Friday, 13 January 2012

Nigeria: Government fight-back failing

Minister of Finance Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Minister of Petroleum Resources Diezani Alison-Madueke, and the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Sanusi Lamido Sanusi have all given interviews in an effort to persuade citizens to give up the protests.

So far, this strategy has not worked and it appears that the interviews may in fact have had the effect of firing up the protesters' anger against the Federal Government. As each day of the strike passes, the government's stance continues to be one of defiance. Minister for Information Labaran Maku stated that the Federal Government would not be coerced into rescinding the decision.

This may be mere “fighting talk”. For each day that the strike continues, the country's economy continues to suffer. Analysts estimate that if the strike continues at least until 13 th January, the economy would have lost around N1.2 trillion (US$7.4 billion), an amount not far short of the N1.4 trillion (US$8.65 billion) the Federal Government estimated it would save by withdrawing the subsidy.

For many of the young, educated upper and middle-class protestors, the battle isn't only on the streets but has extended to social networking sites, including Facebook and Twitter, and to instant messaging platforms like the Blackberry Messenger (BBM) service. Activists have used such media to exchange information and to disseminate facts and figures supporting the protests.

One such fact is that the mass transit buses, which President Goodluck Jonathan commissioned over the weekend as part of the Federal Government's “palliative measures” to ease the impact of the subsidy removal, are woefully inadequate. Jonathan had announced that the Federal Government had purchased 1,600 mass transit buses but only 1,100 buses have been commissioned which has left observers with the unanswered question of what happened to the other 500.

Most importantly, the inadequacy of such a gesture as a palliative measure has been pointed out. With a population of around 160 million, the provision of 1,600 buses translates into one bus for every 100,000 Nigerians. Activists have also been analysing the 2012 budget for evident waste and, in particular, the recurrent expenditure provisions.

A major point of contention is that the government is asking ordinary Nigerians to bear the brunt of the increase in the cost of living caused by the subsidy removal at a time when the government is still largely wasteful and extravagant in its spending.

Some figures to have been bandied about include the budgetary provision of a feeding allowance for the Presidential Villa of N1 million (US$6,180) per day; N200 million (US$1.2 million) to “water the gardens” of the Presidential Villa; N1.7 billion (US$10.5 million) on trips; and N1.3 billion (US$8 million) on office stationery. Other controversial appropriations include: overhauling of Aso Rock powerhouse generators for N127.5 million (US$786,000); and renovation and refurbishment of the family wing of the main residence at the Presidential Villa at N512.4 million (US$3.2 million).

The list really is endless. Although President Jonathan has announced that there will be some cutbacks, such as a 25 per cent reduction in the basic salaries of political office holders and cutbacks on foreign trips, many ordinary Nigerians are unconvinced that these cuts are commensurate with the hardships caused by the subsidy removal. In any case, it is a well-established fact that one of the largest sources of official income for political holders is not the basic salary but their myriad allowances, which are often far above their basic salaries.

For more news and expert analysis about Nigeria, please see Nigeria Focus and Nigeria Politics & Security.

© 2012 Menas Associates

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