Lemu report & fuel subsidy: An explosive mix of politics and oil

October 20, 2011
5 mins read

FOR most Nigerian newspapers reporting the submission of the Lemu Panel’s report on the post-election violence last April, the most important angle in the story was the alleged ‘indictment’ of General Muhammadu Buhari in the report.

In obvious response to that alleged indictment, President Goodluck Jonathan seemed emboldened enough to make the ‘earth-shattering’ revelation that his administration will implement the report of the Lemu Panel and previous waste of efforts, in our nation’s violence-dogged past. He assured that the heavens will not fall in the wake of such a decision.

Expectedly, a lot of controversy trailed Buhari’s alleged indictment. Some felt  the Lemu Panel had an a priori agenda to indict Gen. Buhari for the massive attack on symbols of PDP hegemony in several parts of Northern Nigeria, in the wake of the April polls.

It took Panel chairman, Sheikh Lemu, to point out that Buhari was not indicted by his report, to douse the gathering tension. But those who chose the ‘Buhari indictment’ angle and the President assuring about a White Paper, probably missed the central aspects of Lemu’s speech.

For the panel, most important was refusal of governments to implement reports of previous panels, in the wake of violent disturbances which led to loss of lives and properties. This indicts the state’s inability to operate as a law-governed entity, where no individuals are above the law.

The fact that perpetrators of these crimes have never been brought to book helped in the erosion of state credibility because of the underlining assumption that impunity reigns in the land.

But serious as that first point is, I think the most important point which the Lemu committee canvassed is its second point.

It says “the second major cause of the recent electoral violence was the existing widespread desire for change as a result of frustration and disappointment of many members of the general public regarding the inability of the successive past regimes to solve the problems of electricity power failure nationwide; deplorable state of Federal Government roads throughout the nation, bribery and corruption which have virtually been legitimised in all affairs of our nation”.

The panel added “general insecurity of life and property in people’s houses and on highways and kidnappings are fuel to the fire of public frustration and disappointment.”

It further highlighted as a major cause of post-election violence, “the manner in which political office holders have ‘lucratised’ their respective positions at the expense of the whole nation.” This ruling class panel, headed by a conservative but decent old man, puts the Nigerian ruling class on notice that “the true state of affairs COULD ESCALATE TO SOCIAL REVOLUTION (emphasis mine) if preventive measures are not taken on time”.

It warned the very greedy and irresponsible ruling elite that “the current sporadic demonstrations in educational institutions and by labour unions are all considered to be signals of more serious negative events to come”.

If, as some posited, the Lemu Committee was empanelled to carry out a hatchet job for the Jonathan PDP administration, it went beyond its remiss to pose serious interrogations of how Nigeria’s ruling class runs the country.

Even those in the impotent opposition, must thank the Lemu Committee for early warning signals of an impending social explosion and the grave danger which the monster whose rumbling can be picked from afar posits, if it eventually makes land fall on this society.

Nigeria’s ruling class has become completely discredited and the state’s legitimacy has eroded and severely compromised. The violence which followed the April elections is not an organised affair, contrary to what circles around President Jonathan and the PDP have tried to make Nigerians believe.

It was an expression of deep-seated frustration that the ballot box can be so compromised as to make genuine change of leadership possible in Nigeria.

This is the only country which defies basic political logic. The more the PDP regime mis-governs, the more votes it gets, often with larger majorities. It is as if Nigerians collectively, are lobotomized entities, existentially wired for suffering, ever more!

The post-election violence exploded the myth of “free and fair” elections, indicating the murk of Nigerian existence. President Jonathan huffed and puffed that heavens won’t fall when he issues a White Paper, but it might eventually dawn on him, that he is in a political hole and his best bet is not to keep digging, so as not to be consumed by the morass he inherited and is very much part of.

In fact, he sits atop the mess which Nigeria’s ruling class has become today. The violence which trailed his ‘”free and fair” elections exposes the hollowness of the legitimacy he struts about. The fact that he hid behind sandbags and fortifications inside Aso Villa to celebrate Nigeria’s Independence, despite the unconvincing gloss put on it, demonstrates the distance non-state actors are willing to travel, to challenge a discredited status quo.

Finally, it is no surprise that a committee led by a leading religious scholar, will lapse into a religious frame to find a solution to the ripened conditions for “social revolution” that it warned about. The socially-constructed crisis, for Lemu’s panel,  is a result of “the declining spirit of God-consciousness and of accountability before God…”.

Furthermore, even though constitutionally, Nigeria has chosen to live “under God”, it nevertheless “failed to make any effective and all embracing provision for the same nation to be God-fearing or conscious of accountability before God”.

In view of that lacuna, the panel “recommended that basic education curriculum should henceforth contain-as a compulsory learning material for all students-the moral values of God fearing and of accountability before God which are derived from the Islamic and Christian teachings…”.

Fine sentiments indeed! Except that being “God fearing” is not justiciable in our context, having been saddled all through our 51 years of existence as a nation, with “God-fearing” leaders, who make a show of their religiosity, but do NOT RESPECT the Nigerian people!

It might be better to seek leaders who are genuine democrats, who respect the Nigerian people and make our welfare the central purpose of their lives in the saddle of power. We can hold them to their promises.

Falling with injustice

Whether they are “God-fearing” or not, will not be the business of a democratizing country, since that is between them and God. This point is not a triviality, because one of our great forebears, Sheikh Usmanu Bin Fodio, once stated that a society can endure with unbelief, but it is likely to fall with injustice.

And central to the crisis of the Nigerian society today, is the regime of injustice which has consequently given rise to non-state acts of violence and resistance. These are the points to ponder for President Jonathan and the Nigerian ruling class.

As if politics wasn’t enough, Jonathan chose to add the fuel of political economy to the raging fire in the barn! The decision to lift the spurious fuel “subsidy”, by the regime, was described as rightly a declaration of war by the Nigerian working class movement.

The patent fraud of ‘subsidy” has been central to discourse since the introduction of Structural Adjustment Policies, SAP, from the mid-1980s. Nigerians will recall television adverts arguing that Nigerian petrol costs less than a bottle of coke. Obasanjo’s implementation of neo-liberal policies merely continued a re-hash of the same shop-worn arguments.

The ruling elite chose consciously not to build new refineries to meet local demand for refined petroleum products. Licenses were issued to build refineries, but it was more profitable for a cabal tied to the ruling regime and the PDP, to import, rather than refine at home.

Nobody is taking up the challenge to build new refineries. The state then subsidizes the cabal it permitted to import refined products; that has increasingly become a burden for a pathologically corrupt state system.

The easy way out for them, is to pass the burden to the Nigerian people: burden the trade union movement is poised to resist. I support the Nigerian trade union movement: we must NEVER allow the ruling elite to turn us into glorified slaves.

President Jonathan’s plan to shift the burden of a corruption-ridden petroleum products importation system to the Nigerian people must NEVER be allowed to pass! This is a combustible classic: a mixture of politics and oil!

The President is playing with fire and in my view, ‘good luck’ is about to desert President Jonathan; and no pun is intended here!

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