20th September, 2011
Determined to shore up its dwindling revenue base, the Federal Government yesterday scheduled a meeting between the two recognised central industrial unions in the country, the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and the Trade Union Congress, TUC, to discuss its proposed plan to remove subsidy on petroleum products.
The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, the Federal Government agency in charge of fuel importation, had a number of times cried out that the government was subsidising fuel being sold to Nigerians to the tune of N2.6 billion daily and that there is the urgent need to remove the subsidy which it claimed only benefitted a small clique of oil importers.
With about 32 million litres of fuel consumed daily, the government plans to increase the price of petrol from the current N65 per litre to N150 per litre. This is more than 100 percent increase. Add this to the high cost of foods and services, it bears no gainsaying that the hardship of the populace will increase significantly when the increase is effected.
Our concern is the implication of the proposed increase in the price of fuel on the countryâ€™s security.
We are particularly worried that the government decided to commence negotiation to remove the oil subsidy at a period it was facing grave security and infrastructure challenges. Right now, all over the country, flood is wreaking havoc on the people with houses being submerged and residents swept away as a result of lack of drainages.
Insecurity is a major worry as the fear of attack by the Islamic fundamentalist sect, Boko Haram, pervades the country. Armed robbers are also on the loose. They attack with impunity and most times in broad daylight. Right now, Nigerians are going through hell so it will be unwise to add to their burden.
Our fears about the timing and the wisdom in the plan to remove fuel subsidy is further heightened by the fact that hoodlums and enemies of the nation could hide under the hardship created by the increase in the price of petrol to wreak more havoc on the nation.
This is why we support the stand of the TUC leadership led by Comrade Peter Esele to boycott the meeting with the government.
We consider the argument put forward by the Chairman of the Governorsâ€™ Forum, Alhaji Aliyu Babangida, of Niger State that fuel subsidy was no longer relevant because ordinary Nigerians meant to benefit from the scheme had been sidelined as a puerile one. The least ordinary Nigerians need now is for the government to add to their burden of daily existence.
Government will soon contend with both civil and industrial unrest if it does not rescind its decision to withdraw subsidy on oil. Already, the TUC and the NLC have signalled their intention to call out the workers on strike if the government goes ahead to increase the price of petrol to N150 per litre.
Rather than add to the burden of the people, government should identify other ways of shoring up its revenue base. The nationâ€™s huge agricultural potentials and solid mineral resources are largely untapped. These are good sources of revenue. The bane of this country is overreliance on oil revenue.
We also suggest that the government prunes down its recurrent expenditure which is currently about 70 percent of the national budget. This as unwieldy in a country where the mass of the people live below two dollars a day.
The government will do well to look into the outrageous salaries being paid members of the National Assembly, ministers, special advisers, senior special assistants, ambassadors, governors, commissioners and prune them down to have more money for developmental projects instead of increasing the price of fuel which will have a negative multiplier effect on the cost of goods and services.