Mike Ozekhome, A Nigerian who always peers into the future for the good of the country


As far back as December 29, 1987 ( 37 years ago ), Prof. Mike Ozekhome, SAN, CON, OFR, had already taken on the Federal Government of Nigeria on behalf of the Nigerian masses regarding the issue of subsidy removal on petroleum products. Ozekhome had sued the then military dictator, President Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, joining the then Ahmed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC) and the Attorney General of the Federation, against the removal of petroleum subsidies. This is a matter that is still generating ripples across Nigeria to date, as it is the likewire, heart and soul of the Nigerian economy. Ozekhome had argued that it was a misnomer for the government to talk about removing oil or petroleum subsidies since no one can subsidize his God-given natural product.

He had posited that the government did not take cognizance of the fact that oil was produced in Nigeria as opposed to the countries copiously cited by the government where oil was supposedly cheaper. He had also argued that the government’s position was akin to a farmer measuring his piece of yam before eating it by comparing its worth or price with what it is sold to people who do not themselves produce yams.

He further argued that the government’s argument, as put forth in the media, was not enough to warrant any sudden or gradual withdrawal of petroleum subsidies. The Honourable Justice Idowu Agoro, then of the High Court of Lagos State, disagreed with Ozekhome in his ruling on the preliminary objection filed by the late Moshood Adio, the then Director of Civil Litigation (later Chief Judge of Oyo State and Justice of the Supreme Court of the Gambia). He struck out the suit on December 29, 1987.

The government,, through Adio, had argued that Ozekhome lacked the locus standi to institute the action; that the action was speculative; and that the court lacked the jurisdiction to entertain the case. The court agreed with him and held that no citizen could question or prevent “the merit, desirability or expediency” of anything done or planned to be done by the country’s president or the Ahmed Forces Ruling Council  (AFRC ). The court also ruled that the decision “whether or not to remove subsidies on petroleum is a matter within the absolute power of the AFRC, which no court could dabble into.”.

He, however, ended by assuring the plaintiff (Ozekhome) that all hope was not lost “since the record of the present military regime showed that it was a listening government” and that he believed “all shades of opinion would be considered and evaluated before taking a decision on whether or not to remove the subsidy on petroleum.”. That optimism was apparently not shared by the IBB regime, as the government went ahead anyway to remove the subsidy and hike prices of petroleum products on four different consecutive occasions (1986, from 20k to 39.5k per litre; 1988, from 39.5k to 42k); 1989, from 42k to 60k; and 1991, from 60k to 70k ). These increases in the fuel price per litre triggered mass protests across the streets by Nigerians who kicked against the IMF-dictated economic policy. A littre today sells anything between N620 and N850. Had the then government up to the present one listened, Nigeria would not be in her dire straits today.

Thus, what Prof. Ozekhome saw and fought for in 1987 (37 years ago) has come to hunt us ever since and even to date. This is like the case of a motion for return to the old, more meaningful and more aggregative National Anthem, which he had also championed and won by the consensus of the 492 delegates on July 2, 2014, at the 2014 National Confab. This eventually came to pass ten years later, on May 20, 2024, when President Bola Ahmed Tinubu assented to a bill that returned the old national anthem. Surely, some patriots sit down, think and plan ahead for the good of the Nigerian nation.Following is the National Concord newspaper report of the story as published on December 30, 1987.

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