Nigerian Government's Attempts at Removing Fuel Subsidy and the Attendant Mass Protests: A Content Analysis of National Newspapers' Coverage

Nigerian Government's Attempts at Removing Fuel Subsidy and the Attendant Mass Protests: A Content Analysis of National Newspapers' Coverage

Adeyemi Aderogba (Osun State University, Nigeria) and Olanipekun Gbenga (Straightgate Publishers, Nigeria)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1859-4.ch011
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The Federal Government of Nigeria made several unsuccessful attempts at stopping petrol subsidy by arguing that the policy is unsustainable. Seven unsuccessful attempts were made between 1999, when the country returned to democratic rule, and 2012. Though the government might have good reasons for removing petrol subsidy, it was clear that there was an obvious disconnection between the government and the people as the people were not in support of the policy. This chapter examined coverage of petrol subsidy removal by three national dailies. Content analysis was adopted as the research method. It was discovered that 49.4% of the stories published by the selected newspapers in the study period were not in favour of petrol subsidy removal. It was therefore recommended that government should endeavour to carry Nigerian citizens along ever before introducing such kind of policy and that media practitioners should set an agenda for fighting corruption in the oil industry.
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Nigeria is reputed as the world’s eighth largest producer of crude oil and sixth largest exporter of same. Petroleum remains the backbone of the Nigerian economy. The country derives 80% of her revenue as well as 90% of her foreign earnings from petroleum with obvious consequences. The country is also the largest nation on the continent of Africa with about 170 million people. According to Falola and Heaton (2008:224), “the success of the country has been undermined in recent decades by ethnic and religious conflict, political instability, rampant official corruption and an ailing economy.” With the drastic fall in oil prices, subsidy removal have resurfaced on pages of the national dallies.

Oil subsidy or petrol subsidy is perhaps one of the most contentious issues in Nigerian history. It is an issue that creates misunderstanding between successive leaders and the led, as the leaders made series of efforts to deregulate the downstream sector of the petroleum industry during the last three decades. Each time such an effort was made, people vehemently resisted it to the point of mass protests.

Nigerians have witnessed changes in pump price of petrol 26 times since 1973. Nineteen of those changes were hike in price, while the country experienced price reductions seven times within the same period. The latest price adjustment was announced by the Federal Government on May 11, 2016. The price was moved from ₦86.50 to ₦145, that is 67.6 percent increase in price.

Nigerian masses are very suspicious of any hike in the price of petrol as increase in the price of the product would automatically translate to increase in prices of other goods and services. Also, a huge chunk of the population lives in abject poverty. Odusola (1997:121) asserts that:

Sub-Saharan African countries are noted for prevalence of absolute poverty in all its characteristic features. Poverty in these countries is massive, pervasive and chronic, engulfing a large proportion of the society.

In Nigeria, seventy percent of the population lives in abject poverty. Onyeizugbe and Onwuka (2012) believe that petrol subsidy removal would seriously worsen the economic situation of the country’s poor masses. They affirm that:Many Nigerians see the subsidy, which gives them the cheapest petrol price in the region, as the only benefit of being an oil producing country. Most live in grinding poverty and on less than $2 a day. There is little infrastructure, high unemployment and only intermittent electric power…

In all of these increments, the media, notably the newspapers, played a significant and salient role in portraying or reporting the struggle between the ruled and the rulers.

What is Subsidy?

There are various descriptions of subsidy by experts. Momoh, in Nwosu (1996:81), enunciates that:

A subsidy is any public money or other resources out of the wealth of the entire nation which government makes available to any enterprise it owns for the purpose of enabling it to sell any of its goods or services or both at any price below what it would have sold it if its aim was to make any profit at all.

Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD, 2006:7) describes subsidies as: “a measure that keeps prices for consumers below market levels, or keeps prices for producers above market levels or that reduces costs for both producers and consumers by giving direct or indirect support”. To Rolph Earl, in Robinson (1967:86), subsidy is described “as transfer payments because by definition they refer to payments by government for which the government receives no product, service or asset…”

Berge (1951) is of the opinion that: “subsidy is a gift; a one-way transactions, without provision for payment.” Subsidies could come in the form of grants and other direct payments. Based on this fact, tax concessions, in-kind subsidies, cross subsidies, credit subsidies and government guarantees, hybrid subsidies, subsidies through government procurement, derivates- subsidies and market price support are all identified forms of subsidies (Steenblik nd: 18-26).

The summary of these descriptions and definitions is that oil subsidy comes under government grants or direct payments. It is a situation whereby government decides to shoulder the responsibility of paying certain percentage of the cost of the pump-price of petrol for every buyer, be it rich or poor, male or female, young or old.

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