Straight from the Eagle Square in Abuja last Monday, President Bola Tinubu, during his inaugural speech as the 16th President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, promised and failed the nation. He had promised that as president he would consult and involve all in the policy making decisions of his administration.
President Tinubu had said inter alia; “Our administration shall govern on your behalf but never rule over you. We shall consult and dialogue but never dictate. We shall reach out to all but never put down a single person for holding views contrary to our own.”
But the president immediately failed to keep the promise when he pronounced without equivocation that: petroleum subsidy is gone. He took that decision unilaterally, without consultations as he had promised while still standing on the rostrum.
Now, is the Premium Motor Spirit, PMS subsidy desirable, the answer is yes. As a nation blessed with huge deposits of crude oil, it is not out of place that there be some sort of subsidy for Nigerians to benefit from our God given resources. But, does it make any sense to run it the same way it had been handled by the federal government all these years? The answer is no definitely.
The oil subsidy regime as operated is a euphemism for corruption and fraud. Retaining the status quo would be suicidal, so it has to go. It has to go because the opaque nature or circumstances around the subsidy regime leave a bad taste in someone’s mouth.
Paying as much as N400 billion monthly on PMS subsidy is fraud, because it’s public knowledge that NNPC is a cesspit of corruption. A government corporation whose accounts and records are not open to public scrutiny and accountability cannot be trusted.
Tinubu during his speech rather than berate his predecessor for not being man enough to take the bull by the horns, but pushed the can further down the road, had said; “We commend the decision of the outgoing administration in phasing out the petrol subsidy regime which has increasingly favoured the rich more than the poor. Subsidy can no longer justify its ever-increasing costs in the wake of drying resources.”
However, the president’s decision to bite the bullets is commendable as it portrays him as a man who can take key decisions and take them irrespective of whose ox is gored, but given that this decision will affect mostly the hoi polloi in the society, he should have taken time to understand the mystery around this subsidy scam especially during the last regime where President Buhari was the substantive minister of petroleum. For all you know with a proper auditing it might just be that indeed the so-called subsidy had been a conduit pipe through which some bigwigs in government, the NNPC had fleeced the nation for many years.
Mele Kyari, Group Chief Executive officer, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Ltd, the regulatory agency in charge of the country’s petroleum sector, recently claimed 68 million litres of petrol is consumed daily in Nigeria.
Proper investigation into the 68 million litres PMS daily consumption figure may put a lie to that claim, but has any serious auditing been done to verify that claim? Different government agencies continue to churn out contradictory figures.
Kyari had blamed security agencies for the country’s porous borders which have encouraged massive smuggling of products to neighbouring countries.
Col. Hameed Ali (retd.), Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs Service, faulted Kyari saying that NNPC could not scientifically prove the 68 million litres per day consumption claim, alleging that the nation’s oil company was supplying a daily excess of 38 million litres as NNPCL allowed the lifting of 98 million litres daily.
“If we are consuming 60 million litres of PMS per day by their own computation, why would you allow the release of 98 million litres per day? If you know this is our consumption, why would you allow that release?” Ali had asked.
Truth is, much as lots of Nigerians support the president on the decision to end the fraud called subsidy, the departure point with President Tinubu was that there should have been discussions as to what measures to put in place to ameliorate the pains the people now go through. Inviting labour for a meeting after the decision had been taken was not the best way to go about it
The same NNPC that was blaming the private oil marketers for increasing the pump price even when subsidy had been paid for, till June, a day after came out with official pump price that is higher than what most filling stations were charging at the time.
Speaking last Thursday when he met Chairman and members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) National Working Committee (NWC) at the party’s national secretariat in Abuja, Kyari however disclosed that President Tinubu has directed the provision of certain palliatives to help cushion the adverse impact of the subsidy removal on the vulnerable population.
Now that the big decision has been taken, it’s obvious the federal government by increasing the pump price to about N500 per litre and then inviting the labour leaders to a meeting, at the end, the FG would reduce the price to the region of N300, to create the impression that the government had conceded some grounds but the ultimate target is the N300 per litre price. At that price of about N300 per litre there is no longer oil subsidy.
Having put the masses through this hardship at a time the cost of living is increasingly becoming unbearable, with inflation at over 20 percent, lack of job and employment for the masses, the least the people expect from the Tinubu regime is a government where there is transparency and accountability.
President Tinubu must immediately address the outlandish cost of governance. He must check the regime of free looting that was prevalent in the Buhari regime.
The masses cannot be dying of hunger and be expected to behold with satisfaction the sight of a corrupt and irresponsible presidency of ostentatious lifestyles which the APC government has regaled us with in the past 8 years.
Perhaps, this experience would serve a lesson to politicians on the need to rise above partisanship when issues concerning the nation are discussed. There could not have been a better time to end this fraud than when the then President Goodluck Jonathan had wanted to take the decision to do that. At that time a dollar was exchanging for about N197. The foreign reserves of the nation were not bad. The then opposition APC led a socio-political protest movement that began across the country on Monday, 2 January 2012.
If we had taken that decision then and not allowed political partisanship to cloud our judgement, this would have been a thing of the past. The then Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, was the butt of criticism and subject of personal attacks by the then opposition APC led by Buhari and Tinubu.
Because the government has found it impossible to investigate and punish those swindling our nation, we must not be deceived by their attempt to demonise subsidy itself, because in every society, the people enjoy one form of subsidy or the other. As things stand today, the masses are left to provide electricity, potable water, healthcare, education, as well as security for themselves.
With Labour threatening to go on strike from Wednesday, the government and organised labour must come to a compromise to see not only the end of the fraudulent subsidy regime but also an implementation with human face to reduce the burden on an already overstretched population.