The sudden removal of subsidy on petroleum has elevated the word palliative to one of the most sought after and repeatedly talked about by Nigerians, particularly the downtrodden, and of course in the media. Given the popularity of the word among the citizens, one would think everyone entitled to benefit from the palliative has his or her adequate share. However, observations and actual monitoring of activities have shown irregularities, lack of uniformity and carelessness in the way the exercise has been conducted from one state to another.
In many states, in the southern part of the country, it was as if the rice and other commodities attached sent from the Federal Government were yet to be received until we heard that some warehouses were looted. In the North, the distribution seems much more advanced but the action is more pronounced in Borno State where the well-organised, hyperactive Prof. Babagana Zulum continues to show what leadership is all about. While one sees individuals carrying full bag of rice with palm kernel, gari, tomato paste, indomie and others in Borno State, the load continues to decline as we move southward and, in some cases, we are yet to be informed that State A or State B is yet to receive its share. But that is like assisting the states concerned to inadvertently cover up their corruption. Information is key.
The Federal Government should publish the items sent to each state while each state should publish what it received and how they were distributed. This becomes imperative in view of the fact that most citizens were not aware that the states have already been given N2bn by the Federal Government until a press conference was held after the meeting with the Vice President, Kashim Shettima, where the N5bn transfer to the states was announced. They collected N2bn and kept mute, giving the impression that they wanted to use the money, meant for the provision of facilities and inclusive projects, to solve personal problems.
Transparency and accountability are also key in governance. Apart from using the distribution of palliatives to get or update statistics about the poor in society, the publication of records of activities, actions and citizens concerned goes a long way to build trust in leadership. The state governments should provide programmes of activities and publicise these while reports are sent to the appropriate federal ministries, departments and agencies. This will assist in reviewing the process, procedures and outcomes today and for future reference. It is when there is no transparency and accountability that we keep secret activities that are carried out for the public interest.
Information to the public is also crucial. The public needs to be informed of the progressive implementation of palliative intervention programmes across the nation. The information will be a full disclosure of activities and what went to each state, local government, ward and unit across the country. This will help the government to get the support of the public, particularly labour unions in monitoring implementation and offering suggestions. Providing information about different activities of government is part of the transparency and accountability required in good governance. It helps the government to resolve issues of misconception, misdirection and puts paid to rumour and social media fake news.
Palliative as a word is mainly related to or used in the medical field to explain a situation where, for example, a patient is given a drug to quickly relieve pain without curing the cause of the pain. Nigerians are going through the pains occasioned by the removal of subsidy on petroleum and the unification of the balkanised exchange rate market. Thus, by the same token, the palliative the government is doling out is to give temporary relief for the immediate pains, not the long-term effects. The inefficient and ineffective way government agencies are going about applying the drug is not only prolonging the pains for many but turning the situation into hopelessness. The Federal Government needs to be decisive in making the palliative work.
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By now the country should be moving into the second stage of management of the policy shocks. It is not about a seven or two-point agenda. It is about the next level of treatment to possibly cure the cause of the pains. It is about the execution of policies that will remove the causal factor of the pains today and in the medium to long-term. It is also about the domestic production of petroleum by the government or private concerns sufficient to reduce imports to the barest minimum. Lastly, it is about the full alignment of the exchange rates, including a substantial reduction in imports generally or exports of crude oil due to improved production and reduced stealing, as well as proper management of the foreign reserves. There ought to be a committee specifically set up to tackle all problems related to the twin policies.
I have always canvassed for the legalisation of the so-called illegal refinery operators by the government. I have also proposed that getting them (so-called illegal refinery operators) registered as petroleum product cooperative producers will help a great deal. Their activities can be integrated into the curriculum of petroleum institutes to give them free training on how to improve on different stages of crude oil refining on a small scale. The recognition will immediately stop bunkering and the attendant environmental pollution in their areas of operation.
If after over 50 years of oil production, we cannot take over or indigenise oil production to fill the gap created and we cannot refine our oil and take advantage of all the by-products attached to the crude oil, then we should seriously be ashamed of ourselves as a country. But we want to continue to tag those who use crude methods to get what they need from the crude oil as ‘illegal refiners’! Instead of helping them to standardise and modernise we pursue them to the bush, just because the corrupt officials will not get anything out of such operations.
It took the late irrepressible Tai Solarin lots of efforts over some years to get our locally prepared ogogoro (akin to imported dry gin) to be officially recognised as legal production. Many people were arrested and prosecuted for producing the so-called illicit gin. The ogogoro was derided and demonised for being produced by ‘illiterates. Tai was relentless in fighting for the recognition of the product until it was eventually approved and allowed to be sold publicly. Today, some Nigerians export the same ogogoro abroad earning foreign exchange in the process. That was possible because studies were carried out openly on how to improve the quality in terms of production and marketing. The tag of illegality would not have made this possible and Nigeria is better for those singular actions today.
The illegal refineries have been subject of destruction many times and for many years. Yet, they continue to spring up because that is the source of living for the owners and there is demand for their products. They are better than those who lift crude oil illegally for sale outside the country, causing great losses and pains to the Nigerian economy. They are even better than the Nigerian government who sell crude oil, make money and steal the fund for personal and family use at the expense of the citizens and the economy generally. Their activities may be illegal but they also want to live and need help. If the government helps them, they will also help the country.
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