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Communicating Jonathan’s argument on subsidy
PRESIDENT Goodluck Jonathan’s rating appears to have plummeted since last April’s presidential election. His supporters and opponents in that election have now found a common ground to vilify him and project his administration’s policies as anti people. Only recently, the discussions in most circles centred on his apparent lack of sense of direction as well as his seeming inability to assert his authority in many areas in particular, the Boko Haram menace. But now that he appears to have gradually developed a grip on things, the focus has changed. It is now on his unbendable, if not evil, determination to deregulate the downstream sector of the petroleum industry and pile misery on the already battered economic wellbeing of the ordinary masses.
He says that he wants to withdraw subsidy on petroleum and free, on a yearly basis, about N1.34trillion he believes is being fraudulently appropriated to a few personnel in the oil sector rather then being enjoyed by the people through reasonable petroleum products pricing.
Government was recently compelled to publish the list of beneficiaries of the subsidy as a way to convince doubters that the existence of subsidy has failed to meet its original objective even though President Jonathan looked to have absolved the marketers in his recent media chat. Subsidy has created more and more billionaires out of a few oil sector operators while ordinary Nigerians are becoming more impoverished and contending with decaying infrastructure. Jonathan is arguing that the aim of the planned removal of subsidy is to alter this miserable economic condition of people and upgrade basic infrastructure around the country. But as far as most Nigerians are concerned, he is talking to himself.
There is the belief, rightly or wrongly, that fuel subsidy is the only thing they enjoy because it has supposedly helped to keep petrol and other goods at an affordable level for most people. Their fear therefore is that once the subsidy goes and the price of petrol increases, their death knell would have been sounded as the domino effect would mean that they pay through their noses for basic requirements.
Opposition have capitalised on this to maximum effect, reinforcing the fear in Nigerians and setting them up against the administration’s apparent altruistic idea. Jonathan is made to look bad yet, what his administration can offer at best is a feeble response to a clearly determined push by the opposition to roll back his wheel of progress.
As president with a strong mandate, he is under obligation to seek to implement only those things that will benefit those he was elected serve. That is why when he supposedly promised breathe of fresh air and to change the way things are done in the country, many Nigerians were eager to back him with the hope that a better life was in the offing. In his opinion, this remains the case especially if subsidy is removed and applied appropriately.
Nigeria has struggled for too long to fulfill its latent potentials due to improper planning, ineptitude of leadership and wanton corruption at all levels. There is hardly any doubt that fuel subsidy is one of those avenues that provide veritable ground for these negative attributes to fester. Therefore, better management of the situation would be a welcome development.
The president has spoken about how he would not deliberately inflict suffering on Nigerians; he has talked about how infrastructure development would benefit from the subsidy removal; assured that there would be a safety net as a counter poise to adverse effect of the removal and more importantly, he has told Nigerians that any negative effect from the initiative would be temporary. But Nigeria is a nation of sceptics, blessed with many blackmailers, and gullible individuals susceptible to easy manipulations by vested interests. The Jonathan’s administration has allowed these impressionable Nigerians to fall under the influence and control of these interests as far as the question of subsidy withdrawal is concerned because his government has been unable to adequately communicate the selling points to match his detractors’ propaganda.
Having made as his cardinal policies, the provision effective leadership to revive the economy to create a new lease of life, he has the mandate to follow this through as long as it is for the ultimate good of the people and the country. But effective communication is the key to his success in this direction.