Eight years ago, perhaps not believing that one day his party would be in charge of government making policies for millions of Nigerians, Lai Mohammed then as spokesman of the opposition party, Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), said the following: “We remain on the side of the people. We feel their pulse and their pains.
We believe the removal of fuel subsidy is a great misadventure, and have conveyed our stand on the issue in a letter to the president, though we never got a response.
“President Jonathan did not tell Nigerians during his electioneering campaign, that his administration will only be able to deliver the dividends of democracy by removing fuel subsidy.
Therefore, it amounts to arm-twisting the people to say that funds saved from fuel subsidy removal will be used to construct roads, build hospitals and schools and other expectations from the government.
“The government should have been honest enough to say it is seeking ways to raise money for governance and Nigerians would have been glad enough to let it know how to raise money without resorting to a phantom fuel subsidy removal.
“Our message to the president is that if he feels he cannot explore other areas to raise money for development, like cutting down on government excesses, then he should say so clearly and leave the stage for those who can ensure development with minimal pains. “Our party, the ACN, will provide good governance without removing fuel subsidy, and we are ready to do so today if the Jonathan government cannot!”
Of course Alhaji Mohammed, who is now Information Minister, was tackling then President Goodluck Jonathan over his decision to increase the pump price of fuel from N65 to N141. Although one might question the timing of his decision to take the painful action as a New Year’s present for Nigerians on Janu- ary 1, 2012, he did try to explain the reason for his action.
“I have no intention to inflict pains on Nigerians,” he said, arguing that the cut was in the “best interest of all Nigerians”. He also showed his compassionate side when he added: “If I were in your shoes at this moment, I probably would have reacted in the same manner as some of our compatriots, or hold the same critical views about government,” Jonathan said in his TV address to the nation. But he went on to justify the move telling Nigerians: “We must act in the public interest, no matter how tough, for the pains of today cannot be compared to the benefits of tomorrow.” The deregulation of the petroleum sector was, he insisted, the best way to curb corruption and ensure the survival and growth of the economy.
“The truth is that we are all faced with two basic choices… either we deregulate and survive economically, or we continue with a subsidy regime that will continue to undermine our economy and potential for growth, and face serious consequences.” than then went on to further placate the populace by saying that top government officials would take a 25% pay cut, while foreign trips would also be reduced.
Then following an emergency meeting of the Federal Executive Council, in Abuja, the then Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku, told newsmen the government was not oblivious of the pains inflicted on Nigerians as a result of the new policy. In order to ameliorate those pains, he said the government had commenced a ‘massive mass transit scheme’ aimed at cushioning the effects of the subsidy removal on transportation. 1600 diesel-powered mass transit vehicles, he claimed, would be distributed.
We all know how the story ended with government forced to shift ground a little after a massive nationwide protest brought the country to a halt. The government of the day “listened” to the people and dropped the price back to N87, which was a “victory” of sorts for the masses.
The contrast with the present situation cannot be more compelling with the party that promised to “provide good governance without removing fuel subsidy, and we are ready to do so today if the Jonathan government cannot” not only going down the same path, which they totally condemned but also flatly refusing to show any compassion to the plight of people by even removing a kobo from the new price.
Of course they have been helped in no small measure by the impotency of the current leadership of Organised Labour, which after huffing and puffing at the increase, which incidentally also included a hike in electricity tariff, collapsed like a pack of cards and failed to squeeze any meaningful concession from government beyond a two-week grace in the electricity tariff.
One is in the dark over what will happen after the two-week grace elapses – will the same Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC), which both floundered so spectacularly last week Monday, be able to mobilise Nigerians to heed their call this time around should they want to finally flex their muscles?
Incidentally like I pointed out in a previous piece perhaps had the protesters allowed the 2012 hike go on maybe we would have been the better for it because apart from the fact that we would have all become used to it, it would have also taken place in a much better economic climate which would have somewhat been easier for the people to handle.
Back then a bag of rice was still hovering around N10, 000 unlike the present price of around N30, 000; the naira was also much stronger against the dollar at about N180 unlike the roughly N460 it is going for now.
However, if the truth must be told, Alhaji Mohammed is not the only one to be found wanting as regards what he said back then and what the reality on ground is currenttly.
And despite the best attempts of this administration to continually blame the previous governments for the present sorry state of the country, the honest truth is that it was because of this that the people decided to place their faith in the present government when they voted out the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 2015.
But then, it is just human nature to remember the “good times” especially when people are really going through very difficult times; thus the onus is on government to come up with solutions and not always give excuses for their failings.
After more than five years in governance what millions of Nigerians want now is for the APC to “walk the talk” – they and other politicians should remember that “talk is cheap”!