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Since the removal of oil subsidy by these opportunist generals, what has Nigeria gained? Has

the oil subsidy removal constructed good roads; or has it led to the adequate supply of drinkable water?

Or has it brought constant supply of electricity? Or has it built well-equipped hospitals?

Or has it accelerated the quality of our dying education? 

 

 

Subsidising, Fraud, Lies, and Blood

By Hakeem Babalola

 

Certain things make a government a government. Trust, sensitivity and timing are three attributes any worthy government should possess. Even an unworthy government must strife and probably endure the pain—of possessing TST. A government without TST is like committing a sin of rebellion. 

Notice that I do not mention being nice as a characteristic of a government. This is simply because leadership is not about being nice but doing the right thing. Most often governments do things right without necessarily doing the right thing. And this invariably brings collapse—of distrust.

If the governed mistrust their leaders, there’s problem. If the governed sense a certain degree of unwillingness in their leaders, there’s trouble. No amount of pacification would lead to solution in a bloody situation where the leaders are known for insincerity—and that of purpose

Though callous, the removal of the so-called oil subsidy would not have troubled the citizens if there’s trust between the rulers and the ruled. A government that lies its way into the hearts of people remains unpopular, and no amount of political or religious propaganda can change the situation.

Every Nigerian government including the present one has diabolically established itself as a cabal of dishonest politicians. No government in Nigeria has been able to possess the three qualities; and this of course is the bone of contention which I believe we should be fighting—at all times.

Now Mr. Goodluck Jonathan ’s administration had set the removal of the oil subsidy for April this year, but suddenly changed it to January 1st—the most vulnerable day of the year in my opinion. The first question is why the sudden change in the calendar—of oil subsidy removal?

Which high-ranking General instigated the removal? Which untouchable cabal prompted the removal? Which Imam or Pastor or Prophet prophesied that the removal of oil subsidy is the beginning of salvation—for Nigerian citizens? Or is it the governors or ministers or advisers or local chairman that incited the removal? Or is it that notorious World Bank or IMF? Let them voice out. We want to know

And this is at a time when the executive are reported to be spending millions of naira on snacks alone. This is at a time when it is being reported that billions of naira is being spent on furniture. I think it is improper to be talking of sacrifice from the masses while the rulers are tucking money in their cheeks and stomachs.

Well, if Mr. President considers the removal inevitable, then why not put something in place that would alleviate the suffering of his people? Even my mother, a market woman knows that any policy to remove oil subsidy will instantly bring street hardship no matter how good the end result. Obviously Jonathan Goodluck’s PDP administration has failed in this regard.

However, failing in the ability to possess the three attributes does not call for Jonathan’s removal as being agitated in certain quarters. It is not about Jonathan rather it is about all of us. It seems we have lost it—both the rulers and the ruled. Even the so-called fourth estate realm has lost it. Almost all of us are subsidising fraud and blood . . . fraud and blood. Who is going to take over? These politicians are all the same.

This thing called oil subsidy removal has become an insensitive policy being regularly toyed with by different governments thereby playing in the hands of racketeers. It is difficult for me to believe that the present government does not know who the oil racketeers are. Why not deal with them? Or are they untouchable?

If so, we’ve got to change the present system in which certain racketeers are regarded as untouchable.  It is deceit as well as hypocrisy for Mr. President to remove the subsidy while the oil cabal continue to laugh to the bank.

In the year 1986, that fellow proposed to increase fuel price, the removal of oil subsidy. Another fellow, the one who passed the baton to the late Yar’Adua, also removed oil subsidy in his final moment as Nigerian ruler. He gave the same excuse, that such  removal would bring long term gain.

Since the removal of oil subsidy by these opportunist generals, what has Nigeria gained? Has the oil subsidy removal constructed good roads; or has it led to the adequate supply of drinkable water? Or has it brought constant supply of electricity? Or has it built well-equipped hospitals? Or has it accelerated the quality of our dying education? 

Fuel subsidy may be a waste as argued by some people who passionately believe its removal has numerous benefits. They cited the following as the long term gain

1. Gainful employment opportunities.
2. Increase in taxable revenue to the Government, e.g., vat income tax.
3. Conservation of Nigeria's foreign exchange reserve.
4. Eradication of fuel importation in the long run.
5. Technology transfer.
6. Strong economic growth.
7. Stability in the value of the Naira.
8. Growth of other industries such as petrol chemicals and logistics.
 

This school of thought would go further to say that Jonathan is doing the right thing which is unknown to most of us. They would argue that no investor will ever build a refinery in Nigeria until fuel subsidy is removed and the market deregulated. This, they say, is the bitter truth, adding that after four years, we will all come back and say a big thank you to Jonathan and his team, like Okonja Iweala who also served under Obasanjo.

And truly Dr. Iwela explained the benefits to Nigerians: “Ghana did it. . . . Brazil did it. . . . This money will be used to improve delivery of services for the people. Let us put the money into areas that will facilitate production, such as provision of power supply, providing state-of-the-art hospitals, especially to curb the maternal mortality rate. Government would invest heavily in refineries, which will be sustained by private investors, as well as hydro power projects. This, including others, would create more jobs for our people,” she said.

However, madam finance expert forgot to explain to us why the oil subsidy removal has never yielded positive result ever since its implementation by past governments. The truth is this: The factors that annihilated the efforts of past governments are still there to thwart this administration’s effort. And that perhaps is the fear blooding around.

Talking about Ghana did it. . . . Brazil did stuff. One should remind madam that perhaps in those countries there is accountability, and there is trust. There is vision and focus. That corruption is to its barest minimum…

Meanwhile, it is interesting that under Obasanjo it was reported that we spent 300 billion per year on this fuel subsidy. Under Mr. Goodluck Jonathan, it shot up to 1.3 trillion naira in the last one year alone. So how did it get so high in four years and what exactly is being subsidised with the extra one trillion naira?

Mr. Jonathan tried to portray himself as a ruler who is sensitive by quickly announcing the cut in the salaries of executive by 25%; and reduced foreign travels to the barest minimum. Of course it was a perfect time to demonstrate this sensitivity but, alas, Mr. President was reported to have attended South Africa’s 100 years of ruling party celebration. Thank God his spokesperson has refuted the story.

Cutting executive salaries if done in a genuine manner could be a meaningful way of apathy, but it appears to me that it is only a paper solution; and whereas what we need is practical solution. Practical street solution is what we need right now. By the way, what of their allowances which perhaps weigh more than their salaries?

Goodluck Jonathan of course is like his predecessors. He is not different from OBJ, IBB, ABACHA, BUHARI AND CO. They are there only to protect their interests, while sucking the blood and wasting the lives of those sworn to take care of. I am sure Jonathan himself knows this, but for him, it is one of those things.

In fairness to Mr. President, he is not the issue but the system in place. Therefore, it is his time and no one should impeach him. He should be allowed to complete his term after which we should vote for another clueless one. We are addicted to their inept and authority stealing. Aren’t we?

 This is our portion since we have allowed ourselves to be politically marooned on a tribal and religious desert island. Hearing comments from our so-called intellectuals has convinced me that everyone is fighting for him/herself. Most of us criticize in order to be recognised for ministerial or personal assistant posts. There is this fiery columnist, an opponent of the deregulation; and now as a spokesperson for the president, a backer of the policy.

What about this ferocious labour leader who for years opposed removal of fuel subsidy, but who has now in his capacity as a governor become one of its strongest advocates. I have the feeling that most of those who take to the street are doing so to be recognized and subsequently invited to chop. But to the genuine ones I doff my hat.

The metamorphosis of these two Nigerians is a testimony—of being human. “We get carried away sometimes, thinking we know people but the truth is humans are very unpredictable especially with money and power,” writes Margret in her Epiphany blog.

Trust is significant in this regard. Trust is a fine line between leaders and followers. Any leader who disregards the importance of trust has lost it and may only be wandering without reaching any particular destination.

But how can we believe anything these guys say after their boss had told lies saying, subsidy would not be removed until April; when he knew he was going to remove it on the 1st of January. Apparently this particular issue is not being handled as it supposed to be handled.

I don’t want to call Mr. President a liar but he has definitely put himself in a position in which it will be impossible for Nigerians to believe anything he says. Yes, a man is assessed by the worth of his words: his words no longer are worth anything other than fraud and blood.  So what fraud are they subsidising?

As usual, it is the masses bearing the brunt. Jonathan, no matter how much he says he feels our pain, would not suffer as a result of subsidy removal. After all, his jets and that of his family are being fuelled at our expense.

Whatever his offence, do not impeach Jonathan Goodluck. Let him complete his term like his predecessors, otherwise we shall be forever accused of tribalism or whatever that has been in the dictionary of Nigerians from day one. Jonathan must not be shot. He must not be assassinated. He must be allowed do his own thing and leave.  

By the way, it is difficult to identify genuine protesters as it has all been hijacked and politicised. One Olorunsola Ola identifies three categories of protesters. According to him, there are people that have held Nigeria in penury for decades for selfish enrichment. The second are the ignorant fools being used as hand-tools by the subtle wealth-maniacs; while there are people that have been disappointed as a result of unfulfilled promise by the previous governments.

Moreover, I predict the protest will die down as usual in as much as the government has the right price for those who matter. Is it not one of the yeye Generals who proclaimed with the pride of a locus: “Every Nigerian has a price”?

And is this not happening before our eyes? Or have we changed? So what is your price Mr. Protester and Madam Protester? Just name it and you will soon be bought. And that is my fear. Subsidising fraud and blood . . .God dey sha . . .

Hakeem Babalola, a member of Association of Hungarian Journalists, is currently teaching English Communication in Budapest, Hungary. He loves writing, a vehicle by which he rides to relieve himself of certain emotions. His articles have appeared in Nigerian newspapers including Nigerian Tribune, Daily Champion, Vanguard, Daily Trust respectively, as well as online magazines like Nigeriavillagesquare.com, Chatafrikarticles.com, voiceofnigerians and a host of others.  mysmallvoice@yahoo.com

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Oil workers may shut down production Friday—Sunday Aborisade and Stanley Opara—12 January 2012—The Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria has threatened to shut down crude oil production on Friday if the Federal Government fails to yield to the demand of Nigerians for the reversal of the removal of subsidy on petrol.  The association made the threat on Wednesday in a statement signed by its National President, Mr. Babatunde Ogun. Although the association did not say the exact time it would shut down production, its Lagos branch Chairman, Rev. Folorunsho Ogini, said in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents that if the government failed to address the grievances of the people, the body would shut down crude production nationwide from Friday. “Now that the Federal Government has decided to be callous minded, we hereby direct all production platforms to be on red alert in preparation for total production shutdown,” Ogun said in the statement.  According to him, PENGASSAN is fully in support of the mass action called by the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, saying, “We hereby thank all Nigerians for their resolve on this peaceful mass protest.”

He said as an affiliate of TUC, PENGASSAN offices across the nation also observed the industrial action, which commenced on Monday. Ogun said no report was currently being generated from production locations to both the Department of Petroleum Resources and the Federal Government. “This is one of the very first steps in the shutdown process. We believe that a government that is alive to its responsibilities will not allow this strike to degenerate thus far,” he added.—Odili 

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Foreign airlines suspend operations to Nigeria over strike—Wole Shadare—12 January 2012—Already, KLM Airlines said it had stopped operations to Nigeria because it could no longer guarantee the safety of its crew and equipment. Spokesman for Air France-KLM, Mrs. Funmi Ojesina in a chat with The Guardian said that the carrier had suspended operations for now until safety could be guaranteed. Also, Lufthansa which had earlier suspended its operations on Tuesday said, "we expect flight operations to restart on Thursday (today). That is outbound leaving each from Lagos and Abuja to Frankfurt. For inbound, we expect flights to come in by tomorrow. A source who pleaded anonymity said the airlines were equally concerned with the quality of air traffic control that is being handled by insufficient workers and could not risk the consequence of an accident. They may have taken the decision on the heels of the attack of Ethiopian Airways crew on Tuesday as they were turned back to their hotels, leading to cancellation of the flight. For British Airways, the airline was unable to operate its 10 a.m. flight to London from Abuja until midnight, while its Lagos operations went on smoothly because the airline operated at 12 midnight, beating the 7a.m. to 7p.m. that the airports in Lagos and Abuja are closed to traffic.

Country Manager, British Airways, Mr. Kola Olayinka said most of their passengers are lodged in hotels in Abuja, adding that the strike was taking enormous toll on their operations. Spokesperson for Virgin Atlantic Airways, Mrs. Wuraola Oduntan said protesters got into the terminal building of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos and stopped all the airlines' staff from checking-in their passengers.—Odili

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Oil Advances to Highest Level in a Week on Nigerian Strike, Europe Outlook—Moming Zhou—12 January2012—Oil climbed to the highest level in a week on concern that a strike in Nigeria will curb supplies and as European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said there are some signs the euro-area economy is stabilizing. Prices rose as much as 2.1 percent after Nigeria’s Nupeng union said it has started shutting platforms in Africa’s largest oil producer. Crude extended gains as the euro surged against the dollar on Draghi’s remarks and as the ECB kept its benchmark interest rate at 1 percent following two straight reductions.

“The Nigerian situation is front and center here as we know that Nigerian oil workers are capable of shutting in production,” said John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital LLC, a New York-based hedge fund that focuses on energy. “It was a bit of a surprise for the European Central Bank to not lower rates and that spurred oil’s inverse dollar trade.” Crude for February delivery rose $1.28, or 1.3 percent, to $102.15 a barrel at 11:43 a.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange after touching $102.98. The contract fell to $100.87 yesterday, the lowest close since Dec. 30. Prices have risen 11 percent in the past year. Brent oil advanced $1.55, or 1.4 percent, to $113.79 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange. Earlier, it touched $115.12, the highest price since Nov. 9.

The euro strengthened as much as 1 percent against the dollar, boosting the appeal of commodities as alternative investment to the U.S. currency, on Draghi’s comments and after Spain sold almost twice its maximum target at a bond auction. “With the bouncing euro and the break in the dollar, that’s going to be supportive for oil prices,” said Rich Ilczyszyn, chief market strategist and founder of Iitrader.com in Chicago. Nigeria’s Nupeng oil union said it withdrew its members from fields in support of a nationwide strike to force President Goodluck Jonathan to reinstate fuel subsidies. The strikes, now in their fourth day, follow production glitches that have already cut shipments. Another union, Pengassan, said it would begin shutting down the industry on Jan. 15. Jonathan and labor leaders were set to meet at 5 p.m. local time today in the capital of Abuja in a bid to end the strike. The president and the unions are deadlocked over demands that the government reverse its decision to abolish fuel subsidies, which more than doubled the price of gasoline. Nigeria pumped 2.2 million barrels of crude a day last month, according to Bloomberg estimates.Bloomberg

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Nigeria fuel protests: Union threatens oil shutdown—Strikes over the move, which has doubled petrol prices, began on Monday.—12 January 2012—About 80% of Nigerian state revenues come from oil. It is Africa's biggest oil exporter and the unrest has helped raise world prices. The country has little capacity to refine crude oil. Many poverty-stricken Nigerians see subsidised fuel as the only benefit they get from their country's oil wealth. There have been demonstrations across Nigeria since the decision was announced on 1 January. Petrol prices and transport fares have doubled, and in the four days of strikes tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets around the country to protest. There have been big protests in the largest city, Lagos and also in Kano, the main city in the north. On Wednesday, the authorities imposed a 24-hour curfew in Niger state after unrest. During the violent protests in the state capital Minna, hundreds of rioters set fire to government and political party offices and also targeted the homes of local politicians.

Partial curfews are also in place in the states of Kano, Zamfara, Borno and Oyo. However, union leaders are due to meet President Goodluck Jonathan shortly for the first time since the strike started. The Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (Pengassan) said it had put all production platforms on red alert in advance of the shutdown. "We are hereby notifying the Federal Government of Nigeria... that Pengassan shall be forced to go ahead and apply the bitter option of ordering the systematic shutting down of oil and gas production with effect from... 0000 hours of Sunday 15 January," it said in a statement. . . .

President Jonathan says ending the subsidy will save the government $8bn (£5.2bn) a year, which will be put into public services. It is not clear whether the authorities are prepared to compromise on the issue, though Petroleum Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke said they had always "asked that the door for dialogue should remain open". "No government would stand up and put itself through a sort of onslaught that we have been put through if they did not believe that what was to come is far better for the country than what has already passed," she said, quoted by AFP. Nigeria is a top supplier of crude oil to the United States and European Union, producing about 2.4 billion barrels a day. The industrial unrest in Nigeria - and the increasing threat of an embargo on Iranian fuel exports - have caused international oil prices to rise.—BBC

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Nigeria Hurtles Into a Tense Crossroad—Jeffrey D. Sachs—10 January 2012—Meeting with the president and his economic team in Abuja last week, in the midst of protests against the subsidy removal, confirmed my view that the Nigerian government has an unprecedented opportunity to clean up its act and win back the support of a long-suffering population. The president spoke of taking the tough medicine necessary to build the foundations for long-term growth. His lead economic architect is Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, newly returned from a top spot at the World Bank.

I don’t envy their task. At 155 million people and rising, Nigeria is the world’s eighth-most-populous country and one of the hardest to govern. The country is deeply splintered, with more than 250 ethnic groups, 500 languages, a stark and sometimes violent Muslim-Christian divide, and a population now evenly divided between urban and rural areas. If these fracture lines were not enough, corruption is rampant, income inequality is sky-high, poverty and disease are pervasive, and the youth population is bulging, with half of all Nigerians under the age of 20.

I’ve advised dozens of countries, including Nigeria, on economic development and public health, and very few come close to Nigeria’s scale and complexity of challenges. Yet just as other large and complicated developing countries such as Brazil and India are now making breakthroughs in poverty reduction and economic growth, Nigeria could become the surprise winner of the coming decade. It is filled with talented and energetic people, fertile agriculture, and vast energy resources.

Oil-dependent Nigeria exemplifies the infamous “resource curse.” When an economy depends excessively on one or two key resources like oil, gold, or diamonds, politics all too easily descends into megacorruption and a brutal struggle over the resource earnings. To add to the curse, foreign governments and companies often amplify the corruption. Nigerian courts recently convicted the U.S. oil-services company Halliburton of massive corruption committed while the chief executive was none other than Dick Cheney.

Oil exporters like Nigeria very often keep domestic oil prices low as an easy sop to powerful local interests. Nigeria’s oil prices were among the lowest in Africa until the subsidies were abruptly ended Jan. 1. According to the government’s estimates, the oil subsidy in 2011 amounted to a staggering $8 billion, roughly 4 percent of G.D.P. (the equivalent share of G.D.P. in the United States would be $600 billion per year). Nigeria’s well-to-do households, with their cars and large diesel generators, and also some adroit oil smugglers, captured much of the subsidy.

The government ended the subsidies to redeploy the 4 percent of G.D.P. toward long-term development needs, including health, roads and power. The reform logic is sound. Using the 4 percent of G.D.P. in a strategic manner can do far more for Nigeria’s poor and the country’s long-term growth than haphazard giveaways of cheap oil.

Yet the fury at the government’s removal of the oil subsidies has been huge, with strikes, violence and political uproar. The removal of subsidies creates short-term pain for many social groups, and considerable short-term fear. The government’s actions are easy targets of the political opposition. The public understandably frets that the government might simply steal the budget savings, since governments have stolen so much of the oil wealth in the past.

The fears of corruption are absolutely understandable, but glimmers of hope—that this time will be different—are also in the air. When Nigeria won relief on its external debt in the mid-2000s, the savings on debt service were actually redirected to meaningful social investments in the states and local governments. The government is now promising to turn the outlays on subsidies into outlays on specific and closely monitored investments in health care, infrastructure, job training and other areas.

To share the pain, the president has ordered cuts in top salaries in the government, and special programs for mass transit to help poor workers over the hurdle of higher transport costs. The government should also tax high-income individuals in order to raise revenues for urgent pro-poor investments and a fairer society.NYTimes

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The fuel subsidy crisis has woken Nigerians upThese protests are not just about being unable to afford fuel. People have had enough of wasteful and corrupt leadershipTolu Ogunlesi11 January 2012I remember watching Goodluck Jonathan's speech at the start of his re-election campaign on 18 September, 2010. He promised change: "Let the word go out from this Eagle Square that Jonathan as president in 2011 will herald a new era of transformation of our country." The canoe-carver's son who became deputy governor, governor, vice-president and then president, without ever hustling for power, wowed us all with stories of his humble beginnings (a shoeless childhood, studying by the light of kerosene lanterns), his humility, and his seeming accessibility (via Facebook). But that was then.

Today he seems bent on recreating all the obstacles he faced all those decades ago; eager to ensure that as many Nigerians as possible study with lanterns and survive on a single meal a day. How is he doing this? By hurting the most vulnerable using one of the most ubiquitous items in the land: petrol. A fuel price increase—and the associated increase in the price of commodities—has sparked nationwide #OccupyNigeria protests, driven largely by young people mobilising themselves via social media, mobile phones and word-of-mouth.

Nigeria is a crude-oil producing and exporting country, full of poor people—70% of the population survives on less than $2 a day. These citizens consume more petrol than is necessary because Nigeria has consistently failed to produce enough electricity for its 150 million citizens (South Africa, with 50 million people, produces 10 times as much electricity as Nigeria), leaving much of the population dependent on petrol-guzzling Chinese generators to keep the lights on. It gets worse. The country is largely unable to refine crude oil as all four refineries operate at an average of 23% of their potential capacity, and it has to import most of its fuel needs. Controlling the price of petrol has, therefore, been the easiest way to ensure that Nigerians enjoy the benefits of the crude oil they produce.

The subsidy system works this way: the government pays importers to ensure prices are kept reasonably low, well below the cost of importation. But over time corruption has crept into the system, and dubious importers have found ways of inflating their receipts. Between January and October 2011, the government claims to have spent 1.3 trillion naira (about $8bn) on subsidies, instead of the budgeted N248bn. The government has admitted the existence of a cartel, but has done nothing to confront or expose it. The only solution, they've argued, is to scrap the entire subsidy, the only thing that resembles welfare in a land teeming with poor people.

Over the last couple of weeks Jonathan has been meeting with labour, civil society, and youth groups, ostensibly engaged in a dialogue. In reality he has only been buying time for the implementation of a policy he and his advisers had made up their minds about a long time ago.

The government is outraged by the cost of the subsidy, but not by the corruption responsible, or the fact that we have to depend on imports to meet almost all of our fuel needs.And if all the hundreds of billions of dollars of the last decade (annual budgets of about $25bn) have not improved our roads and schools and hospitals, is it this $8bn that will bring transformation?

At the root of the opposition is a trust deficit. So for Enough is Enough Nigeria and most Nigerians, the conversation is not merely about the fuel subsidy, but about a wasteful and corrupt leadership, given to making false promises and asking citizens to sacrifice for a better future. The message to President Jonathan and his government is simple: earn our trust with the trillions you already have in your possession, then we can, and will, wholeheartedly hand over this subsidy trillion to you.

Unfortunately for the president, his decision could not have come at a worse time. With inspiration from the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt and the power of social media, more people than ever before in Nigeria are aware of and angered by the corruption in the system. Never before in the country's history have ordinary citizens been inspired to discuss budget items line by line. The questions are mounting. For example, how can N1bn ($6.25m) be allocated to the president and vice-president's catering budget, in a country stalked by hunger?

The target of the protests is a system constructed to oppress the poor and protect wealthy criminals. Every day since 2 January, the day after the fuel price increases, protesters have been assembling across several Nigerian states, marching and sharing their messages. And in many cases, enduring police harassment. Young Nigerians are waking up and realising that we are where we are today because previous governmentsmaintainers of the corrupt systemwere hardly ever seriously challenged, or rigorously questioned. Now, having woken up, we will not be going back to sleep.Guardian

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A Country’s Frustration Fueled Overnight—Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie—Lagos, Nigeria—16 January 2012—On New Year’s Day, in my ancestral hometown of Abba in Anambra State in eastern Nigeria, my family and I woke up to unbelievable news: the price of petrol had doubled. Overnight, the government had removed what it called the subsidy on fuel, and almost immediately, transport fares exploded and food prices rose astronomically. It used to cost 4,000 naira—about $25—to fill my petrol tank. Then it cost 10,000 naira. When I stopped to buy okpa, a steam-cooked bean dish, from a street hawker, she said it was no longer 50 naira; it was now 100.  “Why?” I asked.  “Because of fuel subsidy.”  A relative who had traveled to her village for the holidays called me to say that she was stranded there, unable to return to her job in Lagos; she could not afford the bus fare, which had doubled in price.  Nigeria, one of the world’s biggest exporters of crude oil, does not have adequate refineries and so it imports most of its petrol. The government claims that it pays a subsidy to importers to keep the prices low, and that these companies defraud the government by inflating their costs. Perhaps that is true, but it is a strange reason for raising prices, as though the government is incapable of policing fraud. Politicians have long discussed ending the subsidy, but no one expected it to happen when and how it did. There was something frightening about the abruptness of such a dramatic change, a sense of lurching, a violent uncertainty that captured the general mood in Nigeria. . . . 

Economic arguments are useful, but so are human arguments, which seem alarmingly lost on the Nigerian government. Prices have gone up but salaries remain the same. A driver in Lagos who earns 25,000 naira, about $152 a month, would have had to spend almost three-quarters of his salary on transportation to and from work, and this is before he would have to pay for food and, if he has children, for school fees. In Nigeria we like to say that we can “manage,” but it is almost impossible to see how many people could manage that. We are an oil-producing nation and it is not unreasonable for Nigerians to expect affordable petrol, nor is it unreasonable for Nigerians to expect more from a democratic government. A friend of mine, after calculating how much she would now spend getting to work in Lagos, said, with her eyes alive with rage, “Our senators make $100,000 a month if you count their salaries and allowances. A month! In dollars! They live in government houses and have government cars. And none of them pay for their own petrol.”—NYTimes

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Under Pressure, Nigerian Leader Relents on Gas Price—Adam Nossiter—16 January 2012—LAGOS, Nigeria — Nigeria swallowed a hard lesson on Monday that has been inflicted on governments of developing nations the world over for years: try cutting subsidies for gas and the populace will erupt in rage.

Faced down by thousands of demonstrators, demands for his removal and a weeklong general strike that paralyzed his fractious country, President Goodluck Jonathan abruptly gave in, partly restoring the fuel subsidy that — more than an Islamic insurgency in the north or a long-running conflict in the south — seemed to crystallize the frustrations of the people and draw them to the streets in outrage.

“Government appreciates that the implementation of the deregulation policy would cause initial hardships,” Mr. Jonathan said in a stiffly worded capitulation on Monday, after a week of refusing to back down. . . . The Nigerian government spends about $8 billion a year on fuel subsidies, and getting rid of them would be “an important first step” to shoring up the finances of one of Africa’s largest economies, according to a 2009 International Monetary Fund report. But in resource-rich countries like Nigeria, with its enormous gap between rich and poor, subsidized gas is one of the few benefits trickling down from an infamously corrupt government that has pocketed billions of dollars in oil profits, with little to show for it.  For the poor—and three-fourths of this country’s population lives on about a dollar a day—the fuel subsidy means a cheap ride to the market. It means lower prices for the food they buy there. And it means some sense of ownership in a national resource, oil, in which roughly 80 percent of the economic benefit has flowed to 1 percent of the population, according to some estimates. “It’s one of the few ways the urban and rural poor feel they benefit from this strategic resource,” said Michael J. Watts, an expert on the politics of oil at the University of California, Berkeley. “The fuel subsidy is experienced as one of the few things they get.” That sentiment was strongly in evidence as the protests dwindled here on Monday. Under the rollback union leaders agreed to, gas in Nigeria will drop to about $2.27 a gallon from about $3.50 —higher than the $1.70 price before Jan. 1, but low enough to end the strike.

Still, many Nigerians were disappointed that Mr. Jonathan had not dropped the price all the way back down. “We are not benefitting from this oil!” shouted Ali Mohammed, a motorcycle-taxi driver. “No lights, no roads, no hospitals. Make him reduce the price. We are suffering in this country.” Hundreds of other young men milled about close by in what has been a center of the protest here: the New Afrika Shrine nightclub of the Afro-beat star Femi Kuti, son of the Nigerian musician and dissident Fela Kuti. In a speech Monday morning, Mr. Kuti both incited and calmed the crowd listening at his feet amid clouds of marijuana smoke, expressing disgust with Nigeria’s institutions from his rickety wooden stage as supporters murmured their approval. Later in his office, Mr. Kuti shouted at his television as he watched the labor leaders announce the end of the strike. “I told you those people would back down,” he said to his aides, looking up from the screen. As for the government, he said, “They prosecute people for being gay, but there is no law against stealing 14 million. NYTimes

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Boko Haram’s terrorismLet me begin by reminding everyone that Boko Haram has a very long history, whether you describe Boko Haram as an army of the discontent, or even as some people grotesquely try to suggest, “revolutionaries,” or you describe them as, legitimately, this time, as marginalised or feeling marginalised. . . .

People wonder, sometimes, if they are fighting the cause of religion, why are they also killing fellow religionists? It is very important for us to understand that they have a very narrow view of even their faith. Anyone outside that narrow confine, narrow definition (in this case, we are talking about Islam), is already an infidel, an unbeliever, a hypocrite, an enemy of God (they use all these multifarious descriptions) and therefore is fit for elimination. If they believe that this environment contains any non-believer in their very narrow strain of Islam, that person or that very area is due for sanitation. And if there are those who also believe, who are confined within the very narrow limit of their arbitrary religion, any chance that there are such people, they consider them martyrs, who will be received in the bosom of Allah, with double credits as having been killed accidentally.

What I am saying is not any theorising; it is not any speculation. Examine this particular strain of Islam from Afghanistan, through Iran to Somalia to Mauritania. We are speaking in fact of a deviant arm of Islam, whose first line of enemies, in fact, are those who I call the orthodox Muslims with whom we move, interact, inter-marry, professional colleagues and so on. They don’t consider them true Muslims. . . .

The second elaboration I want to make is that I have never liked the expression, “the core North”. We are talking about North because the North is very much identified with Islam. And for one reason, there is no core South. I don’t know about the core East, I don’t know about the core West. So why that expression? For me it is too general, too loose and it confuses the dramatis personae of our political life.

I, however, identify hard-core northerners, as in hard core pornography. There exist hardcore northerners. They may be in the minority, but they believe that they are divinely endowed to run any society. . . .

The first signs that the sponsors of Obasanjo got that they made a mistake was when he dismissed military officers, who had held political offices. That was the first time those who sponsored Obasanjo, who were hardcore northerners, felt they had got themselves into trouble because as it happened, those who were most affected were northerners. That was the first sign of trouble.

And they just didn’t take it and say ‘oh let it pass’ until later. They then opened a war office at that time. I’m talking of a physical office in which every single thing he said, every clipping, was stored. Ask Olusegun Obasanjo. I personally told him this. I said: ‘By the way, I hope you realise that the people who sponsored you have declared war on you; that they have opened an office on you, specifically an Obasanjo office!’ How do I know about this? If anybody denies this, I will come back to you and I will tell you how I knew about it. I am not ready to divulge. So, that is the first. The second phase was when Obasanjo proceeded and began privately to plan his re-election (that is the second term in office). At that time, what I called the hardcore northerners began to mobilise at what level yet, I cannot categorically say.

I don’t have the slightest interest in whether Obasanjo was right to seek a second term or not. I am not going to discuss whether it is right or wrong for anybody to try to impose a limitation, which is not backed by the constitution, on any individual candidate. I’m just telling this nation certain facts which no one can deny.

Obasanjo decided to have a second term, that is a southerner, not just an ex-military man, but a southerner. The language at the time was very overt. It was ‘we are just lending you the presidency, we will take it back at the end of your term.’ It was a feeling, a belief, which percolated through the various levels, various ranks of politicians and across all ages. . . .

So I suspect that the breaking point was when Yar’Adua took ill and the question of succession began. ‘If Yar’Adua dies, you mean another southerner is going to get into that position?’ This now became a real nightmare. For this, hardcore northerners (it’s too long, let’s just use the word cabal, even though that word is misused, to narrow it down to make sure we are talking about individuals, not about a region).

They decided that something drastic had to be done. Around this time, they had begun to activate, they intensified the training, this set of foot soldiers, they began to make intensified contacts, alliances with international religion-based insurgents like al-Qaeda. And their soldiers began to go to Mauritania, Sudan and Somalia, particularly those who were categorically confirmed by the security services. They began to send them seriously for training. That is not the problem, al-Qaeda has always been interested in Nigeria, as in Kenya and Mauritania. Osama bin Laden listed, if you remember, it’s published, Nigeria among the nations to be Islamised.

And so, these people went for training, they came back lying low, waiting to be activated. Remember all these didn’t begin with the period I’m talking about. They have a long history of extremists. People tend to forget about Maitatsine; that was a different calibre altogether. So there is nothing new about what we are seeing. It is the intensification and the murderous dimension that this narrow Islamism is taking.

I am talking of accumulation of grievances of this narrow group. And this is why even some of their own fellow northerners were targets because these were considered malodorous among them and in any struggle of this kind historically, you find that the first stage is to clean out your rearguard, those whom you consider might stab you in the back–the rearguard traitors. You wipe them out first. And that is why we are seeing the intensification of the antagonism towards certain progressive liberal northerners. . . .

If you read the ‘manifesto’ of the Boko Haram, you will find that there is nothing you can actually hold on to unlike, say, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, which is categorical on the polluted environment. . . .

PDP is at the heart of the trouble, it’s within PDP they have been making this dirty bargain. “You rule for so long, it’s my turn.” It is not in the constitution. So it’s the PDP members, who really should go and sort out this problem among themselves. But the nation is the one paying the penalty. This is not comfortable because they can protect themselves. They are the ones that divided the country into two–the North and then, the South.

I think that the reason which you might say is on paper, in terms of political planning, are the six geo-political zones. This ‘two’ business, I don’t understand. But they are using this division of North versus South the same way as they are using religion. The issue is completely political. But with toxic element of religion infused into it, it gives them the leg to ally with international terrorist bodies based on religion. Those are only too happy to be of assistance. . . .

The politicians are so desperate; they are the ones who utilise religion. They are not alone. We saw Goodluck Jonathan kneeling before a Christian prelate for his blessing. The only difference is that I am not aware that Goodluck Jonathan has been sponsoring any militant fundamentalist Christians. People turn to religion. . . .

Many people are worried that what Boko Haram is doing may lead to the dismemberment of the country, while some others are saying: “we are too interwoven to split”. On what side do you queue?

If Boko Haram succeeds in its stated agenda to make the country ungovernable, if Boko Haram succeeds in goading those areas that have victim citizens in the northern part of the country into reprisal actions on the nearest targets, not only will this cause a break-up, it will be very messy. That is the reason some of us have been issuing appeals to community leaders to make sure it doesn’t happen in their communities.

It isn’t the break-up as such. Other nations were broken up, but the way in which we will break up will be intensely irremediable, it will be extremely messy. I can reveal to you, for instance, what the third phase of Boko Haram is supposed to be. . . .

That is why I believe that the country is very much on the verge of disintegration, especially if Bokom Haram succeeds in its agenda, which I outlined. With complete sense of responsibility and with the accumulation of facts, some within the government know what I’m saying, they acknowledge it. Some within the security services, I hope, have reached that analytical truth. I hope so, but they are not acting as if they heard and it is very worrisome.—TheNewsAfrica

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*   *   *   *   *

Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—WashingtonPost

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The New Jim Crow

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

By Michele Alexander

Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama's political success and Oprah Winfrey's financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today... than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don't know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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posted 13 January 2012

 

 

 

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