By Izielen Agbon
If we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria
– Muhammadu Buhari, 2015
The fuel subsidy struggle in Nigeria has entered a critical phase. The cabal and its agents are agitating for President Muhammadu Buhari to increase fuel prices under the guise of removing ‘fuel subsidy’. There is no subsidy on fuel prices in Nigeria.
What exists is the corrupt misappropriation of public funds by a cabal through the criminal manipulation of our inefficient domestic oil sector. The cabal took $2.59 billion (2009), $4.42 billion (2010), $12.11 Billion (2011) and $8.63 billion (2012) from the public pursue through corrupt means. The theft continued in 2013-2015.
The Nigerian masses are fighting to stop this corruption and the cabal is fighting back. The Nigerian cabal is the leadership of the Nigerian ruling class. The cabal uses “fuel subsidy” to justify the looting of the public treasury and then passes the cost to the Nigerian masses by increasing fuel prices. The intellectual, commercial, bureaucratic and technical groups under the cabal all play their part in this corrupt process. They are supported by the IMF/World Bank and other institutions of global foreign capital.
The NNPC is allocated 445,000 barrels per day for our four refineries to meet Nigeria’s local demand for petroleum products. The cabal sabotaged our domestic refining capacity with inefficient Turn-Around-Maintenance and took control of petroleum products importation, processing and payment. In 2011, President Buhari described the situation as “sheer fraud and corruption.”
The cabal was not happy with General Buhari’s comments. The FGN was planning for a hike in fuel prices due to intense pressure from the IMF/World Bank at the end of 2011. In January 2012, the FGN increased PMS prices from N65/litre to N140/litre. The Nigerian masses exploded and fought back. They brought the nation to a halt and took control of the streets. The cabal unleashed the coercive arm of the state.
The police killed many people in the streets of Lokoja, Jalingo, Kano, Maiduguri, Ibafo and Lambata. This did not stop the anti-subsidy struggle. It took the Nigerian Armed Forces and the capitulation of the labour union leaders to force the Nigerian masses back into their homes, offices, factories, schools, markets and farms but not after government had reduced fuel prices from N140/litre to N97/litre. This was a partial defeat for the cabal.
Despite the partial defeat, the cabal continued the looting of the public treasury under the myth of “fuel subsidy” in 2012-2014. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the then CBN governor, was worried. He blew the whistle and demanded an explanation for alledged failure by NNPC to deposit $20 billion in the Federation Accounts. The cabal was in a tight spot. They assumed that the Goodluck Jonathan government would be re-elected and prepared for a major conflict with the Nigerian masses between June and July 2015.
The strategy of the Nigerian masses was to control the ballot box and create a bigger democratic space in which to defend their interests. They had a presidential candidate who knew that there is no fuel subsidy. General Buhari was a former petroleum minister and military head of state. There was no fuel price increase during his time as head of state. Given INEC’s PVC and the formation of a united opposition under the APC, a window of opportunity was open to wrest the Presidency from the grasp of the cabal and get a government that could fight corruption and stop fuel price increases. So, the majority voted for General Buhari to protect their basic economic and political interests. The cabal was shocked when it lost the election and they went on the offensive.
The counter strategy of the cabal is to disrupt, encircle, isolate and neutralise the Buhari presidency and then force it to raise fuel prices. Applying their strategy of disruption, they called for a strike using their control of petrol pumps nationally. The Nigerian masses may control the streets but the cabal controlled the petrol stations and pumps. Last June, they shut the petrol pumps down and took the nation hostage. They demanded a ransom of N200 billion even though the FG under Jonathan had given them N500 billion in the first five months of 2015. Long queues formed in front of petrol stations and the masses suffered. The NNPC cooperated with the cabal by not releasing its floating 30 days one billion litres PMS reserves. The new Buhari-led government was forced to capitulate and agree to the N200 billion demands. Operation encirclement proceeded immediately. This called for taking over the NASS by unleashing the PDP moles in APC. The PDP/Saraki takeover of NASS stopped the political momentum of Buhari’s men. The cabal had control of the judiciary and the legislature. The new Presidency was encircled. President Buhari went into a defensive mode.
Attempts to Isolate the Buhari government are in progress. This entails increased international pressure from the IMF/World Bank and other Western creditor agencies. Anthony Blair, the former United Kingdom prime minister (1997-2007) came to Nigeria and advised Buhari to raise fuel prices. He was followed by Clare Short, chairman Board of Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, EITI. Buhari refused to capitulate.
The cabal within and outside the country is small but rich, strong and armed. The Nigerian masses are many, poor, weak and unarmed. The cabal controls the filling stations, the top bureaucrats of the Nigerian State, the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the judiciary. The Nigerian masses control the streets, public opinion, their votes and the democratic political space. The Presidency controls the Army and Police and other state instruments of coercion.
It is a terrain of struggle between the cabal and the masses. It is for nobody and for everybody. Given this seeming balance of power, the Nigerian masses have intensified their efforts by reinforcing their strengths and attacking the weakness of the cabal. They are demanding the implementations of all the past recommendations of NEITI and all the other probes of the fuel subsidy regimes and refineries in Nigeria. They are agitating for the judiciary to imprison the corrupt members of the cabal. They insist that the law without justice is oppressive. They are demanding a reduction of the salaries and allowances of NASS members.
The masses are demanding a progressive development oriented nationalist bureaucracy. They are calling for a return to N65/litre PMS price and a serious fight against corruption by the Presidency. This will encourage the Presidency to reject all future pressures to increase fuel prices. The masses are trying to break through the current encirclement of the Presidency by the cabal. They are fighting for the future of their children and the future of our nation. They want to kill corruption by dismantling the cabal. And their struggle continues.
Dr. Agbon, a petroleum technology expert, lives in Texas, United States
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