AN older friend once told me a story about an encounter with Lagos Agberos (miscreants) at night. He brought out his wallet to pay for transport and one Agbero snatched the wallet containing his work ID and some money. The Agbero disappeared after snatching it. While still stunned and frozen about what just happened to him, the same Agbero resurfaced and threw his work ID at him. He started shouting Ole! Ole! Thief! Thief! instinctively to try to recover his wallet and the money in it, not knowing that the tout was not working alone and almost all the boys around, whose attention he was trying to get to help him to apprehend the thief, were actually working with the wallet snatcher. Instead of joining him to find the thief or chase the thief, one of the boys replied him that he was an ingrate and that he should be thanking the snatcher for returning his ID free-of-charge, instead of trying to chase the snatcher.
“Those who orchestrated the fuel subsidy corruption, benefiting from illicit deals and filling their coffers, now stand before us with smug grins, applauding the removal of a system they once manipulated. Should we not be suspicious? The same Bola Tinubu of Mobil Oil, whose nephew (Adewale Tinubu) currently runs Oando and is often regarded as the King of African Oil? They expect us to believe that they have cleansed the system of corruption.”
This story came back to mind after I listened to Tinubu’s inauguration speech. On May 29, 2023, the new President of Nigeria, Bola Ahmed Tinubu declared the demise of fuel subsidy, parading it as a triumph for the nation. He declared that ‘fuel subsidy is gone’. He declared it as if it was a victory for Nigeria. In a Maradonic dribble to escape the protests that he bluffed that he was not afraid of, Tinubu’s inauguration speech stated (in the kind of Queens’ English common with politicians who want to confuse so they can loot): “We commend the decision of the outgoing administration in phasing out the petrol subsidy regime which has increasingly favoured the rich more than the poor. Subsidy can no longer justify its ever-increasing costs in the wake of drying resources.”
This means that while former President Buhari did not categorically state that he had removed the fuel subsidy during his tenure, Tinubu will hide under the fact that Buhari had removed it by law and he is just implementing that law. This will therefore be made to mean that his hands are tied like a sexual submissive about the issue. But then, will an unwilling executor celebrate the hardship he claims Buhari sentenced us into? Tinubu is far from fit to call himself an unwilling executor in this case. He is a co-conspirator. This is the first presidential aspirant to campaign with the promise of removing fuel subsidy and increasing fuel prices, and still won the election. Most presidential aspirants of the past hid behind ambiguity on the topic. He even bluffed during the electioneering campaigns that protests could not stop him. He is the goal-scorer in this political tiki-taka in which Buhari did the assist.
Openly or secretly, the Nigerian ruling class and their vuvuzelas speak about the demise of subsidy proudly; as if they have just done something great for Nigeria, as if they were not the ones behind the subsidy corruption, as if the common people of Nigeria have ever really benefitted from that subsidy or its removal, as much as they benefitted. Those who orchestrated the fuel subsidy corruption, benefiting from illicit deals and filling their coffers, now stand before us with smug grins, applauding the removal of a system they once manipulated. Should we not be suspicious? The same Bola Tinubu of Mobil Oil, whose nephew (Adewale Tinubu) currently runs Oando and is often regarded as the King of African Oil? They expect us to believe that they have cleansed the system of corruption. Is it not wise to question the sincerity of these claims of victory over subsidy, especially when the very individuals responsible for the subsidy corruption now revel in its removal?
In his inauguration address, Tinubu went further to state that the funds saved from subsidy removal will be reinvested in education and healthcare. Despite the subsidy removed from Diesel, Kerosene, or anything else that’s unsubsidized, has it ended corruption in Nigeria? Have they reinvested the savings from the subsidies earlier removed from other fuel products in the education or health sector? Instead, it has merely shifted the focus from one form of exploitation to another, leaving the common people to bear the brunt of rising fuel prices. We have only shifted from exploitation through subsidy to exploitation through subsidy removal, as it pleases the exploiting class.
The declaration of victory over fuel subsidy is just a charade to fool the masses. Fuel subsidy, or the lack thereof, has always been a tool for political maneuvering. The narrative of ending corruption in Nigeria through subsidy removal is nothing but a farce. It conveniently ignores the systemic issues that enable corruption to thrive in the first place. Capitalism is profiteering – it is the ideology of corruption. While the political elite enjoy their luxurious lifestyles out of our collective wealth, the masses continue to suffer from high fuel costs, crippling transportation expenses, and the burden of an inefficient public transportation system.
If subsidy removal was such a great thing, why has the idea remained unpopular for decades now despite the resources of the state committed to reorienting us to accept the idea. That’s because we know that the only ones truly benefitting from this “subsidy removal” are the ones who enjoyed the subsidy corruption in the first instance and they are only perpetuating a cycle of exploitation with policy dribbles. It’s just wordplay and linguistic cons. The subsidy is only announced to us just to justify increasing fuel prices.
As if on cue to the tune played by that creek economist, Murray-Bruce, last week at the Dangote Lekki Refinery commissioning, petrol queues resurfaced and the price on fuel meters tripled to 600 Naira per Liter on Inauguration day. The common people of Nigeria deserve better than this never-ending charade. It’s high time Nigerians start demanding lower fuel prices and its availability to all. Or are we not tired of being treated like pawns in this political circus. Can’t we just upturn their game of semantics and linguistics by taking direct action in resistance to these policies? “Good riddance to FUEL SUBSIDY! We don’t care about your big English. We don’t want to hear that the subsidy is being removed on our behalf. We just want to be able to afford fuel and transport.”
Let us not be fooled into thinking that the disappearance of subsidies is the final solution. True economic progress and the eradication of corruption lies in dismantling the systems of power that perpetuate inequality and suffering. Countless politicians have preached the gospel of fuel subsidy removal to us before but they have always left us stranded at the mercy of skyrocketing fuel prices and scarcity. All we yearn for is a system that prioritizes the well-being of all of us, not just the select few who wield power and influence. It’s only in that system that we can break free from the chains of corruption and build a society that truly benefits us. All we care about is that fuel prices must not go up and fuel must not become artificially scarce.
You don’t care about us so we don’t care about teaching you the best way to do the job you campaigned for. You were (s)elected to do a job to protect the welfare of the Nigerian people. Just do it already! We don’t care anymore if you will do it by democratizing NNPC, or building adequate public refineries. We are tired of teaching politicians their job. We’ve had enough! We don’t really care anymore. We just want affordable fuel without jumping queues or jumping through the hoops of your political incompetence. We demand tangible results. Make the fuel cheaper and available or get out!
We no longer have the patience for fuel queues. What we have now is the impatience to protest. The choice is yours, Tinubu, but remember, even those who have patience have limits. Patience is waning, and the people of Nigeria will not be silenced. Lead by example. Put yourself on minimum wage for the sake of healthcare and education investments and leave fuel subsidy removal alone if that is what will guarantee cheaper fuel prices for Nigerians. That will be a nobler solution.
We, the common people, couldn’t care less about verbose rhetoric of subsidy removal and market forces. What we truly desire is fuel that remains affordable and abundant, free from your artificial scarcity and profiteering schemes, so spare us your patronizing speech. It’s always empty promises that it will get a little bit hard before things get sweeter, but all we’ve had is this hard and painful social intercourse with you elites. We have witnessed the effects of your empty words time and time again, as our stomachs grew emptier, pockets grew lighter while your real estate and offshore bank accounts grew fatter.
Your indifference to our struggles is evident in your callous decision-making, as you prioritize lining your own pockets over serving the needs of the people. Even you Tinubu, on January 11, 2012 wrote in condemnation of the attempted removal of this same petrol subsidy by the then President Goodluck Jonathan, where you said, “This subsidy removal is ill-timed and violates the condition precedent necessary before such a decision is made… proceed to lay the foundation for a mass transit system in the railways and road network with long term bonds and fully develop the energy sector towards revitalizing Nigeria’s economy and easing the burden any subsidy removal may have on the people.” Are these necessities, that should precede a subsidy removal so as to ease the burden of the removal on the masses (in your words), in place?
You’re just about to leave Nigerians with broken dreams and empty wallets once again. Just like that ID Card is almost useless to my friend compared to his wallet and all of his money, ending subsidy corruption is almost useless to the masses compared to the untold hardship that will come with increased fuel prices. And you Tinubu – You are the Agbero asking us to be thankful and celebrate for the subsidy corruption that has ended. You are the Agbero asking us to be grateful while your comrade is running away with all the money in our wallet. Don’t you dare bring that hardship of price increment and scarcity on us! Tinubu, return my wallet! NOW!
Comrade Ibukun writes from Abuja, Nigeria and he can be reached on 09167636201