Former General Secretary of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Owei Lakemfa, has lamented that what the nation was witnessing in the name of fuel subsidy was the government transferring its incompetence to Nigerians.
He said the government was manifesting gross incompetence if it rode to power on the wings of promises to fight corruption and bring change, but cannot run a single refinery and then chose to pass the burden to the people.
Lakemfa spoke in reaction to the Federal Government’s deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry, with pump price of petrol rising to N162 per litre.
Buttressing government’s action, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, had, while briefing journalists in Abuja on Monday, said the government spent N10.413 trillion as fuel subsidy between 2006 and 2019.
However, Lakemfa said the Federal Government was making excuses that were not different from that of previous administrations since the military era.
He recalled that the government had told Nigerians that there was no oil subsidy, asking what then was government they removing.
His words: “It is the same argument and excuses that have been made by successive governments, from military regime up till now. There is nothing different.
“This government, many times, has told us that there is no subsidy. The Vice President has told us so, and President Muhammadu Buhari has said if anybody said there is fuel subsidy, it is fraud.
“So, where did they get this fuel subsidy that they had been paying?
“They did advertisements in a number of media organisations claiming that fuel is cheapest in Nigeria. Again, this is the old argument. If our fuel is the cheapest, and they referred us to Saudi Arabia, what is the minimum wage in Saudi Arabia?
“The social services they are providing in Saudi Arabia — housing, free education among other things—are they available to Nigerians?
“In those countries, they are mentioning, there is mass transit, trams, underground system, railways are working. So, you do not necessarily need to have a car or take a taxi. In fact, taxis are expensive.
“It is middle and upper class that drive cars or take taxis. People generally, including ministers, in some of those countries go by rail or tram. So, if the price of a litre of fuel is costlier in those countries, it is understandable.
“The masses have options. It is like in US; a lot of people use their cars only at weekends for leisure. If you are going to work or any business, you take the tram, the train or underground rail, and go to your destination.
“It is not an intelligent argument at all. The real and primary issue about fuel price in Nigeria is the gross incompetence of government. If you have four refineries and you cannot run a single one, it is gross incompetence.
“They argue that there is corruption. If you have a government that says its primary job on which basis they came to power, is to check insecurity, improve the economy and check corruption, and you cannot run one refinery because of corruption, then you are joker.
“Since President Olusgun Obasanjo’s time, they claimed they were going to build new refineries in the year 2000. They promised to build 18 refineries after issuing 18 licenses.
“From 2000 till now, 20 years after, no refinery has been built.
“This government then came up and said, the refineries are too big, we are doing modular refineries. They told us in 2016, two years ago, we would have modular refineries. This is 2020, four years after, there is no modular refinery anywhere.
“All these are just promises and lies, fiction.”
Exporting crude, importing fuel
On the crude oil circle that leads to high price of petrol for which is claiming to pay fuel subsidy, Lakemfa said: “When you import fuel and you pay at international price, you pay for refining abroad, they will add their profit as well, and you pay for freight to move the product to Nigeria.
“When the product arrives Nigeria, you pay for discharge, a lot of time, the ships are out there in the ocean, and they call them mother vessels.
“It takes days for smaller vessels to go bring the product. All these things cost money. Then you store them in tank farms. The freight has demurrage; there is a cost for the movement to Atlas Cove, and tank farms.
“A lot of them would then be moved by road from the tank farms to all parts of the country, including Maiduguri.
“Of course, the prices are likely to be very high. It is normal. That is the fault of the government.
“So, what the government calls subsidy is subsidising the inefficiency and corruption in government. What we are witnessing in the name of subsidy is transferring government incompetence to the people.
“That is what they are charging the citizens for. So, if all this government can do over the years after replacing the PDP, after five years, is to plagiarise the argument of PDP, it has no basis for it to continue to say they are government and they are ruling.”