Why Nigerians are in an 'occupy' mood (+video)
It would be unacceptable to citizens anywhere if the price of gasoline doubled overnight without warning, argues guest blogger Jeremy Weate.
On the first day of the indefinite general strike organized by a coalition of unions and social media-based activists, some external observers have expressed surprise at the intensity of resistance the “Occupy Nigeria” campaign has mounted against the removal of a fuel subsidy. From an outside perspective, it might seem like a dust-devil has been whipped up without reason in the desert. In case there’s still any confusion, allow me to explain why there is so much anger and resistance.Skip to next paragraph
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The answer begins with a question: Would it be acceptable to citizens of affluent countries that the price of gasoline doubles overnight without any warning?
While Jeffrey Sachs may have his own view, the lived reality of citizens of the Nigerian state is that it provides little or no security, no infrastructure, no education, and no employment opportunities (apart from mostly McJobs in the civil service). Everywhere in Nigeria, the basic elements of civilized existence have to be taken care of house-by-house, compound-by-compound. You must sink your own borehole for water, buy, install, and fuel a generator for power, hire security guards to keep the wolves from the door, pay school fees to ensure your kids get a half-decent education because the public school system is in perpetual meltdown. And to earn enough money to get through the day, you must hustle.
The breakdown of a Nigerian social contract between citizens and the state is almost entirely a result of the past few decades of the so-called "resource curse." Earning billions of dollars each year from crude exports, the Nigerian government has no need to rely on taxes from individuals or local companies; tax and royalty payments from the international oil companies (as well as historically, loans from international financial institutions) have been sufficient to fund the annual budget at all levels of government.
For the past few decades, cheap fuel has therefore been the only form of social contract between ordinary Nigerians and the state and the principle lever to control inflation during times of rising oil prices. With most Nigerians subsisting on $2 a day or less, subsidised fuel has also been a survival mechanism, making life only just bearable.
It was therefore highly surprising to Nigerians to find out that the fuel subsidy had been removed on Jan. 1 and that the price regulating body under the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) had more than doubled the price of petrol overnight. No one had been given warning. The expectation was that the subsidy would be removed at the earliest in April. The strong suspicion is that following on from Christine Lagarde’s visit to Nigeria in late December, the government had accelerated its plans.