is obvious that the removal of the fuel subsidy at this point in time was going to prompt public protests and demonstrations that would further stretch an already over-burdened security establishment when one considers the current security impasse in the country following the recent spate of bombings by the Islamist sect, Boko Haram, especially coming on the heels of the naive admission by Jonathan’s National Security Adviser, Andrew Azazi, that the Federal Government cannot police all of Nigeria.

The merit in the cons of the removal of the fuel subsidy is already translating into concrete hardships for Nigerian masses as evident in the very high transportation and other living costs. Not even the Federal Government’s disclosure of a palliative measure to provide 1600 buses for mass transportation will make any significant difference. As it were, Nigerian masses are bent on protesting against the policy to the finish with demands that the government revert to the N65 pump price before the January 1, 2012 150% hikes sent it variously to N138, N141 and even N150 and more in some places. Labour and civil society are mobilising for massive nationwide strikes and protests despite a fraudulent court injunction the Jonathan administration claims it has obtained from the Industrial Court preventing the strikes.

Certainly, the final chapter to this terrible saga and policy blunder on President Jonathan’s part is very far from being written.

GOD bless Nigeria!

References
-“Subsidy removal: UN commends Jonathan, as EU passes vote of confidence,” January 6, 2012, from vanguardngr.com
-“Fuel subsidy removal: Making Nigerians pay for government’s inefficiency,” January 2, 2012, from punchng.com
-“Subsidy Removal: National Assembly Vows to Stop Jonathan,” January 2, 2011, from punchng.com
-“Mr President, Wahala Dey!” January 5, 2012, from thisdaylive.com
-“New Year shocker: At last, fuel subsidy goes; petrol now sells for N141…NLC, others set for mass action,” January 2, 2012, from nationalmirroronline.net
-“IBB condemns fuel subsidy removal, says it’s ill-timed,” January 2, 2012, from vanguardngr.com
-“Fuel Subsidy Removal: How Okonjo-Iweala convinced Jonathan, Sambo, ministers,” December 25, 2011, from vanguardngr.com
-“IMF chief, Lagarde, visits Nigeria, hails Jonathan reforms bid,” December 19, 2011, from vanguardngr.com
-“Obasanjo to Jonathan: Don’t remove subsidy,” December 19, 2011, from dailytrust.com.ng
-“Don’t remove fuel subsidy, Gowon warns FG,” December 10, 2011, from nationalmirroronline.net
-“Subsidy removal: Feeling the pulse of political parties,” November 25, 2011, from nationalmirroronline.net
-“Jonathan’s all motion, no movement…I regret voting for him –Agbaje,” November 13, 2011, from sunnewsonline.com “Why Allison-Madueke Lied about Fuel Subsidy,” October 28, 2011, from olufamous.blogspot.com
-“Why Fuel Subsidy Must Go –Jonathan,” October 14, 2011, from thisdayonline.com
-“The Curse of Oil: How the oil companies have left the Niger Delta in the lurch,” New African magazine No. 513, January 2012
-“How the IMF, World Bank Failed Africa,” New African magazine No. 458, January 2007

Posted January 7, 2012 by Raymond Eyo in Economy

OKONJO-IWEALA: SERVING A WESTERN EXPLOITATION AGENDA   2 comments

Culled from a piece entitled “Aunty Ngozi and the Savings that won’t benefit us” by C. C. Ekeke, Abuja, December 18, 2011

“One of the things the Finance Minister told them when she was coming to serve is that she must implement the IMF policy which is the removal of the oil subsidy. That is what the government is doing. She said if you are not going to do it, I am not going to serve in your government and the Federal Government foolishly and sheepishly acceded.” – Constitutional lawyer and human rights activist, Fred Agbaje
“Jonathan’s all motion, no movement…I regret voting for him –Agbaje”
From sunnewsonline.com, November 13, 2011

Introduction
From “The Presidency and Okonjo-Iweala”
By James Obande, published online at saharareporters.com, August 15, 2011

The worst fears about [the return of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to cabinet with broader powers] seem to have been confirmed by recent developments. Mr. President, the recent appointment of Prof. Sylvester Monye as Special Adviser on Performance and Monitoring, and one Dr. Nwanze Okidegbe as Adviser on Economic Affairs, shows that you are starting off on the wrong foot.

According to popular opinion, appointments to these two positions were conceded to Minister Okonjo-Iweala as part of the terms of her joining your cabinet, and she is going to make more appointments. One problem with the appointees is that they are both from Delta state, the same state as the Minister of Finance. Already, the Director-General in the Budget Office at the Federal Ministry of Finance, is from the same state. So we can visualize a scenario where the Ministry of Finance approves a project, the Performance and Monitoring Office confirms that the project is ready for payment, the Budget Office makes the payment. Of course the Special Adviser on Economic Affairs would have given glowing recommendations initially.

Let me state that while Dr. Okonjo-Iweala is not known to be a corrupt person, people around her are likely to a take advantage of such an arrangement. But corruption aside, one wonders how someone who has risen so high in career can make such flawed appointments, if indeed she made them.

Mr. President, you should realize that government functions best when there are checks and balances. Even the most transparent and well-meaning leader sometimes has excesses, and it is only through adherence to checks and balances that our excesses as human beings are moderated. Even if the appointees are not from the same state, the appointment would still have been problematic, to the extent that Dr. Okonjo-Iweala could have undue influence over agencies and officials that would have otherwise served as checks to her own work. Her own appointees would also oversee the work of fellow Ministers, increasing Cabinet rivalry which could be dysfunctional. Mr. President, under the current arrangement, you cannot get honest economic advice, as your Adviser’s loyalty is elsewhere; and Project and Performance Monitoring cannot be undertaken dispassionately.

One problem is that this would likely go down in history as the first and probably the only time in the whole world that a President’s Adviser is being appointed by a Minister. Mr. President, you may not know this given your inexperience, but your Adviser is your most trusted staff, who would review your Ministers’ positions on issues and make recommendations to you. If there is one appointment that you should not bow to pressure on, it is that of an Adviser. By allowing a Minister to appoint her home boy as your adviser, you have stood logic on its head.

The general belief is that you gave away much more than is necessary to attract Dr. Okonjo-Iweala. This is due to the fact that you are not only inexperienced, you have surrounded yourself with like people, who are too overwhelmed to give a critical look at issues. If you had good negotiators on your side as you put together the deal, you might have gotten Dr. Okonjo-Iweala for next to nothing for two reasons. First, because she has only about a year left in her term as one of three Managing Directors at World Bank, she would take anything, rather than risk being unemployed after 2012.

________

My heart is heavy as I type these words. I will be telling the truth about the woman I once had much faith in. I have no reason to be happy after this essay. By the time I’ll be through with this piece, I can’t sit back in excitement with the feeling that I have dressed down someone in the mould of Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. For me, this truth is as bitter as it should be to her.

Recall that between 2005 and 2006, Nigeria paid the Paris Club a whopping $12.4billion in a debt relief arrangement that saw $18billion cancelled out of the $30billion we owed. Some analysts wondered why the Nigerian government agreed to give away such amount of money that would have been used to develop critical infrastructure. The government argued that the debt cancellation was necessary to free up money that was spent annually servicing loans. They assured us that the over $2billion spent annually for the debt servicing would be “saved”, and then invested in education, health, roads etc. Six years later, I join those who think that arrangement wasn’t done in good faith. That huge amount would have created massive wealth for Nigeria if it was invested in the economy as loans to small and medium scale enterprises, low interest loans to unemployed youths, and even loans to bigger business organizations. Whatever the excitement that caused us to take such decision. And guess who pioneered that? Dr Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. She was the Finance Minister and the head of that government’s powerful economic team. She had many powers and her words meant so much to us all. Yet that policy ultimately served the interest of the World Bank and Paris Club, rather than Nigeria’s.

Today, the question is: where is the infrastructure that was built from the savings made as a result of that debt we paid? There is nothing to show as a proof that we cleared our debts in the past and freed money from debt servicing for investment into infrastructure. Nigerians as a people benefitted nothing from that arrangement. Yet I wouldn’t have been bothered as much as I am now if our only challenge is that government can’t point to anything concrete as a justification for such outlay of investment money. What should worry every Nigerian is that in just six years, our current debt profile has even risen above what it used to be before we cleared it.

In an editorial of Monday, November 11, 2011, The Sun Newspaper raised a major concern on the rising debt profile of Nigeria, a nation which had exited the bondage of debt earlier. A citation from the editorial reads, “The recent disclosure by the Senate that Nigeria’s public debt has risen to “unsettling” proportions should be a matter of great concern. The figure sourced from Debt Management Office (DMO), the nation’s custodian of public debts, shows that Nigeria’s current debt stock stands at a record high of N6.02 trillion (equivalent of $39.72bn)”.

This clearly highlights our government admiration for profligacy. To service this debt, N559b was proposed by the president in the 2012 appropriation bill. And the legislature is already raising eyebrows.

Six years later, the same Okonjo-Iweala is back on the saddle with even more powers as the Finance Minister. Her boss, a man with innumerable inadequacies, had mandated the woman’s colleagues, from the onset, to take orders from her or quit the cabinet. In President Jonathan’s God-piloted airplane, Ngozi occupies a strategic place as the co-pilot. The President is merely a passenger who has reposed his unflinching confidence in the pilots. I have had to ask myself what the Finance Minister thinks about this new debt profile of Nigeria. Why hasn’t she raised alarm on this? Was it what she envisaged when she was negotiating debt exit for us? For me as a person, I’m put on enquiry concerning her intentions. Those who accuse her of being the agent of the Brettonwoods organizations may really have a genuine reason to do so. And I also have begun to question her sincerity.

Recall also, after President Jonathan’s inauguration, that she was widely anticipated to become the Finance Minister. I read she said people called and threatened her, warning her to not dare step her feet into Nigeria for the purpose of taking up the ministerial appointment. On one of the occasions, I read she said, “But I can’t give up on Nigeria”. Being an incurable believer in the Nigeria project, I went to the market in categorical praise of Aunty Ngozi. I said the criminals are scared of her. I prayed and prayed that she came back early to curtail their activities. Well, here she is.

Her hammer is instead falling on those she should protect: the Nigerian poor. The budget is the first place I expected her presence to show a remarkable improvement. Having been amongst those who criticised Jonathan’s 2011 budget for voting over 70% of our revenue into recurrent expenditure, I had expected Aunty Ngozi to push that awkward fraction down to, at most, 60% so we can free up some money for development. There, she failed miserably.

She has come up with another cycle of “savings”. This time she doesn’t want total debt payment. She wants subsidy removal. She wants the money paid on subsidy by the federal government to be freed up for savings that will be used to develop “critical infrastructure”. Ask her why she thinks it is wrong for the government to subsidize fuel for Nigerians and she tells you there’s so much corruption in the subsidy scheme. According to her co-traveller on the subsidy removal lane, Diezani Allison-Madueke, a cabal or cartel or whatever hijacked the programme, thereby preventing the people from benefitting from it. And Aunty Ngozi bought this story wholesale. The government doesn’t have the duty of fishing out the criminals and punishing them. The poor citizens have the duty of paying for the dumbness and mischief of government with their blood. This is just okay with Aunty Ngozi. She is mum on the high cost of governance.

She hasn’t kicked on the six billion naira given to governors every year as needless “security votes”. She is mum on the number of ministers her boss has. This was the same president who inaugurated the T.Y. Danjuma Presidential Advisory Council to advise him on how to deliver good governance. That Council did a great job of advising the president on the urgency of reducing the high cost of governance. They specifically told him to reduce the number of Ministries, Departments and Agencies. Mr Jonathan damned them with an unnecessary appointment of Bianca Ojukwu and others, just a week later, as his advisers.

Already, a closer look of next year’s budget, as proposed by the president, will give you a cause to question the difference Okonjo-Iweala’s presence is making in Nigeria. Of the N4.7trillion, only a paltry N1.3trillion – mere 28% of the budget – is proposed for capital expenditure, while an embarrassingly high N2.471trillion is going into recurrent expenditure. Here, the damage done to our treasury by the Nigerian rulers and their hordes of unneeded political appointees comes to the fore. In the United States where Aunty Ngozi was ferried from, is this how governance is practiced?

The former World Bank chief’s silence on where she can make reasonable savings from is as worrisome as it is suspicious. What exactly did she come here to do? How much does the United States government pay to their farmers, per year, as subsidy for agricultural produce? Is Aunty Ngozi intent on feigning ignorance on this issue? Why is she out to destroy the Nigerian masses? Where lies her loyalty? Whose life is she intent on bettering?

Yesterday, I saw a glossy bulletin inserted in the centre page of some national dailies listing the projects they want to execute with the savings from their proposed subsidy removal. They have already baptized the savings with a name, “SURE”. That could only be reminiscent of “NEEDS”, Aunty Ngozi’s coinage of the economic policy of her first coming. We are used to naming ceremonies in government. Nobody is impressed with this new acronym. The concern is that the same money we do not have is massively deployed into needless publicity campaign, and even propaganda, just for Nigerians to give their consent to the grand plot by the government to further impoverish them. Economic policy isn’t about the frequent coinage of pronounceable acronyms; it is about putting food on the table of the governed.

The savings will only increase the amounts of money that will be available for stealing by the same criminals who Aunty Ngozi and her boss are unwilling to confront. She doesn’t want to lose those who will donate to her campaign in 2015 when her true reason for coming back home gets finally unveiled.

I have often said she seems not to have any novel idea to bring to the Finance Ministry other than “savings” from the wrong sources. It will certainly be in her best interest to resign and run back to her World Bank. She is pushing this president to a point where he might live to ever regret.

Let Aunty Ngozi be told in clear terms that continuing on this subsidy removal journey will destroy the image she had ab initio which, in any case, may have been wrongly believed by Nigerians anyway.

Contact: nedunaija@gmail.com

From ekekeee.com, link: shar.es/WnE2I

Posted January 7, 2012 by Raymond Eyo in Economy