Unlike other things, crude oil and cost of fuel are more than what they are; they are both social and economic livewire of Nigeria. When the cost of crude oil in the international market is adjusted, its reverberating impact is felt in Nigeria. When the cost of refined crude known as petroleum is reviewed, even the priest in a shrine knows that business is no longer as usual.
On Wednesday during a virtual meeting, ahead of the Federation Accounts Allocations Committee (FAAC) meeting that took place on Thursday in Abuja, the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) tentatively approved the report of a committee headed by Governor Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai of Kaduna State. The committee’s report recommended full deregulation of petroleum sector and approved a new pump price at N385 per litre.
According to the report, el-Rufai’s six-man committee was set up early this year by the National Economic Council (NEC), headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, to primarily look into the dwindling revenues accrued to states and find means of tackling the problem.
Governors Godwin Obaseki of Edo State, Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State and David Umahi of Ebonyi State are also members of the committee. Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr Godwin Emefiele, and the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mallam Mele Kyari, are also members.
It is obvious that the decision to approve a new fuel pump price must have been hinged on el-Rufai’s briefing. Persuading his colleagues to appreciate the need to review petrol pricing, the Kaduna state governor, who has been in the eye of the storm over the 5-day warning strike embarked by the Nigeria Labour congress (NLC) that was suspended on Wednesday at the behest of the Federal Government, disclosed that between N70 billion and N210 Billion is spent monthly to subsidise fuel that is currently being sold at N162 per litre. The report also identified top consumers of petrol products to include Lagos, Oyo, Ogun, Rivers and Abuja.
Justifying the recommendation of the committee, the Kaduna State Governor had noted that a review of the fuel pump price to N385 per litre would not only stem the rising spate of smuggling the product, but a review in the pump price would make FAAC to gain between N1. 3 trillion and N2. 23 trillion yearly.
For those knowledgeable in the politics of petroleum pricing, the dialectic is not as simple as was presented by el-Rufai’s committee. An increase in the pump price of fuel is not only capable of igniting popular uproar and forcing citizens into the streets, approving a new pump price has the capacity to unleash mayhem against the public good. At the current cost of N162 per litre, the suffering and pains to be caused by additional increase in cost would leave many citizens gnashing their teeth under the rising cost of commodities and services.
Any increase in the cost of petrol products automatically translates into an increase in the cost of goods and services. In essence, an increase in the cost of petrol affects the cost of services as many business outfits are dependent on fuel. Rural dwellers depend on road transportation to move their agricultural products to where they can market their products. In a situation where transporters increase the cost of transportation, farmers would have no option than to transfer the additional cost to consumers.
It is inscrutable that governors who are supposed to display empathy for their citizens as a result of the Covid-19 plague would readily recommend the review of petrol products. While it is a public secret that most of these governors may not be sympathetic to current suffering faced by citizens, the major aim of the planned pump price review is to make additional funds available to states.
For many years now, governors have been more concerned with deploying various means of getting additional funds from the central treasury. Some of the states, despite the Paris Refund, have remained insolvent as some of the governors are engaged in fleecing their treasuries. That our country has lost billions of dollars due to the pandemic should not justify the attempt for the planned review of petrol price. Governors should look beyond taking advantage of FAAC and generate their own funds to administer their states.
Governments at all levels should not base their focus on making profits but work towards improving the living standards of citizens. The threat by the NNPC to remit zero allocation to FAAC should not stampede governors into taking a hasty decision to increase fuel pump price. A thorough review of the operations of NNPC is necessary to authenticate claims on the actual cost involved in fuel subsidies.
It is commendable that some of the governors have expressed opposition to this planned review as it’s capable of inflicting pains on Nigerians and causing an inflationary trend in the country. The NEC must not succumb to pressure by the NGF to approve new templates for a new fuel pump price. Those opposed to this unjustifiable planned fuel price review must not allow some anti-democratic forces to foist a new fuel pump price on hapless masses. We must not allow political leaders to channel resources belonging to our commonwealth to the pleasure of some governors who most times deployed such funds to acquire property in Europe. Americas and Dubai, among others, for themselves, their immediate family members and cronies.
To insist on new pricing templates for petrol products amidst the sufferings brought about by the pandemic is not only callous but also inhuman. A government that refuses to take care of its citizens but commits itself to a new fuel pump price regime cannot represent the people it swore to protect. The recommendation by the committee that 113 buses be purchased for distribution to states as palliative is laughable. Those who think of raiding the people of their patrimony and increasing fuel pump price are not patriots but insincere leaders that are not for the interest of citizens.
It is inscrutable that since its emergence in the corridor of power on May 29, 2015, the APC-led central government is yet to fulfil its promise of revamping the operations of refineries. This inability has culminated in Nigeria importing chemical products worth over N4. 7 trillion in the last four years.
Our country has the capacity to refine its crude oil, but indelible corruption has worked against the resuscitation of our nation’s refineries. If we allow the NGF to deceive the NEC into endorsing the recommendations of the el-Rufai’s committee, so long shall citizens continue to grope in the dark and make it difficult for our nation to come out of its economic dungeon.
We must not allow some of these governors, who care less of citizens’ welfare, to intimidate the Federal Government into taking the wrong decision.
What the governors need to do now is to look inward and work towards generating revenues internally to sponsor their programmes. Governors should not continue to look up to the centre for funding, while they remain lazy in turning around the fortunes of their states. The NEC should discountenance the recommendation of the el-Rufai’s committee and avoid further review in the pump price of petrol products.
Presently, any attempt to increase fuel price is capable of generating unwarranted public reactions that may threaten industrial harmony of our nation. The government needs no seer to warn it against a new pump price regime. President Muhammadu Buhari should never succumb to any pressure aimed at securing approval for a new pump price that has the capacity to inflict pains on citizens and further throw the fortunes of Nigerians into economic quandary.
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