Reps Asks Jonathan To Revert To N65 Per Litre…. As Labour Insist On Strike
The House of Representatives has asked the executive arm of government to stall the removal of fuel subsidy to allow for more consultations. They have also demanded for the return of premium motor spirit (PMS), also known as Petrol to its former price of
N65 per litre,
The House also constituted two ad-hoc committees made up of eight legislators each. The first committee to be headed by Hon. Patrick Ikhariale from Edo State is to interface and mediate between labour and the committee set up by the executive arm government. The second, headed by Hon. Faruk Lawan, is to monitor the subsidy regime according to Speaker of the House, Aminu Tambuwal.
The majority of the House members spoke against the removal of subsidy with some arguing that it would further increase the suffering of the masses. They also accused the President of not practising what he preached. One of the legislators lamented that soon after his speech on Saturday, in which he said he was cutting down on foreign travels and the number of his entourage, the president left for South Africa in two aircrafts with a large number of people for an event.
The blow by the House of Representatives came just when the President was at the venue of the commissioning of the 1600 buses he promised as part of the palliative measures of his government to cushion the effect of the policy. It was learnt that the leadership of the House rebuffed pressures to step down its emergency session, convened on Sunday to discuss the current state of the nation with regards to the fuel subsidy removal, and rising insecurity in the country.
Those who supported the subsidy removal include, House Leader, Mulikat Akande-Adeola, Warman Ogoriba, Nado Karibo, Yakubu Barde, Arua Arunsi, Henry Dickson, Sokonte Davies, Ndudi Elumelu, Andrew Uchendu, Ini Udoka, Asita Honourable, Mohammed Idris, Joseph Akinlaja, and Friday Itulah. Itulah, from Edo State however canvassed for the gradual removal of the subsidy.
Speaking after the motion was passed, Speaker Tambuwal said: "what we have done is in the best interest of this country. It is our collective responsibility to see that our country is governed with due process. I therefore implore all men of good will either in government or outside it to understand that we have done our best as representatives of the people''.
In the debate that lasted over two hours, lawmakers had divided opinions. Though many were against the fuel subsidy removal describing it as insensitivity to the plight of the people, the few who supported President Goodluck Jonathan thanked him for taking what they described as a bold stand, while applauding his courage on informing Nigerians that the country was on the verge of an economic downturn. Warman Ogoriba, from Bayelsa state also echoed this sentiment arguing that no right thinking President would like to bring hardship to those who voted for him, echoed this sentiment.
Ubani Eziuche said the country was broke and the President had avoided the truth by making Nigerians believe that the country was still buoyant enough to care for the people. He however argued that the timing was wrong, and the executive arm by-passed the legislature in making the policy. On those premises, he rejected the policy describing the promises made by President Jonathan in his address to the nation over the weekend as a mere scratch on the surface.
Khadijat Bukar Abba-Ibrahim, one of the legislators who spoke against the subsidy removal, said history would judge them for whatever contribution they make. In her words: "Posterity would judge us. How can we see our constituents suffer?" She asked while arguing that the subsidy removal means that all the money Nigerians earn would go on minimum wage. "How would they feed their family, and send their children to school?" She asked.
Also describing the policy as a rash decision in the wake of insecurity that has pervaded the country. She said this was the first time in the history of the country when such magnitude of insecurity would take place in spite of present security operatives. "Let's all rise up and say no to this"; she added.
Hon. Peter Akpatason from Edo state said the country is drifting. "I am personally alarmed at the mass movement of Hausa people from the South to the North as a result of insecurity. "Those who are advocating for the removal of subsidy are agents of Europe where refineries have become too much that they have excess refined products and now want to perpetually make us buyers so as to live on our money as a result of the economic downturn in the area"; he said.
Another lawmaker, Aminu Suleiman, from Kano, called it a dangerous approach saying that since the executive arm had taken one sharp approach to the issue; "we must not spare in taking the other side". He said he would have opted for the outright removal, but for the Speaker who preferred suspension of the policy pending the outcome of wide consultation.
Hon. Pally Iriase from Edo state said he was not sure if Aso Rock was aware of the impact of the policy on the grassroots or the extent of protests in every part of the country. "We are sitting on a keg of gunpowder which may explode very soon. If we do not do what we are doing today, there would be a catastrophe that would consume us all.'
Hon. Lorwase Hamman from Benue state said his people have asked him to tell the House that they are saying no to subsidy removal. "I remember prior to our departure, the House resolved to consult with our constituents on important issues and I have done that...A number of my constituents are presently at home and it has been difficult to go back to their places because of money"; he told his colleagues.
Another lawmaker said as representatives of the people, they have realized that the government took the wrong step in the removal of subsidy. He said: "what is wrong is wrong and this ill-timing of the subsidy removal is wrong. We are still operating the 2011 budget that would last till March. The issue of subsidy should be reversed and we can now use the remaining two and half months to discuss if there is even subsidy anywhere, because our refineries are producing at 30 per cent and this is enough to take care of the people. The subsidy removal should be suspended."
The House leader, Mulikat Akande-Adeola, from Oyo State, sympathized with Nigerians over the pains but said it is was a normal process to be passed through with the introduction of such policies. "As part of government, I expect everyone of us to speak from one side of the mouth... The idea of removal of subsidy is not alien to our country. It is true that premium motor spirit is more commonly used than other product in the country and as such, the reaction of the people is normal...Those who have spoken against it are particularly against the timing of the removal, and if that is the case there should be dialogue. I am sure and stand here to say the present government is sensitive to the yearnings of the people and are open to dialogue," she said amidst shouts by her colleagues that she should sit down.
Yakubu Barde from Kaduna state urged Nigerians that it was something that would positively affect the people in the long run. "If today, we take opinion about subsidy removal today, the public opinion would be no (to removal), but the question is that if Mr. President has come out to say Nigeria is broke, would we continue to borrow money to fund our budget? We have reached a stage where we can no longer fund the budget," he said. He added that corruption has continued unabated, but also said with the subsidy removal, the country would have effectively eased off corruption.
Reacting to the subsidy removal, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress(TUC), and civil society groups Sunday evening maintained its resolve to embark on an industrial strike action. NLC stressed that the indefinite strikes, rallies, and mass protests will commence tomorrow 9th January 2012 across the country: 'We ask Nigerians to disregard the disinformation by the Jonathan administration, and its surrogates claiming that Labour has had a rethink on the strike. We reiterate that the right to peaceful protest is a fundamental one which no institution or force can abridge."
In the statement signed by NLC Acting General Secretary, Owei Lakemfa, and the TUC Secretary General, John Kolawole, labour commended Nigerians in diaspora for their support and continued protests.
"We also commend the Nigerians in the United States who plan to protest tomorrow morning against the fuel price hike in front of the World Bank headquarters in Washington. The Breton Wood Institutions which include the IMF and the World Bank will not be allowed to dictate anti-people policies such as fuel subsidy removal to the Nigerians.The Labour Movement and its allies highly commend the Federal House of Representatives for its patriotic motion demanding that the Jonathan administration immediately suspends the astronomical increasing in the price of PMS (petrol)."
The statement said if the executive arm adopts the motion passed by the House, this would douse the explosive tension in the country and restore it to its pre-January 1, 2012 normalcy.
Praising legislators for bringing the country back from the brink of collapse as a result of the policy, the labour said: "the House of Representatives displayed exemplary leadership in not just cutting short its break, but also meeting on a Sunday. If other arms of governance work with the exemplary speed, seriousness, sensitivity and patriotic zeal as the House of Representatives did today; our country would be a far better place to live. The Labour Movement calls on the Senate to also rise up to the expectations of Nigerians by concurring with the House motion.
'We hope and pray that President Goodluck Jonathan will listen to the loud voice of the Nigerian people which this motion has further vindicated by immediately suspending the fuel price hikes, and allowing dialogue on the issue of fuel subsidy removal."