The controversy over the hike in the price of petrol occasioned by the government deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry has continued with the renowned activist, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, declaring the action illegal. Falana, who is also the Chairman of the Alliance on Surviving Covid-19 and Beyond (ASCAB) predicates his position on a court verdict.
What do you make of the pronouncement of President Buhari that we may have more petrol price increases but that Nigerians should bear with government as all they are doing is in the future interest of the people?
I think the President was simply telling us that his government has run out of ideas and so we are going to embark on a rash of increases to fund our budget. This was a regime that came to power based on its own promises. As an opposition party, the APC had convinced Nigerians that subsidy a fraud perpetrated by the PDP led government.
And the people were bound to believe that the flag bearer of the APC, General Muhammadu Buhari, who had managed the oil industry in the 70s, and when he flaunted his own record of achievement, and having chaired the Abacha Petroleum Task Force, had a solution to the problem. And he did promise that he will fix the comatose refineries and build new ones so that this country would not depend on imported fuel.
But what have we had in the last five years? Subsidy was changed to under recovery. And in this year alone, N40billion was set aside for under recovery and that was when it occurred to the government that there was no way they could go on this way.
And since they could not fix the refineries they thought they should look at the alternatives. And this government, without any harassment, the policy we have suggested, the program we have suggested since the period of the Obasanjo administration, and that was when the government decided on January 16, 2020 to announce that it was going to replace PMS with CNG, compressed natural gas.
And that by September this year, this country would migrate from PMS to CNG which the government announced would cost N97 per liter instead of N145 at that material time. Nigerians accepted and welcomed the announcement and the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) began an awareness campaign and Nigerians were now expecting the filling stations to be built while the necessary machinery will be put in place to convert our vehicles to CNG.
Now, what has the government done? At the time we were expecting the CNG to take off in September, it announced an increase in the price of petrol, and we are being told that it is because of deregulation. In fact I just listened to the GMD of the NNPC. With profound respect, deregulation is illegal. In the case of Bamidele Aturu and the Attorney General of the Federation, the Federal High Court declared deregulation illegal in the face of Section 6 of the Petroleum Act and Section 4 of the Price Control Act.
These are two Acts and clauses that have imposed a duty on government to fix the prices of goods, particularly petroleum products. So the government cannot say “we are breaching the law, we are disregarding the judgment of the court” since they didn’t appeal against it. So the question of deregulation doesn’t arise.
We have been on this issue of deregulation since when oil price was increased from N97 to N145 and they told us we had already embraced deregulation. Now we are being told that it is because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Before, we were told under the Obasanjo and Jonathan administrations that smugglers were to be blamed.
President Buhari just said the elite and Nigerians in general should judge him fairly over his performance in the last five years or perhaps in the last one year of his second term. What do you think?
I think President Buhari has been extremely lucky because Nigerians have been more than patient with his regime in spite of policy reversals and policy inconsistency. Some of the views being expressed here, you will be surprised whether you are living in the same country.
The President just said the Lagos-Ibadan rail line is working. Where! When! And there are other areas to be addressed. If you are talking about job creation, people are losing their jobs because of the neo-liberal policies of this government dictated by World Bank and IMF. Someone was talking about advisers to the President, who is adviser?
Does anyone really listen to advice under this regime? Let us address concrete problems confronting our country, let us begin to look for solution, let government begin to invest in the Nigerian people. Petroleum products are being smuggled out of Nigeria, we are suggesting, and that is the position of Alliance on Surviving Covid-19 and Beyond (ASCAB), go and build filling stations in neighbouring countries; after all, our banks have branches in those countries.
Two, instead of PMS, go and invest in CNG; that is your promise. This government promised to build refineries but we are now being told by the GMD of the NNPC that they don’t have the money yet Dangote Group is building a refinery. How can you tell me you don’t have money to build refinery and you are giving oil blocks to individuals and they are smiling to the bank, making billions at our expense?
President Buhari said three weeks ago that $25billion comes to Nigeria by way of foreign remittances but the CBN said no, it is only $2.6billion. Okay, where is the $2.6billion? If $25billion enters the Nigerian economy today, the value of the Naira against the dollar will go up significantly. But they don’t want that. The economic program of this administration is geared at promoting poverty. The administration is completely bereaved of ideas. They must run the country in the interest of Nigerians.
- Interview first aired on ChannelsTV
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