By Sam Eyoboka
IN apparent solidarity with the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, which began mass rallies in Abuja to protest Federal Governmentâ€™s planned deregulation of downstream sector of the nationâ€™s oil and gas industry, religious leaders yesterday urged the government to tackleÂ corruption, rather than further impoverishing the Nigerian poor masses.
In separate interviews, the religious leaders including the National President, Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, Primate-elect, Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), Most Rev. Nicholas Okoh, and the General Overseer, Rhema Christian Centre, Sango Ota, Bishop Taiwo Akinola urged the Yarâ€™Adua administration to hearken to the pleas of Labour in the overall interest of the nationâ€™s already impoverished masses.
Worried by declining infrastructure across the length and breath of the country, especially poor public transportation and the absence of efficient railways system, the clerics admonished that the removal of oil subsidy now may create further hardship for the already poor masses of the nation, arguing that the government should be bold enough to arrest corruption in the supply and distribution of petroleum products.
First to speak, was the PFN president, Pastor Oritsejafor who liken the nation to the proverbial ostrich, saying that the issues of the country are very complex that the ordinary citizens find it difficult to put their fingers on them, stating that the level of poverty in the nation is so high.
â€œIt is true they are going to save some money from the deregulation of the sector, but what baffles me is; are we really saving the money for the poor masses of the country or for the few privileged persons in the society?â€ he asked.
According to him, if the government has the interest of the people at heart, it should have began by widely consulting with all the stakeholders in the industry and reaching a workable compromise with those who will be affected by the decision.
â€œThe government should have taken its time to consult with all the people who are directly involved in the industry and reach an agreement with them before making its intention a media event,â€ Oritsejafor counselled, lamenting media reports to the effect that there is monumental fraud in the distribution chain of petroleum products within the NNPC.
â€œWe are talking about deregulation…where will the money actually save, go to? Deregulation from what to what? Who are we deregulating for? There is so much involved in this thing that one is puzzled as to the intention of government in this direction. The problem of this country is not necessarily the system but that of the people who operate the system.
â€œI think that the government must put in place effective transport system, fix the nationâ€™s roads, take care of the power sector before ever embarking on any form of deregulation. What is happening now is tantamount to hitting up the political system unnecessarily,â€ he argued.
In his reaction, Most Rev. Okoh is of the opinion that the common man does not understand the language of deregulation or removal of subsidy, saying â€œas far as they are concerned oil is a Nigerian. What I will advise our authorities to do is; to dialogue and possibly do it in phases because if the weight comes down sharp on the people, with the level of unemployment in the country, then the already marginalised people will cry more and that will gain the attention of the international community.â€
Speaking in his office in Asaba, the retired lieutenant colonel in the Nigerian Army, further advised the government to tread slowly in the interest of the poor masses of the country â€œso that the economy is not static, the government revenue is not static and it will be in a position to provide for the different sectors currently begging for attention.â€
Also speaking on the issue, Bishop Akinola appealed to the government to hearken to the peopleâ€™s yearning for dividends of democracy, saying that the government should tackle corruption head on because that is the basis of all the socio-political problems in the country.
According to the cleric, the problem of this nation bothers more on wrong value system because, according to him, in developed climes people no longer cry about the removal of subsidy on this or that because there amenities to cushion the effect of such governmental moves.
Secondly, he argued, in developed countries of the world, politicians who are voted into specific offices are transparent and go there to serve the people who voted them, â€œbut what we find here is in total contrast where even relation of a political appointee see such an office as an opportunity to enrich the nuclear family.â€
Until that position is changed, he argued, â€œI am afraid we may have a long way to go.â€