1 May 2012

Nigeria: Bombs, Guns and Fuel Subsidy Scam


I was determined not to say a word about the spate of violence across Nigeria over the last 120 hours. Because, like all those born in the Chinese Year of the Rat, I am generally suspicious and the situation seems a little too convenient. What a well timed distraction from the urgent issue of the fuel subsidy report and the unconscionable corruption which keeps Nigeria and Nigerians underdeveloped and impoverished. But national security adviser Azazi gave me an express pass to link the terrorism and violence being unleashed on civilians to 13 years of the PDP-led government.

The government has been uncharacteristically quiet about the report. We heard via Senator Joy Emordi, presidential adviser on National Assembly, that the president is on the same page as the National Assembly. However, considering the rumours of impending impeachment of the speaker, Aminu Tambuwal, one would have to ask "Which faction of the National Assembly is he on the same page with" The chief advocates of the removal of subsidy - with the exception of the CBN governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi - are also mute. Not a peep from coordinating minister of the economy and minister of finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, whose campaign skills we all appreciate and apart from a few watery denials by the NNPC and comically named companies such as Bath Oil Limited, there has been no strong condemnation from government and oil sector players for the corruption that the report has exposed. As for the facts and figures in the report on our daily fuel consumption and our refining capacity, our minister of petroleum has not seen fit to address these issues but she and her team were quick to reassure us that there would be absolutely no resignations because of this report.

But the report is serious and those within and outside government who are determined to uphold the status quo know how damaging it is, and that is why there are moves to discredit it. There are allegations that the report has been doctored to protect members of the legislature and their friends who have been implicated by the findings. But this is not a reason to disregard the entire report - those with evidence of wrongdoing should share. Some think the report is shoddy with big nooses for the crooks to slip out of, especially because the report does not provide evidence of wrong doing. As someone pointed out, "what is the point of listing companies meant to refund when the evidence has not been laid out?" The point is, doubt has been raised about their business dealings and expert investigators can take over. Knowing what we do about our government, it is unlikely that the committee was equipped to undertake forensic investigation in preparing this report, which is probably why they recommended that further investigations be carried out by the EFCC and other law-enforcement agencies. Admittedly, there is a lot more detail that could have come out in the report - including conducting searches at the Corporate Affairs Commission on those companies to find out the individuals behind them - but these deficiencies can easily be remedied.

Alongside the work to discredit the report are ongoing manoeuvres- some obvious and some hidden. For instance, irony and the oily fingers of government were all over the anti-Farouk Lawan protests in Abuja last Tuesday, especially when the proposed gathering in support of the report was thwarted by armed police at the Gani Fawehinimi Park in Lagos on the same day. The childish and amateurish reaction would be comical if we have not seen, over the recent months, a steady descent into group think and totalitarianism on the part of a government which claims to be democratically elected. Slowly, the fundamental human rights of Nigerians are being whittled away but, as usual, we are too busy struggling to survive in an increasingly harsh environment where, in addition to economic and social pressures, we now have to endure the constant strain of impending violence.

So when General Azazi rtd says there is a link between the bad governance we have endured from PDP and the ongoing violence, he is correct. No amount of whitewash or "his words have been taken out of context" is going to change what he said and what his words mean. He merely spoke what people whisper and those who want to maintain the status quo are worried because they'd like to pretend that there is no connection between the corruption depravity we are witnessing and the violence depravity which is gradually dehumanizing us all. Already people are numb to the bomb; already the outrage is flickering out about the body count and this is what the government is counting on. Distracting the population is not new - it was not invented by us. It is a well documented strategy used by imperialists, patriarchs and dictators cloaked as democrats everywhere - get the people frightened and fighting and keep them too busy to bother you with questions on transparency and accountability.

This is why, painful and even callous as it might sound, we must not be distracted by the bombs and the killings - if we do care about the violence, then, we cannot divorce it from the state of governance. The national symposium held by the N-Katalyst group yesterday is a step in the right direction and we need more groups to keep the pressure and spotlight on the report. This group of concerned Nigerians from different sectors met to discuss the import of the report and the responsibilities of the various arms of government in driving the report forward. In their words, "it is vital that we recover stolen funds for utilisation in the productive sectors of our economy. We must draw vivid linkages between the monies stolen and the challenges that abound, so Nigerians can begin to appreciate the real enemies to peace and progress in our dear, but embattled country. We need to bring an end to impunity. This must remain our resolve: to reclaim our country for our future".

We do not have to go through an Arab Spring like re-birth because we are, on paper, some sort of a democracy. In democracies, citizens are supposed to ask questions and demand answers and if that is the only thing we do - we need to keep asking: why is the scale of corruption ratcheting up? Why can't we be ruthless against corruption? Who is benefitting from the violence? If they say their fight is against government, why are civilians recording the largest casualties?

No matter how many twists PDP and its supporters want to make in Azazi's statement, there is a connection between the violence, the stolen money, the corruption, the underdevelopment, the apathy, the growing sense of hopelessness, the people in government and the politics of selecting those who pretend to represent our interests in government. Anyone who says otherwise is lying.

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