Ministers form lobby groups for policy
PRESIDENT Goodluck Jonathan is set to personally lead negotiation with the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) over plan by the Federal Government to remove fuel subsidy.
Until now, there has been no official engagement between government and Labour over the January date set for the removal of fuel subsidy except indirect comments on the matter by some ministers.
The Acting General Secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Owei Lakemfa, who dropped the hint yesterday in Abuja at the celebration of the Pensioners Day by the Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP), said the negotiation team was expected to be led by NLC President Abdulwaheed Omar at the Presidential Villa.
He revealed that though the details of the meeting with Jonathan were sketchy as at noon yesterday, it might not be unconnected with the planned removal of fuel subsidy.
This came as The Guardian learnt in Abuja at the weekend that government had raised a team of ministers to spearhead town-hall meetings in their geo-political zones to seek support for the removal of subsidy.
Owei said the NLC was determined to ensure the fuel subsidy stays, saying, “removing fuel subsidy is not going to be accepted by us. We suspect that today (yesterday) meeting with the President will be on fuel subsidy but we remain committed to this cause and we shall resist any attempt by this government to remove the subsidy.”
The Guardian learnt in Abuja that Jonathan was devising new measures to persuade Nigerians to support the removal of fuel subsidy and that was why ministers were barred from making public pronouncements on the policy.
It was further learnt that the lobby groups were being co-ordinated by the office of the Vice President, Namadi Sambo.
A source told The Guardian: “The President is aware of past efforts at removing fuel subsidy and he is therefore very careful not to repeat the same mistake that has dressed the policy in a grotesque robe. Some senior ministers have been pencilled down to lead town hall meetings in their areas of origin. This, it is believed, is expected to be effective and result-oriented, as the ministers will be speaking to their own people. The groups will also be attached to some select media houses to amplify the consensus that will be reached at the town hall meetings.” .
The source also said that the Presidency was not pleased with the communication strategies that had been put together so far by an aide to the President on performance monitoring and evaluation.
In the new communication strategy, there will be programmes on the advantages of deregulation and why the Nigerian economy is too fragile to sustain the N1.3 trillion yearly fuel subsidy. .
Already, the uncertainty surrounding the January date for the removal of fuel subsidy is causing ripples in the supply chain of petroleum products nationwide as fuel queues re-surfaced in Abuja yesterday.
Some major fuel stations within the metropolis had no product, which further fuelled the rumour of possible scarcity of products.
Expectedly, the few stations that had fuel had their stations besieged by motorists who had developed apprehension over possible removal of the subsidy even before the January date.
Also, the Arewa Youths Forum (AYF) yesterday in Kaduna warned President Jonathan against playing politics with the issue of fuel subsidy.
The group warned that if the current debate on the removal of petroleum subsidy was not better handled by government, it may spell doom for the nation.
The AYF’s president, Alhaji Gambo Ibrahim Gujungu, who addressed a press conference in Kaduna, said: “Politics must be shelved aside and he must practically and realistically prove and convince Nigerians to see the need to remove the subsidy. But in a situation whereby his perception is about playing politics, and just reaching out to Nigerians akin to what they do in their mainstream stream polity, he will be shocked and Nigerians will make him crumble no matter the good intention behind it.”
And in Abuja, Governor Babangida Aliyu of Niger State has called for serious steps in the form of palliatives to cushion the effects of the policy on Nigerians.
At a discussion forum on “Deregulation in an emerging economy” convened by a pressure group called “The Initiatives”, Aliyu said the concept of deregulation would attract the participation of the private sector in the economy.
The governor said: “Although the removal of fuel subsidy will affect the weak and the poor in the society, the rationale for deregulation is to ensure removal of government’s overbearing influences in control and management so as to allow for greater competitiveness and consequently spur higher productivity and efficiency by allowing individual investors put in their resources in running the businesses that were hitherto exclusive preserves of government.
“With the removal of oil subsidy, the states will get more money apart from the palliatives that will come. This will in turn free government from the bondage of continuous financing of extensive projects which are best suited for private investment by encouraging efficiency and effectiveness in resource utilisation, reducing government borrowing while raising revenue and promoting healthy competition.”
Aliyu, who is also Chairman of Northern Governors’ Forum, observed that the subsidy on fuel had resulted in a situation where 80 per cent revenue from oil has been benefiting about 1per cent of the country’s population while the remaining 99 per cent of the people were forced to live in abject poverty struggling to provide themselves with the basic essentials of life.
He added: “When shall we see an end to deficit financing of the budget or a 30.7 per cent ratio in recurrent/capital expenditure? How can we take the 70 per cent of the population out of poverty? Do we continue to spend huge resources on subsidies that leave majority of the people poorer and the nation under-developed?
“The deplorable non-functional state of some government companies and industries, deregulating them will save government burden of continually financing these projects that are best suitable for private investment.”
According to him, “with the current trend in global economy, Nigeria must learn to catch up with the rest of the world or risk being left behind, for instance, with well over 3,557 kilometres of rail-track network across the country, the Nigerian rail is in parlous condition and requires prompt injection of huge capital far beyond what the public funding can offer.”
The debate on the subsidy removal became dramatic when a former House of Representatives member, Dino Melaye, suddenly appeared and condemned the planned removal of subsidy, describing it as “satanic”.
His position was immediately subjected to utter condemnation as a security consultant, Max Gbanite, who also contributed to the debate, wondered how Melaye could claim to be speaking on behalf of the poor when he rode in a posche worth well over $150,000 to the occasion.
And without any further word, Melaye left the occasion.
Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, also supported the policy, describing government’s yearly budget for fuel subsidy as a huge waste of resources.
Sanusi, represented at the event by CBN’s Director of Research, Mr. Charles Mordi, said the continued funding of the subsidy had become a huge waste of resources as it gulped about N1.3 trillion between January and October 2011.