By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
On Monday January 9, my 7-year-old daughter and I joined many Americans from the “Occupy Atlanta” movement or, as they like to call themselves, “Atlanta’s 99 percent,” to protest against President Goodluck Jonathan’s revoltingly conscienceless war on the poor though his thoughtless and ill-conceived hike in petrol prices.
We converged at the Nigerian Consulate in Atlanta in symbolic solidarity with the admirably dauntless Nigerian people at home who have chosen to bracket their differences and unite in defense of their common humanity against a notoriously malevolent and incompetent government.
Atlanta is just one of several cities where ordinary Americans of all races came out forcefully and passionately to support Nigerians against this embarrassingly inept, IMF/World Bank-controlled government. Across major cities in America, scores of Americans are joining Nigerians in America in demonstrations against the most usurious petrol price hike in Nigeria’s entire history.
But why would Americans who live thousands of miles away from Nigeria and who have a reputation for being provincial and indifferent to world events that have no direct consequence on their lives be interested in what goes on in our country?
There are three reasons. First, the Internet, especially social media, has annihilated the boundaries of time and space in hitherto unthought-of ways. A lot of Americans became aware of the desperate conditions of the Nigerian people at home not through their legacy, mainline news media, but through online social networks and citizen blogs.
I take delight in saying that my October 22, 2011 article titled “Fuel Subsidy Removal: Time to ‘Occupy’ Nigeria!” and a sequel titled “Biggest Scandal in Oil Subsidy Removal Fraud” were major catalysts in this awakening. The articles went viral on the Internet, attracted an unprecedented traffic to my blog, and caused scores of inquiries to be directed at me Of course, as I said on my Facebook page, I don't claim any credit for the “Occupy Nigeria” movement. I think its emergence is the product of a spontaneous outpouring of righteous anger against a smothering and insensitive government policy. Of course, several other Nigerians also wrote many thoughtful articles and analyses on the cruelty, fraud, and illogic of the Jonathan government’s inhuman petrol price hike. These disparate initiatives all coalesced to form a compelling social media narrative of what is going in Nigeria.
The second reason ordinary Americans identify with the current struggles of the Nigerian people is that many of them were intensely scandalized to learn that Nigerians, 80 percent of whom live on less than $2 a day, were paying more for petrol than they who live in the world’s wealthiest nation. The lowest paid worker in America receives the equivalent of 185,00 naira per month. Nigeria’s current minimum wage of 7,500 naira translates into $47 dollars a month. If the Jonathan government honors its promise to increase the minimum wage to 18,000 naira, that would translate into $112 per month.
A softhearted American friend of mine who saw this statistic wept profusely a few days ago. “That’s just not fair!” she cried. “Someone with a 47-dollar-a-month wage pays $3.6 for a gallon of gas while a minimum wage worker in Georgia who receives nearly $8 an hour pays $2.99 for the same? That’s just wrong on so many levels!”
She would probably have literally cried her heart out if she knew that the Nigerian government actually pays millions of dollars to an avaricious cabal of primitive capitalist vultures to import toxic, low-grade refined petrol into the country. As I said in a previous article, the petrol price comparison between Nigeria and the United States— and other countries— is, in fact, grossly inaccurate because all of the petrol that is imported to Nigeria is so low-grade that it’s a criminal offense to use it in America, Europe, and other parts of the world.
Thirdly, and most importantly, contrary to the intentional lies being hawked by the economic policy thugs of the Jonathan administration, the American government heavily SUBSIDIZES the fuel consumption of its citizen. Most responsible, socially sensitive governments do.
According to a TIME Magazine article of January 3, America’s 50 states collectively spend $10 billion a year to subsidize the fuel consumption of their citizens. In America, with all its vast material prosperity, the surest way for any government to collapse irretrievably is to encourage any policy that causes the price of petrol to go up. As TIME put it beautifully, “One of the fastest ways to alienate voters is to be seen supporting anything that intensifies pain in the pump.”
American state governments subsidize petrol prices for their citizens through low taxes on their oil companies. During the 2008 presidential election, for instance, Hilary Clinton and John McCain, in fact, advocated a “gas tax holiday” regime. That meant oil companies would not be taxed at all for an extended period so that gas prices would come down by about 18.4 cents a gallon for petrol and about 24.4 cents for diesel.
According to TIME, “politicians’ refusal to increase gas taxes in line with inflation and construction costs starves needed infrastructure of funding.” Sounds familiar? The perennial reason our governments in Nigeria advance to increase fuel prices is that the government needs money for “infrastructural development,” which by the way is a fat lie. (They should be honest for once and admit that they need more money to steal). But the point is that no responsible government starves its people to death because it wants to build infrastructure. Only the living use infrastructure.
There is an instructive example in the Midwestern state of Iowa of how a caring government, faced with a cash crunch, responded to recommendations for an increase in petrol prices to raise money. I will reproduce parts of the story, which is from TIME, without authorial intervention:
“In Iowa, which hasn’t raised its tax in 22 years, a citizen advisory panel recommended an 8 cent to 10 cent bump per gallon in November. Republican Gov. Terry Branstad quickly took any increase off the table, instead asking his Department of Transportation to look for savings.
“‘Everyone realizes that we need more funding for roads and bridges,’ said Tim Albrecht, a spokesman for Branstad. ‘I don’t think the legislature was especially willing to put a burden on Iowa’s tax payers at this time.’”
So an American state was in dire need of money to fund projects that would benefit the people and a panel made up of professionals not affiliated with the government recommended that the government increase the pump price of petrol to raise cash.
What did the government do? It said no. It said increasing petrol prices by just 8 or 10 percent would impose an unbearable burden on its citizens. It then said the state should raise money by SAVING. And this is a state in the wealthiest country on earth. Do you see any parallels here with Nigeria?
Well, that’s why every American who is familiar with what is happening in Nigeria is deeply angry with Jonathan on our behalf. So don’t give up, Nigerians. The whole world is watching you, supporting you, and celebrating your extraordinary gallantry!
Fuel Price Hike: Time to "Occupy" Nigeria
Biggest Scandal in Oil Subsidy Removal Fraud
Where is the Fuel Subsidy?
Biggest Scandal in Oil Subsidy Removal Fraud
Where is the Fuel Subsidy?