BY CHIDI NKWOPARA, OWERRI
The removal of fuel subsidy by the federal government on the first day of this year has continued to attract divergent comments from people across Imo State, even as the state has remained very quiet despite the palpable tension generated by the withdrawal of fuel subsidy.
Transport fare has since jumped through the roof tops, while a number of filling stations that shut their doors to customers during the Christmas and New Year festivities have jerked up their metres and resumed sales.
A number of people that spoke to Saturday Vanguard on the development were of the opinion that the hardship occasioned by the subsidy withdrawal will be momentary.
In his own reaction, the Anglican Bishop of Egbu Diocese, Professor Emmanuel Iheagwam, said the removal of fuel subsidy as presently proposed, is a bitter pill Nigerians must swallow for a better tomorrow.
It was the considered opinion of Bishop Iheagwam that the issue is very sensitive, adding that impoverished Nigerians don’t seem prepared to take any further battering.
“Nigerians are already impoverished and don’t seem prepared for any further battering through the removal of fuel subsidy, more so, when nothing was done with the money that accrued from the earlier graduated fuel subsidy removal”, the fiery Anglican cleric said.
Continuing, Iheagwam described Nigerians as “very resilient people”, adding that what the citizenry want from the Presidency is a firm assurance that monies saved from the withdrawal would be judiciously applied”.
On the planned confrontation of the federal government by the organized labour and civil society groups, the Bishop pleaded: “Let us not visit the sins of the previous administrations on the present one”.
The President, Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Imo State Chapter, Pastor Cosmas Ilechukwu, said the fuel subsidy did not benefit the masses as the huge amounts went into the pockets of just a few individuals.
Ilechukwu identified lack of trust on the political leadership arising from many years of insincere governments as part of the problems the country was facing and advised Nigerians to wait and not rush into protests.
The fiery Pentecostal cleric gave an example with Ghana, which removed its subsidy, arguing that foreign investors would now be attracted to do serious business in Nigeria.
The Federal University of Technology, Owerri, FUTO, branch of Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, on its part, condemned what it termed “the insensitive and abrupt removal of fuel subsidy without concluding consultations with stakeholders”.
ASUU-FUTO took the stand at its emergency congress, also demanded that the federal government should revert to the N65 pump price of premium motor spirit, PMS, and other petroleum products.
According to the communiqué signed by ASUU-FUTO Chairman, Dr. Izuchukwu I. Ibeawuchi, the lecturers demanded that since the nation’s economy is petrol driven, government should install the needed infrastructure that will enable the country produce and refine petrol locally.
A businessman in Owerri, Mazi Damian Nze, appealed to Nigerians to be patient, as well as watch and see where the money that would be accruable from the removal of the subsidy would be channeled to.
Nze reminded the federal government that it has a responsibility to carter for the citizens and called for what he termed “adequate machinery to be put in place to reduce the people’s hardship.”
A student, who identified herself as Tochukwu, lamented that they have been subjected to serious hardship. He appealed to the federal government to restore the subsidy, adding that students were now charged N400 from Owerri municipality to Federal University of Technology, Owerri.
He was also irked that those going to Imo State University, Owerri, from Douglas Road now pay over N100 instead of the usual N30 previously paid.
The member for Isu state constituency in Imo State House of Assembly, Mr. Ikenna Emeh, faulted the way and manner, as well as the timing of the removal of the subsidy before setting up a committee that would handle the money instead of putting the palliative measures. He called on the federal government to rescind the decision.
Imo State Deputy Governor, Sir Jude Agbaso, challenged the federal government to ensure that monies realized from the deregulation of the down stream sector were used for the benefit of the masses.
He decried the pains which the masses have started to experience as a result of this addition to the poor economic situation of the country, adding that though the deregulation policy is a way of boosting the economy of the nation, the money may not be properly channeled for the benefit of the masses, which has resulted to people kicking against it.
The Deputy Governor however appealed to the people not to be discouraged with the pains they were passing through as a result of this deregulation, stressing that with more refineries in the country, a time shall come when everything would be normal just like during the introduction of GSM that has now come to the afford ability of the poorest of the poor in the country.