Support and against fuel subsidy removal - Rep

The House of Representatives at an emergency plenary on Sunday voted against President Goodluck Jonathan’s removal of the subsidy on petroleum.

The legislators said the nation could not bear the full deregulation of the downstream sector of the oil industry for now and, consequently, asked the Federal Government to revert to the N65 pre-January 1 pump price of petroleum. However, the House also appealed to Labour to postpone its threatened strike action in favour of dialogue.

Incitement charge

The Federal Government had, beginning from January 1, 2012, removed the subsidy, saying the move was necessary to save the economy from collapse.

In its reaction, the Presidency also on Sunday said the resolution by the House had no “substantial effect.”

In a telephone interview with one of our correspondents, Presidential spokesman, Reuben Abati, said, “What they have decided has no substantial effect whatsoever. Maybe it will have a moral effect and maybe people will now be quoting the House of Representatives as opposing the decision.

“If that is the case, the House of Representatives will know that it is inciting the people of Nigeria against the government of which it is a part.

“If the House of Representatives has an input to make, it can do so when considering the budget. Even then I am not sure that the powers of the legislature go as far as dictating what should be the content of the budget.”

However, reacting to the House resolution on Sunday, organised labour commended the federal lawmakers’ resolution and asked the Executive to promptly revert the price of petroleum in order to douse the raging controversy caused by the removal. Labour added that its mass rally scheduled to commence on Monday (today) was irreversible.

Consultation necessary

The House is made up of 360 members, but the emergency plenary was attended by 294 representatives. The House had cut short its vacation to convene the emergency session on Sunday. The motion for the emergency plenary was sponsored by Mr. Yusuf Tajudeen and 61 others.

In a majority voice vote, the House also called on organised labour and other stakeholders to suspend the strike scheduled for Monday (today) and “submit to further dialogue on the matter.”

House notes that “while deregulations as a policy may not be altogether objectionable, the alternative to proper procedure and good timing of such a policy is not only equally important but indeed imperative, especially in a democratic dispensation.” It expressed alarm that the subsidy was removed at a time many Nigerians were mourning the loss of loved ones from terrorist attacks.

Two ad-hoc committees were set up by the House to engage the Executive and labour in dialogue.

One of the committees was mandated to “verify and determine the actual subsidy requirements and monitor the subsidy regime.”

The House resolved that, guided by the findings of the latter committee, it would use its power of appropriation to make provisions for fuel subsidy in the 2012 budget.

In line with the resolution to seek further dialogue on the matter, the House summoned the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Anyim Pius Anyim, and the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Mr. Emeka Wogu, to appear before the committees on Tuesday (tomorrow).

The two officials will meet with the committees along with representatives of labour and civil society groups.

Hard knocks

The Speaker of the House, Mr. Aminu Tambuwal, who presided over the session, said that the intervention by the legislature was the best it could do to douse tension in the land.

Tambuwal noted that the House believed that governance should be by “due process in order to ensure the corporate existence of Nigeria.”

As lawmakers debated the motion, many of them, while arguing that the removal of subsidy was not entirely bad, queried the timing. They said it was wrong to commence the policy at a time the country was facing security challenges caused by the violent Islamic sect, Boko Haram.

“The policy requires in-depth consultation and proper timing. For peaceful co-existence, there is the need for more dialogue with Nigerians on the matter, the lead sponsor of the motion,” Tajudeen had said.

The Chairman of the House Committee on House Services, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, blamed the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank for selling the policy to Nigeria.

Dogara noted that the two institutions were pushing deregulation in Nigeria and other developing nations to protect the economic interests of Western countries.

The Minority Leader of the House, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, while supporting the motion, punched holes in the government’s claim that the nation’s economy would collapse if fuel subsidy was not removed.

The lawmaker said that the problem government needed to tackle was the “one per cent cabal” in the oil and gas industry that had taken the nation hostage. He noted that the corruption in the system could only be addressed by dismantling the cabal.
 Gbajabiamila recalled that in the past two years, the National Assembly had budgeted an average of N200bn for subsidy but that government had ended up spending over N1.3tn.

“How did they arrive at that figure? Who is accounting for the money? That is where the problem is. Could we have been subsidising what we did not really need? I do not believe that our economy will crash because of subsidy”, he submitted.

Mr. Uzor Abubuike (Abia) described the government’s action as illegal, saying that it contravened the 2011 Appropriation Act passed by the National Assembly.

He recalled that the implementation of the capital component of the budget had been extended to March 31 this year.

“Are we saying that we are truncating the 2011 Appropriation Act? We made provision for subsidy in that Act”, he told the House.

Rafiu Ibrahim (Kwara) also said the removal was wrong in principle and timing.

“Diesel was deregulated about five years ago; that has not resulted in a single AGO refinery. This decision is wrong,” he said.

Khadija Bukar (Yobe), said the House had the duty as “the voice of the grassroots” to speak out the concerns of the masses.

“Before a decision that impacts on the masses as this is taken, government should have put in place some soft-landings. But none of that has been provided. History will judge us if we do not consider the poor masses who are mostly affected by this harsh decision,” she said.

Member representing Sabon Garri Federal Constituency of Kaduna State, Garuba Datti, explained that the final decision on fuel increment should have been ratified by the National Assembly and not the Petroleum Product Price Regulatory Agency.

“The PPPRA, which was established by an act of parliament, has taken over the constitutional role of the parliament,” Datti said.

Austin Ogbaburhon (Delta), who also spoke in support of the motion, said, “The two-and-half months left for the operation of the budget should have been used to deliberate on whether the subsidy should be removed or not.”

In favour of subsidy

The debate was intense and emotional, and members who spoke against the motion, were shouted down by those who wanted the price hike reversed.

On several occasions, Tambuwal had to intervene to restore calm by appealing to lawmakers that those opposing the motion also had a right to be heard.

Despite his intervention, the contributions of those opposing the motion were intermittently drowned by shouts of “no”, “no”, “no.”

However, Mulikat AdeolaIa-Akande, Sakonte Davies, Andrew Uchendu, Warman Ogoriba, Yakubua Barde, Henry Dickson, Ndudi Elumelu, Ahmed Idris, Asita Honourable, and Friday Itulah, opposed the motion.

ickson, the Peoples Democratic Party Bayelsa State governorship candidate, noted that subsidy was a waste and drain on the economy.

He said that in some parts of Nigeria like Bayelsa State, a litre of petrol was sold for N300 “even when subsidy was in place.”

Dickson commended the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, whom he said had initiated a “brilliant idea” to remove the subsidy by introducing the Petroleum Industry Bill during the 6th National Assembly.

“By now, the issue of removal of subsidy would have been over had we passed the PIB”, he stated.

Dickson advised President Goodluck Jonathan to stick to his decision despite the opposition to the policy.

“Leadership is about taking decisions; it is not seeking cheap popularity. Governance is multi-tasking”, he added.

Sokonte Davies (Rivers) said, “It is like we are trying to run away from the obvious; government is about multitasking; government must take different decisions at different times. This issue of fuel subsidy should have been solved at least 20 years ago, but we adopted what we call in economics gradualism, but we are here in this parliament today to advocate further gradualism. We know that the times are hard, but we must explain to our people. I stand on the removal of subsidy.”

Labour pat House on the back

The Acting General Secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Mr. Owei Lakemfa, and his counterpart in the Trade Union Congress, Chief John Kolawole, in a joint statement on Sunday said that only an adoption of the motion by the Reps would douse tension.

The statement notes, “This motion if adopted by the Executive will immediately douse the explosive tension in the country and restore it to its pre-January 1, 2012 normalcy.

“We commend the House and its exemplary leadership for rising to the demands of the times, and in a bipartisan manner, seeking to steer the country away from a path that may have disastrous consequences.

“The House of Representatives displayed exemplary leadership in not just cutting short its break, but also meeting on a Sunday. If other arms of governance work with the exemplary speed, seriousness, sensitivity and patriotic zeal as the House of Representatives did today; our country would be a far better place to live.”

Labour challenged the Senate to take similar step in accordance with the expectation of Nigerians by agreeing with the motion adopted by the Reps.

They called on President Goodluck Jonathan and indeed the Federal Government to embrace the motion and ensure a reversal of the fuel pump price so that the issue could be reversed through dialogue.

Strike unstoppable

Organised labour has however insisted that the indefinite strike scheduled for Monday (today) would go on as planned.

The leadership of the NLC and the TUC insisted that no institution had the powers to abrogate the people’s right to peaceful protest.

They commended Nigerians in the Diaspora for their support and the protests against the removal of the subsidy in the United States.
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