As Nigerians grapple with the worst energy crisis ever to befall the nation, there is very little doubt that the subsidy regime that has been fostered on the nation by the labour movements and some sections of the media can no longer be sustained.
Africa’s largest economy and oil producer has frittered away obscene amounts for two decades sustaining a regime that subsidies consumption. Better-managed countries subsidize production such as agriculture and manufacturing.
In the process, Nigeria’s fuel subsidy scheme has created rent seeking opportunities, overnight billionaires and cabals that have corruptly fed fat from the inefficiency of an unsustainable regime. What is worse is that the fuel subsidy regime has stifled the repair and privatisation of existing refineries and the construction of new ones; it has impeded wholesale reforms at the state-run Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC); and played a role in stalling the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).
As oil marketers and the Federal Ministry of Finance bicker over outstanding subsidy claims and exchange rate differentials, there is very little doubt that the current sorry pass could have been avoided had the Jonathan administration been allowed to do away with subsidies in January 2012.
But the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC), egged on and sponsored by members of the opposition, held the country to ransom until the government was forced to buckle under their demands that subsidies on petrol and kerosene must be retained.
Even the state governors who once threw their weight behind the removal of fuel subsidies but were forced to beat a retreat in the face of the nationwide strike in 2012, are today in denial over the obvious fact that almost half of the country’s savings in the Excess Crude Account (ECA) was used to pay oil marketers’ subsidy claims.
However, former President Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, yesterday, said Nigerians should not expect miracles from the President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari, saying, he will not be able to repair eight years bad governance overnight. He, however, warned the President-elect against cover up, urging him not to take Nigerians for granted when he assumes office as the president from May 29. Yet, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari, who shall be leading the new administration, has a predilection for harping on his days as petroleum minister almost 40 years ago and head of state a decade later when NNPC was able to meet Nigeria’s energy requirements and the refineries were functioning.
Largely, whilst the acts of oil marketers that have held the country to ransom could be deemed repugnant, it could, on the other hand, be a blessing in disguise. It would provide the impetus for Buhari and his team to take the unpopular but necessary reforms in the downstream oil sector. The subsidy issue will, without doubt, be the first test to confront Buhari as he mounts the saddle on Friday. It will be a make or break decision for his administration.
President Jonathan, on his part, counted peace and stability as positive issues he would hand over even as he confessed that the incoming government would need prayers to overcome the problems it would inherit.
The opposition party, APC, is definitely in strong disagreement of this stance stating, “In a few days’ time, President Jonathan will hand over to President-elect Muhammadu Buhari. Never in the history of our country has any government handed over to another a more distressed country. No electricity, no fuel, workers are on strike, billions are owed to state and federal workers, 60 billion dollars are owed in national debt, and the economy is virtually grounded. “Today, Nigerians are roaming the streets, jerry cans in hand, searching for everything from kerosene to fuel, diesel to power their generators, keep their vehicles on the road and keep their businesses going. They are paying as much as N300 per litre of fuel if at all they can get it. Yet their government is not saying a word about the situation,” the party said.
Meanwhile, Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, yesterday in Lagos, threatened to direct workers to stay at home should the current fuel scarcity get prolonged.
NLC lamented that with petroleum products’ prices as high as N350 per litre, claims and counter-claims between Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and marketers over so-called N159 billion subsidy payments and all state actors looking indifferent, Nigeria was the only country on earth which unacceptably and criminally denied its citizens basic sources of energy, fuel and electricity.
The statement, by Mr. Issa Aremu, a Deputy President of Ajaero faction of NLC said; “After several weeks of deliberate deprivations of petroleum products by both the government and marketers, with all the associated hardships, it is time all Nigerians stopped agonizing and rose in unison against the situation. With petroleum products’ prices as high as N350 per litre, (far above N87 per litre) claims and counter-claims between Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and marketers over so-called N159 billion subsidy payments and all state actors looking indifferent, Nigeria is the only country on earth which unacceptably and criminally denies its citizens basic sources of energy, fuel and electricity.’’
See Punch and Vanguard Nigeria Newspapers 25th May 2015 for more references.