by Niyi Odebode, John Ameh, Olusola Fabiyi, Fidelis Soriwei, Oluwole Josiah and Friday Olokor
THE stage appeared set for another round of showdown between President Goodluck Jonathan and labour unions on the issue of fuel subsidy with labour on Tuesday asking the Federal Government to revert the pump price of petrol to N65 per litre.
The Nigeria Labour Congress and the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria said the Jonathan administration had no option other than to reverse the price from its present N97 to the old N65 per litre since the President had said he was rethinking the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment programme.
Jonathan on Monday reportedly told chieftains of the Peoples Democratic Party at their 58th National Executive Committee meeting in Abuja that implementation of the palliatives to cushion the effects of subsidy removal were no longer feasible.
The President said the palliatives had been based on the 100 per cent removal of subsidy on local consumption of fuel.
“This (SURE) is developed with the expectation that we were going to completely deregulate the Downstream sector of the oil industry, the 100 per cent removal of subsidy… we will still come up with a document based on what we get,” he told the PDP members and ordered them to withdraw the circulated SURE document.
The SURE programme had been hurriedly designed in January to douse the tension generated by the sudden removal of subsidy and consequent jump in the pump price of petrol.
The Senate has said it is backing the action of the President. Leader of the Senate, Victor Ndoma-Egba, said Jonathan made the plans based on zero-subsidy arrangement and for which the 2012 budget was prepared.
“The President said he wanted to remove subsidy, Nigerians said they don’t want it removed. Now that he was not able to realise his plan, where will he get the money to carry out that policy,” Ndoma-Egba said.
He, however, stated that the President would still need to work with the savings made from the partial removal of subsidy.
“The President will have to look at the proceeds from partial deregulation and work with what is saved. That is the reason why the document earlier produced should be revised to reflect the current realities,” he said.
Apart from the NLC and the ASCN, the House of Representatives also on Tuesday took a swipe at the President and said it was vindicated concerning its pessimism over the government palliatives.
The Acting General Secretary of the NLC, Mr. Owei Lakemfa, in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents on Tuesday said the Federal Government had no option but to revert the fuel pump price from the current N97 to the pre-2012 pump price of fuel.
He said that a recent advertisement in a national daily in which the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, claimed that the Federal Government realised N15b allocation from the proposed subsidy savings supported the claim that the Federal Government was making some money from the regime change in the pump price of fuel and that the funds realised from the fuel price increase should be adequately utilised to execute projects.
According to Lakemfa, the Federal Government is only trying to prepare the minds of Nigerians against expecting results from the increase in the pump price of petrol in the country by announcing the withdrawal of the programme.
He urged the government to fulfil its promise to use the proceeds of fuel price increase to construct roads, build a second Niger bridge, and other promises contained in the SURE document.
He said that the Nigerian citizenry was seriously interested in what the Federal Government could do with the proceeds from the increase in the pump price of petroleum products.
He called on the Federal Government to ensure that the Ministries of Petroleum and Finance were cleansed based on the serious discoveries made at the Subsidy Probe by the House of Representatives.
“Right from the onset, organised labour believed that the Federal Government was not sincere with this programme but the government claimed that we were going to get results in six months. What government is saying now is that we should not expect results,” the NLC scribe said.
Also, the House of Representatives said that it was not surprised that the President withdrew its promised fuel subsidy removal palliatives.
The House noted that the development vindicated its opposition to the SURE programme, particularly the “hurried manner” the executive introduced the document without consulting the National Assembly.
The Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Zakari Mohammed, explained that the legislature had consistently held the view that Nigerians needed to be consulted on the programme.
He added, “We have been vindicated because we had initially opposed the hurried manner the SURE document was put together.
“We were saying that the funds for this programme needed to be properly appropriated by the National Assembly and more so that we needed to have the details of the programme.”
Mohammed, however, commended Jonathan for realising that something went wrong and retracing his steps.
The Minority Leader of the House, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, who shared the same view, told THE PUNCH in Abuja that the palliatives were a “dummy right from the start.”
He argued that the President was merely attempting to “pull the wool” over the faces of Nigerians by promising palliatives that were theirs by right.
Gbajabiamila stated, “Under Section 17 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), government is mandated to provide the same services it has promised as palliatives.
“The issues of health, transport and all that; these are the fundamental duties that government owes the citizenry.
“You cannot give me what rightly belongs to me in the guise of palliatives, while taking away the subsidy that I ought to enjoy.
“So, I am not surprised that they have decided to withdraw it; it was a dummy that I never ever bought.”
Criticising the President, the National Publicity Secretary of the CPC, Mr. Rotimi Fashakin, said the administration was not committed to responsible governance.
“All along, as a party, we knew the idea of SURE was a knee-jerk response to the people’s protest and not a well thought-out intervention to stymie the dire impoverishment of the people,” Fashakin said.
President, Campaign for Democracy, Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, said it was evident from the outset that Jonathan was not committed to the implementation of the SURE programme.
“They never meant it (SURE). It was just propaganda to make people swallow poison. Corruption still persists so how can anyone trust the regime to implement SURE. Cosmetic palliatives can never cushion any effect,” she said.
The Secretary-General of ASCSN and founding Secretary-General of the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, Mr. Solomon Onaghinon, in an interview with one of our correspondents said, “There is social crisis in Nigeria.”
He said, “There were no palliatives in the first place; I have always said that those palliatives do not make sense because government said they would be paying salaries on the 20th of every month but have they paid? There is no palliative.
“For those people who really listened carefully, they would have known that there was no palliative. If the President said the palliatives are no longer feasible, let him bring the fuel price back to N65 per litre.”