Overloading the Camel, by Wole Olaoye

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I humbly reiterate my call that we do not push the common man beyond the abyss. The camel is already loaded with a gargantuan mountain of straw. Another “insignificant” straw – and something might break!

The Nigerian Camel is strong, resilient, patient, but not unbreakable. You can stack kilograms on kilograms of straw on her back and everything looks fine until you throw out the last straw. And the load and the transporter embrace the dust.

One man whose last straw insight seems to speak to the Nigerian situation is blogger Greg Smith. It tells the story of a circus that didn’t know when to stop putting straw on straw, until the camel’s back broke.

“Did you hear the story of the man in the circus, near the camel enclosure?” He was seen picking up a stalk of hay and heading towards one of the dromedaries. He carefully laid the dried blade of grass on the brown fur of his hump. Nothing happened. The man shrugged his shoulders and said, “Ah, bad straw! and left disappointed.

“Obviously he was looking for the straw that broke the camel’s back. And he missed the point of the old saying. A straw is a small thing. It really can’t do anything wrong. But added together, the small straws are a heavy burden. And as you put more straws on a camel’s back, theoretically they will get progressively heavier until there is one last straw that adds the extra fraction of an ounce that sticks out. the tensile strength of the vertebrae of this workhorse. The last straw is not the last in itself. “

He could have written a metaphor for the Nigerian situation.

The Nigerian people have been at the mercy of a system that makes them poorer every time the country makes more money from the sale of oil. Paradox of Paradoxes: Every time the international price of crude oil rises and Nigeria earns more money than expected, citizens have to pay more for local consumption. Over the years, state-owned refineries have been downsized to the point that petroleum products are now imported for consumption, as if Nigeria is not an oil-producing country. And the only importer is another government “sick baby” – the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).

Mele Kyari, the company’s group chief executive, recently sent a notice to a baffled country that more bad news was on the way. “Today, PMS sells across our borders anywhere above N300 to one of our neighbors. And in some places it’s up to N500 and N550 per liter, ”he says. He warned that the NNPC would no longer operate a subsidy scheme regardless of its name.

Nigerian officials are used to comparing cucumber to mango. Which of our neighbors is as blessed as we are? Why do we always select characters out of context to justify launching more painful programs on our people? We know that if we refine our own crude at home, the price of fuel will be about half of what we are paying now. But we choose to pass on the pain of our corruption and incompetence to the people.

The rise in the price of petroleum products, as the world ravaged by COVID-19, has led to increased tariffs for transport by land, sea and air. This has had a skyrocketing effect on the cost of goods, especially food and household items.

This was the same country where we paid 6k (six kobo) per liter for gasoline until 1973 when the Gowon administration raised it to 8.45k. Since then, successive administrations have driven the price up until the present moment, when we are told that the government’s inability to refine oil at home is our collective fault. Just look at the trajectory: Murtala Mohammed raised the price at the pump to 9k; Obasanjo took it to 15.3 km; Shagari increased it to 20k; in four different installments, Babangida increased the price to 39.5k, 42k, 60k and 70k.

Shonekan catapulted the price to N5; Abacha took him to N11; Abubakar walked it to N20; Obasanjo in his second coming has increased the price seven times in eight years, ending at N75; Yar’Adua, in sympathy with the people, reduced the price to N65, the only president who did not increase the price of fuel; Jonathan jacked up the price to N141 and, following protests, reduced it to N97 and further to N87. Buhari has now increased the price to N165, depending on where you refuel. This is the price that NNPC, the agency that presides over the opaque and incompetent system of importing what we should be exporting – wants to push further into the stratosphere.

We recently increased the Value Added Tax (VAT) from 5 percent to 7.5 percent. We are told that Nigeria has one of the lowest VAT rates in the world compared to Ghana’s 12.5 percent, and South Africa and Kenya 15 percent and 16 percent respectively. However, in Ghana, Kenya and South Africa, small businesses are not subject to VAT.

Ghana has a threshold of about ₦ 13 million in annual turnover, while Kenya’s is ₦ 17 million and South Africa’s is ₦ 23 million. In addition, there are a lot of incentives given to companies to employ more people, unlike here where all kinds of obstacles are placed in the way of companies, forcing some of them to close shop and send more people. people in the unemployment market.

The rise in the price of petroleum products, as the world ravaged by COVID-19, has led to increased tariffs for transport by land, sea and air. This has had a skyrocketing effect on the cost of goods, especially food and household items. Many more families are skirting the thin line between bare existence and begging.

And now Nigerian bank customers face additional burdens, as the central bank ordered them to pay N 6.98 for using Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD). This, in a country where banks and telecommunications companies report profits in the hundreds of billions, even in times of economic recession. Imagine a person who wants to buy N100 airtime having to pay about a 7% “penalty” for using the USSD. Maybe the authorities want us to go back to the days when queues at banks rivaled those at bus stops.

USSD is a game-changer in achieving financial inclusion. Sixty percent of the phones used in Nigeria are multifunction phones, where 3G connectivity only surpassed 2G last year. USSD allows users to conduct financial transactions without banking applications, without the Internet. To show just how financially inclusive development is, deals valued at ₦ 390 billion were made with USSD in June 2020 alone.

It seems people are only seen as beasts of burden; the proverbial camel. But how long can they continue to carry the load before they collapse or retaliate?

It seems that people are seen only as beasts of burden; the proverbial camel. But how long can they continue to carry the load before they collapse or retaliate?

We are in a country of a millionaire for a million beggars. In 2018, in an article titled “Giving Oil Blocks to States”, I spoke of a break with the current system where oil blocks that could have helped improve the standard of living of our people are regularly offered to friends of the government. . I wrote among others:

“A 2013 report found that Nigeria had a total of 388 oil blocks, of which around 173 had been awarded to individuals and businesses, while 215 blocks had yet to be awarded. Of the 173 allocated, foreigners owned 83 blocks while Nigerians owned 90. According to the then Petroleum Resources Department (DPR), the 83 allocated to foreign oil companies accounted for 94% – 2.35 million barrels. per day of the total. production. Nigerian players took the scales. This state of affairs has not changed much today.

“On the surface, these numbers don’t sound alarming. But given the billions of dollars involved, the patronage system of treating the oil blocks as birthday gifts to those with whom those in power are delighted is nothing but unfair. This cannot be justified in any law or man-made convention.

General Abacha may have been such a ruthless “goalkeeper” – as slices of his booty are still repatriated today – but his trade-off system of giving oil in exchange for the demands of the government served to minimize the transfer of more burdens on the people. In the current system, we own the house, but we are compared to the children of the tenants; we own the oil but have to suffer more than countries without oil.

I humbly reiterate my call that we do not push the common man beyond the abyss. The camel is already loaded with a gargantuan mountain of straw. Another “insignificant” straw – and something might break!

Wole Olaoye can be reached via [email protected]

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