Nigeria: Fuel Subsidy Removal Increasingly Untenable - Buhari

21 June 2022

President Muhammadu Buhari has said though his administration planned to remove fuel subsidy last year, further consultation with stakeholders as well as events which unfolded this year made the move increasingly untenable.

The president however, chastised the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank for insisting on subsidy removal in Nigeria when some of the western economies also administer subsidy.

Buhari, in an interview with Bloomberg, said "Most western countries are today implementing fuel subsidies. Why would we remove ours now? What is good for the goose is good for the gander.

"What our western allies are learning the hard way is what looks good on paper and the human consequences are two different things. My government set in motion plans to remove the subsidy late last year. After further consultation with stakeholders, and as events unfolded this year, such a move became increasingly untenable."

Buhari said boosting domestic production for refined products would stabilize prices, pointing out that the exchange rate is still susceptible to external shocks that can suddenly and severely affect Nigerian citizens.

He said, "As we step up domestic production - both in fuel (enabled by PIA) and food (agricultural policies) - the inflationary threat shall diminish, and we can move toward unification."

On the government's sharp rise in borrowing since 2015 which had left the country spending almost all of its revenue servicing debt, Buhari said, "A narrow focus on debt misses the point. What it fills is Nigeria's longstanding infrastructure deficit by constructing a foundation for sustainable growth - spreading opportunity to ensure no part of the country is left behind, which has led to insecurity in the past.

"Our infrastructure developments have been the most ambitious since Nigeria's independence. Over 800 federal roads are being constructed or undergoing rehabilitation and 650km of rail line have been laid, helping alleviate food inflation pressures, given most food is produced in the north."

He said, "Had the infrastructure gap not been filled it will only grow, become more costly to repair what little we have while lacking more on infrastructure on which to build growth, negatively impacting progress towards UN Sustainable Development Goals."

The president said his administration had invested heavily in national road, rail, and transport infrastructure to unleash growth, connect communities, and lessen inequality in the society in the past seven years.

He said though the ongoing structural transformation may not be evidenced on standard economic metrics for now, "but the results will be apparent in good time".

He also said his administration had been criticised over the years by the likes of the Financial Times, the Economist, among others for its efforts to de-globalise and re-localize food production as well as boost manufacturing.

He said, "Now with the war in Ukraine breaking global food supply chains "Davos Man" is in retreat as the energy crisis makes countries everywhere think again about energy independence and security".

Buhari, also said his administration had recovered stolen funds amounting to N152 billion between January and December 2021.

He said dollar recoveries for the year amounted to over $386 million; more than 1.1 million British Pound Sterling; about 157,000 Euros; about 1.7 million Saudi Riyals as well as assets in digital and other currencies.

The president said those partners who had refused to return illicit monies held for decades to previous administrations fearing they would simply be stolen again, had changed their approach with the present government "because they knew my administration could be trusted".

He said. "Starting with our whistle blowing policy enacted in my first year in office hundreds of millions in stolen funds have been returned within Nigeria.

"Working with our international partners, hundreds of millions of various currencies have been returned from abroad - primarily from the UK, US, and Switzerland - and used as social and welfare funds distributed directly to the poorest during the COVID-19 pandemic and the provision of long-delayed infrastructure-roads, bridges, rail, and power."

Further commenting on the problem of rising food inflation in the country, Buhari wondered what fate would have befallen Nigeria if his administration had not initiated organised programmes to boost domestic production.

He said initiatives including as the CBN Anchor Borrower's Programme (ABP) had helped farmers to compete against artificially lowered imports and had boosted rice production to nine million metric tonnes in 2021 from around 5.4 million metric tonnes in 2015.

He said, "Even in the years of drought, rice production outstripped pre-2015 levels. Imports have fallen to near zero. We are making progress."

Buhari said, "Against these advances international trade remains rigged against food security in Africa. The EU's policies in particular are all rhetoric of open trade - yet their common agricultural policy subsidy programmes and export of those subsidized goods create dependence, undermine Africa's self-sufficiency, and cause food poverty and starvation.

"If only out of enlightened self-interest the West - and particularly Europe - must step up. The moral if not economic case for doing so is unarguable. Do nothing, and more migrants from across the Sahel will attempt dangerous journeys to reach Europe."

On the challenges in the power sector, Buhari said there are hundreds of ongoing projects and initiatives attracting funding from investors.

He said his government is also decentralising the national grid through renewable driven mini-grids adding that the $550 million Nigeria Electrification Project had deployed more than 20,000 Standalone Solar Systems (SHS), as well as Solar Hybrid mini-grids in over 250 locations.

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