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Saturday, May 25, 2024

David-West: ‘If Labour Fails To Act, I Will Lead Demonstrations Against This Government’



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Professor Tam David-West, Minister of Petroleum and Energy (1984-1985) and Minister of Mines, Power and Steel (1986), told KELVIN EBIRI in Port Harcourt that the amount spent on importing fuel is more than what is required to build refineries in Nigeria.
HOW much should petrol cost in Nigeria?
Forty to N50 per litre! I told Obasanjo to fix the price of petrol at N50 per litre and see if any filling station would close down. They will never close down; they are making a lot of money. If the business was not lucrative, why is it that petrol stations are springing up everyday? They are ripping Nigerians off.
Does government really subsidise refined petroleum products?
There is nothing like subsidy. The government is lying. So, to talk about removing subsidy is fraudulent. You don’t remove what does not exist.
General Muhammadu Buhari was oil minister before he became Head of State and I became oil minister under him. Both of us have consistently said there is no subsidy on Nigerian fuel. Why do I say so? What is subsidy?
Basically, if a particular essential commodity, say garri in Nigeria, costs N100 per bag, that is when the farmers are producing garri under natural condition and there is no problem. But at a particular time, due to natural causes, the farmers cannot have enough cassava to make enough garri; which means there is no much garri in the Nigerian market.
Thus, government goes abroad to buy garri at N150 per bag. They bring it to Nigeria and still sell it at N100 per bag so that the citizens will not suffer and the government will absorb the extra N50. That is subsidy, pure and simple.
But in the case of petroleum products, there is no subsidy. Why? We have four refineries in the country and if they are working, we will have more than enough fuel in the country. The total capacity of our four refineries is 445,000 barrels per day and if these are refined, we will have more than enough fuel in the country. If these refineries are working at 80 percent efficiency, we will have more than enough.
During General Buhari’s era, we were exporting refined products; we never imported any litre of petroleum products and we had only three refineries. I signed the fourth refinery’s contract in 1984.
They (other governments since then) have killed the refineries. I published my ‘sabotage theory’ of the Nigerian refineries in February 1996: that they were deliberately killing the refineries so that they could import fuel. Now, how can you punish the poor man for your profligacy and corruption?
God has given us crude oil under the Nigerian soil. We have refineries owned by government on this soil. We have petroleum stations all over the place; so, where is the subsidy?
Subsidy comes when you go to the international market and buy the fuel at international price, come here and punish the poor man to pay higher price for fuel, which he is blessed with.
I challenge President Goodluck Jonathan, his oil minister and the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, to engage me in a television debate. I have said there is no subsidy and they are saying there is subsidy; now, let them justify it. They are punishing the poor man. They don’t buy fuel; and they eat free.
Please, let the poor man not suffer. If Labour allows them to do this and it does not call for mass strike, I will mobilise the students to go on the street; I will lead a demonstration against the government.
Nigerians should go on the streets and force the government down. If they don’t do that, they should not blame the government but themselves because they cannot assert their rights. Students, everybody, should go on the streets and let us have sanity.
Must the government import fuel? All the presidents after Buhari turned into oil merchants. They are all corrupt oil merchants. Now, ministers have oil blocs; they have petrol stations. They are merely punishing the poor man.
Oil subsidy started during Ibrahim Babangida’s time. And Obasanjo, as president, arbitrarily increased oil price by four times. The then Group General Manager of the NNPC, Engr. Yar’Adua, appeared before the Senate last year and said Obasanjo used to tell them to increase petroleum price.
I challenge Jonathan and all of them to publish the names of those who import fuel into this country. If they publish the names, the country will be ablaze because they are punishing the poor man.
…‘Refineries Not Working Because People In Govt Are All Oil Traders’
GOVERNMENT has consistently maintained that the low price of petroleum products is discouraging investment in refineries. Is this the situation?
They awarded contracts for 18 refineries but they have not been able to build any because to build a refinery is expensive and no Nigerian has the money to build one. The economic situation in Nigeria is not conducive. They should look for something else to say.
Corruption, stealing, killing are rife. If you want to invest $5 billion, you must be sure that you have another $100 million for bribe in Nigeria.
They (government) are talking nonsense. They said if they remove subsidy, they are going to use the money for infrastructure. Again, this is rubbish. They are lying.
You don’t need removal of petroleum subsidy for infrastructure. Every budget has capital expenditure. Obasanjo gave Anenih billions of Naira for roads; when Obasanjo went to Ogun State, he asked Anenih, ‘where was the money I gave you?’
Subsidy removal has nothing to do with infrastructure, it has nothing to do with unemployment or drugs in the hospitals. I have been a Professor since 1974. I am sad to see graduates serving as stewards in restaurants, driving taxis.
Now, look at the hypocrisy. The governors said they could not pay the minimum wage except they remove the subsidy. But when Jonathan signed the Minimum Wage Bill into law, he never mentioned subsidy. They are all lying.
Why are the refineries not working?
It’s because the people in government are all traders in oil. They don’t love Nigeria, and the poor man; they love themselves. They have sabotaged the refineries.
The first refinery was built in Port Harcourt in 1965. It was destroyed during the Civil War. The Warri Refinery was built in 1978 and Kaduna Refinery in 1980. I signed the contract for the last Port Harcourt Refinery in 1984 and it came on stream in 1986.
Let them bring the people that built the refineries for us to fix them. No, they will not even do that because it will expose that they had sabotaged the refineries. The amount of money Nigeria is spending on importing fuel can build 10 refineries in this country. They are lying to Nigeria.
Nigerian oil is the worst managed globally. Every day Kuwait sells oil; they put aside something for Kuwaitis of the future. They have saved several billions of dollars; that is management. They bought Dorchester Hotel in London. They wanted to get 10 percent of a steel company in the United Kingdom, but the British government cried out loud.
Why has it been difficult to build and/or repair refineries?
The people that are sabotaging the economy are their agents. I told (former Petroleum Minister, Dan) Etete during his time, and he said he needed N250m to repair the refineries. But that year, they imported fuel worth of N900 million. This year again, we have imported fuel worth over N850 billion. Why are they getting money to import fuel and not money to build refineries? The government is not serious.
At worst, refineries can be built in less than three years. Let them build more refineries and be responsible. I still ask them: why is it that during Buhari’s time, we never imported fuel? Why are you importing now?
The people must force the government to build more refineries. You can build refineries in two years. Obasanjo said it’s five years. No. If by 1996 when I wrote the sabotage of the Nigerian refineries, Nigeria had decided to build more refineries, we would have had at least eight refineries. We will never lack.
We are producing over 2.4 million barrels per day and the capacity of our refineries is 445,000 barrels a day. So, build more refineries
…‘Our Finance Minister Is Here To Implement IMF Agenda’
IT appears the subsidy saga is the voice of the people against the determination of government to have its way. Isn’t it?
The Minister of Finance has merely brought an IMF script. She is here to implement IMF programme. Let me extrapolate. During Babangida’s time, when he wanted to take the IMF loan and implement its programmes, over 65 percent of Nigerians said they didn’t want IMF’s policy. He went and took it and the economy collapsed.
Now, let her (Okonjo-Iweala) test her popularity. Let them hold a plebiscite and see how many people will support further implementation of the IMF policy and the so-called removal of subsidy. Removing subsidy is poverty of ideas. Must the poor man suffer?
Look Okonjo’s logic: that the subsidy they are adding does not go to the ordinary people. So, if you remove it, will it go to them? They are going to make the lives of poor Nigerians more miserable. They don’t need to punish the poor man to rule.
Let me tell them: In a democracy, the people’s voice is supreme; the sovereignty of the people is cardinal to democracy. So, Jonathan is wrong to say no going back on subsidy. Is he a dictator? If the country does not want and you insist on going ahead, who are you? The voice of the people is the voice of God.
Let me warn them that the sovereignty of the people is supreme and if they go against it, they will be punished. A government that cannot satisfy the people is irrelevant and must go.
Government is to serve the people and they cannot dictate to the people. They have not produced any statistics to contradict my claim that there is no subsidy. This year alone, a senator said from January to August, Nigeria imported fuel worth over N850 million. At the end of the year, this will hit over a trillion Naira. God will punish all those who make the poor man to suffer and cry.
I can buy petrol for N150 per litre. I will cut down my expenses, but what about the poor Nigerians who can barely feed? Obasanjo increased the price of petroleum products about four times, what impact did it have on the economy? It will have no positive impact on the economy and the poor will suffer more.
They are lying about subsidy. Let them repair the refineries and build more. The Minister of Petroleum denied that Nigeria wants to build three refineries in Indonesia at the cost of $2.8 billion, which is about N400 billion. When the heat came, she denied. How can four newspapers report the story independently and lie?
An Indonesian minister released the information. Was the Indonesian minister lying or our own minister? They should not convert Nigeria into a laboratory of funny economic experiment. If they are not ready to govern, let them get out.
Did IMF exert pressure on the Buhari government to remove subsidy?
Yes, but Buhari refused and insisted he would never take IMF loan and recommendations. Shagari was negotiating for $2 billion loan before he fell from government. The then Minister of Finance, Dr. Onaolapo Soleye and the Secretary to Government, Alhaji Abubakar Alhaji, were discussing with the Paris Club.
Buhari told me: ‘Let them go on talking; I will not take IMF loan.’ Then, he put the question to me: ‘Professor, tell me one country that took IMF loan and conditions that survived?’
He went further to say: “If somebody wants you to borrow money and you said, ‘I don’t want to borrow money’ and the person is pressing you, then, there is something; a catch.”
We were able to make IMF irrelevant. Is IMF behind Buhari’s overthrow?
Is IMF behind Buhari’s overthrow?
History will tell one day. Colonel Gadhafi offered Buhari $4 billion interest-free loan and we refused.
HOW did Buhari’s regime meet domestic fuel consumption?
We did not import because we in government were not interested in becoming oil merchants. We had what we called offshore processing. Some major companies signed contracts with us. If, for a particular month, there would be a shortfall of production from our refineries, say one million litres, we would give them crude to go and refine outside, send us one million litres, sell the rest and give us foreign exchange in our account.
We never imported fuel. Petrol was 10k per litre at that time. When we wanted to increase to 15k, we had to sensitize the public for one month. Thanks to Senator Chris Anyanwu, who was the best Energy Correspondent at that time.
We needed money. When Buhari came in, the international community, including IMF, was squeezing him. We needed money and we wanted to use what we had to strengthen the nation. Six months’ salary arrears were paid off. We never borrowed money.
But the Jonathan government can also lay claim to needing more money to run the economy?
No. They need money and they are importing fuel worth more than what is required to build refineries. If the refineries are working and we are not importing fuel, there will be sufficient money to run the system and provide basic amenities.
In any case, they already have plenty of money. The increase in the price of petroleum products, which they seek, is because they are buying oil at international market price and squeezing the poor. We never needed money to service our profligacy. Never. Now, they need money to service their profligacy. The poor man is servicing the nation. That is what is happening.
Author of this article: KELVIN EBIRI

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