Chauffeur-driven, feeding fat on government allowances, locked up in the government-paid, generator-powered, air-conditioned enclaves, and surrounded by a retinue of personal and security aides, it is very easy to lose the pulse of the people on the streets, subsisting on less than $2 per day. This is exactly what is happening in Nigeria.
One fact has emerged clearly as riots enter Day-3, and Nigeria grinds to a screeching halt following petrol subsidy removal and subsequent increase in price: the government is not in tune with the masses. The tenacity, organization of the protesters and extent of the riots have shown that those calling the shots in government have indeed lost touch with the reality of the people they govern.
The subsidy removal argument as presented by the President Jonathan and his aides is poignant and sensible on paper. However, the petrol subsidy, as ineffectual as it may be from government point of view, is the only “social welfare” enjoyed by the common man on the street; it directly impact the lives of the people on daily basis. Besides, the “failure of the petrol subsidy”, as presented, is mainly due to government inefficiencies and corruption, perpetrated by a handful of elites. So why pass the burden on to the people without preparing and helping them manage the aftershock?
No matter how well the strategies for cushioning the effects of removal is, the street will not buy it! The federal government has little or no credibility with the people.
A better approach would have been to phase out the subsidy in stages, and at each stage, demonstrate to the people the gains and benefits of the removal in real life, not just on paper.
The situation in Nigeria is now a case of who blinks first, I would rather have Jonathan be the first to blink. Jonathan, can you do this, please?
More on the petrol subsidy removal here: