opinionBy Azuka Onwuka
Fellow Nigerians, the events of the last few days regarding the removal of subsidy on petrol have shown me how deeply patriotic you are and how passionate you are about the growth and development of this nation and how robustly you are ready to defend our democracy and exercise your rights as citizens.
Tears came to my eyes as I watched, especially those on wheelchairs, join in the exercise of their rights of expression on the streets. And except in a few occasions, Nigerians demonstrated in a peaceful and mature manner. I commend you, my fellow citizens. I am proud of you, compatriots. That proved to me your love for this great nation and convinced me that the future of this nation as one of the greatest nations of the world is just a matter of time.
One thing was clear from the comments of Nigerians: Nigerians accept that there is a need to remove the petrol subsidy, but are not convinced that government will fulfil its promises based on the disappointments of the past. It was also clear that Nigerians believe that those in government have not made enough sacrifices to demand such sacrifices from the followership. Another point raised was that the size of government is too large and needs to be pruned down. Nigerians also noted that the expenditure of government is on the high side and that there is a need to intensify the fight against corruption. These are all points that must not be taken lightly.
There is no doubt that those who lead must lead by example, so that the led can follow with conviction and trust. In line with this, I shall do more with my cabinet in terms of making some sacrifices which will show you that when we ask for sacrifices from you, we have the moral right to do so.
But first I wish to inform you that the subsidy removal on petrol is hereby suspended. I defer to you on this point because power belongs to the people and I am in office because you gave me the power to do so. But you also gave me the power to lead you aright and not to lead you and the nation into debt and backwardness.
Therefore, since everyone agrees that the subsidy on petrol needs to be removed so as to stop making a few people rich at the expense of the majority and also to make funds available for growth and development, I wish to let you know that the subsidy on petrol will be removed in a few months' time to give room for the full deregulation of the petroleum market. But we want to put a few things in place first.
To start with, I have heard the cries about the size of the government. The Constitution that empowers every state as well as every zone to have a minister tied my hands on the number of ministers. But I will send a bill to the National Assembly immediately for the reduction of the number of ministers to about 20. That will make each zone to have a minimum of three ministers. I will also appeal to any state that fails to produce a minister to take it as a sacrifice to make Nigeria great. I shall also reduce the number of my advisers by half. The number of the advisers and assistants to the ministers shall also be reduced. I appeal to the National Assembly to give this bill accelerated hearing as they gave the Electoral Act before the 2011 general elections.
In addition, we shall review the 2012 budget and cut it down drastically in line with the sacrifice mood of the nation. We shall go through the budget item by item to ensure that no unnecessary thing is left in it.
Furthermore, I hereby direct that my total salary package and allowances be reduced by 40 per cent. I also direct that the total salary and allowances of all my cabinet members be reduced by 20 per cent. I also urge the National Assembly, the state governors and chairmen of local government councils to take urgent steps to cut down on their salaries and allowances in line with the mood of the nation.
Fellow Nigerians, henceforth, I forbid anybody to take up any advertisement space in the media to congratulate me on my birthday, my wife's birthday, our wedding anniversary or the anniversary of my inauguration or any other event for that matter. I urge such well-meaning people to use such funds to award scholarships to those who need them or use the funds as start-up capital for young entrepreneurs. That will go a long way to build the human capacity of our youths.
Furthermore, the national awards will not hold this year and next year. This is the time for all Nigerians to work for the growth of the nation and not the time to give awards. By the end of next year, we will review the decision to know if there is a pressing need to suspend the decision or not.
The issue of transparency and fight against corruption shall be intensified. We shall set up investigations into the activities of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency, PPPRA, and the Pipelines and Product Marketing Company, PPMC, to ascertain if any infractions were committed. If anyone is found guilty of any act of duplicity or negligence, I assure you that such a person will face the full weight of the law.
One proverb I like from Things Fall Apart, written by the legend of our time, Professor Chinua Achebe, is that which was credited to the cat: "If I fall down for you and you fall down for me, then it is play, but if I fall down for you and you fail to reciprocate, then it is deceit".
I have initiated this process of falling down for my compatriots. I believe that in the spirit of fairness, you shall be ready and willing to also fall down for me and the nation when you are called upon to do so. That way, the right hand will wash the left hand and the left hand will in turn wash the right hand and the two hands will be clean. No doubt, the words of our elders are eternally words of wisdom.
I know you love this nation so much. I know you believe in this nation. I know you pray for the growth of this nation. I urge you to intensify your belief, love and prayers. If there are persons who are still aggrieved as a result of the 2011 election, I stretch out my hand of fellowship and urge such compatriots to accept it in the interest of the nation. Elections come and go but the nation remains. Presidents come and go but the nation remains. Even citizens come and go but the nation remains. He who loses an election today may win tomorrow. But if we destroy the same nation we want to rule over, which one shall we rule over?
I thank you for your patience. I urge you to search yourself thoroughly and ask yourself: "What can I do to make this nation better?" Once you identify it, go ahead and do it and don't look back.
May God bless every Nigerian and may God bless our dear fatherland.
Long Live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
If President Goodluck Jonathan had read a speech like this during the protest against the removal of subsidy on petrol, he would have scored many points: increase his brand equity in the minds of Nigerians, win their trust back, including that of his political enemies, fire up the nationalistic fervour in Nigerians, and wet the ground for the reintroduction of the petrol subsidy in a couple of months later without any protest.
AZUKA ONWUKA, a commemtator on national issues, wrote from Lagos.