HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES RESOLUTION ON FUEL SUBSIDY REMOVAL: REUBEN ABATI'S UNINFORMED DIATRIBE
On Sunday January 8, 2012 the House of Representatives in an emergency special session met to consider and review the state of the nation following the decision by the Executive arm of government to completely remove fuel subsidy, the declaration of a State of Emergency in some parts of the country and the second reading of the 2012 budget.
After an exhaustive debate on the issue of the removal of fuel subsidy, the House of Representatives passed a resolution urging the executive arm of government to suspend the decision while at the same time urging organized labour to call off its planned strike action and submit to further dialogue on the matter. Notably the House also went ahead to empanel an Ad-Hoc Committee to enhance mediation and conciliation while offering hope to aggrieved Nigerians.
Reacting to these decisions, the spokesman of the President, Commander In Chief, Reuben Abati described the action of the House of Representatives as “merely an opinion” of the House of Representatives.
In many media reports, Abati was quoted to have said “that extraordinary session coming on the eve of an alleged attempt by some people to disrupt law and order could be interpreted in some quarters as an attempt to incite the Nigerian people against the government”.
The presidential spokesman was also quoted to have said that “it is most unfortunate that a House of Representatives will hold a special session on a Sunday. To the best of my knowledge that is the first time that will happen in constitutional democracy”.
To say the least these statements by Abati are uninformed, rash, imprudent and unwise by a Presidential Adviser of his ranking.
For the avoidance of doubt, the House of Representatives is authorised by its Standing Orders to meet on any day including Sundays as the situation demands. In fact, the House of Representatives should be applauded for cutting short official recess of its members to address a matter that could jeopardize the peace and continued existence of the country.
Ironically, President Goodluck Jonathan, GCFR, on the same Sunday after Church Service, launched the Federal Mass Transit Scheme. Ironically too, the Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency, PPPRA, removed the contentious fuel subsidy on Sunday January 1, 2012.
It is also worthy of note, that the state of emergency in some parts of the country was declared by the President on Saturday December 31, 2012, a day of worship for a section of some Christians. The President also sent the declaration of State of Emergency document to the National Assembly on a Saturday to take advantage of the planned sitting of the House of Representatives the next day on a Sunday.
All these go to show that critical national issues can be addressed by any well-meaning arm of government outside of official working days.
Abati's description of the resolution of the House of Representatives as a mere expression of opinion is childish, unfortunate, unprofessional and lacking in judgment by a presidential spokesman, especially since it is now public knowledge that his boss, President Jonathan was made acting President by a resolution of the National Assembly which he readily accepted in a broadcast to the nation. Instructively, the Senate has also concurred to the Resolution of the House on this matter.
This statement by a presidential spokesman underscores the quality of advice available to the President from his aides in the running of government.
To describe a patriotic attempt by the House of Representatives to intervene on a vexed issue as the removal of fuel subsidy as an incitement is most unfair and uncharitable. So far that decision by the House of Representatives has provided government and labour the most credible way forward to resolving the issue of the removal of fuel subsidy. The decision of the elected representatives of the people cannot be described as an incitement.
However, as an unelected official of government it is not surprising that Abati does not understand the feelings of the people. This explains his total change of position on the subject matter of fuel subsidy as was eloquently canvassed in an article he authoured in 2009 where he said;
“The arguments being advanced to justify the proposed full deregulation do not make sense. All the arguments have a ring of déjà vu. They are taken from the same textbook that the same economists have refused to update, the same ideas that led to the collapse of the global economy. Other countries are making a U-turn and subjecting textbook knowledge to the test of reality. Nigerian policy makers are still holding on to old paradigms. One of these days we shall start stoning the economists in official corridors”.
However unlike Abati we do not recommend that he be stoned!