President Goodluck Jonathan, credit, ThisDay

I am taking a break from a petrol queue to write you this letter on the occasion of the removal of the subsidy on petroleum products. It is a tradition for us to shed our tears in private and to present ‘manly’ faces to the public, but there are pains that sap even the ability to pretend. There is grief that goes to the marrow. Your new year gift to your countrymen is one such.

Nigerians are past masters at making do. Long after it became logistically impossible to survive on our wages, we continued to win dubious recognition as the happiest people on Earth. Your government’s withdrawal of the fuel subsidy saps, at a stroke, our ability to manage an already unmanageable situation. It rips the bottom out of an economy that had already bottomed out. We are commuters without roads, barbers without shops, mama-puts with epileptic 1-kVA gensets, victims all, suddenly bushwhacked by the over 100% hike at the petrol pumps.

I have read your argument for the withdrawal of the fuel subsidy, and it makes good sense. Yet, have you really read our own argument? It is simple: we the people do not believe that the trillions liberated from the Fuel Subsidy will fare any better than the tens of trillions managed by successive governments, including yours. There are thousands of criminally abandoned projects on the books. We know that the list will simply grow longer with the Fuel Subsidy proceeds. There is a simple way to gain this president/people trust that is so critical to governance – within the next two years you can put in place a petroleum refining capacity equal or greater than our domestic demand. Once you do this, you will not need to remove the Fuel Subsidy. It would have disappeared.

So, rethink, President Goodluck.

It is clear that even the trillions liberated from the Fuel Subsidy will not save us. You challenged us to look around the world for a country with our level of fuel subsidy. We looked. What we found – embarrassingly enough – were governments with far less resources delivering far more to their people. Yes we had low fuel prices, but we were mostly our own water boards, power plants, and police authorities: we needed those prices to pump our own borehole water, to generate our own electricity, we the people who have to grade our own streets, to pay our own vigilantes and waste collectors – despite the politrickcians in our government houses up and down the land. Do look around, Mr. President. It is worse today than the halcyon days when you trekked barefoot to school. These days when our children do get to school there is not an education worth its name to acquire. As I write this, universities are on their permanent ASUU shutdown, which is occasionally interrupted by stints of lectures.

Rethink, President Goodluck.

Let us tell ourselves some truths. True, frustrating trillions flow past daily in the Oil Subsidy Stream, but the labourers lined up to fetch the subsidy are carrying baskets, not pots. This programme of yours will be ‘wetting the ground’, not slaking our thirst. Government has processed trillions of Naira without transforming our fortunes. We do not believe that another tranche will finally do the trick.

We are not fools, so we know that the ‘subsidy’ has to go sooner than later; but the speed and violence of this surgery will kill the patient. We want neither the bankruptcy of the spendthrift Greek government, nor the anarchic streets of the North African presidents-without-ears. You were not elected president to preside over the economic extirpation of your constituents. This operation is so radical that it requires anaesthesia; your SURE programme is good, but it does not begin to address the grief occasioned by your new year gift.

Slow down, Mr. President.

There is one foul subsidy though, that you can tackle with surgical dispatch. It is of course the Corruption Subsidy. Tackling the Corruption Subsidy has these main advantages:

  1. You will be fighting WITH the people, rather than AGAINST the people.
  2. You will liberate more Developmental funds, even, than the trillions in the Fuel Subsidy.
  3. It is the single most transformational step, which will filter through every sector of our economic, social, cultural and political life.
  4. It will cement your heroic place in our annals, and you will not even have to campaign for a second term.

Declare an honest war against the Corruption Subsidy today and the people will line up with you against the corrupt bureaucracy, legislature, judiciary and every other agency that opposes that vision. You will go down in history as a blessing not a curse.

Picture this parable of checkpoints, Mr. President: it is 2012 and a Nigerian pupil stands barefoot in his windowless, deskless, chalkless classroom. He waits for a barely-literate teacher who will not be coming today – because he is owed six months worth of salary arrears by the government. The only thing standing between this potential future president of Nigeria and his quality education are the hundreds of illegal checkpoints between the trillions of Naira in the education budget and his chairless classroom. How can a country that spent N1.4 trillion on education last year have so dysfunctional a system? Remove those checkpoints, President Goodluck. Scrap the Corruption Subsidy and we the people won’t even need your Fuel Subsidy. Scrap the Corruption Subsidy and you will go down in history as a blessing, not a curse.

So choose today who you fight for: the barefoot brigade who took you at your word and elected you, or the corrupt battalion who are even now ordering calculators with more zeroes for the contracts to come. Decide where you stand: will you man a corruption checkpoint, or are you shoulder-to-shoulder with we the dispossessed who elected a Jonathan to Judgement, only to find ourselves today, docked, and on trial for our life itself.

The war against corruption is not the unwinable, idealistic, lost cause that it is made out to be. Our proposed Corporate Corruption Bill provides a clear-sighted template to relegate Nigerian corruption to the museum of extinct monsters. Our proposal to liquidate or to expropriate the shareholding of principal actors of companies that indulge big-ticket corruption is radical, but no where near as radical, or anti-people, as your new year gift to your countrymen. A final word: the Nigerian leader of our dreams will send a battalion of soldiers into the desert in search of one lost Nigerian. He will not order battalions of armed men to run down defenceless citizens crying out to him.

It is decision time, Mr. President. Good luck.

Chuma Nwokolo

 

20 Replies to “Dear President Jonathan”

  1. koko says:

    Wow! This is the best expression of the matter i’ve seen so far! It incorporates the real issues that our govt is choosing to ignore: that it had never been about the lack of funds in this country for development, but the leakage of it; that it is about lack of trust in our govt; that the people are already stetched beyond capacity financially, how could they cope with more burden?; that we generate our own electricity and water still usinf this fuel, and therefore the so-called “numbers” by sanusi about supposed “only” 2percent inflation by the subsidy removal cannot be true; that a more tactical approach to subsidy removal – building refineries, a non-surgical approach – would have been more of a considerate move. Ah! Mr Nwokolo, God bless you. I wish our president, like you said, could really read our own argument.

    Reply
    1. Chuma Nwokolo says:

      Ah, Koko… there must have been a 😉 beside the Governor’s 2% inflation estimate…
      We have been down this road many times before…

      Reply
  2. ify says:

    An accurate description. This letter highlights the feelings of all Nigerians with the removal of the fuel subsidy. It is so sad that a President for whom many Nigerians elected to office with so much hope for the future can initiate this back-breaking policy. Indeed, you are right! what we need is an in-country refinery as a solution to our problems as well as safeguards against corruption. President Jonathan does not get it.

    Reply
    1. Chuma Nwokolo says:

      Let’s hope that he blends good counsel into his weekend tipple, Ify. He could take the entire ‘security vote’ put it into making a happier country, and we’d be all the more secure for it.

      Reply
  3. Amanda Dee says:

    “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” -Matthew 5:9.

    You are indeed a worthy son of the land C.N. Thank you for writing this letter, and in such a peaceful tone. I hope GEJ gets to read it.

    Please include my signature right next to yours.

    A.D.I.A

    Reply
  4. Cecilia says:

    I think this is d closest,peaceful manner,at which Nigerians can pour out our feelings to GEJ. Thanks for this letter. But,I just cant help woundering,with all the problems and neccessities,that needs to be taken care of-by our Leaders-the one thing,they could think of,is to change our car plate? Is that our biggest problem? Is that the bone of contention? Is that what the people are going to eat? GEJ really needs to walk around d streets,to see what people are going true. To see how the people are suffering. I tell you this,even if a Prophet had foreseen,that our GEJ,would turn out to be like this? Most Nigerians wouldn’t give it a second thought. GEJ,I’m sorry to say,but you are turning out to be the highest flop of the year. Do not destroy the trust and hope,we-Nigerians-placed on you. You really need to think,Mr. President,just like Mr.Chuma Nwokolo, said. And I do pray and hope that you read his letter. Cos people are starting to call you a weakling,I need you to prove them wrong. Cos I dont see you as one. May God help and direct you. GOODLUCK!!!!!

    Reply
  5. Cecilia says:

    Pls see this letter as an advice. And give it a thought.

    Reply
  6. Okwy says:

    None can fault the anti-corruption fight as a sure way to earn the goodwill required for this difficult conversation

    Btw, I’m reliably informed that the ASUU strike is a ruse to keep students at home in these inflammable days. Many things are not what the seem

    Reply
    1. Chuma Nwokolo says:

      Okwy, if Corruption is engaged properly the subsidy would disappear. The subsidy is problematic precisely because it is larded in corrupt, opaque practices. All over the world governments subsidize critical sectors of their economies with impunity. Europe has the most egregious subsidies on agriculture. For nationalist, strategic reasons, the removal of such subsidies are not even on the legislative agenda. For national strategic reasons we should elect a government that can build our petroleum refining capacity, not remove the ‘subsidy’, which is actually a subsidy on Misgovernment.

      Reply
  7. Juliane Okot Bitek says:

    Well done, Chuma. I’ve been following this fuel subsidy removal and for the first time I’ve been drawn into the matter. Happy New Year, more power to your pen and good luck to Nigeria and Nigerians — all of us, really. We deserve better.

    Reply
    1. Chuma Nwokolo says:

      I’m glad I drew you out of your writing shell, Juliane 😉
      A happy new year to you as well.
      May this pan out right for us all.

      Reply
  8. Emeka Otoba says:

    Sadly, I wonder if he (GEJ) actually listens to his people. I wonder if he will ever read this… or at least hear of it!

    Reply
    1. Chuma Nwokolo says:

      President Jonathan probably has a few mountains of memos and briefings to read about now. ;-(
      We can hope, though.

      Reply
  9. Kurannen Baaki says:

    This is the fairest, yet most striking argument to support the Fuel Subsidy that i’ve read so far, Chuma. With such simple points, Chuma Nkwolo drove the point home. Reverse your decision, that is all we tell Pres. Jonathan.

    Reply
  10. Chuma Nwokolo says:

    Thanks, Kurannen. We’ll keep our fingers crossed. Incredible that the President can spend so many millions trying to contain the Boko Haram crisis, and then light the fuse of the biggest insecurity bomb under his own feet.

    He should reverse out of this cul de sac.

    If I were being cynical I’d say that this is another plot to get us deliriously happy at a ‘reduction’ of the pump price for petrol to N90 per litre… which will save billions, if not trillions. 😉

    Reply

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