By NBF News

Last week, the Peoples' Democratic Party broke its silence on the controversial decision by the Federal Government to fully deregulate the downstream sector of the petroleum industry. Addressing the press at the National Secretariat of the Party, the Acting National Chairman of the PDP, Alhaji Abubakar Kawu Baraje said his party was in full support of the Federal Government's plan on subsidy removal and described it as timely, necessary and courageous.

He admitted that the PDP was not unmindful of the accompanying pains that full deregulation would occasion. However, he argued that it was high time Nigerians endured such temoral hardship which will definitely pale into insignificance in the face of its long term benefits.

Alhaji Baraje said that before arriving at the decision, the National Working Committee of the Party, bearing in mind that the people are the centre piece of the manifesto of the PDP, consulted widely; sought informed contributions from experts who are not only deeply versed in the petroleum industry development but in the economics and the politics of deregulation. Germane at this juncture is the fact that for the first time in many years, the PDP is taking a categorical and very unambiguous position on a crucial national matter. This unprecedented step by the Party is seminal in many ways. First, it once more thrusts the PDP as an idea based, issue driven political party and its Acting National Chairman, Abubakar Kawu Baraje as brilliant and possessed of astute political fervour.

By this, the party has succeeded in clearing all doubts as to whether the policies and actions of government do derive from the manifesto of the PDP. Besides, it has firmly established the avuncular nexus which sits the Party at the driving end of government policies as well as affirmed the cohesion between the party apparatchik and government decision makers.

Baraje puts this in perspective when he said, 'as the custodian of the peoples mandate and the resource base of the ideas that inform government policies, we of the Peoples Democratic Party owe it a duty to Nigerians to break our silence on these rather critical issues of national significance and place ourselves squarely on the side of history.'

Indeed only cynics will fault the position of the PDP leadership. The Party controls over two -third of the nation's political structures and as such, its action or silence on crucial issues will be of foremost national implications. President Jonathan has cast the die on the removal of petroleum subsidy and his Party's emphatic 'Yes' vote is a direct signal to millions of members that subsidy removal, no matter the accompanying pain has been widely consulted and must be pulled through for the larger and long time interest of all Nigerians.

However, of note here is the contrast between this seemingly harsh economic decision which portends severe consequences and the PDP's promise of poverty elimination as well as commitment to breaking the high speed pervade of disease and ignorance through national transformation. Succinctly put, should the PDP be so saddled with subsidy removal at a time Nigerians are creeping under harsh economic realities and at a time other infrastructures that could assist cushion the adverse impact of the policy is yet to be fully rebuilt; when the President's transformation drive is yet to fully take off?

Would the PDP have won the last general elections had it gone on campaign with subsidy removal as a unique selling proposition? As a matter of fact, this is the first time in the thirteen years history of the PDP that it is taking a decision that appears unpopular with the majority of Nigerians. Is the Party out to chastise the people whose mandate it is enjoying?

The answer is emphatic 'No', the party insists. There is little doubt the PDP appreciates all these fears and concerns as its National Chairman admitted. He said the federal government is deeply committed to tackling decaying infrastructureswhich Nigerians desperately yearn for. However, he enthused that this can only be achieved when government re-channels hard earned resources to these critical sectors, 'instead of fritting them away through leakages and funds misappropriation', as has been the case in decades of petroleum subsidy regime.

He added that most Nigerians will easily welcome the idea were they to be fully educated on the damage subsidy has wrought on the economy. The premise is that with the deregulation of the downstream sector, hundreds of billions of naira which PDP said services only the pot belly of privileged few would be free for re-channeling to other infrastructural sectors where ordinary Nigerians benefit more.

'The era when we used our collective wealth to fund the greed of few middle men is over. We cannot continue to gloss over a problem that poses imminent danger to our economic progress,' Baraje concluded.

At the base of the silent implications of this path which the PDP has chosen is the renewed battle on corruption; that the party is willing to cut its fingers if necessary to put the nation on the path of progress. It is easy to conclude that the greatest beneficiaries of the subsidy regime, those whom Baraje referred to as 'few greedy middle men', might be members and supporters of the Party knowing that the PDP has been in power for over twelve years.

It suffices therefore that for success of its transformation drive, the PDP is leaving no stone unturned. It hence makes no sense that Presidency needs to publicly unmask the profiteering cabal before blocking this obvious drainpipe on our common wealth. It is also pedestrian to argue like the Action Congress of Nigeria that the Jonathan Presidency is reducing the entire deregulation debate to a mathematical value in zero cognisance of the overall welfare of Nigerians. Government needs to muster every resource it can to push through the transformation programme. Unless the essential ingredients of the programme is bogged down by corruption which is very unlikely, I have little doubt Nigeria will be batter without petroleum subsidy.

The generally held view is that corruption is winning the battle against Nigeria- what with the dumbfounding tales and revelations oozing from the several probes by federal lawmakers! And that is where some Nigerians fear the most. What if the billions so freed from the subsidy end up in the pockets of the rich few? How sure are Nigerians that the money so re-channeled will reach the critical target sectors?

It is important therefore that the Federal Government goes beyond setting up a committee of eminent Nigerians to advise on the management of the funds as it promised. It must also set up a management committee made up of Nigerians whom time and circumstances have proven above board. We can never afford to experiment with the tight opportunity this offers.

•Nwachukwu Ngige writes from Abuja