Happy New Year?

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Did you usher in the New Year on a happy note on January 1? Not so for many Nigerians. They woke up that morning to face a 100 per cent increase in the price of petrol. A cry of anguish and frustration swept through the land. How can this be? How can we survive? Many of us already live below the poverty line. Our low standard of living will further tumble. We are hard pressed trying to survive. This increase in petrol price will worsen the pressure on us. And it may well mean a sad new year for us.

Government is justifying the sharp jump in prices which resulted from removing the subsidy on petrol, to save the economy from imminent collapse. It is saying that the time has come to deregulate the downstream petroleum sector to introduce efficiency, eliminate waste and sharp practices, create jobs and make the Nigeria petroleum market attractive for foreign investors.

But the citizens are shouting a very loud No! chanting, “We no go gree oh, we no go gree,” in pidgin English. It means, “We strongly disagree. This sharp price increase will kill us.” A showdown is clearly unavoidable. And so many scenarios are already emerging from the impending face-off between the government and the people in 7 major ways.

  1. Government is trying desperately to get the citizens to buy into the cause of this new measure with promises of building better infrastructure, healthcare, educational facilities, improved transportation systems, creating jobs, and more. No deal. It has become a hard sell because the citizens are adamant. “Away with this increase,” they cry. “The pains are too much.” And they are smarting from these pains via hardship, lack and increasing cost of living.
  2. Organized labour, unions and youth movements are already staging rallies and protests marches on the streets, and steeling their resolve to be ready for a long-drawn workers strike. The Labour Congress is already mobilizing workers for indefinite strike action beginning Monday, Jan 9. Support for the strike by the masses and the professional class- Lawyers, Doctors, etc-  is total.
  3. Anger and outrage is sweeping all over the land. People are agitated and seething with pent-up indignation about falling living standards and they are spoiling for a fight with the ruling /governing class who are now the perceived enemies. The poor masses say this new measure will make the poor, poorer; and the rich, richer
  4. Transport fares and prices of consumer items are already shooting up inflicting pain on hard pressed citizens and bringing into sharp reality, the fears of citizens for harder times. Some families who travelled to their hometowns for the Xmas and New Year celebrations are trapped there. There is no money to pay for their way back to the cities because of the increased fares.
  5. Government is making serious moves to stave off the strike with an injunction from the Industrial Court; and patriotic appeals which are craving the understanding of the people to bear pains today, for tomorrow’s gain. President Goodluck Jonathan in a state broadcast said he understands the pain of the people, and would probable react the way they are doing now, if he were on the other side. But labour and a large section of the citizens are not convinced. They are resolute in their demand that the subsidy stays and the price of petrol drops to its pre- Jan 1 levels. And they are going on strike as scheduled.
  6. Bomb blasts and sectarian violence have joined the fray creating more troubles and chagrin for the people.
  7. Government is strenuously telling its story about the motive and benefits of removing subsidy on petrol. Apparently the citizens are not convinced. Government in the real sense means well for the people with this measure for a better economy and improved welfare of the people in future. But the immediate fall out is the more than 100 per price increase of petrol and the pains accompanying it. Besides, the packaging, delivery and timing of this measure has incurred the instant wrath of citizens who are still not convinced with the stories of government officials; and do not trust them, on how to deploy the money realized from this new fiscal measure for the good of the people.

Postscript

This is the first week of the New Year story of my country. From the impending stalemate between government and the citizens, it is obvious the state has not properly harnessed the power of storytelling to get the buy-in of Nigerian citizens into this New Year measure to trust their government, which believes that paying more for petrol now can change their story for the better in future.

Their story has indeed changed, but it appears to be stories of pains for now. The gains are not yet in sight.  Citizens are echoing their pains and frustrations in their closets, homes, motor parks, markets, communities and more.

In my next installment, I will discuss how any government can use storytelling to mobilize their citizens around any cause it is pursuing and get their support. For citizens in Nigeria, it was not a Happy New Year on Jan1, at least for  majority of them.

(11 January 2012)


Eric Okeke is a storyteller, editor, business writer, motivational speaker and author of the best selling book: I Want a Husband. He is one of Nigeria’s most experienced financial journalists. He has published several articles in local and foreign publications and in websites such as http://www.ezinearticles.com, www.ezinearticles.com and www.writingcareer.com. He is currently running Infomedia Company, a media consulting and information marketing company. Visit his blog at http://sallywantsahusband.blogspot.com

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