(By Emejuiwe Victor)
“Nigerians believe that some of the people benefiting from the present subsidy payments are group of unpatriotic Nigerians, who choose to own refineries outside Nigeria, with the purpose of getting money from government to import refined crude. We are also aware that there are those who have paraded themselves as oil marketers and collect money from government without importing the product. Nigerians also believe that the minister of finance has made efforts to screen genuine oil marketers who are deemed qualified to receive subsidy payments from the government. Irrespective of this fact, Nigerians believe that the Federal Government has not been able to manage the subsidy regime effectively even when monumental fraud associated with subsidy has been exposed“.
IN the wake of oil revenue decline, the Federal Government has announced its plan to reduce the amount allocated to fuel subsidy in the 2015 budget from N971 billion to N458 billion. No doubt with the oil price decline, Nigerians are apprehensive about the general state of the economy and its accompanying effects on livelihoods.
The news of subsidy payment reduction by 2015 poses another gloomy scenario of survival especially, for the common citizens. The Federal Government should not be in a hurry to forget how the citizens reacted to the initial attempt to remove subsidy in January 2012; the reaction of the citizens were not because they were non-progressive neither was it because they were sponsored to react the way they did. The citizens reacted because of the harsh realities involved in surviving the increase of petrol pump price. The immediate removal of subsidy led to the sharp increase in transportation cost and prices of food stuff.
For a nation that has 26 per cent unemployed graduates with a majority of its working population receiving very low income, any decision to increase the price of fuel will amount to aggravating the sufferings of 80 per cent of this population. If that be the case, then the so-called austerity measure which the government is planning to adopt would have its toll on the poor. Worse still is the fact that increase in the pump price of crude does not lead to increase in the minimum wage of workers; how then does the government expect a salary earner of N18,000 minimum wage to adjust to its austerity measure?
The consequence of this measure on the poor can result to increase in crime rate which might present itself as an unholy alternative to cope with the harsh realities of survival. In the light of this; we wonder why the government is finding it difficult to build a functional refinery in Nigeria, the amount of money dedicated to paying fuel subsidies in a year could comfortably build government owned refineries and also create jobs for the local population. When the Federal Government decided to introduce partial removal of subsidy, one would have expected that rather than dedicate the savings towards a programme like SURE P, it should have invested it in the building of refineries before removing total subsidy. It is ridiculous that one of the largest producers of crude oil like Nigeria cannot simply boast of a functional refinery that can refine its oil to optimum capacity.
In order to address a whole lot of problems facing this nation, there is need for sincerity in the part of government. This is not the time to continue abusing the mentalities of Nigerians with beautiful colourations in papers about the growth of the economy. The only straight gate to growth and development is sincerity. If the government understands what it takes to achieve growth and development, then it has to be sincere in the fight against corruption. Those beautiful words about the growth of the economy do not appeal to the senses especially when Nigerians see on a daily basis how public funds are being mismanaged in various sectors of the economy without any punitive measures.
Also when economic plans do not translate to visible results, it either shows the incompetency of those managing the economy or buttresses the fact that the government is sabotaging its own efforts by allowing corruption to thrive. The government can choose to use oil price decline as an excuse for removing subsidy but the government needs to explain what it did with the oil revenue when oil price was experiencing increase. The managers of the economy also need to ask themselves why their efforts to diversify the economy since the global melt down, have not yielded any positive results.
Therefore, it remains totally unacceptable for the poor to bear the effects of oil price decline by reducing allocations to petroleum subsidy. In order to put the record straight, the position of the common Nigerians on subsidy remains unarguable.
Nigerians believe that some of the people benefiting from the present subsidy payments are group of unpatriotic Nigerians, who choose to own refineries outside Nigeria, with the purpose of getting money from government to import refined crude. We are also aware that there are those who have paraded themselves as oil marketers and collect money from government without importing the product. Nigerians also believe that the minister of finance has made efforts to screen genuine oil marketers who are deemed qualified to receive subsidy payments from the government. Irrespective of this fact, Nigerians believe that the Federal Government has not been able to manage the subsidy regime effectively even when monumental fraud associated with subsidy has been exposed.
Nigerians are also aware that the Federal Government has consistently maintained a singular position of total removal of subsidy when in earnest it has not effectively managed the partial removal of subsidy. It is difficult to trust the Federal Government with the management of total removal of subsidy when corruption in government still goes on unabated.
Still on subsidy payments; Nigerians doubt the actual amount government claims to be paying on subsidy; it is expected that the government should be paying less than it claims; having known the difference associated with previous claim as a result of fraud.
Finally, while we show solidarity with the government in the face of our economic gloom; the Federal Government should remove subsidy only when it has succeeded in building adequate refineries. Meanwhile, the National Assembly, Nigeria Labour Congress, civil society organisations and well-meaning Nigerians should resist the move by the Federal Government to reduce subsidy allocations in 2015.
• Emejuiwe is a programme officer, Good Governance, Centre for Social Justice, Abuja.
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