Did you ever get to see the 2009 blockbuster Sci-Fi film called 2012? If you did not, you are not alone; President Goodluck Jonathan too did not see it. Had he seen the movie, the President would be very cautious about the year 2012.
When multi-award winning director Roland Emmerich made 2012, he had no way of knowing what impact the choice of the year would have on political events in places far away from Hollywood. To Emmerich, 2012 was just another one of his apocalyptic movies (his other disaster films are Independence Day and The Day after Tomorrow). But events since the film’s release in 2009 give a sense that there is something to fear about the year 2012.
In North Korea, officials felt sufficiently threatened by the apocalyptic ‘prophesy’ of 2012 to ban the movie in their country.
Kim Jong-il, North Korea’s leader, was worried about the movie because its disaster theme threatened his promise to North Koreans that 2012 will be “the year for opening the grand gates to becoming a rising superpower". The year will mark the centenary of the birth of the nation’s founder, Kim Il-sung and officials were working hard to create a sense of prosperity ahead of the event. A movie depicting the end of the world was, therefore, perceived to be dangerous for the psyche of North Koreans. Citizens caught with pirated copies of the movie were arrested and prosecuted for “a grave provocation against the development of the state”.
So what will the year 2012 mean for Nigeria? Will it mark the beginning of prosperity as is the hope of North Korea, or will it witness events that will shake this country at its core as predicted in Emmerich’s fiction?
Like North Korea’s Kim Jong-il, the Jonathan administration says 2012 is the year that will mark the beginning of unprecedented growth in Nigeria.
Over the last few months, the administration has taken every opportunity to preach the benefits of its decision to remove fuel subsidy starting January next year. According to the president’s team, Nigeria would save enough for capital projects once the funds for subsidy are freed. They say we will begin to have improved power supply, better roads, good healthcare, and all the other good things we desire.
On the other hand, many public commentators have joined forces with labour union leaders to predict a showdown between government and citizens that will cripple public and commercial activities. These commentators have opined that the proposed removal of fuel subsidy is an invitation to disaster.
While some argue that revenues accrued from the removal of subsidy will be mismanaged or embezzled by those in power, there are those who are more concerned that the removal of subsidy will inevitably lead to increased prices of petroleum products. Labour and other union leaders who belong to this second school of thought have come up with various projections regarding the prices of petrol and other products come January. The conservative ones among them put the price of fuel at about N130 per litre, double the current price of N65.
Building on the argument that fuel prices will increase significantly from January, critics of fuel subsidy removal say we can expect the prices of goods and services to also rise.
Having followed the arguments on both sides, I conclude that Nigeria will witness a chain of undesirable events if the Jonathan administration goes ahead with its subsidy removal plan.
Even before it made public its decision to remove fuel subsidy, there was a general feeling of disappointment and dissatisfaction with the government. The announcement only compounded the problem.
Resentment of the Jonathan administration and its policies continues to grow as we approach 2012. Already, several groups are mobilizing for mass action in the nation’s capital. They are calling it Occupy Abuja, a borrowing from the ongoing Occupy Wall Street protests in America.
At the moment, these groups do not seem to be getting the kind of support that will worry the government but it is expected that their numbers will rise come January when fuel subsidy is finally removed.
There is something about the month of January that will work for the protestors. It is a month when people face tough financial challenges because they would have exhausted their savings during the yuletide. High prices coming at such a time, because of subsidy removal, will cause real ill-feeling towards the government. I consider the timing of the policy to be the greatest catalyst for the turbulence that may ensue.
Apart from the date of commencement working against the government, Jonathan’s advisers should have considered the lingering issue of minimum wage. At present, many state governments are still dragging their feet about minimum wage. In the last few weeks, members of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) in many states have embarked on warning strikes to demand the implementation of the new wage. This demand will gather momentum when subsidy removal causes prices to go up.
Come January, the NLC and its affiliate unions will have many good reasons to shut down government and commercial activities.
If the situation is not handled carefully, the protests of 2012 will be worse than the violent Udoji protests of 1975.
I hope the Jonathan administration pays attention to the rising tension in the country so that in 2012 its policymakers will not look back and say the words written on the poster of the 2012 movie; “We were warned”.