Dr Bukola Saraki, the immediate past governor of Kwara State, and the senator representing Kwara Central in the Senate, recently spoke with journalists in Ilorin, on the state of the nation. State Correspondent, DEMOLA AKINYEMI, was there. Here are excerpts from the parley.
You have a bill before the Senate on subsidy, could you please expatiate on why you brought up the bill?
We should not deceive ourselves; there’s no way government can go about it without withdrawing the subsidy. Presently, Nigerians know they are getting the subsidy being fully aware that (about) N150 is the landing cost of petrol and it is being sold to them at N65. They know they are getting the subsidy from the system. Now, to tell somebody to let go of something he can see for something he cannot feel or know how it’s going to be, can be difficult.
So, let us start to educate Nigerians to see the benefit inherent in the removal of the subsidy. This is the amount we spend; what we do and what happens etc. People must be able to see the benefits of the removal and if there will be safety nets _ all what you want to do either to make it cheaper is what Nigerians want to know. These are the things to be done and it takes a lot of consultations because it’s not going to be easy.
Why are our refineries not working, why?
Do we still import fuel, people ask all these questions.
And it is very expensive to refine here in the country, thus people import. Last year, we spent N600 billion on fuel subsidy. This year, it is likely to be N1.1 trillion we will spend. You then ask the question if it is possible to keep it at N600 billion. If it is at N600 billion, is it sustainable? Is it the amount that we can all talk about it?
We won’t be having this debate if we only spend N300 billion on subsidy. The issue of subsidy is suffocating government at N1.1 trillion because, it’s more than the entire capital budget. I sympathize with the government on the situation it is in.
Truly, we must find a solution, otherwise, if you say government should continue it may not sustain it. We should gain the confidence of Nigerians, so that they won’t think the money will be embezzled.
Definitely, everyone will be able to see where government is going, that no matter what we have to do to get to a point we have to stop fuel importation. If we produce, we can be able to subsidize, but we are not. Other countries being compared with Nigeria like Venezuela and Saudi Arabia are producing locally. Government has to be as transparent as possible. Let’s get it to the point of people believing that this thing that I can now afford and enjoy is because of removal of subsidy.
The shout of no, no, no is because people have lost confidence.
We can address this issue and still be on same page together.
Nigerians should be made to understand that, though they cannot get the subsidy physically but they can see it in terms of provision of infrastructure.
So what do we expect from the committee set up in the Senate?
The committee should get to the bottom of the matter to find out if excesses or wastage exist. And I think there would be public hearing. The allegations are too serious. Thus we must get to the bottom to find out the true position of things.
For instance, how did we consume N600 billion subsidy and now N1.1 trillion. Is it that we have more cars or we use more fuel? They should come up to tell us and the beauty of
it all is that no matter how much the figures are falsified locally, there are other ways to get actual figures. The ministry of finance, appropriation and downstream are looking at it. The fraud is affecting the entire country. I can assure you that a thorough job will be done.
With respect to your committee, how do you think the nation’s environmental crisis can be tackled?
People ask about questions about climate change whether it’s real or not. Climate change and environmental issues have come to stay with us. They are real. We need to bring issues of environment to the front burner, to discuss the ramifications, implications of some of the issues.
You are talking about every part of the country on issues of environment, whether it’s South West, it is flooding; desertification in the North, gully erosion in the South East, oil spillage and gas flaring in the South South. There are environmental challenges everywhere. I think it’s because the general policies and strategies had not been taken as priorities by us all. The sooner we do that to protect the future generation, the better. We should not be having gas flaring any longer in this country.