I'LL GET JONATHAN, NLC TO RESOLVE FUEL SUBSIDY PROBLEM - OSHIOMHOLE
• Gov Adams Oshiomhole
Edo State Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole has revealed how he would help to resolve the controversy surrounding the proposed removal of fuel subsidy.
Speaking to a group of journalists, Oshiomhole said he would bring President Goodluck Jonathan and Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) president, Comrade Abdulwaheed Omar, to a round table to talk about the issues involved in the fuel subsidy brouhaha.
According to the Edo State governor, such talk would give Jonathan and Omar the opportunity to educate each other and, therefore, bring about understanding, which would help the two parties to arrive at a better decision.
Oshiomhole also talked on other matters.
As an activist in government, what has changed in your perception?
To be honest, if I had known what I know now, I would have fought even harder, in terms of the scale of abuse, and the fact that I now know there are not a few in government who are there not for public purpose. And I'm not singling out any particular political party. I'm not singling out any level of government. There are too many people who seek public offices just for self-help and I am more conversant now. I have more information now about the level of waste in the system. I had suspected the level of waste, but it was only in the realm of suspicion. Now I can confirm that there is a huge waste in government. And when I say government, I mean at all levels.
I interact now with high-ranking government officials, both in private and in public and I am, therefore, better able to appreciate the kind of orientation, which explains the character of governance in many places. There is nothing, therefore, that I did then back in the NLC that I would not do. I would probably do the more. There are probably areas that I had ignored then that I now realise we have to focus more. To be honest, there is nobody that is going to deny the endless lamentations about the fact that we have huge potential, but our failure to translate them into concrete reality is the result of incompetence, abuse and corruption. And the more you know, the angrier you get. Right now, I believe I'm still an activist, even in government. And I'm sure if you talk to some people, they will tell you so. I mean, not a few people tell me: 'Adams, you know you're now a governor,' at official circles, because to me, nothing has changed, and I cannot change at my age. You change if you feel that you have a bad character.
I think that Nigeria needs more activists. The country will not change by a miracle. It will change by well-planned and concrete efforts. So, there is nothing I did then that I would not do now. I believe that if you talk to people and they wouldn't change, you have the right to engage them, including strike. I still believe in all those methods. When we had disagreement with our workers here and we couldn't communicate; and they said they were going to protest and some people were trying to prevent them, I said they have the right to protest. In fact, at the gate of Government House here, women come to complain over all sorts of things, and they tell you they want to see the governor. Everybody else would go talk to them but they would say no, they want to see the governor. I usually go to address them and they would all clap. When I talk to them, I have not solved the problem, but they are happy they have talked to me.
I think Nigerians want to be listened to. They want to engage their leaders. That is one area that is missing in some places. Let no one feel so comfortable to think he cannot spare the time to mobilise. We need to remind those of us in office, myself inclusive, that we are tenants in power. The real people in power are the electorate, and if you're conscious of that, you will listen and moderate your style.
What is your position on the proposed removal of fuel subsidy by the Federal Government?
I've spoken on this for quite sometime. The problem has been there. There's nothing new. I am part of the NLC, no matter what height I may attain, even as a governor, I'm still part of the NLC. And I will never depart from the NLC. NLC president is my president and when my president takes a decision, that decision is also binding on me, as a member. But I'm also in government, and as a governor, my task is to assist the president, to be loyal to the president, even though I'm from what people may describe as opposition or let me say alternative party. Therefore, my responsibility is to assist the president to run the country efficiently and effectively. And if, as his predecessors, he believes he needs to remove the subsidy in order to free resources to do other things, again, it is not for me to violently disagree with him. So, I'm caught between two presidents and I'm loyal to both.
My position, therefore, is that in this issue, it does not necessarily mean that one person is right and the other person is wrong; it is that there are policy choices to be settled and some prefer one to the other, not because one is more patriotic than the other. It's just that they have different appreciation about the opportunity cost. So, I'm not going to add to President Jonathan's headache. I believe he has enough already. I think my best role, in this particular matter of fuel subsidy, is to get the two presidents that I have, to talk, and to persuade each other on the basis of facts and logic. And everybody must see that if we go this way, these are the benefits; if we go this way, these are the benefits, these are the costs. So, we do cost/benefit analysis and if there is proper communication in any argument, in the end someone will be persuaded. The president of the country could be persuaded or those of Labour could be persuaded. So, my task is to get the parties to talk and that is my position. I do not think it is helpful to take any other position at this stage.
But there are a lot of issues on this oil matter that I don't think any of us can reduce our role to 'I am for it or I am against it.' None of those will suffice. At some official circles, I've argued that I don't even believe those numbers and we needed to clean up the books, right from the time of the late Umar Yar'Adua, because right now, diesel is already deregulated. All those mass transit buses, including the ones we use in Edo State, consume diesel. All the companies, all the factories use diesel. All those generators that you use to produce your newspapers use diesel, and that has since been deregulated. In the manufacturing sector, the alternative power is diesel, and it is being deregulated. I come from the textile industry; the boiler uses the LPFO, popularly called black oil, which has already been deregulated. The black oil or diesel is what drives the business sector, the productive sector, not PMS (petrol).
So, sometimes when I see some of the arguments, people say it will affect industries, but industries are already in trouble because somehow, by default or whatever, the diesel is already deregulated. They're already buying at market price and you know what the price of diesel is. Kerosene, on the other hand, as far as the ordinary man is concerned, is deregulated. Nobody gets it at N50 a litre; some buy that little beer bottle size for N200. They pay so much for it. Therefore, this whole thing is about PMS, popularly called petrol. And that's all. My concern is, are we really spending that amount of money just for petrol? What is our per capital consumption? I have asked those questions. I've not got answers. I think beyond yes or no, whichever way it is settled, if those issues are not resolved, we'll still have problems.
What is the cost of taking this product from wherever we import it to Lagos? From Lagos waters into our ports, what is the cost? There other costs built in, including demurrage. A ship that is still in Singapore is already incurring demurrage long before it arrives Nigerian waters; all of these have been built in. And I think the media need to deal with those issues, beyond 'retain subsidy, don't retain subsidy.' If those issues remain, we have done no good to anyone, whether the government pays for it or you pay for it.
In any case, there is no such thing as government money or public money. It's a wrong word. It's taxpayers' money. And we must be interested. We must ask those questions and get the answers. What is the cost of bringing this product from where it comes to Nigeria waters? When it gets to Nigeria waters to the ports, how much is involved to get it to the last end? Let's see. This issue of demurrage, what are we paying per litre? I think because of the confusion, it's so easy to say I'm opposed, I'm in support; there are a lot of issues there that need to be addressed.
What are you saying, in essence?
If I were to recap your question, I have two presidents, and I am loyal to both of them. My business is to get both of them to talk. Both of them are patriotic; they mean well for Nigeria. It's about what is the best way. And both sides have their merits and their demerits. And when I look at the commentaries now, it seems more people are complaining more out of anger. I think there is a mixture of politics, emotion, mistrust and distrust. So, there's heat now in the debate than light, and we need substantial light to understand what the issues are in order to arrive at what will be in the interest of this country. What is at stake is no joke, to be honest, either way it is resolved. It's a serious issue. I want to be helpful to the two presidents in a way that Nigeria will benefit. But I can never take a position that is in conflict with that of the NLC.
What would you say is the panacea for the Boko Haram insurgence currently threatening the security of this country?
I do not have all the facts; so, I don't have any comment. I really don't know who is doing what. I don't know what the demands are. I do not understand the issue. I only know from time to time there is bomb blast and someone claims responsibility. Okay, what does he want us to do for him to stop doing it? Who are these people? I really don't know. And if you do not know a problem and you only want to run your mouth, you may just be unhelpful.
The opposition is of the view that you have not provided Edo people the dividends of democracy despite boosting the IGR from N300 million to N1.6 billion in the last three years.
The opposition is not only crying because of IGR, they're crying because we're working. And they're crying for a good reason, because if we're working, where they didn't work, it means they would be out of power for the foreseeable future. And their godfather may finally complete his story on the planet without being able to say the government of his home state is from his own party. And you know what Chief Anenih said when he clarified the statement made by General Obasanjo, when Obasanjo said, 'this election is a do or die' and many of you took him up. Anenih offered a clarification and he gave a specific example that can you imagine if, for any reason the PDP loses the governorship of Edo to opposition, that he, Anenih was dead. I hope you remember he said so. And they have since lost the governorship of Edo to another party, so, he's already dead. So, if he's dead. Why should he not cry? Don't you cry even for bad people when they die? They have to cry because they are dead. And that is why they're crying and they'll be crying for a long time to come.