By Dele Sobowale
“At no time did President Goodluck Jonathan said that the Federal Government had abandoned the SURE programme. What he said in his opening remarks at the meeting last week was that the full implementation of government’s palliatives …was no longer feasible”.
Dr Reuben Abati, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, February 27, 2012.
In all fairness to President Jonathan and Reuben Abati, the SURE programme had not been totally abandoned as most of the critics of government are alleging. In fact, President Jonathan specifically said: “I saw the SURE book being distributed; we are withdrawing it.
This is the old one”. The obvious inference from that statement is clear; we should expect SURE -2. That was why this series was titled SURE -1. For whatever, it is worth, I apologise on behalf of all those who misrepresented the President’s position.
We can disagree on issues, but let us be factual at all times. I am waiting for SURE—2; but not holding my breath. The same heads which produced the defective SURE-1 will issue SURE –2. What lessons have they learnt?
Last week, the first part of this series ended by stating that the Minister of Petroleum who should have known how much we were paying for imported fuel and how much of it we were consuming daily had no clue. She must be the only government official in that capacity in the entire world who demonstrates that degree of ignorance about vital data expected from her department. Read on.
It was the Chief Executive Officer of the PPPRA who later exposed the scandal and the scope of the corruption in the oil sector by disclosing that the nation was importing and paying for more petrol than we were consuming.
According to him, we were charged with consumption of 57 million litres a day at one time. That disclosure should really have brought to an end all the pretences of government officials that they were telling Nigerians the truth about oil imports.
That was not to be. The Central Bank of Nigeria, whose governor sat while N1.134 trillion was being claimed as subsidy, then muddied up the waters when the CBN announced that it was still processing more claims by fuel importers and the total for the year 2011 might exceed N2 trillion.
In more disciplined societies, the discrepancy between N1.134 trillion, widely publicized in the SURE document, and the possible N2 trillion should have led to the resignation of at least one Honourable Minister. Nigeria, unfortunately, is still to have one such Minister. They cling to office and are allowed to stay long after destroying the credibility of government.
On the face of it, we would assume that we have reaches a dead end; that we have no way of finding out how much fuel we actually consume and what price we pay for it. The ongoing probes by the PDP-controlled National Assembly will lead nowhere.
That is the verdict of history and experience since 1999. But, by divine intervention, we now have a clue. It was provided by the Minister for Finance and Coordinating Minister when the allocation of Subsidy savings, to the three tiers of government, was published on February 20, 2012; to which we shall refer extensively in part 3 of this series.
According to the Minister, the aggregate savings from “partial” fuel subsidy, at N97 per litre, came to N16.3 billion in January of 2012. Annualized the total should be N195.6 billion. It should also be possible to know the volume of fuel used during the month.
Granted, there were seven days of protests and reduced movement; also allowing for the reduced demand following the price increase, it should be obvious that nether N1.134 trillion nor N2 trillion is realistic and honest estimate of the “subsidy” in 2011.
There are numerous matters arising from the February 20, 2012 disclosure. And, the first query should go to the Minister of Finance, who was obviously duped into selling the bogus figure of N1.134 trillion to other stakeholders – particularly governors – who swallowed the drivel, hook, line and sinker.
Are we to assume that the former Managing Director of the World Bank does not know that numbers are deadly and those charged with the responsibility of determining the fate of nations must verify the figures presented to them before embarking on policy measures?
Nigeria lost close to a trillion to the strike; several lives were also lost on account of this ineptitude exhibited by her and the Minister of Petroleum, whose Ministry provided the bogus figure in the first instance. President Washington, 1732-1799, the first President of the United States once remarked that there must be a moral basis to governance and governments should not waste peoples lives unnecessarily.
The death of several Nigerians on account of policy measures based on a bogus figure –N1.134 trillion – was at least an ethical lapse for which nobody in government has even apologized.
That leads to the second question. After this unfortunate episode does Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala really expect Nigerians to trust her and the team she leads ever again? This is important bearing in mind the clarification made by Abati, quoted above, that government had not abandoned SURE; there will be a new document, hopefully, not hastily developed.
And like SURE-1, now in the dustbin, Nigerians would need to be convinced that SURE-2 will work; that it is not another gimmick by the administration to deceive the people. With virtually all the Ministers, who loudly promoted SURE-1 discredited, who then will be the government anchorman or woman to promote SURE-2.
The person(s) must be nationally accepted as credible. Without an acceptable person to promote it, SURE-2 in already dead. It will amount to another criminal waste of funds to print several million copies of a document which will be rejected – sight unseen.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy of this period lies in that question: who in government is credible anymore?
To be continued…