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Subsidy removal: Its problems and solution

On the 1st day of January, 2012 what ought to be a new year message from Government to her citizen turned out to be a…

On the 1st day of January, 2012 what ought to be a new year message from Government to her citizen turned out to be a shocking message from PPPRA, a Federal Government  Agency saddled with the responsibility of regulating the prices of Petroleum products who issued a press release on the Removal of subsidy henceforth. The information changed the tune of New Year messages among friends and relatives to enquiries on the removal of subsidy. Since that announcement of subsidy Removal on the downstream sector, Nigeria has not been the same again. Attention quickly shifted from celebration of New Year to discussions on the direction the Nation will take following the hike in fuel pump price. The organized Labour groups spoke under one voice calling on the Federal Government to revert to N65/litre.

The fear of probable hardship came to fore when petroleum marketers immediately changed PMS to N138 and N141 respectively. And in some places the price rose up to N250, an unprecedented price in the history of Nigeria. The unceremonious hike coupled with the security challenges exacerbated the anger in Nigerians, thereby giving overwhelming support to the call by NLC/TUC for a mass protest and strike. From Kano to Lagos the slogan was “Occupy Nigeria”, even Nigerians in Diaspora were not left out in condemning the hike in pump price at the time FG was into Town Hall meetings with stakeholders in downstream sector.

In an ideal situation, Deregulation of downstream sector is a plausible policy in view of the fact that cash flow into Government Treasury will increase thereby forming the basis for the execution of projects in SURE Document. All the tiers of Government have been allocated Billions of Naira as proceeds from the subsidy Removal. But, the lack of trust by Nigerians following past experiences made them reach the conclusion that the amount to be generated will still flow into wrong Bank Accounts through corrupt practices. As such the proposition in SURE document that the FGN is desirous of discontinuing subsidies on prices of petroleum products because this poses a huge financial burden on the Gov-t and benefit just the wealthy is what Nigerians found difficult to believe.

The present Government suffers from distrust anaemia. This is evident from other unpopular policies reeled out in the last couple of months. For instance, the 6year single Term amendment proposal and New Number plates were stoutly resisted by Nigerians. While removal of subsidy received the most overwhelming resistance vide 6days industrial action. During this period, Government gave reasons some supported by figures articulated in SURE document all in a bid to convince Nigerians on the benefits derivable from subsidy Removal, or a comparison between PMS in Nigeria and other African Countries (not being OPEC members) and the threat that if subsidy is not removed our Economy will collapse within a couple of years, as such removal of subsidy has come to stay.

This stance further strengthened my conviction that government ignored the principle of public relations in sending its message across to Nigerians, even when the town hall meeting/consultations were exhausted, Civil Society Organization’s intensified calls to Occupy Nigeria, a step certain sections of Nigeria view as a move to frustrate the current leadership of Federal Government. Even the resolve by PENGASSAN to shut down oil wells in solidarity with NLC received threats. It is time we did away with sentiments and imbibe national spirit so that we can move forward as a Nation.

Now, the strike action and nationwide protests have been suspended following the announcement by Comrade Abdulwaheed Omar amidst criticisms from different CSO’s alleging a sell-out. At any rate, the leadership of NLC/TUC should be given the benefit of the doubt since no one could substantiate the numerous allegations that flooded social Network sites like Facebook and Twitter that the leadership of NLC was bought over. In addition, the Federal Government despite the suspension should also take a holistic approach towards curbing corruption in the downstream sector and other facets of our Economy. The Anti- Corruption Agencies must brace up to unravel those behind these corrupt practices. It-s not enough to pick files from PPPRA office, we must get to know those responsible for the fraud and ensure they are brought to book. We want to know the quantum of crude oil explored and the volume returned back to the country; these and many more bogged our minds. Nigerians rely on you to redeem her image amongst Committee of Nations. It is a serious indictment on us that corruption is a basis for the removal of subsidy, a crime said to be executed by a few at the detriment of more than 140 million Nigerians. In a statement credited to RMAFC Boss, Engr. Elias Mbam who said FG over inflated the amount of money it spends on subsidizing petroleum products. They are not comfortable with the figure of N1.263tr…while Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke, the Petroleum Minister is also reported to have disagreed with Custom chief before same committee. We must not shy away from the truth that problems associated with downstream sector is not restricted to the cabals.

While fighting corruption is our collective responsibility, government should also cut wastages in her daily activities. The large numbers of Aides are absolutely unnecessary because some amount to usurpation of another person’s responsibility. This also is closely connected with the rising cases of insecurity across the Nation. Government must take bold steps towards identifying those behind the incessant attacks. We must not allow peaceful co-existence to be shredded by a few selfish individuals. Nigerians also at numerous “Occupy Nigeria” centres displayed bold inscriptions on placards calling for Good name and Transparency. A serious commitment by government at the three tiers that money generated would be judiciously used in the provision of infrastructure will help in restoring confidence in the minds of Nigerians. There is need to strictly comply with rules of public procurement and Fiscal Responsibility in the awards and executions of contracts.

Government must also brace up and avoid shifting blame to those not in government if we really want to move the nation forward. People opposed subsidy removal because of hardship it added to the age old difficulties associated with lack of basic amenities for the common man. The sooner we appreciate this fact the better. With the latest conflicting responses on the purported figures on subsidy removal before the Hon Farouk Lawan House Ad-hoc Committee on Removal of Subsidy, I urge President Goodluck Jonathan to revert PMS to N65 pending the outcome of the committee’s report vis-à-vis the resolution by the National Assembly. As Sir Winston Churchill noted, “It is not enough that we do our best, sometimes we have to do what is required”.

Wushishi, a Minna-based legal practitioner, can be reached at [email protected]

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