If you had asked me less than three months ago what I think would happen in Nigeria if the fuel subsidy was removed, I probably would have, a) shrugged and said I would ask my dad, b) admit to not knowing that Nigeria’s government subsidised fuel, or c) guessed that people would be pretty p-i-double-snaked off to have to pay more for fuel!
Now, having lived in Nigeria since October 2011, I am pleased to say that if you asked me the above question, I would not shamefully have to call my dad, admit to not knowing, or guess what the answer is. I can now confidently answer the title of this post because of my experience living here thus far. Although I grew up in London feeling somewhat Nigerian, for the first time in my life, I am experiencing what it truly feels like to be Nigerian. I am experiencing first-hand the effects of the decisions made by Nigerian authorities. I am experiencing what Nigerian-born people living in the UK have told me they couldn’t wait to get away from. As my family have told me — I’m a real Naija babe now!
I’ve come to realise that it’s no good reading about a place and its joys and woes to try to understand what it’s like to be there. You have to go for yourself…you just have to. I thought I knew a lot about Nigeria but everyday I realise how far that thought was from reality. If I hadn’t moved to Nigeria, I wouldn’t have experienced my N60 (N= Nigerian naira) okada journey from home to the bank, increasing to N100 in the space of 24-hours when the petroleum subsidy was removed. I wouldn’t have even been able to tell you what an okada is! But now I have brushed the surface of what Nigerians in Nigeria experience, I can tell you that my increased travel cost is just one of the many changes to have occurred since the removal of the subsidy (and later change in the amount of subsidy allocated) that has people thinking that the country is on the brink of a revolution.
I understand that people are more than angry about this change in policy. You only have to look up #OccupyNigeria on twitter to get a hint of people’s frustration here. Isn’t frustration more dangerous than anger? The nation-wide strike that took began on the 9th of January didn’t just happen because people were angry with the government removing the fuel subsidy. It happened because for far too long, Nigerian’s have been frustrated by the state of the country. Anger cedes with time but frustration grows with time. People are frustrated that they were born in poverty and still struggle to make ends meet. They’re frustrated about the fact that their universities have been on strike for so long, graduating has become a distant dream. Nigerian’s are frustrated that they have had to watch loved ones die because they didn’t have the money upfront to pay for hospital fees. And now, I am frustrated too.
My frustration however is somewhat different from those described above:
My younger sister came in from London in the early hours of the first day of the national strike — bad timing or what?! Anyway, we both had flights to Calabar with Arik scheduled to depart a few hours after she arrived in Lagos but the protesters that gathered outside the entrance to the domestic airport with police support soon let us know that this plan was (as a dear friend of mine often says) a write-off!
On arriving to the local airport, I casually asked a policeman when it would be possible to check our bags in and he told me I wouldn’t be able to. With this, a busy-body protester asked me what I thought I was doing to which I replied, “trying to board the flights we had paid for.” So began our argument/debate about whether it was necessary to force Arik air to cancel all flights despite the company wanting to remain in operation. A small crowd gathered around to watch but I still can’t decide if they did because a) my accent got them interested or b) because they were surprised that the ‘white woman’ (according to an Arik official) in a bright gold jacket and four-inch heels even knew what the protest was about! Irrespective of their reasons for gathering, I gave them quite a show — enough to make anyone believe that I was related in some way to the President!
Truth is, all I wanted to do was get my sister to the rest of our family. Until that moment, I hadn’t fully aligned with either side of the fuel subsidy debate but when push came to shove, I was ready to put what my heart was telling aside and instead argue against the protesters actions. Folk it’s so easy to support a cause when it in no way personally affects you. If I hadn’t desperately needed to fly out of the state, I probably would have been with a group of protesters myself. As hypocritical as it sounds, it seems I will only support a protest until the protest itself affects me.
Quick aside: I still find it troubling that a union can be so powerful they can force a business to close irrespective of that businesses membership to the union! As we say in Nigeria, “is it by force?!” Well, in this case, it is. I can’t tell you how wrong I think this is. Everyone has a right to protest once the necessary steps are made but surely every business outside of a union should have the freedom to not take part if they so desire? I was so disgusted by some of the tweets I saw by people saying that this business and that business on so and so road was open so everyone in the area should go and “occupy” it…just wrong…
So my sister and I were forced to go back to my home in Lagos and wait and pray until we could get a flight. This might not sound like a sad story but believe me, it wasn’t fun to explain to my sister as each day passed that the chance of her seeing our dad before her flight back to London the following Sunday, was rapidly decreasing. As lovely as I am to her, seeing me alone made her £700+ flight ticket (not including her return ticket to Calabar from Lagos) turn into somewhat of a waste — a week in Lagos while there is a strike…ouch!
I continued checking on Arik’s website to see when flights would resume and everyday I read the same message: “All domestic flights have been CANCELLED today.” It seemed inevitable that my sister would have to return to England without travelling home to Calabar/Akwa Ibom. But then, four days into the protest, my uncle called me to say that he saw on the news that Arik would have flights the following day. Arik Air failed to let me know as promised on the day I wasn’t able to fly, when flights would resume. So, in the early hours of Friday, my sister and I went to the airport despite Arik Air’s website message that displayed flights were cancelled. Lo and behold, after an hour wait, the Alfred’s (ie my sister and I) and about ten other passengers got on the plane to Calabar!
I had a Titanic moment — when the rich people rescued on the boat didn’t want to go back and help the people in the water because they feared that the victims would pull them off the boat…I wanted to tweet that Arik had flights but I was scared the airport would turn crazy with angry customers turning up to fly with there not being enough seats! So I waited until I was safely in the comfort of my family home in Calabar and tweeted, “Made it to Calabar :D @arikair it would be nice 4 u to inform folk w/ tickets that weren’t able 2 fly due 2 the strike that u have flights…” Gheeze, what a hypocrite this post is making me discover I can be! *Note to self* Probably would have been as nice to send that tweet before I got on the plane…
Right now I’m in and out of Akwa Ibom and Calabar and so happy to see my sister enjoying herself. I entertained her as much as I could in Lagos but there really is no place like home. However, when I get back to Lagos, I’m sure I’ll start thinking about the fuel subsidy again and how I can dig out some kobo to be able to adjust to the new N97 per litre fuel!
I began this post thinking I would answer its title but it turned out to be more of an answer to what I did once the fuel subsidy was removed — which was turning into an angry, frustrated, hypocritical (slightly bratty) so and so!
What was your reaction to the removal of the fuel subsidy?
Here are some pictures of my sister, family and I in Akwa Ibom and Calabar. #WishYouWereHere: