President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday for the first time personally defended the recent hike in price of premium motor spirit (PMS) popularly known as petrol and electricity tariff.
President Buhari spoke on the decisions which had attracted criticisms from some Nigerians, especially opposition political parties and analysts at the First Year Ministerial Performance Review Retreat held at the Conference Centre of the State House, Abuja.
The President, who was represented by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, said the COVID-19 pandemic, which had affected economies globally, compelled his administration to make some necessary far-reaching adjustments for long-term gains with some initial pain.
Buhari, who listed negative consequences if government should resume the business of fixing or subsidizing PMS prices, said it would mean a return to the costly subsidy regime with the potential return of fuel queues.
The President, who said there was no provision for fuel subsidy in the revised 2020 budget, assured citizens of the government's determination to remain alert to its responsibilities by preventing marketers from raising prices arbitrarily or exploiting them.
-Backs mass metering for over 5m Nigerians-
Buhari, while speaking on the hike in electricity tariff, said that he was not happy with the quality of service being offered by the Distribution Companies of Nigeria (DISCOs).
As a result, the President said his administration was pursuing a mass metering program to provide meters for over 5 million Nigerians.
He said protecting the poor and vulnerable, while ensuring improved service in the power sector remained a major priority for his administration.
The President said: "The other painful adjustment that we have had to make in recent days is a review of the electricity tariff regime. If there is one thing that we have heard over and over again, it is that Nigerians want consistent and reliable power supply. So, the power sector remains a critical priority for the administration.
"Protecting the poor and vulnerable, while ensuring improved service in the power sector, is also a major priority for Government. And our policies, like the social investment programmes and other socio-economic schemes to benefit Nigerians, show that we remain focused on improving the welfare of the common man.
"In addressing the power problems, we must not forget that most Nigerians are not even connected to electricity at all. So, as part of the Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP), we are providing Solar home systems to 5 million Nigerian households (impacting up to 25 million individual Nigerians) in the next 12 months.
"We have already begun the process of providing financing support through the CBN for manufacturers and retailers of Off Grid Solar Home Systems and Mini-Grids who are to provide the systems.
"The Five million systems under the ESP's Solar Power Strategy will produce 250,000 jobs and impact up to 25 million beneficiaries through the installation This means that more Nigerians will have access to electricity via a reliable and sustainable solar system.
"The support to Solar Home System manufacturers and the bulk procurement of local meters will create over 300,000 local jobs while ensuring that we set Nigeria on a path to full electrification. The tariff review is not about the increase, which will only affect the top electricity consumers, but establishing a system which will definitely lead to improved service for all at a fair and reasonable price.
"There has been some concern expressed about the timing of these two necessary adjustments. It is important to stress that it is a mere coincidence in the sense that the deregulation of PMS prices happened quite some time ago, it was announced on 18 March 2020 and the price moderation that took place at the beginning of this month was just part of the on-going monthly adjustments to global crude oil prices. Similarly, the review of service-based electricity tariffs was scheduled to start at the beginning of July but was put on hold to enable further studies and proper arrangements to be made."
The President, who said the government would not inflict hardship on people by being insensitive to their condition at this "very difficult economic situation", directed ministers and senior officials to ensure a "vigorous and prompt" implementation of the ESP programmes to give succour to Nigerians at this difficult time.
"In this regard, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has created credit facilities (of up to N100B) for the Healthcare (N100 Billion) and Manufacturing (N1 Trillion) sectors. From January 2020 to date, over N191.87B has already been disbursed for 76 real sectors projects under the N1Trillion Real Sector Scheme; while 34 Healthcare projects have been funded to the tune of N37.159B under the Healthcare Sector Intervention Facility.
"The facilities are meant to address some of the infrastructural gap in the healthcare and manufacturing sector as a fall out to the COVID-19 pandemic and to facilitate the attainment of the Governors 5-year strategic plan," he added.