By Peter Duru, Makurdi
Residents of Makurdi, the Benue State capital are yet to come out of the shock of the new pump price of fuel or PMS in the wake of the removal of petroleum subsidy by the Federal Government on New Year Day.
The new policy which has generated angry reactions from residents forced many into the streets to protest the new fuel regime and the protests and street demonstrations have persisted in the last three days.
The angry protesters who have disrupted business and commercial activities in Makurdi the Benue State capital are demanding that the Federal Government revert its decision.
They were made of various youth organizations, civil society groups, students and various other groups in the state.
The protesters who peacefully matched through the streets of Makurdi under the close watch of men of the Police Force bore placards some of which had inscriptions like “Benue says no to this wicked decision”, “GEJ your decision is anti people”and “Nigerians cannot be slaves in their country”.
Addressing the protesters at the Makurdi Woodland Park, one of the group leaders and renowned anti corruption crusaders, Comrade Frank Utoo, regretted that the decision of the Federal Government to remove subsidy of petroleum products was in total negation of the promises made to the people by the administration during elections.
Utoo said the decision would subject Nigerians to immense hardship and suffering advising that the decision be reverted in the interest of the suffering masses.
“This decision and policy is anti people and not in the interest of the common masses who will be subjected to untold hardship of immense magnitude; that is why we demand a complete reversal of the policy”, he said.
Reacting to the deregulation policy of government, elder statesman and founding member of the ruling PDP, Chief Abu King Shuluwa described the decision of the Federal Government to remove fuel subsidy as an invitation to crisis and violence.
Shuluwa said the decision would definitely spark angry reactions from labour, civil society organizations and various other bodies who would resist the policy and thereby create unrest in the polity.
The PDP stalwart told Saturday Vanguard in Makurdi that the decision was ill timed and in total negation of the wishes of the generality of Nigerians.
Shuluwa said government would have ensured the complete turn around of the nation’s ailing refineries and other critical infrastructures to cushion the effect of increase in pump price before implementing the policy.
“The prices of virtually everything will skyrocket in the midst of poverty and hardship, that is why I remain one of those who do not believe in the removal of subsidy”, he added.
Renowned anti corruption crusader and former Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav described the decision as unwise and counterproductive. Tsav told Saturday Vanguard in a telephone chat that the decision would not only aggravate hardship but would also worsen the security challenges the country is currently facing.
He lamented that the decision would erode whatever gains Nigerian workers benefitted from the new national minimum wage.
According to him, “Mr. President acted very unwisely by removing fuel subsidy at this point in time. This will raise costs and further increase and aggravate our existing hardship, including a rise in crime wave, insecurity will increase; on the whole, the recent minimum salary increase will lose its desired effect”, Tsav said.
Meanwhile, hordes of commuters have been stranded in Makurdi as a result of the non availability of fuel in most of the filling stations operating in the Benue State capital.
Saturday Vanguard investigations revealed that aside the NNPC mega station which has long queues of motorists scampering to get the products, virtually all other service stations in the town had no products to dispense to motorists.
Black marketers have cashed in on the development to sell a liter of fuel for as high as N250 to desperate motorists.
The development has also forced commercial vehicle operators to further hike transport fares that heat the roof at the wake of the removal of petroleum subsidy on New Year Day.
At most of the motor parks vis ited in Makurdi, it was discovered that a trip to Abuja now costs N3,500 as against N1,200 in the past while Lagos now costs N8,000 instead of N2,500.
A trip to Port Harcourt which before now was N2,000 now goes for as high as N3,500 while a trip to Enugu now attracts N4,000 as against N1,200.
A trip to Kano from Makurdi now goes for as high as N8,500 as against N3,000 before subsidy removal.
Also, a trip to Otukpo now costs N800 as against N350 while Gboko by bus which used to cost N200 now goes for between N500 and N600.
Saturday Vanguard further gathered that a trip to the popular Zaki Biam yam market now cost N2,200 as against the former N800.
The few buses plying intra city routes in Makurdi now collect N60 a drop as against the former N30 ,just as commercial motorcycle opearators now charge N120 per drop as against the former N40.
Disenchanted commuters who have resorted to trekking most of the distances in town lamented the suffering and hardship unleashed on them by the Federal Government.
Some of them lampooned the government and its policies describing it as anti people and wicked.
According to Terna Adingi, “This is not what we bargained for when we voted this PDP government into power. We are not happy with the policy because this is another means of taking back the so called new minimum wage they claimed they paid workers”, he said angrily.
Ochapa Dennis, decried the sudden removal of subsidy on fuel and urged the federal government to quickly have a rethink and rescind its decision on the issue before it arouses the wrath of the people.
Reacting to the development, Managing Director of Pleasure Travels, Mr. Paul Ubwa, described the issue of fuel subsidy as a complex one, adding that the common man is now a victim of the policy.
He however appealed to the country’s leaders to put the funds that would be gotten from the subsidy removal to meaningful use to compensate for the suffering of the ordinary Nigerians who would be grossly affected by the withdrawal.
When contacted, State Chairman of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) Comrade Simon Anchaver declined comments on the matter, saying that he would soon address the media on the decision of orgainsed labour on the matter.
Meanwhile, men and officers of the Benue State Police Command have intensified security patrols in and around Makurdi town to forestall possible break down of law and order in the wake of the deregulation policy of the Federal Government.
When contacted on the development, the command PPRO, Mr. Ejike Alaribe ASP, said the measure was in line with directives from the Inspector General of Police to all State Commands to ensure the safety of lives and property across the country.