President Muhammadu Buhari
By Clifford Ndujihe, Anayo Okoli, Udeme Akpan, Victor Ahiuma-Young, Mike Eboh, Johnbosco Agbakwuru, Dirisu Yakubu & Ediri Ejoh
Hard knocks yesterday trailed President Muhammadu Buhari’s justification of recent fuel price hike in Nigeria on the ground that neighbouring oil-producing countries of Niger, Chad and Ghana as well as Saudi Arabia in Middle-East sell at higher prices.
In his 60th Independence Anniversary broadcast yesterday President Buhari said “it makes no sense for fuel to be cheaper in Nigeria than in Saudi Arabia, where it sells for N168 per litre.”
The Federal Government in March said it has removed fuel subsidy, consequently pushing up the price of petrol from N148 to over N160. Many Nigerians have expressed dissatisfaction with the timing of the hike, considering the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy.
Buhari justified the increment yesterday, saying: “Petroleum prices in Nigeria are to be adjusted. We sell now at N161 per litre. A comparison with our neighbours will illustrate the point: Chad which is an oil producing country charges N362 per litre, Niger, also an oil producing country sells one litre at N346. In Ghana, another oil producing country, petroleum pump price is N326 per litre. Further afield, Egypt charges N211 per litre. Saudi Arabia charges N168 per litre. It makes no sense for oil to be cheaper in Nigeria than in Saudi Arabia.”
Apart from fuel, President Buhari, who said that a responsible government must take tough decisions, flayed ex-presidents and leaders of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, who he said nearly destroyed the country, for shamelessly criticizing his administration.
Among those who pooh-poohed the President’s speech, yesterday were the PDP, Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum, SMBLF; Ohanaeze Ndigbo; Pro-Labour Civil Society Organisations, CSOs, under the umbrella of the Joint Action Front, JAF; Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC; and the Nigeria labour Congress, NLC.
Mere sound and fury – SMBLF
Examining the speech, the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum said the President’s speech was “like the tale full of sound and fury signifying nothing.”
In the joint statement by Mr Yinka Odunakin, South-West; Chief Guy Ikokwu, South-East; Senator Bassey Henshaw, South-South; and Dr Isuwa Dogo, Middle-Belt, the SMBLF said: “In the midst of all the country is going through that requires the leadership to summon the constituent units to the table of brotherhood to seek fundamental ways out, all we were treated to were the usual bland sermons and empty rhetoric.
“The President said he was engaging in self-reflection but he never remembered how our founding fathers negotiated a federal constitution which put us on the path of development in the early years of independence until military intervention set us on the ruinous unitary lane which has fostered underdevelopment to the point that we are now the global secretariat of poverty at 60.
“It is shameful that on this type of occasion, our President had to be lecturing us on why we had to pay more for fuel because countries like Ghana, Egypt and Niger are paying more.
“The President would have been more inspiring if he had used the opportunity to lay out the process of reconstituting Nigeria to return it to the path of productivity, autonomy for the federating units and sustainable peace and development. To leave Nigeria under its failing structure and be talking of launching ethical whatever is a meaningless distraction.”
Speech, a slap on Nigerians – PDP
The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, described the speech as a slap on the sensibilities of Nigerians, particularly his justification of his administration’s increment of the pump price of petrol.
In a statement by its national spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, PDP called on President Buhari to “wake up to reality and take demonstrable urgent steps that will address the divisive tendencies and poor economic policies of his administration, which are fast decimating our dear nation under his watch.”
According to the party, “President Buhari’s attempt to justify the increase of fuel price in Nigeria by comparing it to the N168 per litre cost in Saudi Arabia is a morbid joke.
“The minimum wage in Saudi Arabia is N305,113 (3,000 Saudi Riyals), ten times higher than our paltry N30,000 which is largely unimplemented in Nigeria.”
The statement further read: “Is Mr. President not aware that, on the average, a person working in Saudi Arabia earns around 4,230 SAR (N430, 267) to 16,700 SAR (N1,698,693) per month?
“Our party charges Mr. President to always check his books before making such offensive comparisons including the price in Egypt where monthly average earning is around N222,841 (9,200 EGP) against our N30,000.
“In comparing our costs with other countries such as Ghana, Chad and Niger where purchasing power of citizens are higher, did Mr. President reflect on the cost of house rent, education, healthcare and average dependence on fuel for daily survival by ordinary citizens as obtainable in Nigeria?
“If the flawed assertions as evident in Mr. President’s speech are a direct reflection of how policies are formulated in his administration, then one needs not wonder why our economy is in doldrums.
“Indeed, it is imperative to state that if the Buhari administration had summoned the competence and honesty to continue the programmes already laid by previous administrations under our party to revive our refineries and provide infrastructural backbone for our productive sector, fuel price will not be more than N100 per litre, in addition to the gains from by-product from crude oil.
“The PDP therefore urges Mr. President to engender harmony and productivity by allowing for more robust discourse that will lead to affordable prices for fuel and other essential commodities in our country.
“Additionally, Mr. President should exert himself on rebuilding our economy by ending his borrowing spree and focusing on our productive capacity instead of his endless lamentation over his failures.
“Moreover, security is pivotal to our economic revival. The unceasing acts of insurgency, banditry and kidnapping in the last five years have wrecked our nation’s productivity and threatened her corporate existence.
“It is therefore worrisome that Mr. President’s speech did not address the call on him by Nigerians demanding that he rejigs his security architecture to inject new blood that will effectively confront our security challenges.
“Our party restates our belief in the potentials of our nation and urges Mr. President to seek help by engaging more competent hands to assist in handling the affairs of our nation.”
Only in Nigeria a president justifies inflicting pains, hardship on citizens – JAF
On its part, the Joint Action Front, JAF, said it was in only Nigeria a President justifies inflicting hardship and pains on his citizens.
JAF Secretary, Abiodun Aremu, said: “The President should count himself lucky that we are in a country like a banana republic where everything goes. It is only in Nigeria that a President can justify the pains, hardship, frustration and the poverty he has inflicted on the citizens.
“If it were in other saner climes, the President should not have still been on that seat. This is a president who came into power through deception, promising to make life better for the citizens, only to come and worsen the citizens’ level of poverty.
“He promised Nigerians that he was going to fix the refineries and crash the pump price of petroleum products, but after deceiving Nigerians to vote for him, he decided to hand over our economy to International Monetary Fund, IMF, and World Banks. We call on Nigerians to rise up and fight for their freedom.”
No basis for comparing Nigeria with S-Arabia, others – TUC
The Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, through its President, Quadri Olaleye, faulted the basis for comparing fuel price in Nigeria with the other countries.
He said: “The comparison is unnecessary because we are not at par with Saudi Arabia and other countries mentioned by the President. Saudi is well developed and has gone pass the level Nigeria is now.
“Come to think of it, what has Nigeria achieved with all the money made from oil for over six decades of oil exploration in commercial quantity? Nothing. All successive leaderships have done is loot, launder money and buy properties in foreign lands.
“In Dubai, Saudi Arabia, etc, money does not move around the way it does in Nigeria. Our politicians spray dollars at weddings in Nigeria. They use foreign hospitals, shop abroad and do all manner of crazy things.
“So, if the President is defending the hike, what does he want to do with the surplus they will make from the hike? He keeps telling us the same old story of providing infrastructure. Throughout the country, our roads have become death traps.”
Speech hollow, empty, disappointing – Ohanaeze
To Ohanaeze Ndigbo President Buhari’s 60th anniversary speech is hollow, empty, disappointing, and an insult on the sensibilities of Nigerians.
Mr. Emeka Attamah, media adviser to Ohanaeze President-General, Chief Nnia Nwodo, said the President cannot deceive Nigerians any longer.
“As usual, the President’s speech was hollow, empty and disappointing. The only new thing was his expressing a desire for a peaceful, united nation. But, how can you ensure peace in a divided country?
How can he talk of unity in a country that the only persons qualified to hold and enjoy federal appointments in the country are Fulani?
“The speech was an insult on the sensibilities of Nigerians other than Fulani. Who is deceiving who? He still has a window opportunity to ameliorate the situation by rescinding some of his decisions and ensuring a more balanced administration,” Ohanaeze said.
…It’s lame – Ozekhome
Constitutional lawyer and rights activist, Mike Ozekhome, SAN, said the speech was lame, adding that the attempt to compare petroleum pricing in Nigeria with other countries is ridiculous.
In a chat with Vanguard, he said: “The broadcast was lame, defensive, lack-lustre, uninspiring and devoid of Presidential gravitas. It convinces more that the President is out of tune with the stark reality of the 200 million people he governs by comparing us with some neighbouring countries .I disagree with Mr. President.
“Are we not the 7th largest oil producer in the world? Is Buhari aware that most of our industries have relocated to, and found solace in these countries? Those economies he compared us with are better, more buoyant, and more focused and productive than Nigeria. They don’t glamorize and celebrate corruption as a national fundamental objective and directive principle of state policy as we do.”
He also chided the President for his jibe at previous administrations, saying: “Did Buhari not join other Nigerians, including the major players in his government, in January, 2012, to castigate and demonstrate on the streets against Jonathan’s minimal increase, arguing that it was corruption-laden and amounted to thievery? What has changed? Has the oil cartel he glowingly talked about vanished? Has his government not used more than three times the sum used by three successive governments for importation of fuel? Has he built a single refinery? Are the ones he met functional still working?’’
Comparison sad, unfortunate – NLC
Faulting the President’s speech justifying the increase in the pump price of petrol, Deputy President of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Joe Ajaero, said: “You can’t say the downstream is deregulated and yet prices of fuel are still fixed.
“There is need to fix the country’s refineries and make use of the product and then sell the rest instead of current practice of paying more for what you produce because you lack the ability to refine what you need.
“If you are charging N161 and Chad is charging N200, Ghana, N300, when you compare the exchange rate, then it is a shame on the country.
“There are lots of lies around the issue of petroleum subsidy. You can’t subsidize a product you have both competitive and comparative advantage over, it’s not possible. I was telling them on the negotiations I attended that Nigeria is selling its crude cheap and buying refined products at higher cost.
“The cost of going to the market, shipping it and taking it to end users will be added, which makes it costly for Nigeria to buy the product. I must say that is one of the criminal acts being practiced in this country.
“Tell the runners of our economy that they are getting this one wrong. So, we decided that for Nigeria to enjoy the product God gave to them, the refineries must be repaired at a certain period so that nobody will be telling us stories.
“There are lots of things that come out of refineries and if they are refurbished, it will generate lots of jobs for the citizens. If we continue to import finished products, the prices of petroleum products will continue to increase and we can’t be import dependent on something we can process in Nigeria and you cannot regulate in a deregulated sector. If you have deregulated the price in Calabar, it will not be the same in Lagos, in Sokoto, etc.”
Iledare, Fatona Zaka speak
Reacting to the issue, Ghana’s National Petroleum Corporation, GNPC, Professorial Chair, Oil and Gas Economics and Management, Institute for Oil and Gas Studies, University of Cape Coast, Ghana, Prof. Omowumi O. Iledare, said: “There is an adage in Yoruba, which literally means you must not compare apples with oranges.
“This is not the case when comparing petroleum products prices in these countries. They are importing petroleum products with the exception of Saudi Arabia, which has refineries.
“The unfortunate thing is the fact that Nigeria does not have resources to fund subsidies anymore. The appetite is also not there to spend a quarter of its budget with borrowed money at the expense of education, health care and infrastructure combined.”
The founding Managing Director, Niger Delta Exploration & Production Plc, Dr. Layi Fatona, said: “The President spoke well to the facts. It has taken the stark reality of the pandemic to bring much reality of the seriousness of our situation to the fore. We must live within our means.”
A Port Harcourt-based energy expert, Dr. Bala Zaka, said: “When l kept saying that many people don’t know or understand how evil and satanic the concept of deregulation is, they kept throwing stones at me. Very soon, many people would come to terms and forcefully understand what ‘Deregulation of the Nigerian Downstream’ really means.”
Nigerians who sell votes should be ready to lose their rights – Buhari
Aside from fuel, President Buhari also spoke on his readiness to pursue credible elections in Nigeria, warning that Nigerians who sell their votes should be prepared to be denied their rights.
He said that it was the desperation of the political class that leads to compromising the judiciary to upturn legitimate decisions of the people.
President Buhari also said that no government in the past did what his administration was doing with scarce resources, adding that his government has managed to keep things going, in spite of the disproportionate spending on security.
He also said that it was those in the previous governments from 1999–2015 who allegedly presided over the near destruction of the country that now have the impudence to attempt to criticize his efforts.
The Nigerian leader also spoke on the efforts of his administration to strengthen the electoral process in the country, saying that some constituencies that choose to bargain off their power, should be prepared for denial of their rights.
President Buhari said it would pay Nigerians better to collectively resolve to continue as one country beyond 60 years than being smaller units of nationalities, irrespective of the challenges.
His words: “I speak to you today as your President and fellow citizen on this epoch occasion of our country’s 60th independence Anniversary. As President, I wish to renew my appreciation to Nigerians for entrusting me with your hopes and aspirations for a better and greater Nigeria.
“Today, it is my unique privilege to re-commit myself to the service of this great country of great people with profound diversities and opportunities. We are bound by destiny to be the largest and greatest black nation on earth.
“At this stage in our nationhood it is important that we reflect how we got here to enable us work together to get to where we aspire to be as a strong indivisible nation, united in hope and equal in opportunity.
“On October 1st 1960 when Prime Minister Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, received the constitutional instruments symbolizing Nigeria’s independence, he expressed his wish that having acquired our rightful status as an independent sovereign nation, history would record that the building of our nation proceeded at the wisest pace.
“This optimism was anchored on the peaceful planning, full and open consultation and harmonious cooperation with the different groups which culminated in Nigeria emerging as a country without bitterness and bloodshed.
“Our founding fathers understood the imperative of structuring a National identity using the power of the state and worked towards unification of Nigerians in a politically stable and viable entity.
“That philosophy guided the foundation that was laid for our young nation of 45 million people with an urban population of approximately 7million occupying an area of 910,768 square kilometers. These demographics led to development challenges for which major efforts were made to overcome.
“Today, we grapple with multiple challenges with a population exceeding 200million occupying the same land mass but 52% residing in urban areas.”