By DOMINIC UZU, Northern Regional Editor, Kaduna
Recent Fuel price increase has forced Elder Statesman Alhaji Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa to take a swipe at President Muhammadu Buhari and his policies, describing it as a calculated attempt to exploit Nigerians.
Specifically, Musa who was the first Executive Governor of Old Kaduna State called on the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC), Civil Society Organisations, opposition political parties and all well meaning Nigerians to come out to the streets and protest the N145 fuel price increase by the President Muhammadu Buhari and his All Progressives Congress (APC) government until it is reversed.
In an exclusive interview with National Daily in Kaduna, Alhaji Balarabe Musa said that the increase in the fuel price was unnecessary, uncalled for, especially, given the present bad economic situation in the country.
“There was no basis for this decision to increase fuel price because there is a lot of hardship in this country now. There is unemployment, poverty, diseases of all kind,” the former governor said.
Musa argued that, “One thing that is clear with this government’s action is either they want to make up the 2016 budget with whatever they will realise here or they want to later present it as money recovered from looters of Nigeria’s treasury.”
“Remember that several money has been recovered by this government but nobody has been able to tell us how much and where the money is kept and people are asking questions,” he said.
Balarabe Musa declared: “It is possible the recovered loots have been looted again and, may be, they want to use the money realised from the fuel price increase to cover up. Whatever it is, I think Buhari government is ready to exploit Nigerians, so, I call on NLC, TUC, CSO, political parties to stage mass protest until the price is reverted.”
However, another elder statesman from the North, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai throws his weight behind President Mohammadu Buhari on the fuel price increment from N87 to N145 and the removal of fuel subsidy. The elder statesman said that it was the best decision ever taken by this administration.
Tanko Yakassai, a die-hard supporter of former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has consistently criticised President Buhari policies until now.
“I have been a strong supporter of the withdrawal of fuel subsidy for the last 20 years or there about. I have many reasons that informed my position,” he said.
Yakassai explained that First, is that the ordinary Nigerians are not the actual beneficiaries of the subsidy regime. He stated that Marketers and smugglers were the main beneficiaries of the policy. “Besides, as long as the petroleum products price would be cheaper in Nigeria, then, in our immediate neighboring countries, nobody can stop smuggling of the products from our country to our neighbors, which shows the ineffectiveness of the control of pump price in our country,” he said.
Yakassai remarked that, “If the government removes the subsidy, the money that would be saved, as a result, can be put to better use in dealing with more pressing problems bedeviling our nation such as endemic unemployment, dilapidated infrastructure, modernisation of agriculture, addressing the need for robust education and healthcare programme that can better the lot of our people.
“In addition, the removal of subsidy in the price of petroleum products will eliminate the massive corruption in the regime as was exposed in the National Assembly investigations carried out recently in both the Senate and House of Representatives enquiries as a result of which a handful of individuals siphoned billions of Nigeria’s money and converted it to their personal use,” the elder statesman emphasized.
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He further declared that, “The money that will be saved, if the subsidy is removed, can also be utilised in cushioning the effect of the hardship and sufferings of our working population and the common man will experience as a result of the withdrawal of the oil subsidy by granting such amenities as rent grant, healthcare subsidy, reduction of school fees and other remedial programmes.”
Moreover, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, at the week end, explained the real issue is not a removal of subsidy. He admitted that at $40 a barrel of crude, there isn’t much of a subsidy to remove.
The vice president had explained inter alia that local consumption of fuel is almost entirely imported. He revealed that the NNPC exchanges crude from its joint venture share to provide about 50% of local fuel consumption while the remaining 50% is imported by major and independent marketers.
These marketers up until three months ago, were said to source their foreign exchange from the Central Bank of Nigeria at the official rate. However, since late last year, independent marketers have brought in little or no fuel because they have been unable to get foreign exchange from the CBN. The CBN simply did not have enough. (In April, oil earnings dipped to $550 million. The amount required for fuel importation alone is about $225million!).
Meanwhile, NNPC tried to cover the 50% shortfall by dedicating more export crude for domestic consumption, Osinbajo said. He added that NNPC also lacked the capacity to distribute 100% of local consumption around the country. Previously, they were responsible for only about 50%. (Partly the reason for the lingering scarcity), he said.
“We realised that we were left with only one option. This was to allow independent marketers and any Nigerian entity to source their own foreign exchange and import fuel. We expect that foreign exchange will be sourced at an average of about N285 to the dollar, (current interbank rate). They would then be restricted to selling at a price between N135 and N145 per litre,” Osinbajo declared.
“We expect that with competition, more private refineries, and NNPC refineries working at full capacity, prices will drop considerably. Our target is that by Q4 2018 we should be producing 70% of our fuel needs locally. At the moment even if all the refineries are working optimally, they will produce just about 40% of our domestic fuel needs,” the VP said.
Osinbajo identified foreign exchange as the basic cost component largely responsible for the substantial rise in pump price of petrol.