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NIGERIANS AND FUEL SUBSIDY REMOVAL

By NBF News
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The talk of removal of fuel subsidy in Nigeria has become a re-occurring thing. Past administrations in Nigeria have been involved in one form of petroleum products price increment or the other. And in each case, the government of the day had always tried to justify the increments by assuring the people that more money would be saved for other important people, oriented projects.

Sometimes, enlightenment campaigns were used to convince the people on why such measures would be to their benefit. But after such increases, those promises of using the realized money for the people's benefit are hardly fulfilled, which has made many Nigerians to become highly skeptical about the gains of this regular fuel price increases. The people have come to realize that the increases have only provided them with hardship and not the so-called people-oriented projects.

In the past, Nigerians through the efforts of the Nigerian Labour Congress and other civil rights organizations had always tried to resist these regular increases in petroleum products. But the government in one way or the other usually succeeded. Again, the current government has indicated that the subsidy will be completely removed, with the same reason of saving more money to carry on projects for the benefit of the people. But the questions people keep asking are: after these several increases aimed at getting more money for development, are the infrastructure in Nigeria today better than many years ago when the fuel prices were cheaper?

For example: are the roads in the country today better than 25 or 30years ago? Are we having better power supply today than what we used to have in those good old days? Are there more functional industries now than then? Is our water supply now better than years back? The railway system and other transportation methods, have they really been improving? The educational sector, is it better today? It is doubtful if the answers to the questions above are positive. Just recently a foreign media reporting on the intended fuel subsidy removal in Nigeria, disclosed that Nigerians have really not benefited from their oil wealth.

Our government can work towards emulating and following the examples of other progressive oil producing nations. Venezuela, for instance, is known to have the cheapest pump price of fuel in the world, with about N4 to N5 a litre, one can fill up his empty car tank with less than N200, still they provide a lot of social benefits to the citizens, including free education from kindergarten to university level, as well as free medical services to all. In fact, Venezuelans consider cheap fuel as a birth right and have not tolerated any increase. During the tenure of Prof Dora Akunyilli as the Minister of Information and Communications, one can easily recall the widely reported response of the Venezuela's ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Enerique Fernando Arrundel, when he visited her office.

The minister appealed to him, to help woo some of his countrys investor's to come and establish refineries under the federal government's planned deregulation of the downstream sector of the nation's petroleum industry. The ambassador used the opportunity to tell Nigerians the hard truth about the best way to manage, develop and utilize their God- given natural resources for the benefit of all citizens. The Venezuela's ambassador responded in this way 'In Venezuela, since 1999, we've never had a raise in fuel price. We only pay $1.02 (N162) to fill the tank. What I pay for with N12,000 here (Nigeria), in Venezuela I'll pay N400.

What is happening is simple. Our President (Hugo Chavez) decided one day to control the industry, because it belongs to the Venezuelans. If you don't control the industry, your development will be in the hands of the foreigners. You have to have your own country. The oil is your country's. Sorry I am telling you this. I am giving you the experience of Venezuela. We have 12 refineries in the United States, 18,000 gas stations in the West Coast. All we are doing is in the hands of the Venezuelans.' Mr. Fernando Arrundel said, 'Before 1999, we had three or four foreign companies working with us. That time they were taking 80 per cent, and giving us 20.

Now, we have 90 per cent, and giving them 10. But now, we have 22 countries working with us in that condition. It is the Venezuelan condition. You know why? It is because 60 per cent of the income goes to social programmes. That's why we have 22,000 medical doctors assisting the people in the community. The people don't go to the hospital; doctors go to their houses. This is because the money is handled by the Venezuelans.

How come Nigeria that has more technical manpower than Venezuela, with 150 million people, and very intellectual people all around, not been able to get it right? The question is: If you are not handling your resources, how are you going to handle the country? So, it is important that Nigeria takes control of her resources. We have over 17 new universities totally free. I graduated from the university without paying one cent, and take three meals every day, because we have the resources. We want the resources of the Nigerian people for the Nigerians. It is enough! It is enough, Minister!' That was frank response of the ambassador to the amazement of the then minister.

In some other oil producing countries, in spite of the wonderful infrastructure provided, a lot of social benefits are also given to the people. For instance, Saudi Arabia through the Social Security section of the Ministry of Labour provides assistance to Saudi citizens in the following categories; the unemployed, widows and widowers, females who have no living family members to support them, orphans, the disabled, families of those serving custodial sentences and victims of natural disasters.

While in Kuwait, the government has sponsored many social welfare, public works, and development plans financed with oil and investment revenues. Among the benefits for Kuwaiti citizens are retirement income, marriage bonuses, housing loans, virtually guaranteed employment, free medical services, and education at all levels. By Amiri decree, the government occasionally disburses a portion of its budget surplus as a grant to all Kuwaiti citizens. In 2006, an Amiri grant of 200 Kuwaiti dinars (approximately $700) was paid to every citizen who applied.

Nwaopara writes from Lagos.