Vanguard (Lagos)

21 March 2013

Nigeria: Planned Removal of Feul Subsidy - Don't Play With Fire, Labour, Others Tell FG

Lagos — PRESIDENT Goodluck Jonathan's insistence on removing fuel subsidy, a matter that drove the polity to the edge of the precipice in January 2012, is eliciting mixed reactions from all sections of the polity with Organised Labour and some leaders warning him not to dare Nigerians as doing so would be playing with fire..

Speaking at the 2013 Nigeria Summit on Tuesday in Lagos, President Jonathan unveiled a platform of economic development for the country, which he predicated on full removal of fuel subsidy.

Reactions to the president's statement, yesterday, were varied. While some completely opposed it and warned that Jonathan was playing with fire, others backed removal of fuel subsidy. And yet another group premised their support on conditions that must be met by the government.

There is nothing like fuel subsidy - David-West

Former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Prof. Tam David-West advised President Jonathan not to rupture the peace of the country by increasing pump price of petroleum products.

Speaking with newsmen in Ibadan, yesterday, the don said the increase of fuel price was nothing but fraud.

"I expected the President to have been converted by now that there is no subsidy and that it is all fraud. He should be converted to save the poor people from suffering. Even the government investigation has confirmed that there is no subsidy. The government has also given the public 10 different figures. The inconsistency of the government is like amoeba; the subsidy has no fixed shape. As amoeba changes shape, so does President Jonathan's fuel subsidy change. This shows that they are not sure," he said.

Reps divided

Members of the House of Representatives were divided over the issue. While some lawmakers condemned the president's planned total withdrawal of oil subsidy, some insisted that he could go ahead provided the rail transport, bad roads and oil refineries are fixed.

Chairman, House Committee on Anti-Corruption, Abiodun Faleke said: "It is absurd and should be rejected. What has been done with SURE P funds? He should concentrate on recovery of the looted funds by the subsidy thieves. He should block all loopholes in the subsidy process."

Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Works, Mohammed Ali Wudil, simply said, "on this I am totally against Mr President."

Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon Zakari Mohammed, said: "This issue is rather too sensitive but we will treat it based on its merit on the floor of the House. We will not do anything on that issue until it is brought to us for deliberation."

In his contribution, Lanre Odubote (ACN, Lagos) noted, "yes, he is empowered but crude oil theft, vandalisation of pipeline, functional refineries and other challenges must be in place before withdrawal can be justified."

It's uncalled for --Sagay

Constitutional lawyer, Professor Itse Sagay (SAN), chided President Jonathan's insistence on removing fuel subsidy, saying such decision was uncalled for.

His words: "I think it is totally uncalled for and in my view it is an illustration that government is not learning from experience. I am sure the presidency has forgotten what happened in 2012 when he abruptly removed the subsidy. He seems to have forgotten. I don't see why the head of the government will deliberately make up a crisis when there is none because that is what he is trying to do."

Subsidy must go - Ikokwu

Speaking on the matter, SecondRepublic politician, Chief Guy Ikokwu, said subsidy must give way for the country to develop.

His words: "Subsidy will go. It has to go and it will go because we found out what we did not know before. Corruption has deepened in Nigeria because of the subsidy issue. The forces using subsidy to enrich themselves have become a powerful cabal and we will be living in false hope if we think we can live with them without checking them.

"There are things that can be done to lessen subsidy removal pains. We need more refineries to refine more fuel internally, which makes fuel subsidy necessary. Subsidy will be removed the moment we produce more fuel ourselves. Why should 40 per cent of our national budget go for fuel subsidy? The National Assembly should make a law prescribing life imprisonment for those benefiting unjustly fro fuel subsidy."

He's playing with fire - Afenifere

Also, Pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, called on the Federal Government not to toy with the idea of hiking fuel prices, saying he would be playing with fire if he dared it.

In a telephone chat with Vanguard, National Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, Mr Yinka Odumakin, said: "He is threading on a dangerous ground and if he has a sense of an adequate interpretation of the situation, that is not an issue to toy with at all. People are now suffering with the level of poverty in the country which has been deepened by laxity in government. At a time when he is pardoning crooks, he raised a sum of N6.2 billion for his Church in BayelsaState. To now ask the people to pay more for fuel this time is playing with fire and he should shelve the idea."

Don't dare Nigerians - Labour

Oganised Labour, yesterday, advised President Jonathan not to dare Nigerians with another fuel pump price hike, warning that the country was on the verge of a mass revolt and Nigerians were waiting for the slightest opportunity to vent their frustrations and anger on political leaders.

Speaking under the aegis of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, workers cautioned the President against provocative and offensive utterances, like full deregulation of the downstream sector, which in government language means fuel price increase.

NLC Deputy President, Comrade Joe Ajaero, said Labour's position before and after the January 2012 protests had not changed and the socio-economic situations in the country instead of improving since then had worsened.

His words: "NLC's position has not changed. We remain opposed to deregulation of the downstream sector of the economy. This has been our position before the January 2012 fuel hike crisis and it has not changed till today. As we speak, nothing has changed. In fact, things have gone worse. The infrastructure is further decaying by the day, the security situation has worsened, the road networks have remained in a state of disrepair, the power situation has not improved and with all these, including high rate of unemployment and job insecurity, the President is still threatening us with another fuel hike. This country is on the verge of mass revolt where people are waiting for the slightest opportunity to vent their frustration and anger on the political class. The President should not dare Nigerians with another fuel hike because Nigerian workers will not accept it and we will fight against it even with the last drop of our blood.

"NLC's position has been further enhanced by Tuesday's ruling of a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, which ruled that the Federal Government's deregulation of the Downstream sector of the economy is illegal and unconstitutional."

The president will uphold the law -- Aturu

On his part, human rights crusader, Mr Bamidele Aturu advised the Presidency to respect a subsisting court order.

Speaking with Vanguard on telephone, he said: "By the time he was making that statement, I am sure he had not known that there was a judgment in court but I am sure the president will uphold the law of the land. And so, he would not do any such thing. When he was talking in Lagos, the judgment was being delivered in Abuja but I am sure the Presidency will withdraw that plan and will not allow it to go on since the president respects the rule of law."

Nigerians should rise up and fight -- Mohammed

To Dr Junaid Mohammed, the president's plan was a declaration of war on Nigerians. He also said Labour movement wich allegedly took bribe to call off the protest against fuel increase in January 2012 must explain to Nigerians why they believed Mr President. "For me, I think it is time for Nigerians to stand up and fight for their right".

Prove cabal innocent before...-- Fasehun

To founder of the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), Dr. Fredrick Fasehun, President Jonathan should not remove fuel subsidy until he had shown that the fuel subsidy cabal is innocent.

"I don't think he should remove fuel subsidy until he shows that the cabal is innocent. Why should people suffer for the misdeed of a few? Before subjecting Nigerians to more suffering, he should prove that the cabal is innocent."

Don't remove subsidy in haste - NBA

The Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, the umbrella body of legal practitioners across the country also opposed the move.

Speaking through its National Chairman Chief Okey Wali, SAN, the NBA said the action would be ill-advised since the government had not provided the necessary palliatives it promised Nigerians early last year.

Consequently, NBA, implored President Jonathan to focus his attention on the provision of basic infrastructure, adding that, "we believe that the government must first and foremost, do what it has promised to do.

"You will remember that the action that various groups took against that same decision last year was coordinated action, we believe that the government must, first of all, do what it has promised to do. It is not enough to say that subsidy must go, all those promises must be fulfilled first, among which included enhancing the transportation system in the country.

"The NBA believes that since we have not seen the infrastructure that was promised, it will be ill-advised for the government to proceed on that track without putting infrastructure in place. We advise that it will be a bit shameful in this 2013 for us to go back and start demanding for what we think was already agreed upon since 2012," he added.

Keyamo, lawyers, SERAP speak

In his reaction, another Lagos-based human right activist, Mr Festus Keyamo, said: "the decision is anti-people, it is wicked and it will promote poverty in the land."

Another activist, Barrister Umoh Umoh said: "It is really pathetic that this government has by its recent declaration shown that it doesn't have the interest of the masses at heart."

Mr Adetokunbo Mumuni, Executive Director, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), a human rights group, urged the government to tackle corruption in the oil sector. "It is not the increase of the price of fuel or the removal of subsidy that is our problem. The starting point should be the blocking of the leakages and other corrupt practice in the sector," he said.

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