This two-part article by Franque (@franque_521) raises some questions we need to answer as a country.
On Monday I bought my first 20litres of petrol for N2,820.
When the attendant said N141/litre, it didn’t register. It wasn’t until I pulled out the third thousand naira note that I realised what had just happened to me. On Sunday when I bought the same amount of fuel, it was two one thousand naira notes and I got more than half of one note back in change; today it was three notes and less than half of one note in change – far less.
My neighbour who went with me had tears in his eyes when he told me that the 60litres he just paid for represented three-quarters of his normal monthly allocation for chop money, and his wife had reminded him as we were leaving home that even that had to be reviewed upward.
When we got home, a neighbour asked where we got fuel. “The station at the roundabout,” we said. “But all other stations in the area are beginning to sell so you don’t have to go that far.”
“How much?” He asked.
“N141 per litre,” was our reply.
“Is there a crowd?” He asked again.
“No o. You just drive in, buy and go,” we told him.
“In that case we thank God. At least there’s no tension.” My instinctive reaction was a shocked disappointment at how easily he rationalised over 100% fuel increase and the pending hardships. On second thoughts though, I realised it would seem we got off easy. In past situations, stations would hoard the product and create artificial scarcity forcing us to buy for as high as N150/ltr. Then there were the blackmarket merchants who would sell for as high as N250/ltr and we would beg them to sell to us. This is not forgetting those who would then sell adulterated products (20% fuel – 80% water) without recourse to its effect on the consumer’s machinery. A sigh escaped my lips.
I unscrewed the cover of the generator fuel tank, inserted the funnel and lifted the gallon to pour the fuel… I stopped, set the gallon down and slowly backed away. I just had a visual image of me holding a wad of naira notes and setting fire to them. That’s how real the situation had become to me.
We sat there, my neighbours and I, and discussed our understanding of the implication of this fuel subsidy removal.
“Do you know how many school proprietors are kicking themselves for not making a provision for this in the fees they gave you last month?” I asked. “They will make up for it within the first month,” Abdullah’s father said. “All they have to do is send out a bogus memo to parents requesting they pay for some activity or the other. Shebi we want our children in school? We will pay.”
We talked about transportation, and shared the different messages we had received about the hike in bus fares. “So everyone will travel by air then,” another neighbour said glancing in my direction. “After all, it’s PMS not Jet-A1 that has gone up.” I had a really good laugh at this.
“Not every machinery at the airports use Jet-A1. We have tugs, tow trucks, fuel bowsers, toilet bowsers, ramp cars, ramp shuttles, some of these use PMS. Then there’s the cost of generating power to run the different airlines’ offices, and the cost of renting office space since the concessionaires will jack up rental fees, and everything else!” I pointed out.
We were silent for a bit while we tried to digest what had been shared so far. I walked back to the generator but still couldn’t bring myself to pour the fuel into the tank. I walked back to rejoin the others.
“How are we going to do this on the same old salary?” Abdullah’s dad asked. Now that there was one million dollar question. Quite frankly, it’s a no-brainer – we couldn’t.
Nobody is getting a salary raise anytime soon. Not because employers will not want to, but because employers will not be able to. They have just seen overhead costs driven so high up and so quickly it is over their heads, so really, how can they?
Actually, one set of people will get a pay rise: the Government. They will cite the inflation, caused by the removal of fuel subsidy, as the reason why the N1billion budgeted to feed the President and Vice President will not suffice. They will put forward a figure, maybe N1.6billion. Now guess where the N.6billion will come from? I assure you it won’t be from the money earmarked to purchase bulletproof vehicles for His Excellency. Just think how much of the money we are ‘saving’ from fuel subsidy removal will be left when the Government finish marking up their budgeted expenses. My guess? Nearer ZERO.
“That’s why Labour has to go on strike!” Someone vehemently stated.
“This is the second day of fuel subsidy removal and what has the Labour Congress said about it? What have they done about it?” Silence. “And why do you think this is so? It is because they were caught napping!” Then I went ahead and made my case.
“They believed the Government when they said April 1st, and since everything in Nigeria is a get-rich scam for anybody with some sphere of influence, they were waiting for the festivities to be over before they will award, amongst themselves, contracts for printed material (shirts, banners, posters, face caps) and other protest items (megaphones, microphones, batteries and complementary items). With the subsidy removal coming three months early, they will need about a week to award these contracts and do the rush procurement and printing jobs.
“Again, what would be the focus of their strike? How have past strikes gone?” I stopped to catch my breath.
“In the past, Labour would purpose to embark on a week long strike, but it usually broke down by the third day because in a country where over 75% of the citizens depend on daily income, not a lot of people can stay away from their businesses longer than three days. Three days within which a deal would be struck between both parties; a deal demanding for the masses to make sacrifice if they want the government to relent. So Labour gives a little and the Government gives even less while telling us they have given more. We pack up and go, happy.”
At some point I finally refuelled my generator, turned it on and went inside to mull over what we had just discussed.
On Tuesday there were protest marches staged across the nation, and I applauded the initiative and courage of those who went out to participate. All I saw all over twitter was #OccupyNigeria and it got me thinking again. So there’s the #Occupy movement in the U.S, and knowing our penchant for ‘copy and paste’ without considering the thought process that birthed some of these ideologies, I wondered if our #Occupy movement will be as disorganised and ineffective as the Wall Street version.
On Wednesday I read in the papers that NLC had issued a warning to the Government that a strike action will commence on the 9th and again I wondered :
1, Do you warn someone of retaliation before they slap you? Or do you wait till after the slap has landed and your eyes have watered?
2, Why the 9th? What happened to the 2nd or 3rd (if my deductions as to motive were wrong)?
I am not against protest marches, or when it comes to that, strike action. All I am saying is that we should think.
Let us think of what we want answered; Who we want to direct this at; When we want it answered; How we want to present our case, and through whom.
For me, the one million dollar question is: if Government want us to make sacrifices, what sacrifices will THEY be making?
Part Two comes up tomorrow…