By Bayo Onanuga

Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria Finance Minister

Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria Finance Minister

On the eve of Nigeria’s general strike to protest the removal of petrol subsidy in the country by the Goodluck Jonathan administration, I have been researching the archives, using the Freedom of Information law as cover, to find out how President Jonathan reached his present anti-people policy.

It all started on 6 December last year, when Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, the Finance Minister and the Coordinating Minister for the Economy (a position not provided in our constitution) presented ‘briefs’ to the Federal Executive Council on why the Jonathan administration must end the subsidy in less than a month.

When Nigerians go through these so called facts, they will find that Okonjo’s conclusions are the typical, ‘working to the answer’. Her thesis cannot stand the test of a strict scrutiny and indeed calls into question her credentials as a financial expert.

For starters:

1. Okonjo’s thesis was wrong from the beginning: she says that subsidy does not reach the poor, that only the rich and the middle class are the beneficiaries. The hollowness and shallowness of the position have been profoundly proven by the cries of agony by Nigerians. Who have been the most hit by the anti-people measure? The poor. Who have been crying loudest? The poor.

Even, if we accept her theory that the rich and middle class are the greatest beneficiaries of oil subsidy, are they not Nigerians? Are they not entitled to some goodies from their government?

2. Okonjo posited that Nigeria had spent N3.6 trillion on subsidy in five years, an average of N660 billion yearly, but fails to explain how the figure rose to N1.3 trillion in 2011, the same year like 2008 when international oil prices shot to the roof.

Using Okonjo’s statistics, the average crude oil price in 2008 was $101.78 dollars, compared with $113.98 in 2011. The amount of subsidy in those years was at variance by more than 10 per cent that any reasonable, rational, logical person will expect. What accounted for this difference? Was subsidy fund stolen to fund Jonathan’s re-election campaign? Was the increase in subsidy expenses because the oil cabal presented bogus claims for settlement? Mrs. Okonjo Iweala did not explain and no one provided any details.

3. Okonjo’s analysis to paint subsidy as bad and to justify why it must go, were based on two oil prices and it was obvious she did so to arrive at her bogus conclusion.

Bayo Onanuga

Bayo Onanuga

In one breath, she used $113 dollars as the base price of crude oil to determine how Nigeria’s subsidized oil price ranks with other African countries. At 46 cents, petrol is cheapest in Nigeria, compared with mainly non-oil producing countries, such as Cape Verde, CAR, Malawi, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, and Mali etc. Angola, an oil producer is also classified as selling its petrol higher than Nigeria at 69 cents a litre.

If only Mrs. Okonjo had looked at her figures and graph, she would have seen two other oil producers in Africa, seating pretty below Nigeria on this price graph. These countries are Algeria, which unlike Nigeria sells more refined products than Nigeria, which sells its crude to the world, without trying to add value, by refining and creating jobs at home. The other country is Libya. Algeria sells a litre of petrol at 32 cents and Libya sells its own at 17 cents. They are fellow oil producers like our country. According to Okonjo, these countries offer cheap fuel to their people because they are not as populated like Nigeria and because they have higher per capita than Nigeria.

However missing from her explanation was whether those countries behave like Nigeria’s irresponsible rulers, spending three-quarters of their budget on recurrent expenditure, cutlery, bullet proof cars and so on.

4. In another breath, Mrs. Okonjo compared Nigeria’s oil price last year, with a mixed bag of European, Latin America and African nations, all oil producers. These statistics showed that Nigeria’s price at N65 was not the cheapest in the world. Although petrol sold cheaper here then than Angola and Sudan, in Venezuela, it is almost free at 3 cents. Brunei, Yemen, Oman, Algeria, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Iran all offer their petrol very cheap to their people. In Iran, it is 10 cents, compared with Nigeria’s January 2012 price of almost $1. The Saudis sell their oil at 17 cents, Kuwait at 22 cents.

5. With subsidy removed, we can already feel the effects the increase has had on the Nigerian people: it has further pauperized them and has made things more difficult for the 90 per cent living on less than $2 a day, according to Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the Central bank governor.

6. In further analysis, Okonjo presented another graph that shows Nigeria’s position, among other oil producers and African nations after the subsidy removal. The graph puts the cost of fuel at 69 cents, using another oil price as basis—$90 per barrel. Of course all Nigerians know that the fuel they are selling at gas stations is between N141 and N150, which is very close to $1. Curiously, on the same graph sits USA. There, a litre of oil is 80 cents, cheaper than what the Russians (84 cents), the Indonesians (83 cents), war-torn Iraq (81 cents) pay for a litre of fuel.

7. Nigerians need to ask Okonjo the logic that supports citizens of an oil-producing nation, like Nigeria, paying more money for fuel than the Americans, oil importers, pay. America has a greater per capita than Nigeria; the least income earner in America earns at least $24,000 a year, compared with Nigeria where 90 per cent live on $2 a day.

Will this policy not diminish further our people’s capacity to get out of the vicious bracket of poverty? How now will 90 per cent of Nigerians starving on $2 a day, not be economically asphyxiated when commodity prices have jumped, in some cases by 100 per cent?

In my view, her argument and the entire policy of removing the fuel subsidy are ill thought out and ‘callous’ as some Nigerians have said

– This report was first published in PM News in 2012.