Oil Subsidy Removal: Nigerians Speak Out, As NLC Plan Strike Action
As the battle rages on the planned removal of subsidy on petroleum products by the Federal Government of Nigeria , Huhuonline.com / can authoritatively report that the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) is set for a showdown against the Federal Government. Abdulwaheed Ibrahim Omar, NLC president has said that all labour unions in the country, including the entire Nigerian masses would be mobilized to resist what Labour termed 'a declaration of war on Nigerians by Government'.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government had claimed that N1.2 trillion to be saved from the exercise will be used as 'safety net' for the masses just as the Organised Private Sector (OPS) agrees with government on the validation of the subsidy removal which is planned in phases and to commence in January 2012.
But the Finance Minister and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has looked the other way by declaring that the subsidy would only benefits a limited number of people to the disadvantage of generality of Nigerians.
NLC acting Secretary General, Owei Lekemfa, speaking on the behalf of the president, Abdulwaheed Ibrahim Omar disclosed to Huhuonline.com that Labour is planning a chain of actions on how to effectively mobilise Nigerians for the outright condemnation of the planned subsidy.
'The announcement of the plan by President Goodluck Jonathan is a declaration of war on the people of Nigeria. We are going to organise a series of activities, events and programmes to get Nigerians ready to resist the policy. NLC is very capable of leading Nigerians against the policy which has been designed to further impoverish the people.
'The NLC advises the Presidency to learn from the October 15 Global Day of action against corporate greed and cut in social spending, rather than orchestrate endorsement of its fuel subsidy removal gambit. The Federal Government should face this reality and address growing poverty, hunger and anger amongst the masses. Hijacking the private sector forum and smuggling a fake endorsement removal will not make Nigerians accept such a calamity. Save beneficiaries of government largesse, no employers utilizing petroleum products will endorse subsidy removal.'
Nigerians Speak Out: Huhuonline.com findings have also revealed that many Nigerians are towing the line of the NLC in condemning the proposed unpopular oil subsidy removal while others have contrary views on the issue that has remained in the front burner despite the sundry allegations against the government.
The Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, while calling on government to urgently revamp the moribund refineries before removing subsidy has alleged that 'the list of the few powerful Nigerians benefiting from the subsidy will shock Nigerians, if published', adding that subsidy removal should be handled with caution since it involves the living condition of Nigerians.
'I think it is a very sensitive matter to handle. I agree with you that there is an absolute need for the refineries to be up and running before the subsidy is removed. I think Nigerians also need to be sensitised more about it. 'I believe it is a cabal that is holding the entire nation hostage and they need to be exposed. The federal government needs to publish the names of all those who are infringing on this oil, those oil contractors.
'I am sure there will be outrage when you see the list and I am sure that will prepare the ground for eventual removal (of subsidy) so that Nigerians will see that it is just a handful of people who are milking us dry and we cannot continue in that manner.
'But, I think in additional to that; we need to also fix our refineries. What I suggest the federal government should do is like give a two to three years notice of the total withdrawal and use that period to get the refineries working and apparently build new ones and then we know that by that time, subsidy is gone.
'And as l said, that has to be accompanied by a list of all those who are doing this business so that we will know if actually anything is being imported and then the quantity that is been imported and who benefits from this because sometimes they think that Nigerian don't believe the story.
'It is better just like when they did the story on the banks, when the federal government wanted to restructure the banks, it was necessary also to publish those who were holding the banks. We need to publish the names of all those who are bringing in this oil products so that Nigerians will know that it is just a few people that are just milking us.
'You know because what happens is that in spite of the so-called subsidy, some people still buy fuel at very exorbitant prices. You know maybe in Lagos and Abuja , the prices are regulated but outside that, even in Bayelsa that produces oil, I believe they don't sell at regulated price, so we have to do something about that.'
Senator Bukola Saraki:
'Spending N1.5trillion annually on fuel subsidy is not sustainable. Government must however be able to convince Nigerians that removing the subsidy is in their own interest. Government must also make all know that there are tangible benefits to be derived from the withdrawal of fuel subsidy. But this will take a lot of consultation.
'You ask yourself are there more cars? Are we consuming more fuel than before? If we run a more efficient mechanism, is it possible to keep it at N600billion? At N600 billion is it sustainable? Spending N1.5trillion on fuel subsidy is suffocating government.
'If we are producing through the refinery, the fuel will not cost as much and at that level, you can subsidise, and other countries they are comparing Nigeria with are refining their own petroleum products. People are rejecting the proposal as they have lost confidence in the process. They don't want to know how we got to that mess.'
Senator Ahmed Maccido
'The thing here is there are lots of questions as to where the N1.3 trillion came from because it has not even been appropriated by the National Assembly.
'We learnt that it was money that was got from a particular sale. The money was gotten from particular crude sales lawfully but unfortunately, the money was not appropriated by the National Assembly. We were not informed as to what that particular money was being kept aside for. They just went ahead and used it for subsidy. At least, they could have written a letter to the National Assembly, informing us of the action they took, that would have been better but it wasn't like that.
'We took up the issue with them when we met the President and his economic team last Monday and I believe they were ready to make amends. As you are aware, we budgeted N240 billion but the irony is that they have spent more than N1 trillion. So, you can imagine the difference between what we budgeted for and what was expended.
'We have not been given details of where the subsidy being removed would be utilised. But the thing here is, there are lots of questions as to where the N1. 3 trillion came from because the money has not even been appropriated by the National Assembly.
'The Senate has inaugurated a committee on this particular issue. We're going to investigate it; we are going to find out where those monies came from; we are going to find out how those monies are being spent; if it's being spent rightly or not. We know what to do.
'In any case, I believe this investigation will form a basis for our agreement as to whether fuel subsidy should be removed or not. If we realize that this money is being spent, there is a way we can make it work for Nigerians in form of subsidy and if it is not, we are going to demand that this money be returned and that subsidy should be removed. That's why I said earlier that this investigation might form a basis for whether subsidy should be removed or not.'
Bishop David Oyedepo:
'I don't have a problem with the removal of the subsidy but what will happen to the money that will be made. It will be stolen. My worry is with the thieves in government who steal the money that should have been used to develop the country.
'Can you imagine a public officer reported to have stolen N57billion? That would have been enough to develop a state.
'Stealing is stealing no matter how and where you steal. Either from your mother, your family, your church or government, the act of stealing makes you a thief and it will attract a curse. People who do this like those in government are involved in idolatry and they stand to be destroyed.'
Bishop Alaba Job
President of Catholic Bishop's Conference in Nigeria, Bishop Alaba Job has described the planned subsidy removal as untimely as he said those canvassing the removal of subsidy are justifying their position with a wrong argument.
'Threat to our security as a nation and individuals has reached the peak for us to come together and consider our togetherness. We need to speak frankly to one another and get serious as a nation blessed with diverse and huge potentials and prospects wasting away untapped. In Alaska (United States), citizens are paid from the oil found there unlike here in Nigeria with a different story.'
Comrade Igwe Achese
National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas, NUPENG, Comrade Igwe Achese, also described the timing for deregulation as wrong since the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) is yet to be passed into law.
While calling on government to engage all stakeholders in the economy to explain how the proceeds will be used, he confirmed that the union would resist any form of deregulation that was import driven.
'NUPENG is not against deregulation; our position is that if government must deregulate, it should not be import-driven. What we are against is import-driven deregulation. We have already given government conditions for deregulation and part of it is that the refineries must work optimally; government must make the depots to function properly.
Currently, we are still haulaging when we have depots but because of pipeline vandalism, the depots are not functioning. Before government comes up with deregulation policy, it must first pass the PIB which is all encompassing into law.'
Engr. Rotimi Fashakin
National Publicity Secretary, Engr. Rotimi Fashakin, reacting on behalf of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) on the vexed issue of subsidy removal expressed doubts over government transparency.
The party said that the government's continued failure to maintain the nation's four refineries and account for the proceeds of the Excess Crude-oil Account is a clear indication of negligence of the leaders.
'Would the argument on 'subsidy' still make sense if the nation's refineries are producing at optimal capacity? With the recent revelation that more money (un-appropriated) is being spent on 'subsidy' than that budgeted for the current financial year, are we not being deceived by this regime? With no sustained welfare package for the Nigerian people in the critical areas of decent living, would this proposed removal of the 'subsidy' not be at variance with Section 14 (b) of the Nigerian constitution which states that: 'the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.'