*Governors, and senators are being subsidised!
*Ecological fund is being pocketed by governors!
By Yemie Adeoye
Chief Robert Clark is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and specialises in arbitration and oil and gas law. In this exclusive interview with Sunday Vanguard, he bared his mind on the state of the nation and the ongoing nationwide strike over the removal of fuel subsidy. Chief Clark insists that the Governors’ forum is corrupt and majorly responsible for the President’s decision to remove the subsidy on petrol. He also advises the Federal Government on ways out of the current logjam.
The raging issue in the country today is the removal of fuel subsidy, which started with some sort of consultations and ended with an abrupt removal of petroleum subsidy on the first day of the year. The labour unions and civil society have in return shut down the nation’s economy. Can we please have your views on this unfolding drama between labour and the Federal Government?
The question to ask is if there really was a subsidy available for removal. Or is it a phantom subsidy that the government wants to remove? That is the first question begging for answer. Secondly, subsidy in Nigeria is not a new thing, virtually in every social aspect of Nigerian life, there are subsidies and that is why the constitution has enjoined the government of the day to ensure two things, the security of the state of the people and the welfare of the people. That aspect of the welfare of the people has made it mandatory for government to apply subsidy in certain areas to achieve that purpose.
Petroleum is just one of the very many subsidies paid by the Federal Government on a daily basis. In ecological area, the government is enjoined when there are ecological issues to give subsidy to state governments and that is why many governors today, where there had not been any catastrophe, applied for their ecological subsidy and just squander it amongst themselves.
Also, there is subsidy in education as the Federal Government is enjoined by law to subsidise primary education in the country, so petroleum is just one of the many subsidies that the Federal Government is mandated by law to pay, so why do you pick on petroleum alone to remove its subsidy when there are other subsidies? For instance, the National Assembly is being subsidised through the constituency allowances of its members. It is not in the constitution but today, the Federal Government spends a whopping N250 million a year to maintain a senator. That is a subsidy and why is that area not being looked into with a view to removing it? So the
question is not whether subsidy should or should not be removed but the way and manner as well as the priority, is the actual problem. Therefore, my own view is that if you say a subsidy exists and you want to remove it, then you must negotiate with the people and you must also lay a foundation to cushion the effects of your actions.
The government has told Nigerians that it has very good plans for the masses. The president said about 1,600 buses would be arriving in the country soon as part of the palliatives, they have talked about the light rail system and lots of other benefits to accrue from the subsidy savings even as Nigerians continue to complain that the timing and strategy are wrong. What do you think about this?
Let’s be honest with ourselves. From where is the government going to get the money for what it is promising you? The money government wants to get from this subsidy, we have been told, would be shared among the federal, state and local governments for other purposes, but then, the question is: who is going to account for it?
The Governors’ forum with due respect, is the greatest constituent of corruption in this country! Firstly, the Governors’ forum has forced every succeeding government dead or alive, starting from Obasanjo, to be performing illegal acts by asking the Presidency to remove money from the excess crude fund and give to state governments at their whims and caprices. There is nowhere in the constitution where anybody – either government or any agency – can spend any money of Nigeria without appropriation. Now, the governors will sit down, shout on the President because he has no political base and tell him that if he does not dip his hands into the excess crude funds and allocate money to them, heaven will fall. Without appropriation, without legislative approval, the President would have acted illegally.
These people must be taken to court once they leave office so they can account for this illegality and rape of Nigerian citizens because they’re spending monies which have not been appropriated. Why is Bankole in court today? It was simply because as head of the legislature, he knows he cannot spend money without appropriation and he still went ahead to a bank, asked for an overdraft and spent money that has neither been budgeted for or appropriated and he has to go to prison for it because it’s an offence!
In a recent article by Femi Fani-Kayode published in Vanguard, he said that when Obasanjo was leaving government, he left a reserve of 86 billion dollars, today the reserve is 32 billion, what has happened to 54 billion dollars? Has it been appropriated before it was spent? Who has spent it and on what projects? This country would ask the people in charge of these monies to come and explain. Time has now passed when government would look at any problem as if it concerns only labour, the present situation in Nigeria concerns professionals like us, concerns the civil rights people and not the trade union or labour alone. You cannot be stealing people’s money and riding on top of everybody because everyone is feeling the pinch of the so-called subsidy. So for a government which has been so corrupt and which has been so bad in using the people’s money to come around and say what constitutionally they’re expected to do with the money and now saying that’s what they’re planning to do in the future (is laughable).
Every year, you have votes for state governments to repair and rehabilitate their roads. For example, Lagos State did the BRT scheme, why can’t other states emulate the same example? Did the Federal Government give Lagos State any money to start BRT? Today, we’re enjoying BRT in Lagos and everybody is happy about it, so do we need to remove any subsidy to do it? And people are paying for it, so it’s a bloody lie for any government to say otherwise. Sincerely, it’s not even a removal, rather it’s a taxation. They’re taxing innocent people for money to be given to governors to spend again to maintain their constituencies, so nobody would trust any government.
Before 1993, there was no oil subsidy or oil shortage in the country, oil shortages started in 1993 when the three refineries stopped producing at optimal level because under the system of governance, 400,000 barrels of oil out of Nigeria’s oil allocation goes for domestic use and it goes to the three refineries and they produce at cost price, now when Babangida discovered there were refineries and there was petrol shortage, he immediately sacked the Petroleum minister, Jubril Aminu. I represented Rivers State in Belgore tribunal that was set up to find out how there could be petrol shortage in Nigeria. The facts now came out that our capacity to produce and refine locally was lacking, then Abacha came in and unfortunately opened the gates for everybody that so desires to bring in all sorts of products and they were bringing in smelling petroleum products, and that was when Obasanjo came in and decided to centralise it. In centralising it, however, Obasanjo discovered that a cartel had been formed! In 2006,
to be fair to him, he said “I will sell the three refineries and remove the subsidy so the refineries can be brought up to date and everybody would have petrol.”
Again, the refineries were sold to Otedola and Dangote who are just traders and not oil and gas operators. Therefore, nothing was done and Yar’adua had to reclaim the refineries back. Today, the refineries are producing about 120,000 barrels of crude oil daily, where does that go into the subsidy? Because out of about 450,000 barrels, the refineries are producing about 120,000 so why are you still calibrating or using the budget of the market price for the whole local consumption?
There is a lot of built-in fraud in the whole system. What we are saying is that at the time the Federal Government decided to remove the fantastic subsidy, the three refineries must be sold! Let people of repute come in. Within six months it would be functioning and you can now give them the 400,000 barrels a day that Nigeria requires for domestic use and you may discover that we don’t require any importation of petroleum products in this country. Before the government removes subsidy, it must consult with the people and make arrangement so that everything will still be in order, that is the problem.
Sir, you mentioned that the Senate and state governments are also being subsidized. Can you shed more light on this?
I was privileged last year to take eight of my junior lawyers to see Obasanjo in his house in Abeokuta and he is alive to corroborate this. When I was with him, I introduced my junior lawyers to him and told them that this was the man who has brought a National Assembly where people are amassing allowances, he shouted at me and fortunately that day, there were two senators in his room, one Senator Bajomo from Ogun State and another from Rivers State, he quickly ran to them and called them out to hear what I was saying and he said to me: “Chief Clark, do you know that it takes N250 million a year to maintain a senator?
“Look, I have warned them,” and he was pointing to the two of them saying “that when the trouble starts, all of them would be killed!” I was there so it is from the horse’s mouth that I have this information that it takes N250 million per head to maintain a senator and I’m quoting Obasanjo. So how can you maintain a National Assembly of 93 people? 250 million naira by 93 translates to about 23 billion, two hundred and fifty million naira, we don’t want to talk about the 370 people in the House of Representatives, that subsidy alone is almost 10 times more than the subsidy on petroleum, you have not looked into that area and you are asking the common man to continue to suffer more. Whereas the salary of a legislator is only about a million naira annually on paper, but when they go home, they don’t buy petrol as there is a petrol pool hence they don’t even know how much it would cost to fill a tank! They maintain pool cars and so on. So what we are saying is that there are many areas where government should l
ook into for subsidy. The ones they share amongst state governments under the excess crude fund, and you should know that the basis of excess crude fund is that under the law, at the end of every budget year, you budget 70 dollars per barrel and the price of oil goes below 70 dollars, then states can apply for more money saying ‘when we made our budget, we based it on 70 and now it is 45 dollars, that is the only time the law allows the government to spend from the excess crude fund. But since 1999, the price of oil has not gone down more than 85 dollars and every year, we budget about 70 dollars. So there is no basis in law where a governor can go to Mr. President and insist on being paid from the excess crude fund. It is illegal! It is stealing!! And the President who approves it whether dead or alive, as well as the governors who demanded for it, will both account for it when the time comes because it is not appropriated and you cannot by law spend money that was not appropriated.