Soyinka prize in illiteracy
On 13 July 2018, the 84th birthday of Olumo Wole Soyinka, the 1986 Nobel Laureate for Literature, I honour him by revisiting a debate that is raging on the Internet over what many call my misreading of his work, especially with reference to my interpretation of his play, Death and King’s Horseman
On 13 July 2018, the 84th birthday of Olumo Wole Soyinka, the 1986 Nobel Laureate for Literature, I honour him by revisiting a debate that is raging on the Internet over what many call my misreading of his work, especially with reference to my interpretation of his play, Death and King’s Horseman. Literary experts have been marvelling about the “Author’s Note” that accompanies Death and the King’s Horseman by Wole Soyinka.
Most playwrights leave it to the directors and producers of the play to interpret it as they wish but Soyinka was worried that most experts were misreading the play. He took the unusual authoritarian step of stipulating how the play should be interpreted but the critics appear not to notice and have continued to misread the play, in my own humble opinion. Soyinka left clues that would guide readers to decode his original intention in writing the play but most literary critics miss the point and some accuse me of being the mis-reader.
The very first sentence in the author’s note may have led many critics astray by stating that the play is based on real historical “events which took place in Oyo”, which the author defined as “an ancient Yoruba city of Nigeria”. This is misleading in a number of ways that literary critics should have been able to understand. To say that the events took place in 1946 would be to localise the time and space of the dramatic events whereas in the world of theatre, events do not take place exclusively in the setting but also on every stage where the play is produced.
Soyinka expected that literary theorists would understand that the playscript is not simply an archival document or ethnographic report but the work of original creation even when based on real events.
The play was not expected to be read, as the verbatim report of a tragic case that took place once upon a time. This is true of all works of creative writing that are supposed to be inventive no matter how much resemblance there may be between fiction and reality. In fact, many writers include a disclaimer that that any resemblance to real events was unintentional. As a matter of fact, the same can be said about reality genres that are full of inventions too. Soyinka clearly stated in the first paragraph of his author’s note that he made “changes” in the narrative “in matters of detail, sequence and of course characterisation”.
He also informed the illiterate critics that he deliberately set the play back a few years “while the war was still on, for minor reasons of dramaturgy.” Here, Soyinka is guiding the would-be producer away from a simplistic historical interpretation of the play as being only relevant to the case of 1946 given that dramaturgy grants artistic license that defies the laws of historical specificity. In addition, Soyinka may have misled the interpreters of the play by saying that Oyo was an “ancient Yoruba city of Nigeria”. Here he could be challenged by historians who may point out that Oyo was an ancient Yoruba Empire and not simply a city and that by 1946, it was no longer simply a Yoruba city but a multicultural one.
Moreover, nothing “of Nigeria” can be said to be ancient because Nigeria itself is a modernist invention by colonisers. The hint about the Nigerian setting of the play should have encouraged the critics to understand that the play is not only about a Yoruba tragedy but about a Nigerian tragedy. The reference to “while the war was still on” should have massaged the memory of the critics to remind them that the play was published only five years after a tragic genocidal war in Nigeria in which Yoruba elites played a leading aggressive role along with other ethnic elites in Nigeria. This play, in my lay opinion, is better understood, as part of the soul-searching by Soyinka after he was released from solitary confinement for opposing the genocidal war against the Igbo. Why were highly educated Yoruba leaders the ones who cheered on the genocide against the Igbo in Biafra?
Also, Soyinka indicated that those who were interested only in the factual account of the case of 1946 should go and read it in the British National Archives in Kew. He also pointed out that those who wanted to read a more exact historical re-enactment of the case should consult the “fine play in Yoruba (Oba Waja) by Duro Ladipo”. In other words, Death and the King’s Horseman is not that kind of historical re-enactment nor is it the kind of “misbegotten’ German television film about the case. The play was a more urgent intervention while Soyinka was in exile following the end of the war and his release from solitary confinement for having the audacity to oppose tyranny. Unlike his other plays, he did not wait for the play to be produced before he published it. I believe that Soyinka was directly and indirectly challenging his fellow Nigerian intellectuals to account for their opportunism in supporting a genocidal war that took 3.1 million lives in 30 months.
In the third paragraph of the author’s note, Soyinka declared that the “bane of themes of this genre” is that once the text appears, “they acquire the facile tag of ‘clash of cultures’”. He rejected such a label as “prejudicial” in the sense that it is prone to “frequent misapplication” and also because the label “presupposes” a potential equality in every given situation between the cultures of the coloniser and the colonised “on the actual soil of the latter”. Soyinka went on to award “the overseas prize in illiteracy and mental conditioning” to the writer of the blurb of the American edition of his novel, Season of Anomy, for “unblushingly” stating that the novel is about the “clash between old values and new ways, between western methods and African traditions”.
Soyinka explained that it is due to “this kind of perverse mentality” that he was forced to warn future producers (and critics) of the play to avoid “a sadly familiar reductionist tendency” and instead attempt to capture the “the far more difficult and risky task of eliciting the play’s threnodic essence.” Experts on the work of Soyinka are baffled by this injunction and wonder openly what he was banging on about? What is Soyinka trying to hide? He was trying to reveal something.
I offer the original interpretation that Soyinka was referring to the genocide against the Igbo which was the theme of the novel that he referred to, Season of Anomy, in which he recounted the eye-witness account of how fellow Nigerians hunted down tens of thousands of innocent Igbo men, women and children and massacred them in a pogrom that led to the secession of the Eastern region and the intensification of the genocide. In that novel, he mocked the archaeologists for poking around in search of fossilised bones while fresh blood flowed like river in the country and they did not seem to be bothered.
He also challenged the sociologists who came with “erudite irrelevances” about marriage and divorce but refused to join him in opposing a genocidal war. The novel depicted the Marxists who were locked up in a mental asylum as phrase-mongers who failed to recognise the revolutionary situation in the country and instead rallied in support of the genocidal military dictatorship rather than turn the civil war into a liberation war. To suggest that the novel was about the clash of cultures was a strategy to condition the mentality of Nigerian intellectuals towards the acceptance of the propaganda that the Igbo who led the struggle for decolonisation were primitive tribalists perhaps because they had no chiefs while the ethnic groups that ganged up against them were more civilised because they were monarchical, according to the ideologues of colonial domination.
Walter Rodney also observed that to call the genocide against the Igbo a tribal war would be to call Shell BP a tribe (along with the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union) and Ikenna Nzimiro argued that the Marxists in Biafra were engaged in class struggles. The “threnodic essence” of the play refers to funeral songs in Greek tragedies and I believe that Soyinka was inviting the producers of the play to imagine a national mourning for the 3.1 million killed in Biafra that the country has refused to mourn. Agwuncha Arthur Nwankwo has been calling for a National Day of Igbo Mourning to be recognised by the Nigerian government as part of the atonement.
In the final paragraph of the author’s note, Soyinka observed that an alternative structuralist interpretation of the play is to see it as a cruel joke on the British colonial District Officer. He quickly dismissed such a reading as distasteful and added that he deliberately avoided writing dialogue or scenes that would support such a misinterpretation. He dictated that, “No attempt should be made in production to suggest it”. This sounds like an angry response to critics who choose to misread his works for ideological reasons while ignoring the concrete conditions that his works address.
A prominent Marxist literary theorist that I admire, Biodun Jeyifo, who is an expert on the work of Soyinka, was invited by the British Broadcasting Corporation to write about any work of literature that he saw as being representative of the global culture. He chose to write beautifully about Death and the King’s Horseman, as an anti-colonial play that tried to subvert the use of the Queen’s English by creating a “future” tradition of the Anglophone that was more figurative than the English language.
He invoked the work of Marxist cultural studies by Raymond Williams and by Stuart Hall to suggest that the other Englishes around the world serve to subvert the domination of the world by Standard English. I pointed out that his interpretation is too superficial for a Marxist because the “thredonic essence” of the play was not to show that Africans could speak English better than the English. I suggested that a cultural studies reading of the play would not have focused exclusively on the beautiful writing or language of the play but would have tried to see the challenge to monarchism and oppressive traditions in the play.
Jeyifo told me privately that I should go and read the play again because it is not against the monarchy or against ritual suicide but simply against the colonial domination of African cultures. I admitted that I could be accused of misreading the play but I called it a strategic misreading and wondered if it is possible for an expert on the work of Soyinka to misread it. Soyinka seems to think so and that is the whole point of his detailed telling off of the experts in his author’s note.
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Contrary to the claim that Death and the King’s Horseman is only an anti-colonial play, Soyinka concluded his author’s note by stating that, “The Colonial Factor is an incident, a catalytic incident merely.” To him, the central “confrontation” or conflict that he tried to resolve in the play was “metaphysical” in the sense that it played out in the world of “the Yoruba mind – the world of the living, the dead and the unborn, and the numinous passages which links all: transition”.
Soyinka was puzzling about the metaphysics of the Yoruba worldview that made it possible for the best educated characters in the play to be the ones who cheered most vociferously for Elesin to abide by the tradition that expected him to kill himself in honour of a dead king. Similarly, Soyinka was wondering why the best educated Yoruba were the cheer-leaders of the genocide against the Igbo. Soyinka advised producers to try and capture this tragedy by using music to represent the macabre dance to the “music from the abyss” by the intellectuals who danced while millions were being slaughtered in Biafra.
I am not an expert in dramaturgy but I love the work of Soyinka. I cited his essay on Neo-Tarzanism in my criticism of the film, Black Panther, which I called an example of neo-Tarzanism. Following the serialisation of the criticism, I was invited by the KPFK public radio in Los Angeles to discuss the film with an Ethiopian publisher and an African American director of the Pan African Film Festival. During the discussion, the Ethiopian said that we should not condemn the presence of monarchies in Africa because there were popular emperors such as Mansa Musa and Haile Selessie who were admired by Africans and by the African diaspora.
The director of the Pan African Film Festival questioned my reference to Soyinka because he saw Death and the King’s Horseman as an indication that Soyinka was a monarchist who supported even the tradition that the horseman should commit suicide to honour the dead king. As Killmonger asked derisively in the film, I asked, this is your king? I stated that Soyinka used that play and almost every play of his to undermine the institution of the monarchy and call for democracy, which he is on record as admiring in Igbo culture. He spared the life of the Horseman in the play and his other tragedies – Kongi’s Harvest, Madmen and Specialists, King Babu; his novels, his poetry and his memoirs all support my interpretation of his anti-monarchical orientation.
Since the experts who have studied his work have focused almost exclusively on the structuralism, I propose to offer a post-structuralist or deconstruction radicalisation of his body of work to show that the tragedy of the state violence especially against the Igbo is at the centre of the conflicts that he has been trying to resolve. Just as the genocidal war was waged without a cease fire for humanitarian interventions, the author coincidentally instructs on page 8 of Death and the King’s Horseman that “The play should run without an interval.”
I agree with critics who will charge that I am misreading Soyinka here. If so, I will admit to a strategic misreading that is necessitated by placing the text within the context of a recent history of trauma that the author did not simply witness as a bystander but one in which he actively tried to stop the genocide and earned himself solitary confinement without trial. Sociologists approach the work of writers by taking into consideration, the context of the private and the public lives of the authors whereas literary theorists may concentrate exclusively on the technical, language, or structural aspects of the script as instructed by T.S. Eliot in his foundational essay, Tradition and Individual Talent.
What I am offering is a sociology of literature interpretation of Soyinka and I am certain that the rebel in him may force him to disagree with my interpretation and award me a national illiteracy prize. I am not contending that all existing interpretations of Soyinka are wrong. I am only saying that there is something missing in the community of Soyinka interpretations and I contend that what is neglected by critics is not minor but a central aspect of his work – his self-sacrificial opposition to the Igbo genocide in particular as a foundational part of his oppositional aesthetics in the face of tyranny.
Commentator: Biko Agozino.
He is Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, United States of America.
Africa’s ‘kill the gays’ laws may be good for its nation-building and economic recovery, By Charles Onyango-Obbo
Uganda President Yoweri Museveni, at the start of the week, signed into law the world’s harshest anti-LGBTIQA+ bill. Dubbed by critics the “Kill the Gays” law, it imposes the death penalty or life imprisonment for certain same-sex acts, up to 20 years in prison for “recruitment, promotion and funding” of same-sex “activities,” and the death penalty for “attempted aggravated homosexuality.”
Uganda joins just a handful of countries in the world penalising lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer/questioning, asexual (LGBTIQA+) people with death: Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Mauritania, and Somalia.
A key force behind the “Kill the Gays” bill is conservative Ugandan cultural and Christian groups in alliance with American fundamentalist churches. Their success has been spectacular, because Uganda becomes the first majority “Christian country” that has a law that specifies hanging and life imprisonment for some homosexual acts.
The “Kill the Gays” law might be shocking in its cruelty, but it is made possible by the high levels of homophobia in the country. Some polls have put opposition to homosexuality at over 90 per cent. This is strange because, in Uganda, there is a near epidemic of rape and defilement of children by heterosexual men and virtually no attacks by homosexuals.
This tells us that, like in other countries like Ghana, Kenya and Malawi, where homophobia is on a new spike, this is not about the threat paused by homosexuality. It is, first and ironically, about the terror of what the cultural and political establishments view as heterosexual deviance.
It is expressed in homophobia, which they consider an even worse form of deviance because of more hate and widespread fear of it. Because of that, it is a significant and cheap bipartisan issue that governments facing risky legitimacy crises can’t resist tapping into. In fact, they need it.
This is bigger than Uganda. If one looks ahead, the news is not good – a decade of virulent homophobia and “kill the gays” laws is coming to Africa.
It is possible to see where that wave will be highest. It will be in countries failing to manage their debt and other economic crises and where elite factionalism is high — like Ghana, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and possibly Kenya. It will be mild or non-existent in countries not in debt peril (or where governments can pay it) or dire economic straits, including Botswana, Benin, Madagascar and Eswatini.
A big part of this homophobia is a response to a changing world and the fear by the old, cultural and political guardians of what they see ahead. These guardians rightly view sexual liberation and other new forms of expression as central to the new subversive order.
Not only are young Africans on a rampage of free sex that they post on their social media pages, but there are also many of them who are not doing it; they are abstaining, getting married late or not at all, or choosing single motherhood (African men today are unworthy, too many young women claim).
There is also a growing army of something the elders don’t understand; African men who don’t want to settle down or be fathers. Some of these young men have grandfathers who are still alive and grew up in a time when they thought it was their duty to make every young woman in their village or street pregnant, and where the only serious men were polygamists.
Their betrayal is too much.
As if that wasn’t enough, there has been an outbreak of what the traditionalists describe as “uncontrollable” and “ungovernable” African women all over the place. They bow to no man (choose which one they will date long-term or sleep with for a one-night stand), have their own money and careers, and dare go out in groups and buy their own drinks.
And many African women are bisexual.
Looking at all this, the guardians think the Devil is using homosexuality to bring the collective African nation down. Criminalising gay sex, to them, the most permissive form of social liberation and “Western cultural imperialism,” and shepherding the “lost sheep” back into the fold so they can produce more children to keep society strong — as their parents and grandparents did — is a strategic and national security imperative.
Therefore, the homophobic national consensus in many countries will be an important basis for nation-building and economic recovery on the continent for a while. It will get louder and nastier.
One could even argue that it would be concerning if “kill the gays” laws like Uganda’s didn’t come to pass. It would have suggested that there was no social transformation and disruption of the old world. Or at least not enough to worry the elders.
Uganda’s anti-gay war is part of a broader proxy war, over easily the most far-reaching social and cultural transformation in Africa of the post-independence era. Great wars are made great by the stories of their heroes, and world-changing causes need martyrs.
Ugandan prisons full of people who were jailed because they wore rainbow T-shirts or were consenting adult men who kissed each other on the cheeks in their living room but were seen by a nosy peeping Tom neighbour who reported them to the police might be the cast of heroes and martyrs it needs.
They could be the bricks with which a future free society beyond the suffocating one the ruling National Resistance Movement has imposed on it for nearly 40 years is built.
Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. Twitter@cobbo3
In defence of fuel subsidy in Nigeria, By Chidi Chinedu
This argument is for the people.
There is now a near-unanimous rejection of the petrol subsidy regime in Nigeria. This is now the popular position. I fear that with the deification of this position, some valid arguments in favour of petrol subsidy within Nigeria’s unique socio-economic context are being denied oxygen, with grave, even existential, threat to the people. To surrender the argument to a government uninterested in ending its imperial status— with all its attendant costs— and an egotistic liberal economic elite buoyed by affirmations within its intellectual bubble, and determined to test the furthest free market theories on the already pulverized masses, is a position I cannot accept.
There has been a growing socio-economic inattentional blindness among Nigeria’s ruling and liberal economic intellectual elite regarding the petrol subsidy issue. They have almost entirely embraced the Bretton Woods position on the petrol subsidy expenditure which isolates it as a drain on national resources, costing the country multiple other development opportunities. This position is flawed, I reckon. In Nigeria, isolating fuel subsidy as a purely wasteful consumption spend is an error. Within the context of Nigeria’s energy crisis, inflation surge, purchasing power squeeze, and general cost of production challenges, petrol subsidy cannot be so rightly isolated.
Caution and contemplation are key in this debate. Scholarly tentativeness and intellectual humility are paramount. One ideological strand in economics cannot be gospel. It cannot be unchallengeable. It cannot be treated as an absolute truth. Our pro-subsidy removal economists (who also champion free float of the currency and other free market reforms) must be realistic enough to recognize that economics is not an exact science. An economic proposal, more often than not, cannot solely determine its own destiny; it depends on some other variables. It is only this realization that will allow for expanded thinking and pragmatic, as against ideological, propositions. I reckon that what has become the subsidy conundrum has a hybrid solution, not an entirely free market solution, given the peculiarities of Context Nigeria.
The fuel subsidy regime does not exist in isolation. In Nigeria, it is simplistic, even inaccurate, to suggest that petrol subsidy is merely subsidizing consumption (not that it is entirely indefensible to argue for subsidy on consumption); it is subsidizing production as well. The Nigerian subsidy story is different. The Nigerian context strips some of the general oft-repeated theoretical principles against subsidy, like “don’t subsidize consumption”, “it is the rich that are being subsidized” and “government needs the money to drive development” of their force of truth; I will explain.
“In Nigeria, petrol subsidy is a purchasing power argument. It is a production argument. It is a local economy energizer argument. It is not merely a consumption argument”.
Regarding production and energizing of local economies, petrol subsidy within the context of Nigeria’s energy crisis provides useful insights. According to the World Bank, 85 million Nigerians (43% of the population) do not have access to grid electricity, representing the largest energy access deficit globally.
To survive the grid energy exclusion, individuals, households and businesses resort to reliance on generators. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), generators powered by petrol, diesel and gas provide 48.6 percent of the electricity consumed by power users across the country. Of this figure, petrol-powered generators account for the bulk of the share, at 22.6 percent.
Overall, an estimated 60 million people use generators to provide electricity for their homes and businesses. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency’s (IRENA), 84% of urban households use backup power supply systems such as fossil diesel/ gasoline generators, while 86% of the companies in Nigeria own or share a generator, making Nigeria the highest importer of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) and diesel generators in Africa as of 2022.
“Nigerian households and businesses spend an estimated $22 billion annually to fuel generators powering their homes and business”.
The June 2022 report by Stears and Sterling, titled, “Nigeria’s State of Power: Electrifying the Nation’s Economy,” provides some useful insights. It reveals that:
“Over 40 per cent of Nigerian households own generators, and bear the associated costs. First, the cost of purchasing generators – an estimated $500m between 2015 and 2019, higher than the proposed capital expenditure in Nigeria’s 2022 budget.
“There is also the cost of powering these generators. Sources and estimates vary widely, but the African Development Bank estimated that Nigerians spend $14bn fuelling petrol or diesel powered generators.
“While PMS (Premium Motor Spirit) or petrol prices have been kept artificially low for the consumers through subsidies, variations in AGO (Automotive Gas Oil) or diesel prices can have a severe impact on households and businesses as Nigerians are currently experiencing.”
There is telling data from the report on how the largely stable price of petrol due to the subsidy regime helps small businesses survive. “These prices make the small petrol generators more attractive to households and MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises)”, the report stated.
“It is estimated that…In countries with low electricity reliability, the proportion of SMEs using a generator is higher, reaching 86 per cent in Nigeria.”
I have taken pains to show how inextricably linked access to electricity is to petrol subsidy because this point is hardly stated by anti-subsidy advocates. Only recently, the NNPC boss, Mele Kyari, in defending the removal of subsidy, said the country was mostly subsidizing the rich. He, like others, uses car-ownership status as one key measure of ‘the rich’. I’ve always found this argument puzzling. The number of small commercial vehicles relying on petrol belongs to the rich too? Millions of Nigerians relying on petrol-powered commercial vehicles because of the absence of public transportation are enjoying some subsidy luxury?
It is also curious that the argument about lack of capacity for local refining of petrol being largely responsible for the cost of subsidies is now being abandoned. The NNPC boss said the coming of Dangote refinery and eventual return of Nigeria’s refineries would not impact price of petrol significantly. So, what is being said is that the people will now be at the mercy of the markets, essentially having to deal with another heavy cost burden in the foreseeable future, within an already killing cost of living crisis. This is the new normal. An era of price hikes. The argument on how competition and market forces would swing price eventually to the consumer is a curious one too. Swing it to what range? If what has happened with the deregulated diesel and kerosene prices are anything to go by, the petrol price band will for the foreseeable future remain a menacing threat to the people’s standard of living.
The reliance of SMEs, especially, on petrol (as with owners and passengers of petrol-powered commercial vehicles) and petrol-powered generators is a counter to the argument that we are merely subsidizing consumption. SMEs within the formal and informal economies rely greatly on petrol. Removing the subsidy has just triggered an unprecedented price disruption with grave implications for these businesses and their consumers.
I have heard the argument about the unsustainability of petrol subsidy, given Nigeria’s revenue and debt crises. That’s a government argument, a convenient one. That’s not the fault of the people. If the government were serious about waste, prudence and efficiency, then a holistic reform proposal should be advanced. It must include, reining in the size of government, blocking leakages, cutting waste, fighting corruption, and ending subsidies for the actual rich.
“..the total waivers granted by the Nigerian government surpassed its total revenue by 71.3 per cent”
Speaking of subsidies for the actual rich, data from the nation’s Medium Term Expenditure Framework and Fiscal Strategy Paper (MTEF/FSP) 2023-2025 show that Nigerian government granted waivers, incentives and exemptions worth N2.296 trillion in 2021 to different beneficiaries through the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) while Customs’ total revenue collection in 2021 was only N1.34 trillion. This implies that the total waivers granted by the Nigerian government surpassed its total revenue by 71.3 per cent.
The Federal Government’s introduction of import Duty Exemption Certificate (IDEC) through the Ministry of Finance exempting critical players from payment of import duties and other statutory Customs charges has been alleged to have cost the country a whopping N16 trillion in fraudulent manipulation of the system. Some companies, individuals and other entities were alleged to have abused the system and shortchanged the Federal Government of revenue by hiding under the waiver policy to evade duty on imported goods that are dutiable.
“Senate Committee on Finance had frowned at the N6 trillion tax and import duty waivers proposed by the Nigerian government in the 2023 budget, while pushing for wastages and leakages in the nation’s public sector to be blocked”.
It helps to remember that the Senate Committee on Finance had frowned at the N6 trillion tax and import duty waivers proposed by the Nigerian government in the 2023 budget while pushing for wastages and leakages in the nation’s public sector to be blocked.
I have seen calls for interventions to cushion the impact of the subsidy removal on the people. Things like provision of public transportation and minimum wage increase have been proposed. I believe these proposals underestimate the multiplier force of petrol subsidy in Nigeria. With its removal, the price of virtually every commodity has gone up significantly. Yemi Kale, former NBS boss, estimates that the removal will take inflation to 30 percent. This is at a time the people have been battling high prices of commodities. How can limited provision of public transportation or marginal increase in minimum wage mostly for federal workers stem this system-wide disruption? There are structural issues, like electricity deficit and other cost of production issues, which put these interventions in their proper context— a dangling reed in a deserted island.
And if increase in minimum wage triggers further inflation, what value of the increase would be left? Won’t this just amount to a circular price movement— akin to taking us on a deluded journey to escape a cost of living crisis and arriving at the same point of departure ?
“how can the government which has failed to manage a subsidy regime that has inherent capacity for inclusive reach, design and manage a benefits system entirely dependent on its managerial capacity and integrity?”
Some have argued that the savings from the subsidy would be channelled to proper development priorities. This is the argument of the government as well. They seem to be arguing that the subsidy spending is a waste, a drain on national resources. While I can relate with the corruption part of the subsidy regime, I vehemently reject the dismissal of the petrol subsidy as a waste. They appear to be saying that unless we subject public expenditure to some government programme that plans the disbursement of funds and decides winners and losers, the spending is of inferior value. I reject this. This stems from unreasonable faith in the capacity of government; how can the government which has failed to manage a subsidy regime that has inherent capacity for inclusive reach, design and manage a benefits system entirely dependent on its managerial capacity and integrity?
“I believe petrol subsidy is the most direct, inclusive, impactful and far-reaching government benefits distribution system within the Nigerian context”
Contrary to this position, I believe the petrol subsidy is the most direct, inclusive, impactful and far-reaching government benefits distribution system within the Nigerian context. We have seen failed attempts at palliative distribution. The social welfare system of the Buhari administration continues to suffer credibility issues as many believe it has been neither widespread, verifiable, or inclusive.
Some have even pointed to how many hard infrastructure projects could have been executed with the monies used for subsidy payments. It is as if they are saying hard infrastructure takes precedence over human development. This is a flawed argument. There is a reason why HDI is deemed an essential measure of a country’s development. Both can, and should, be prioritized.
“In the long run, we’re all dead”.
Finally, to the economists who ask the longsuffering Nigerian masses to exercise further patience, to have faith that the government’s reforms would yield lasting fruits, and that the free market would resolve the issues in their favour in the long run, may I kindly remind them of John Maynard Keynes’ famous quote that “In the long run, we’re all dead”.
In fact, I reproduce it in full:
“But this long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run, we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us, that when the storm is long past, the ocean is flat again.”
Chinedu Chidi, public commentator, writes from Abuja, Nigeria and can be reached via email@example.com
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