In the last few weeks, Nigerians have been inundated with hues and cries over the hike in the price of premium motor spirit (PMS) and electricity tariff. The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and some civil rights groups have expressed concern over the development. For all intent and purposes, the arguments presented so far against the hike in price of PMS fell short of logical thinking.
There is an old saying that “Twenty children cannot play for twenty years.” Similarly, it is unthinkable, how long will a man who used twenty years to rehearse madness live to practice it. The foregoing underscores the Nigerian dilemma in an effort to attain a sustainable, affordable and pocket-friendly tariff for consumers of petrol. The hike in the price of PMS is occasioned by government’s removal of subsidy on petroleum products.
For Nigeria’s petroleum industry, subsidy payments, more than anything else, has constituted excess baggage that has denied successive governments the needed funds for developmental purposes. This has resulted in huge infrastructural gaps because the funds that are supposed to be channeled into infrastructures are used to subsidize petrol, while the benefits seldom reach ordinary people.
There has been a consensus as to the undesirability of government subsidising price of petrol. But the snag has always been who will bell the cat? If President Muhammadu Buhari is courageous enough to withstand the untouchable cabals in the petroleum industry and remove subsidy so that market forces can determine the price Nigerians pay for PMS, why is Labour, TUC and other throwing tantrums as if they don’t have full grasp of issues in petroleum sector?
It may interest Nigerians to know that the full deregulation of the petroleum sector was atop agenda of the All Progressives Congress before it assumed office in 2015. But since then, President Buhari has resisted every pressure from his own party to fully deregulate the sector. But there is no better time to swallow the sour grape for tomorrow’s benefit than now.
Thank God that critical stakeholders in the downstream sector of the Nigerian Oil and Gas Industry, including the Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN), have lauded the President Buhari’s new policy to fully deregulate the product pricing.
The body that visited the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mr Mele Kyari said the move would help to tackle the challenges in the downstream sector of the oil industry.
Sensibly, there is no regulated sector of any economy that will attract meaningful investments from either local and international companies, or investors. It is important to set the records straight. The idea of petroleum product price hike can be understood from the purview of government withdrawing from the involvement in fixing prices. By so doing, investors will be attracted to come and invest in building refineries, as they are double sure of fair returns on their investments because of zero government intervention, except policy making. The overall spiral benefit of this genuine action of President Buhari is cheap price of petrol because the internal refining capacity would have multiplied, thereby forcing down the price because of availability. More so, boosting the local refining capacity will automatically discourage importation.
One may agree with those that are genuinely concerned in their point of view. However, there can’t be gains, if they is no pain. The time to bite the bullet is now. This pain is only euphemeral as it will soon translate to power of choice for consumers.
It is an open secret what a mess the situation in the petroleum sector was before President Buhari assumed office in 2015. These were periods when Nigerians spent long night on queues at fuel stations. Travellers resorted to carrying extra jerricans of petrol in the trunk of their cars. Hundreds of souls were lost to this avoidable and painful death. With the magic wand of Buhari, all that has become a thing of the past.
For the records, President Buhari bears no part in this whole electricity tariff hike, as electricity management is entirely a private sector concern. The journey to the privatization of power sector started when General Babangida’s administration promulgated the Technical Committee on Privatization and Commercialization (TCPC) in 1988 that actually brought the matter to the front burner. Ten years later, the government of General Abdusalami Abubakar promulgated the Public Enterprises (Privatization and Commercialization) Decree of 1999 which listed NEPA, later PHCN for privatization. The privatization of PHCN was consummated in November 2013 when President Goodluck Jonathan handed over the subsidiary companies that made up PHCN to the new core investors.
Why are the NLC and the opposition PDP after giving a dog bad name in order to hang it? How is President Buhari to blame in the electricity tariff hike? Was it not under the corruption-infested PDP government that the power sector was privatized? Agreed that the gullible PDP is spewing mischief in a clandestine attempt to rubbish the noble and strategic initiative of the Buhari-led government to free Nigeria from petroleum-related complication, but what of the NLC, a reputable organisation that is supposed to applaud the president and give him all the needed support to achieve his core objectives?
As earlier noted, twenty children cannot play for twenty years, because a twenty year-old is no longer a child. In the same connection, Nigeria has paid subsidy long enough to its own detriment and needs a change of tactics. Subsidy has existed in the Petroleum industry for as far back when the country started producing oil. What do we have from government’s noble intention of making petrol prices affordable? It is the same privilege class, who ride in convoy of twenty cars, with 30 more parked in their garages that are the net beneficiary of government subsidies in all sectors.
In the whole tariff hike brouhaha, the oil cabal who for selfish interests or in a bid to fester their nest are the ones misleading the people by deliberately distorting President Buhari’s genuine intention to fix the malignant cancer of corruption in the sectors.
I think the logical point of view in the whole fuel price debate should be for government to stop subsidising petroleum and electricity products and invest the funds it would have expended for subsidy on education, healthcare, infrastructures upgrade and providing palliatives to the vulnerable. Sensibly, this is how a government can directly touch the lives of the people and not digging by one bottomless pit called subsidy.
The NLC, TUC and their affiliates should listen to the voice of reason. President Buhari has no personal agenda to fulfill rather than fixing the country back to the path of its lost glory. He has overtime demonstrated the purity of motives in whatever he does in the service of our fatherland. All that is needed is unwavering support to enable him deliver on his campaign promises.
– Ibrahim is director of communication