STRANDED: Motorists stranded in traffic caused by departing members of a popular church along Cele-Ijesha axis of Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, yesterday. Photo: Akintola, Photo Editor.BY CLIFFORD NDUJIHE, VICTOR AHIUMA-YOUNG, HENRY UMORU, Gbenga Ariyibi & CALEB AYANSINA
Oct 17, 2011 – THE Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, has advised the Presidency to cut social spending and jettison its planned fuel subsidy removal to avoid the wrath of Nigerians and save the nation from social uprising. It warned that indices that gave rise to the uprising in North Africa and the Arab world were everywhere in Nigeria.
This came as strong indications emerged weekend that heads may roll in the oil industry following the resolve of Senate Probe Panel on fuel subsidy to expose the cartel in the alleged N1.5 trillion fuel subsidy fraud. The panel disclosed that the Federal Government had been financing the fuel subsidy through a secret account, adding that the government might spend over N1.3trillion on fuel subsidy this year alone as against the N240 billion that was voted for it in the 2011 budget.
NECA to state position today
Meanwhile, employers in the country under the umbrella of Nigeria Employers Consultative Association, NECA, will today state their position on the controversial fuel subsidy removal.A statement by the body said “the Director-General NECA will be having a press briefing on the fuel subsidy removal. The briefing will throw more light on the actual position of the Organised Private Sector on the removal of fuel subsidy.”
Also, Bishop of Abeokuta Archdiocese, Martins Adewale and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) tasked government on fixing of the nation’s refineries.
NLC, NUPENG kick
Restating its opposition, organised labour said hijacking the private sector forum and smuggling a fake endorsement for removal by the so-called private sector would not make Nigerians accept such a calamity.
In a statement by its Acting General Secretary, Comrade Owei Lakemfa, NLC implored the Federal Government to cut social spending instead of orchestrating endorsement of its fuel subsidy removal plot.
The statement read: “The NLC advises the Presidency to learn from the October 15 Global Day of action against corporate greed and cut in social spending, rather than orchestrate endorsement of its fuel subsidy removal gambit.
The global protests on Saturday is a red card for the ruinous programme of subsidy removal and cuts in social spending and an indication that the North African uprising is spreading. The Federal Government should face this reality and address growing poverty, hunger and anger amongst the masses.
Hijacking the private sector forum and smuggling a fake endorsement removal will not make Nigerians accept such a calamity. Save beneficiaries of government largesse, no employers utilizing petroleum products will endorse subsidy removal.”
Speaking also on deregulation, National President of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas, NUPENG, Comrade Igwe Achese, said the timing for deregulation was wrong in view of the fact that the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, which embraces all activities of the oil sector had not been passed into law.
He said the union would vehemently resist any form of deregulation that was import driven, stressing the need for government to come up with specifics on how to ensure that the local refining capacity was increased over a period of time.
He also stressed the need for government to engage all stakeholders in the economy and state categorically how it intended to use the proceeds from the removal of fuel subsidy and how that decision would reduce poverty and unemployment.
“NUPENG is not against deregulation; our position is that if government must deregulate, it should not be import-driven. What we are against is import-driven deregulation. We have already given government conditions for deregulation and part of it is that the refineries must work optimally; government must make the depots to function properly.
Currently, we are still haulaging when we have depots but because of pipeline vandalism the depots are not functioning. Before government comes up with deregulation policy, it must first pass the PIB which is all encompassing into law”, he said.
Senate beams searchlight
Speaking with journalists in Abuja, Co-chairman of the panel and Chairman Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Ahmed Mohammed Maccido (PDP, Sokoto North) said that the committee was prepared to unmask the persons described as a cartel that had allegedly hijacked the subsidy.
Senate President David Mark had last Wednesday expressed concern over the existence of a cartel which he said was milking the nation dry, and challenged his colleagues to open up the sector for the overall interest of Nigerians.
He mandated the joint Senate committees on Appropriation, Petroleum and Finance to immediately conduct full scale investigation into the alleged fuel subsidy fraud following a motion by former governor of Kwara State, Senator Bukola Saraki (PDP, Kwara Central) on conflicting expenditure profile of the Federal Government on fuel subsidy.
Speaking further on what the panel intended doing, Maccido stressed that it would not only step on toes, but also would go ahead to name the members of the ‘cabal’ that had been accused of milking the country dry.
Senator Maccido noted that though the subsidy was being financed from crude oil sales, such spending was not captured in the budget, adding that the committee had earlier raised such observation in a meeting with President Goodluck Jonathan.
According him, funds for subsidy were being spent without recourse to the National Assembly, just as he disclosed that the executive had at the last meeting promised to ‘make amend’, adding that the Senate had not been given details of where the subsidy being removed would be utilized.
“The thing here is there are lots of questions as to where the N1.3 trillion came from because it has not even been appropriated by the National Assembly. We learnt that it was money that was got from a particular sale. The money was gotten from particular crude sales lawfully but unfortunately, the money was not appropriated by the National Assembly.
We were not informed as to what that particular money was being kept aside for. They just went ahead and used it for subsidy. If they had written a letter to the National Assembly, informing us of the action they took, that would have been better but it wasn’t like that.
“We took up the issue with them when we met the President and his economic team last Monday and I believe they were ready to make amends. As you are aware, we budgeted N240 billion but the irony is that they have spent more than N1 trillion. So, you can imagine the difference between what we budgeted for and what was expended.”
On the way forward, he said: “The Senate has inaugurated a committee on this particular issue. We are going to investigate it; we are going to find out where those monies came from, we are going to find out how those monies are being spent, if it’s being spent rightly or not, we know what to do. In any case, I believe this investigation will form a basis for our agreement as to whether subsidy should be removed or not.”
Fix refineries – Cleric
Relatedly, Bishop of Abeokuta Archdiocese, Martins Adewale, yesterday advised the Federal Government to repair the country’s refineries before implementing its decision to remove fuel subsidy.
CPC doubts govt’s sincerity
Adewale spoke as the CPC doubted the government’s sincerity in doing the needful with the expected proceeds.
In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Engr. Rotimi Fashakin, the CPC said little or nothing would be achieved with the fuel subsidy savings without transparency.
Alleging that the government abused the privatisation programme, failed to maintain the nation’s four refineries and account for the proceeds of the Excess Crude-oil Account, the party said the citizenry should not be punished for the negligence of their leaders.
“Would the argument on ‘subsidy’ still make sense if the nation’s refineries are producing at optimal capacity? With the recent revelation that more money (un-appropriated) is being spent on ‘subsidy’ than that budgeted for the current financial year, are we not being deceived by this regime? With no sustained welfare package for the Nigerian people in the critical areas of decent living, would this proposed removal of the ‘subsidy’ not be at variance with Section 14 (b) of the Nigerian constitution which states that: ‘the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government,’ it said.
Tinubu, Akande, warn against subsidy removal
Meantime, former Governor of Lagos state, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and the national chairman of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Chief Bisi Akande, yesterday, condemned the proposed removal of oil subsidy by the federal government.
The duo spoke separately with newsmen in Ado Ekiti shortly after attending the thanksgiving service marking Governor Fayemi’s one year in office. They said the planned removal would further impoverish the masses.
Tinubu described the proposal as a misplaced priority and asked the federal government to review the monthly allocation first in favour of the states before thinking of removing oil subsidy.
Akande, however, said the federal government does not believe in transparency, alleging that some people in government have been feeding fat on oil subsidy. The former civilian governor of Osun State said rather than remove oil subsidy, government should first put in place infrastructure such as good roads; pipe borne water and good transit system.
Anglican Church gives conditions
In like manner, The Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) weekend cited the judicious use of the money realised from fuel subsidy removal as a condition for the Church to give its nod to government’s decision to remove subsidy and increase fuel price in 2012.