19 November 2012

Nigeria: Petrol Subsidy Stays for Now Jonathan

Photo: Vanguard
Bombing continues as citizens advocate for talks with Boko Haram.

President Goodluck Jonathan last night defended his stand that fuel subsidies must be scrapped for investment to flow in the downstream petroleum sector but added that subsidies would remain throughout next year.

Speaking in Abuja in a live television and radio interview with a panel of journalists tagged 'Media Chat', the President said his statement on Thursday on the need to end subsidies was misunderstood as he did not mean there was any immediate plan on that.

"I think I was totally misunderstood," he said. "We have subsidy provisions for January to December in the (2013) budget."

He said on Thursday, the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies team said in their presentation to him that Canada had 16 refineries but Nigeria had only 4.

He said he told them that the Canadian refineries were privately owned and that in Nigeria the private sector will not invest in the downstream petroleum sector when there are subsidies.

"What we are saying is that if we are to reach the level of Canada, then we have to deregulate," he said.

Jonathan also spoke on the Boko Haram uprising, saying there was no dialogue going on with the sect at the moment, contrary to reports in the media.

"At present government is not dialoguing with any group," he said, adding: "There is no dialogue that is going on anywhere."He said the group is still faceless and that there was no way government could identify genuine members to discuss with them.

On the constitution amendment process, Jonathan said he sees no need for referendum as being canvassed. He said the public hearings being held by the Senate and House of Representatives were adequate means of gauging public opinion.

Asked for his personal views, Jonathan at first said he would reserve his opinion to allow Nigerians freely discuss the issues for amendment.But he went on to speak on the merits or otherwise of a four-year renewable tenure, saying one four-year term is too short to make impact.

"I will prefer that I keep quiet for now, allow Nigerians to speak because the president takes the last action in the process of lawmaking," he said.

But he added: "Four years is a very short time for a person to make an impact." He said in most African democracies, terms of five years and above are being used and Nigeria is among the few that operate four-year terms.

The President said after the National Assembly ends its amendment process, the document will come before the Federal Executive Council and the President will make the final approval.

But Jonathan declined to say if he would stand for re-election in 2015, saying it was too early to make an announcement on that. "It is too early to ask a sitting president whether he will contest or not," he said.

On the oil wells dispute between Rivers and Bayelsa states, Jonathan said he instructed relevant agencies to resolve the issues and report back to Vice President Namadi Sambo.

He denied favouring his home state Bayelsa in the dispute, saying "I was born in Bayelsa but lived most of my life in Rivers. I have more friends in Rivers than in Bayelsa."

Asked on the string of election losses recorded by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Jonathan said it was not a cause for worry as "it's even dangerous to this country for PDP to control all the states.... It's not in the best of interest of this country."

On the recent foreign medical trip by First Lady Patience Jonathan, the President said, "She was ill and received treatment, when she came back she was recuperating but now she is okay." This flies in the face of earlier statements by Presidential aides that Mrs Jonathan was never ill and never hospitalized.

Jonathan spoke on the controversy over the management contract of the Transmission Company of Nigeria given to Canadian company Manitoba.

"Manitoba contract has not been revoked. There were some issues raised because of misunderstanding," he said, adding that he directed for the pending procurement issues to be resolved by tomorrow.

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