Subsidy removal – The Guardian

By The Citizen

Barely three years after the January 2012 crisis in which 12 days of protests across the country over increase in pump prices of petroleum products paralysed the economy, it is inconceivable that the Goodluck Jonathan administration could be planning another fuel prices deregulation.

Nigerians are already too pauperised and cannot bear any extra cost in the circumstance.

With as many as 15 price shifts that Nigerians have been subjected to in 24 years without a corresponding increase in welfare, it is logical to presume an uncaring disposition, in fact insensitivity, of the government towards the people. The present administration's insistence on removal of fuel subsidy amid glaring deprivation of the basics of life even smacks of hard-heartedness. The latest attempt and so-called subsidy removal as announced by a minister at an oil trading expo in Lagos must not stand.

Whatever additional taxation through the back door as being canvassed by the government to further oppress and dehumanise the masses must be resisted and the government would contemplate another subsidy removal so soon at the risk of massive unpopularity. Rather than subsidizing the people, a cabal in the oil sector and their collaborators in government are only holding the country to ransom and they deserved to be exposed and given the boot, that is if the country's leadership has the political will to act and has not been pocketed by the same cabal.

Too much suffering is obvious in the land and regrettably not too much is there to hope for. In the face of these odds, and the massive misery the people have been put through by various governments at all levels in the past 35 months since the last protest, Nigerians deserve some respite.

Why would a government contemplate a higher tax on fuel when it has not done much to redeem the disastrous transportation system the country is saddled with? Among other concerns, will the removal engender the enabling environment for entrepreneurs and big-time manufacturers who long for regular power supply to stay afloat and avoid lay-offs? In what way exactly would the masses be beneficiaries of the total removal canvassed when the funds realized are likely to benefit only the rich and the powerful in the society?

The minister of Petroleum Resources who was reportedly worried about a slow growth in the downstream oil and gas sector attributed the lull to a regulated price regime and argued in favour of subsidy elimination to stimulate a competitive market environment and sustain supply. Moreover, according to her, only the shooting down of 'a convoluted price subsidy' could make more investments in the sector possible. She stressed that a deregulated downstream is also one of the proposals in the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) currently in the works at the National Assembly. The arguments seem logical but only to the extent that the logic is stretched to accommodating the elimination of the few greedy briefcase oil magnates in and outside of government and to the extent that the welfare of the citizens is substantially protected.

In short, corruption has been identified as being at the roots of the petroleum sector debacle. It remains a cancer but one which government hardly acknowledges, or perhaps too timid to confront as the major and minor players bleed the system at every opportunity. If the subsidy must be removed, corruption has to be tackled headlong to save cash to improve the lot of the masses rather than channeling it to the pockets of a few.

The sector has sufficiently become a waste pipe for funding white elephant government projects as well as making available to a few people unearned income in billion of naira.

While the drain persists, allegations of unaccounted special daily allocations of crude oil in hundreds of thousands of barrels to some government agencies in the sector ought to be investigated and curtailed if such is proven. President Goodluck Jonathan must be interested in the plugging all loopholes in the oil sector if his leadership would not open itself up to accusations of being an accomplice.

Government and leaders should be agents of positive change and be preoccupied only with seeking the greatest good for the greatest number.