Nigeria: Wrong Time for PMs, Electricity Price Hikes (I)

(file photo).
18 September 2020

Ordinarily, we should be giving the Muhammadu Buhari administration a pat on the back for "summoning the courage" to implement the full deregulation of the downstream petroleum sector and total withdrawal of petrol subsidies.

For over 20 years, we have agitated for this as means of ending fuel scarcity, black marketeering, frequent petroleum industry labour strikes and attendant sufferings. Successive regimes have failed to revive our comatose refineries. Only the private sector can establish and run refineries profitably and sustainably.

We've always felt that total deregulation would enable the various refinery licencees who have failed to set up shop to do so. A free market is bound to bring about a more conducive atmosphere for investments in the downstream sector.

If our advocacy had been heeded, we would not have wasted the N10.413 trillion which the Federal Government claims has been spent in the past 14 years on petrol subsidy. This amount would have helped to ameliorate our infrastructure deficit and reduce our massive foreign borrowing.

Apart from being belated, the manner in which the Buhari government is implementing the deregulation subsidy removal smacks of betrayal of the people. It is contrary to their campaign promise.

Deregulation was originally a policy that the Goodluck Jonathan regime attempted to introduce on January 12, 2012. But political parties and activists which eventually transformed into the All Progressives Congress, APC, staged the "Occupy Nigeria" protests, against subsidy withdrawal.

The Jonathan government had to back down when it found itself increasingly needing to call in the military to maintain law and order.

As a presidential candidate in 2014/2015, Buhari and the APC had campaigned on sanitising the oil industry and reviving the government refineries. After over five years in power with the President as a second term Petroleum Resources Minister, the industry remains in shambles.

The recommendations of the Price Waterhouse Coopers, PwC, audit conducted in 2014 for a total paradigm reset for the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, has been jettisoned.

Just a few days to his assumption of office in May 2015, Buhari had continued to cast his doubt on the existence of petroleum subsidy. Nigerians felt he was speaking with authoritative, insider knowledge as Nigeria's oil minister between 1976 and 1979 under whose tenure the NNPC, the Warri and Kaduna Refineries were established.

Shockingly, however, Buhari's government continued to pay the subsidies he inherited from Jonathan until May 12, 2016. The "total deregulation" immediately took petrol pump price from N97 to N145 per litre. Then, on June 5, 2020, the Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency, PPPRA, announced the market-based pricing for Premium Motor Spirit, PMS.

These were contrary to the campaign promises of this administration.

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