New Internationalist

Nigeria’s fuel subsidy: the spark that lit the fire

The removal of the fuel subsidy in Nigeria is an issue likely to bring Nigerians to boiling point. This latest attempt by a government to cut the subsidy has been debated for the past two months but despite the very vocal opposition from the people, the government went ahead and announced its removal on, of all days, New Years Day 2012.

The cost of fuel rocketed from $0.40 to $0.86 per liter with prices as much as $1.00 in some places.  The fuel subsidy is a symptom of Nigeria’s primary disease: oil. Oil rents, oil corruption, oil environmental destruction, oil bunkering, oil militarization, oil underdevelopment and oil spills. Oil has brought unimaginable wealth to Nigeria’s one per cent. But for the masses the fuel subsidy is the only way they have benefited from Nigeria’s oil wealth. Taking it away leaves Nigerians with minus zero.

But the anger at the removal of the subsidy is not just because of the end to cheap petrol and kerosene. It is the reasoning behind the removal. President Goodluck Jonathan claims the removal will release $8 billion which can be used to develop infrastructure. What this fails to do is to question why Nigeria, a country with such enormous wealth, has no decent infrastructure, including no electricity, in the first place. Worst of all the country’s four oil refineries remain so far under capacity that Nigeria has to import petrol which is like bringing sand to the desert!

Rather than tackle corruption, the root cause of loss of oil rents, Goodluck Jonathan’s government is asking Nigerians to pay for the last 40 years of $billions upon $billions of stolen and wasted oil revenue. The word ‘sacrifice’ is one commonly used by Nigerian governments but this no longer washes. Thousands of Nigerians have been killed by the Nigerian military over the past 20 years. Tens of thousands have died over sectarian and communal violence over the past 10 years and in the last year alone hundreds have been killed in attacks by Boko Haram or people claiming to be part of this terrorist group.

On Christmas day, just a week before the fuel subsidy was removed, more than 40 people were killed, including those in churches, in a series of bomb attacks across five states and the killings continue almost daily. Nigerians are still debating who is behind Boko Haram and my feeling is that they are a disparate group born out of a mixture of poverty, disenfranchisement and religious fundamentalism which has been helped by the declaration of Sharia law in 12 northern states.

But if we look back over the past 23 years we see that Nigeria has been in a state of perpetual war with its own people. That for the most part the war has been carried out in the far eastern Niger Delta and in pockets of the middle belt has meant most Nigerians remain unaware of this fact. This is to a large extent due to the failure of the Nigeria media to report events. But now we are in a different time. More and more Nigerians have access to the various social media which is in itself forcing the mainstream media to accurately report events.

The government of Nigeria is being exposed to the world and there is nowhere for it to hide. The Nigeria Labor Congress and Trade Union Congress have called for a nationwide indefinite strike on 9 January. But the protests over the fuel subsidy have already gone well beyond this single issue and are now encompassing all the pent up grievances Nigerians have had for years: lack of power, lack of development, but most of all the country’s rule by a corrupt kleptocracy.

There have been outbreaks of violence but there have also been significant outbreaks of solidarity as Nigerian Muslims vowed to protect Christians against any attacks by those claiming to be Boko Haram. Let us hope that the latest protests are not just a spark but a rage which will bring real transformational change.

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  1. #1 Forfaka 06 Jan 12

    The oil industry is under the control of Nigerian oil barons.
    These barons are ex-military men and their cronies who have
    ruled this country for about 4 decades.They are responsible
    for the fact that Nigerian 4 refineries are malfunctioning.
    They own refineries in foreign countries where they outsource
    our bunkered oil to be refined and imported into Nigeria.They
    cash the subsidy money.The barons also own oil blocks,and oil
    companies like Afren Plc and South Atlantic Petroleum Co.
    So the oil subsidy is a scam because the Federal Government is
    paying for our stolen crude oil plus the subsidy on it.The so
    called NNPC is actually under the control of the oil barons.
    It is about time oil producing States come together and form a cartel and take over our oil industry from the Hausa/Fulani
    cum Yoruba oil barons.
    It is they the oil barons who are fueling the ongoing protests
    and marches along Nigerian streets.They have joined the Boko
    Haram terrorists to make Nigeria ungovernable for Goodluck
    Ebele Jonathan.

  2. #2 Chris Chinedu Nwokolo 06 Jan 12

    Is it true Federal Government has reverted the fuel price to its previous price of sixty-five naira per litre?

  3. #3 bayo 06 Jan 12

    It is barbaric attempt by our government to say at this point in time removal of subsidy is the next thing while our people are suffering. Really our leaders do not love us.

  4. #4 justice 06 Jan 12

    ’It is the reasoning behind the removal. President Goodluck Jonathan claims the removal will release $8 billion which can be used to develop infrastructure.’

    The problem of Nigeria is not the development, rather it is how to manage the infrastructure and use it to the effectiveness of the masses. Knowing well that the removal of the oil subsidy have direct effect on the masses.

    I am of the opinion that; Nigeria should have developed all it is thinking of, proved adequate employment opportunity to the highly unemployed population, and, also, as we have in some countries, were 18 years old child is pay allowance in other to help him in his study and other personal needs.

    If this would have been done i think removal of fuel subsidy will be a great idea to the development and growth of Nigeria. Because the masses will have something doing or something to help themselves.

  5. #5 amba 06 Jan 12

    Isn't it rather unfortunate that President Goodluck has appeared to be the scape goat? Nigerians have to blame someone for their sufferings and Goodluck happens to be the one on the seat. Obviously, we are blinded by sentiments and refuse to read between the lines. I agree, the subsidy removal was abrupt, but Jonathan has been made to blame for all the history of corruption in Nigeria, even though its not up to a year since he assumed office.
    Nigeria realised she had turned 50 with nothing to show for it, as past leaders enjoyed the exploitation of her wealth and people. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan is not the bad guy at all, at least, not yet.
    Before we move into hasty generalisations, let us not forget that for the first time in the history of Nigeria, Goodluck made the desired 'One man- One vote' a reality. Also, in less than a year, he has been able to increase Nigeria's electricity capacity to 4,200 Mega Watts. How about the increment in minimum wage? How about the initial re-establishment of railway and construction of major roads in some part of Nigeria.
    The president has only one head like we all do, and that is why Nigeria's states have been divided amongst 36 Governors, who should be blamed for not meeting their individual state obligations.
    The subsidy removal issue i agree, was probably not well calculated as it would have dire effects on the masses, but this dilemma has put Jonathan at a crossroad. Should he replace the subsidy and re-feed the mouths of the Cabal, who just realised what has befallen them and are engineering the protests from the background? Or should he stand his ground, putting palliative measures in place and allow Nigerians watch to see him prove a point?
    Maybe what Nigerians need is the same cycle repeating itself every year. Goodluck should have been the usual Nigerian president who would rock his chair and watch eight years go by, pretending we were satisfied with the way things were..Afterall, there's no point redeeming a fool at this age?

    All the same, it is WELL with Nigeria.
    Our future will tell this story!!!

  6. #6 Shailja Patel 06 Jan 12

    Razor-sharp analysis. Thanks for connecting all the dots.

  7. #7 Mark Lambirth 07 Jan 12

    Thank you for this excellent article. I strongly agree that the Nigerian government should have been funding the transport infrastructure improvements that the country needs from the huge oil revenues that have being flowing in. But subsidising fuel is a bad mistake in any country. And Nigeria is not alone in trying to eliminate it. The lesson from elsewhere - the bad experience of Bolivia and the better experience of Iran - is that the process needs to be managed properly and fairly.

  8. #9 Emeka 07 Jan 12

    The oil subsidy removal and the killing of christians in the north and other developmental and corruption issues that have being going on,in Nigeria,will determine the statehood of this nation,rather than allow people to undergo this kind of suffering in the name of Nigeria,it will be better to splite the country into different countries just like the former USSR divided peacefully.From the unfolding of events nigerians are not ready to live togather as a people,neither,do they want to live a life free of corruption and injustics.The North,wants to rule Nigeria forever,and the few ruling class are bent on making life difficult for the poor masses.On the issue of oil subsidy,the government of Goodluck,needs to put alot of things in place before the issue of the oil subsidy if at all there is a need for it.The government need to explain to Nigerians how previous oil subsidy removal have been used,Nigerians need to know how the gulf war proceeds were used,the citizens should know why the existing oil refineries are not working to full capacity and why new ones cannot be bulit before talking of oil subsidy.Goodluck should bring corruption under control and also bring past corrupt leaders to justics.Moreso,this oil subsidy is the only benefit that the poor citizens are left with and the government should and must not take it away.

  9. #10 Ukoko kennedy 08 Jan 12

    What baffles me is that the muslims promising to protect christians but yet christians are being killed all day.i don't really know what the world is turning to.does it mean that the muslims are saying this to protect the bokos or they are scared of their lives.well i just hope something is done fast because the way am seeing this'is going to be an all out war angainst the north.

  10. #11 Akiripa Akirikaye 08 Jan 12

    Nigerian politicians are like prostitutes, they have no shame. Mr Good-luck, what kind of good-luck have you brought us now?

  11. #12 Barr Craig Willy Esq 09 Jan 12

    Sequel to the removal of fuel subsidy, i dont think its a bad idea if not for mal-administration and mismanagement of Government fund, and inability of the government to please its citizen, cause posting the removal of subsidy is posting the death of this country.

  12. #13 Samuel Dada 05 Mar 12

    Goodluck J. Political Legacy!!!! Rubbing the Masses, because the fuel subsidy is the only way the Masses have benefited from Nigeria’s oil wealth. Taking it away leaves Nigerians with minus zero. While the President and his political friends are taking away millions dollar away every day. They are buying house all over the world for their family members, sending their children to expensive University abroad, for the Graduation of their Children coming with entourage 25 on government expenses and going around the world as if they have nothing to do in the Senate, House of Representative and State house of Assembly. Hope he will re-think of his action, so that oil subsidy will not be his political suicide.

  13. #14 IBUOSARE 26 May 12

    A Nation that focus in administration and never to produce will always go backward.
    president Goodluck should look back on how this nation live before oil was discovered

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About the author

Sokari Ekine a New Internationalist contributor

Sokari Ekine is a Nigerian social justice activist and blogger. She writes an awardwinning blog, Black Looks, which she started in 2004, writing on a range of topics such as LGBTI Rights in Africa, gender issues, human rights, the Niger Delta, Haiti and Land Rights. She is a IRP 2013 Fellow.

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