*Explains why subsidy is a fraud
*Says Mimiko’s second term is assured
Hon. (Comrade) Joseph Iranola Akinlaja is a member of Federal House of Representatives, representing Ondo East/West Federal Constituency. Before he delved into active politics he was a labour leader of note. He rose to the position of deputy national president of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and Secretary General of Nigerian Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG. After that, the Petroleum Tanker Drivers (PTD an affiliate of NUPENG) made him their Grand Patron/Technical Consultant. He is currently national deputy chairman of Labour Party and deputy chairman House Committee on Women Affairs, and member of other key committees.
In this interview with Sunday Vanguard, Akinlaja pooh poohed the federal government’s proposed oil subsidy removal as a death wish, talked about challenges in the oil & gas sector, his style of representation at the assembly and about his constituency projects. About his State, Ondo, he expressed confidence in Governor Mimiko’s re_election bid, and gave insights concerning the state of the nation among other things.
As ex-Deputy National President of NLC would you throw your weight behind the FG’s proposed oil subsidy removal?
Well judging from my experience it is not worth my while ordinarily to throw my weight behind government’s plans to expunge oil subsidy. Out of the three major white products which means PMS (Petrol) AGO (diesel) DPK (kerosene), two of them had been deregulated. That is, diesel and kerosene, yet all the promises the government made have not been redeemed, promise of Eldorado that once the products are deregulated prices will fall and commodity prices will stabilise all these promises had become a mirage, contrary to their postulations that market forces will drive down price, market price are skyrocketing by the day.
The on_going price of diesel had made transportation, industry and domestic use of the products to attract severe hardship, factory and industry closure and reduction in the purchasing power of the ordinary Nigerians, because now the masses have to pay more for fuel, pay more for transportation, you have to pay more for food because once prices of transportation go up food prices will also be hiked correspondingly.
So, if you look at this situation, which is real, one will never think of supporting government in their argument that removal of fuel subsidy will lead to infrastructural development. They have said these times without number over and over again it has not happened. Nevertheless I am in a different setting now, what I have said is my personal opinion on the matter but I am sure that the National Executive Council of Labour Party which is my party will take a position on it and whatever decision my party takes as a democrat I will comply accordingly.
During your days as a labour activist, how do you normally approach the issue of deregulation of the upstream and downstream sectors and local content
Whenever the issue of deregulation or removal of oil subsidy comes up usually we call a meeting either of central working committee or national executive council of the Nigeria Labour Congress in collaboration with our trade union congress counterpart, we sit, debate and take a position. And most of the time our decision was to disagree with the government and take decisive decision to dialogue, and eventually confront if dialogue fails to persuade the government to drop the idea. That’s how we have always handled deregulation.
On local content we usually engage the authorities especially manpower development and manpower utilisation, we insisted in the industry on the use of manpower from the catchment area where such industry or companies are located, we insisted on the enforcement of the law on local content. In the oil industry where I practised unionism for about thirty-five years, we were able to achieve some commendable results of local content, especially in the upstream and downstream sector.
Would you agree with the government that all its promised palliatives for the removal of oil subsidy would be effected? In your own view can the government be trusted?
Well I will not agree that the promised palliatives after the removal of oil subsidy would be effected. And my reasons are these; at the wake of the introduction of government policy on deregulation and removal of oil subsidy they promised so many things including the fact that the refineries will work, energy will improve, the money saved from wastage, (they call oil subsidy wastage) which we call opportunity cost they said if they can mop up this money they will use it in providing infrastructures that refineries would work, more employment would be created and as at that time they set up Petroleum Product Pricing Regulatory Committee (PPPRC). It was later changed to Petroleum Products Price Regulatory Agency (PPPRA). The second major attempt again they said there would be palliatives.
That was when labour agreed they should deregulate the price of diesel, they said they were going to buy buses for mass transit as one of the palliatives. The question today is where are those vehicles? Are they bought or not or they ended up with the same people that made promises who cannot fulfill it? Now when they say refineries will work and it never worked, when they say employment would be generated and it was never so, unemployment is rising.
Also when they said that energy will improve and energy is almost nonexistent now. How can there be employment when factories and industries are closing due to high cost of energy? With all these ugly antecedent of deception and insincerity, how can they now convince Nigerians again that when you deregulate the final one which is petrol (PMS) that the money will be used for those palliatives they have promised? It’s like a broken record, a motion without movement, that is what the situation looks like to me; worn out promises, they have said it one time too many, no difference, no confidence, people don’t have confidence in them anymore.
This is the same government that negotiated with ASUU and signed agreements years after they fail to implement it. And it is not only ASUU, most agreements that government entered into voluntarily, they renege at the point of implementation, that is their culture.
They have made the people to lose trust in them in their ability to deliver on their promises. So I don’t believe and don’t trust them. I want the government to point at something that will convince the members of the public that yes they made promise on x project or programme and they delivered. Even the annual budget, how much of the budget they voluntarily presented to the national assembly for approval and approved has been implemented before the end of every fiscal year? Provisions for Ministries, Departments, and Agencies are usually not adequate yet at the end of the year they would still find it convenient to say we refund unspent budget. Look at the irony, the money is usually inadequate. Besides they still have the pleasure to return it as unspent funds.
It is being said that it won’t be easy for Governor Mimiko to win the guber race in Ondo State come 2012 going by the attendant distractions, harsh and vituperative criticisms coming from the opposition camps particularly ACN?
Let me assure you that His Excellency Governor Olusegun Mimiko will record landslide victory in the coming guber election, because the people are strongly behind him _ the elites, the artisans, students, sports men and women, people at the grassroots, market women etc. This is evident because Mimiko has touched many lives through creation of enabling environment capable of adding value to their private personal lives, businesses and investments.
The current administration in Ondo State has embarked on urban renewal programmes and it has recorded huge successes, the master plan of that will help to absorb the renewal of six major urban centres of Akure, Ondo, Ikare, Owo, Okitipupa, and Ore to start with. These six urban centres have been redesigned, upgraded, and urban renewal would be perfectly implemented _ that is the new spirit in our state for new paradigm shift. Also to his credit is the provision of world class diagnostic and health centre in the country. The projects include the Gani Fawehinmi Diagnostic Centre, the ‘Abiye’ health programme, and the ‘Mother and Child Hospital’ with free medical services.
Apart from this, the world class neighbourhood markets which have removed trading from the streets were also built; market women now experience pleasure and not pain in doing their business; they no longer wear rain booths to market. The market is now solar powered and things are functioning in their maximum capacity in the interest of all. Another milestone is the road construction through the use of competent construction contractors and they have been delivering on time.
For the avoidance of doubt the Oba Adesida, Owo, Ondo dualisation and so many others are the proofs of these facts and when completed will be the best thing to happen to road networking in the history of the state. There is no community in Ondo State that has not felt the presence of Governor Mimiko within his two_year stay in office in terms of people oriented developments. I only told you few things he had achieved within that short period. So tell me why wont he win? With the support of the people through the grace of God Mimiko’s second term bid is already a done deal.
Mimiko cannot be distracted; he is unrepentant in concentrating on delivering on his promises to the good people of Ondo State that is his mandate and that is our philosophy as a party, politics is not run on the pages of newspapers by way of propaganda or mudslinging; politics is run on the field through the support of the people at the grassroots especially when the people feel the dividends of democracy through genuine means.
What is the single most disturbing factor in all of these?
There are many now. Because the ripple effects of oil subsidy removal will definitely lead to joblessness, high cost of living, low purchasing power, run-away inflation, increase in crime rate and increase in prostitution, to mention but a few.
Should Nigerians trust Jonathan of PDP?
He is a member of the PDP and it is so disturbing that the people around President Jonathan may not allow him to offer the best he intended; they have entangled him with deceptive and suffocating structure. There is an adage in Yorubaland which says “Agbara ojo koni ohun onile wo, onile nio ni gba fun” the literary meaning of that is ”the force of the torrent is capable of destroying the building, it is the property owner that won’t give it the chance”. The same set of people that have been ruling Nigeria since the early 60s are still the same at the corridor of power; those that are dead succeeded in putting their children, they keep recycling themselves day in day out They only change the name of the political party from time to time.
Today people are now toeing the line of making violent change inevitable in the polity since peaceful change had been truncated and that is really dangerous for us as a country. The reaction is now manifest in different forms, people now react through their ethnic militias or religious sect. We now have OPC, Bakassi, Egbesu, MEND, and now it is Boko Haram. Instead of thinking of how to curb the problem they are only addressing the effects and that cannot yield any positive result. As a legislator in the House of Reps, I have proposed social security scheme for unemployed Nigerians and the aged through local government. This can equally put a check on those who pride themselves in embezzling money because this scheme can help foster budget discipline as wells as accountability, people would want to know how their money would be spent and on what programme, scheme or budget.