According to the press, on November 16 President Goodluck Jonathan tried to make the case for the removal of the fuel subsidy to both houses of the National Assembly in a special meeting at Aso Villa, Nigeria’s White House. Removal of the subsidy — advocated by international economists as fundamental to reforming the petroleum industry and putting government finance on a sound footing — is highly unpopular in impoverished Nigeria, and successive administrations have failed to achieve it.
The president’s meeting was behind closed doors, and reports that have leaked are contradictory. However, the bottom line appears to be that the president failed to convince the legislators that now is the time to remove the subsidy. Instead, the legislators urged the president to address the country’s “security problems,” almost certainly a reference to the depredations of the radical Islamic movement Boko Haram in the North. There are rumors, roundly denied, that there was a move among the Senators to pass a vote of no confidence in the president because of his administration’s inadequate response to the security situation in the North.
Meetings between the president and the legislators on the oil subsidy are expected to continue. But yesterday’s episode is an indication that the security situation in the North now dominates political discourse in Nigeria. The northern elites in the National Assembly are likely to feel particularly vulnerable because Boko Haram has targeted prominent Muslims whom it regards as having “sold out” to the Jonathan administration and the secular federal government in Abuja.