Nigeria’s Senate President on Tuesday said President Muhammadu Buhari had not directed anyone in his government to implement the removal of petroleum subsidy.
Lawan, who spoke with newsmen after a closed-door meeting with Buhari at the State House, Abuja, said he was in the villa to convey the feeling of his constituents on the planned fuel subsidy removal and other issues to the president.
However, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) Tuesday expressed support for the federal government’s plan to end fuel subsidy payments in the country.
Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, had announced last October that the federal government made provision for petrol subsidy only for the first six months of 2022, as the government looked towards complete deregulation of the sector.
“In our 2022 budget, we only factored in subsidy for the first half of the year; the second half of the year, we are looking at complete deregulation of the sector, saving foreign exchange and potentially earning more from the oil and gas industry,” Ahmed had said.
But commenting on the issue, Lawan said the federal legislators were worried about the different agitation and planned protests around the country, necessitating the discussion with the president.
According to him, the subsidy cannot be transferred to citizens even as he expressed doubts on the 100 million liters of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) said to be consumed per day in the country.
The Senate President said he was glad to inform Nigerians that Buhari had not told anyone to remove petroleum subsidy.
He said: “Well, it will be of interest to Nigerians to hear what I’ve come to discuss with Mr. President among several other things. Many of us are very concerned with the recent agitations, protests, and many citizens were so concerned, our constituents across the country are very concerned that the federal government will remove the petroleum subsidy.
“And for us, as parliamentarians, as legislators representing the people of Nigeria, this must be of interest to us. And we’ve just finished our recess, we had gone home to our constituencies and senatorial districts.
“And will felt the pulse of our people. And I found it necessary to visit Mr. President, as the the leader of our government and our leader in the country, to discuss this particular issue of concern to Nigerians, and I’m happy to inform Nigerians that Mr. President never told anyone that the petroleum subsidy should be removed.
“I know and I agree that the subsidy is very heavy. But I think we must never transfer the burden to the citizens.
“I believe that we need to look at the quoted figure of maybe 100 million litres that people claim we’re consuming. Is it real? I mean is it either under recoveries of subsidy? Is it really 100 million liters per day? How on earth are we consuming that?
“We need to look at this critically and see how we can find the truth. Because I am not convinced that within the boundaries of Nigeria we are consuming 100 million liters. Probably neighboring countries maybe benefiting from this. Can’t we do something about it?
“It is a failure on us if we are not able to control it, this particular aspect of smuggling of the petrol and then in return, push the burden to the ordinary citizen.”
On what will happen since the 2022 budget does not provide for subsidy, he answered: “No, I’m not going to speculate on that. But I’m telling you, what I know, from my discussions with Mr. President, and I don’t want to go beyond that kind of understanding.
“He didn’t tell anybody that we should remove petroleum subsidy. And those of us who represent the people know how people are already stressed over and again, this is going to kill everyone if people don’t say we know is going to be too much for them.
“So, I just want to commend Mr. President, that he didn’t order anybody, to say that petroleum subsidy will be removed, even though we know it’s burden. So it’s now our task, as an administration, we must find a solution. Let’s go and lock ourselves somewhere”.
He commended the President for what he said was keeping his philosophy of not to over burdening ordinary citizens as he observed that government law is meant to serve the people.
“Government is meant to serve people. And the essence of government law we all know is to protect the lives and property and welfare of the people. And that federal aspect is part of the welfare.
“It may not be exactly the way we want it in the implementation of subsidy. But that is our challenge as an administration as a government.
“So, we need to come together, both the legislature, the National Assembly, and those people and institutions and organizations that are responsible in dealing with this matter. To find a solution to this.”
Lawan, however emphasised the need for stakeholders to come together to find solution to the issue of subsidy.
While dismissing the position of the governors of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on subsidy removal, Lawan stressed that the main opposition party had its chance and ought to have done something about it.
According to him: “They had their time. They should have done something about it. Now we have to do something about it. I have admitted that the burden is heavy. But I don’t think that the ordinary citizen should be the one to bear the burden.”
Speaking earlier during plenary on the 2022 budget, the Senate President noted with regret that borrowings remained the only optional left for the country to fund the spending plan due to poor revenue being generated by the nation, at the moment.
He, however, said efforts would be intensified by the Senate to carry out aggressive oversight activities that would make the revenue generating agencies to be more alive to their responsibilities.
Lawan said, “Funding of the 2022 budget is predicated on significant borrowing. Our country is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.”
TUC Backs Fuel Subsidy Removal
Meanwhile, the National President of TUC, Mr. Quadri Olaleye, said the group was not against the removal of subsidy if it would yield positive results for the economy. He, nonetheless, expressed concerns over the palliative measures put in place by government to cushion the adverse impact of the proposed removal.
Speaking at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) and inauguration of the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) in Abuja, he however, questioned government’s sincerity over subsidy removal.
He said: “Please note that TUC is not against the removal of the fuel subsidy if it will yield positive results. Rather, we are inquisitive as to what the government has to offer following the removal.
“How can we trust the government and be certain that they will actually remove it this time around, because in the past, they have claimed to remove the so-called ‘subsidy’.
“How can what has been removed be removed again? Will there be construction and utilisation of modular refineries as the government has previously promised and failed to deliver?
“Will there be rehabilitation of existing moribund refineries? What will the government do to put an end to dependence on imported fuel? It is imperative to note these questions because we need adequate answers on what the government has to offer as failed promises from the government have become the order of the day.”
He said in the event that the subsidy was removed, the government should focus more on expenditures that are beneficial to the economy rather than projects that generate losses.
According to the TUC president, “There should be establishment of modular refineries and construction of functioning refineries in the country. Proactive committees must be set up to check, balance, and ensure successful execution of projects and to generally oversee activities.
“The moribund refineries must be active and we must put an end to the counterproductive acts of importing petroleum products when we can refine here and sell at a competitive price.
“You will agree with me that Nigeria has the capacity to meet these demands and even diversify like advanced countries but that will not happen because the current political class does not want it.”
Earlier, the new IPMAN President, Alhaji Debo Ahmed, urged the management of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) Limited to ensure disbursement of outstanding briefing claims owed marketers.
He also identified current insecurity across the country, as major challenges confronting members in lifting petroleum products from depots and called for government’s action to address the situation.
He said, “Our members have billions of naira as transport claims with the defunct Petroleum Equalisation Fund now with Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority, (NMDPRA) unattended.
“As a united association, we have to follow up to make sure our members are paid unconditionally.
“The new customer service department in Petroleum Products Marketing (PPMC) is another bottleneck tying down members billions of naira for product payment without supply.
He added that the “Rising cost of levies charged for outlets is escalating across the country from some federal and state government agencies. IPMAN National is to dwell in all these extra cost to harmonise the justification if need be and so many other issues pending.”
Also, speaking at the occasion, President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Mr. Ayuba Wabba, urged the new leadership to ensure good working relation with its members.
He said, “For us at NLC we hold this association, IPMAN, in high esteeem for its job creation efforts and secondly and most important, it has made it possible to distribute petroleum products to every nooks and crannies of this country.”