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Good luck, Goodluck

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Niberia Grunge Flag, by Al-ZoroFrom Nigeria’s Department of Entirely Predictable Consequences, it turns out that if you remove a fuel subsidy overnight, people get a little upset!

I can almost follow Goodluck Jonathan’s reasoning, if I bang my head against a brick wall and take some heavy-duty tranquilisers as a treat: subsidies bad (the IMF said so!). Infrastructure good, so divert fuel subsidy money to infrastructure projects. Winning!

Except… no. As Sokari Ekine points out in her thoughtful piece for New Internationalist,

for the masses the fuel subsidy is the only way they have benefited from Nigeria’s oil wealth.

Because despite their country’s vast oil wealth, the majority of Nigerians have not shared in the bounty, and continue to subsist on less than $2 USD a day. For them, the fuel subsidy was the one concrete of how refining had benefited Nigeria as a whole, rather than just a lucky few.

It gets worse: if fuel prices double overnight, the price of everything goes up overnight. Generators still need to be run, goods still need to be transported, and businesses cannot simply absorb those costs without passing some of them on to the customer. Thus, overnight, life in general got more expensive for ordinary Nigerians. No wonder there have already been riots in the streets.

Will the subsidy be reinstated? It’s difficult to say; Goodluck Jonathan is fighting several fronts in trying to govern his country and may choose this issue to be a line in the sand over which he will not compromise. But the people are angry, and as Sokari Ekine points out:

[…] protests over the fuel subsidy have already gone well beyond this single issue and are now encompassing all the pent up grievances Nigerians have had for years: lack of power, lack of development, but most of all the country’s rule by a corrupt kleptocracy.

#OccupyNigeria as the next grassroots movement to bring down a government? Don’t rule it out. All I can say with any certainty is that it can’t be much fun being the man in charge right now. Let’s hope Goodluck Jonathan has a decent therapist.

[Image by Al-Zoro]

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