by Nwachukwu Egbunike
Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (GEJ), President of Nigeria has ignited a revolution. Obviously this was far from his intentions. However, his insistence on ending fuel subsidy has done precisely that. His New Year gift to Nigerians has ignited mass protests across the nation. Like King Louis XVI of France in the 18th century, GEJ tried to sell economics, the people are demanding for equity.
History keeps on repeating itself, and unfortunately many fall into the same pit. King Louis XVI was fighting many wars and he needed money to keep his strife aflame. His subjects were overburdened by the brunt of taxation, but the absolute monarch only smirked. He mistook the silence of the French as foolishness.
On May 4, 1789, Louis XVI convoked the States General consisting of the three Estates of Realm: the Clergy, Nobility and Bourgeois. He wanted them to rubber stamp his push for more revenue. What he did not realise was that, the French people were not blind to the opulent lifestyle of the monarchy. They were aware that if their king downsizes the frills of his royal privileges, he would have more than enough to push his wars. Dramatically, on August 4, 1789, in a tennis court, the clergy and the nobility renounced their traditional privileges and the French revolution was born. This cataclysm consumed millions of souls and totally reconfigured the political landscape of Europe.
Fast forward to the 21st century, GEJ against all opposition, preached the theory of fuel subsidy censure as the only alternative to development. What he did not bargain for was the lack of trust from the people. Our President must have mistaken the resilience of Nigerians for naivety.
Standing on the heels of the Arab Spring and the democratisation of information, GEJ would not have imagined that usual beer parlour protest will morph into street action. Certainly, the debate has since moved from subsidy to a demand for accountability from the political class. Tons of information has been circulating, detailing the statistics of the expenditure of the political class.
One of them states as follows:
Let us look at the 2012 Budget proposals in some details to see whether GEJ is willing to reduce the high lifestyle of those in power. We will look at the budgets proposed for three Presidency MDAs – the State House where P & VP work, the Offices of the SGF & Head of Service.
The three MDAs intend to spend a total of N27bn as “overheads” for 2012. Nearly N2bn will be spent travelling with N1.675bn in GEJ’s office!
Stationery, refreshment & snacks in the Presidency will consume about N2bn, with N1.6bn spent by GEJ & his VP in 2012. Does that make sense?
The President & VP intend to spent about N2.8bn to “maintain” their existing furniture, generators, etc, & N238m for fuel! Is this prudent? Miscellaneous spending by the Villa alone totals N1.7bn for food, honorarium & something called “welfare packages” – another security vote! The SGF & Head of Service have over N2.5bn for these “miscellaneous expenses” including nearly N300m for “welfare” & N270m “security vote”!
Why can’t some of these areas of waste be cut to fund capital projects & others that benefit the populace like the fuel subsidy? In the 2012 budget, NASS intends to spend N150bn on itself, the same amount as in 2011 to pay those huge allowances. It has NOT been reduced.
Occupy Nigeria – a national protest that began in Nigeria on Monday, January 9, 2012 – is certainly no longer about fuel subsidy but about the basic tenets of democracy and good governance. He who seeks equity must do so with clean hands. If government prescribes austerity for her citizens, then our leaders must also feel the pinch. Anything else is the scandalous hypocrisy!