Friday, 20 January 2012 11:41

NIGERIA: What Children told Government on Subsidy Removal


Since the removal of fuel subsidy, children have not been left out of the debate for and against it. From the children who joined the nationwide strike and protests on the streets to those who are representatives of children in the Children Parliament, and those who just expressed their views to their peers, parents or neighbours, they were as much interested and affected as the adults.

According to Seiyaboh Balalaymi, the former Deputy House leader of the Nigerian Children's Parliament, they were so involved that when a mother serves stew for instance, the children will ask if the stew too has been subsidized, and they also watched with dismay as some parents even neglected their duties to their children for arguments on fuel subsidy.

On Tuesday, children gathered in Abuja for a forum organized by the Ministry of Women Affairs to educate them on the subsidy removal of government and also hear their opinion on it.

Aside the present and past leaders and members of the Nigerian Children Parliament, right from its inception to date, children from different schools and places were at the event.

Hon. Chinenye Nwaneri, a former and pioneer Speaker of the Nigerian Children's Parliament said the removal of fuel subsidy has its advantages and disadvantages. She said the disadvantages are the pains people are feeling as a result of the removal.

According to her: "To some extent the pain of the people are justified. The pain and anger of how to survive gingered the protests following the subsidy removal we witnessed in the country. Many Nigerians still live on less than a dollar per day coupled with lack of amenities, so such an added increase in transport and food only makes the pain of today overshadow whatever gains there is to get tomorrow."

She said another issue is the fact that many Nigerians don't trust government, and this is because of the unaccountability of past administrations thus making some people say they don't know if the money accruing from subsidy removal will be used as is being promised.

She then called on the Minister of Information, Mr Labaran Maku, the Women Affairs Minister, Hajiya Zainab Maina, the Special Adviser on Ethics and Values, Mrs Sarah Jibril and other officials present to tell Mr President that yes, subsidy removal has its benefits but Nigerians, particularly the poor ones are feeling the pains and more should be done to cushion it.

Before her, former Speaker of the children's parliament, Emmanuel Attah took time to educate all the children on the benefits of subsidy removal. He said subsidizing fuel has become a huge burden on government as yearly they borrow to do so. That subsidizing fuel does not reach the intended beneficiaries which are the poor. That it has diverted money which would have gone into other critical infrastructures, encouraged smuggling of petroleum products to other countries and discouraged competition, among others.

He concluded by saying it is very unfair and therefore calls for subsidy removal, adding that those who are against the removal of fuel subsidy do not have the future of the country at heart.

Honourable Chiefson Nwawu, a former chairman on child protection agreed with Emmanuel when he said Nigerian people should take the bull by the horn by giving room for the desired change from refineries that are not working and sufferings that have lasted for decades.

Another child, Seiyabo Balalaymi, a former Deputy House leader on his part said what disturbed him was that while the subsidy removal protests and strikes lasted, parents, teachers and clergy men who had often taught them (children) that dialogue is the best way of resolving issues took to the streets with some of them quarrelling, shouting, and even attempting violence.

He said dialogue remains the best key on the issue of subsidy removal, adding that when he saw and studied what government outlined in Bayelsa State, his home state, for instance irrigation for rice farms, water supply in central Ogbia where many children have died of cholera, refinery in Olobiri where oil was first discovered in 1958 among others, as a child he was happy and said to himself that if governments execute all these and others promised in other parts of the country, then Nigerians will have cause to thank government tomorrow for removing subsidy on fuel.

Hafsat Kaugama, the former speaker representing the FCT faulted government's inability to carry out massive enlightenment campaign on subsidy removal before it removed it, saying it would have forestalled misunderstanding and breakdown of law and order that happened in some places. She said she supports the aphorism that says 'no pain, no gain' but the people still need government's assurance that it will keep its promises in using the money accruing from the subsidy removal in enhancing health, roads and others.

She said: "We shouldn't jump to conclusions on issues or policies of government or proceed to the roads for protest without making research. People should not also turn their back on government because it made a decision they don't like but rather support and dialogue with them. Violence is never the answer and cannot solve the problem."

Dayo Isreal, Senate President of the first Nigerian Children's parliament on his part said no one in his right senses will support subsidy on fuel but what the people are concerned and angry about is the way and manner it is being done by government.

According to him, "the people are also angry with government for taking the decision without making them partakers and it is not just the executive but all arms of government. Why were children not part of the Belgore committee on subsidy removal?"

He recommended the following:

- Government should tackle corruption.

- The people want a palliative measure that will show 'you are taking from me but also giving me hope for the future.'

- It should pass the original version of the Petroleum Industry Bill.

- Sanusi Lamido Sanusi going by the reform he made in the banking sector should also be part of the committee to manage funds from subsidy removal.

Aside children who have been past or present members or leaders of the Nigerian Children Parliament, several children from schools and other places who attended the event also asked questions and made suggestions on the subsidy.

At the end of the day, most of the children were for subsidy removal, but they also called for some issues as discussed above to be addressed and tackled.

Earlier, Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Hajiya Zainab Maina said children are change agents and leaders of tomorrow, thus it is necessary to educate them on the policy and also listen to their views on it.

She said subsidy on fuel should have been removed long ago but successive governments before Jonathan lacked the political will and honesty to implement it.

She urged the children to go back home and educate their peers and parents on the benefits of subsidy removal.

Also Speaking, Minister of Information, Mr Labaran Maku, who took time to answer various questions from the children on fuel subsidy removal said everything the government is doing today is to ensure a better future for the children.

He said events of the previous week on subsidy removal have given both government and the governed opportunity to learn both positive and negative lessons.

Source: Daily Trust (Abuja, Nigeria)

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