FUEL SUBSIDY REMOVAL:I FORESEE CHAOS, ANARCHY - ETIENAM
A lawyer by profession he ran his legal firm Wings of Justice chambers in Port Harcourt, Rivers State prior to his appointment in 2007 as a Special Assistant to the Governor on Project Monitoring. In this interview he bears his mind on the proposal to withdraw petroleum subsidy by the Federal Government, and its implications on the economy. Excerpts:
Some Nigerians say life is already very hard for the people and that government should not impose additional burden to impoverish the people by withdrawing petroleum subsidy?
Well on the issue of subsidy, I would want to say that the timing is wrong. I don't see anything wrong with the withdrawal of subsidy, but the timing is wrong.
If we want to withdraw subsidy, we should make sure that the refineries are working, we should make sure we stop importation of fuel, and refine our fuel before we withdraw subsidy. But when we have dead refineries, with the lack of employment, then the timing is wrong.
We say we are fighting militants, but how do you fight militants when the people are hungry? Idleness is the reason for all these criminal activities. An idle mind is a devil's workshop, so idleness is the reason for all the criminality and you cant fight militancy when the people are hungry, so to withdraw subsidy you must first of all get the refineries back on track.
The call for the subsidy withdrawal some say is because of corruption and wasteful management of resources, do you see government making any deliberate attempt to block theft and leakages that may have culminated in the current crises in the petroleum sector?
Who is mismanaging what if we must say? I think there must be a total overhaul. The NNPC we have today, only God knows what happens there. We must be prepared to change. You know sometimes we look for people to throw blames on. You have the oil companies themselves playing the divide and rule politics.
You have the oil companies pitching the people against themselves so that they can deprive the people of their benefits and rights. The whole system is abnormal.
Before the black gold came we were surviving on agriculture, but when the oil came, we killed agriculture, we abandoned cocoa, we abandoned the groundnut in the North so why are we killing ourselves today because oil has been found in Nigeria? Lagos State and the whole West was developed with cocoa.
Do you share the opinion that a few are benefiting from the subsidy regime?
O yes people are benefiting from these situation, people are really, actually benefiting from these situation, which should not be so.
To what extent then do you think that the removal of fuel subsidy will harm the populace?
Yes the removal of fuel subsidy will bring very serious hardship on the people. Let's go back to agriculture and farming. Whatever you can do to generate income in your state you do.
You go to Benue State they have a tomato- based factory, they have started going back to farming and we should be able to emulate that. In Kano State for instance they are farming, they brought in the Zimbabwe farmers from Zimbabwe and they are farming. I took a tour around the entire northern States, you find farms there that are producing N30 million naira a day, so let us get back to the basics. What has happened to our fishing terminals?
What is your prediction if fuel subsidy is finally removed?
I foresee the country going into a breakdown of order, chaos, strikes, because the Nigerian Labour Congress will again call for increase in salaries to meet the economic hardship that will be occasioned by the realities of the removal of subsidy, and of course we should run a people oriented government, a government that cares for the people.
Now we have the legislators in the National Assembly and the State Houses of Assembly. Let them go to their constituencies.
When issues like this come, they should go back to consult their constituencies before they come back to take decisions, not on their own selfish interest but in the interest of the generality of the people they are representing.