BY DOTUN IBIWOYE, BARTHOLOMEW MADUKWE, NKIRUKA NNOROM & KUNLE KALEJAYE
Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, yesterday decried the high cost of cement and diesel as a result of the deregulation of prices, noting that a group of Nigerian businessmen are holding the country hostage and thereby making Nigerians to suffer.
Speaking during a Vanguard Conference Hall meeting on the theme: “Fuel Subsidy and the Ethical Deficiencies in Public Office in Nigeria,” the TUC’s Head, Media and Information, Mr Onyeka Chuwudi, said Nigerians are made to pay the highest price for diesel and cement along the West Coast.
In his words: “There is an ongoing gang-up against Nigerians. A whole lot of those people that used the opportunity that the subsidy has created have ganged up against Nigeria, even the Automated Gasoline Oil, AGO, (popularly called diesel) that is not under subsidy, Nigerians are made to pay the highest price in the West Coast. It is the same group of Nigerians that is holding Nigeria hostage.
“The simple truth is that in Nigeria, what we pay for a litre of diesel is higher than what citizens of other countries pay for a litre of diesel, same thing with cement. When you trace it, you cannot go beyond a certain group of people that are holding Nigeria hostage, which has also brought the people in power.”
Chuwudi said there was a correlation between the subsidy regime and the election year, saying that the election year has a lot of impact with the subsidy regime, noting that returns from the fuel subsidy may have been used for election campaign and funding of political parties.
He added that the first process of sanitizing the subsidy regime is to reveal the real data of consumption to Nigerians. He said: “The people in government should be able to tell us how much we are paying for the fuel subsidy. With this data, Nigerians will be able to know where to ask question, and who to ask. Because there is a deliberate attempt to falsify data. The quantity of fuel consumption in Nigeria must be traced, but nobody has given that figure.
Also speaking, the Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigerian, MOMAN, alleged that the Federal Government lacked the political will to remove fuel subsidy in the country, noting that efforts should be geared towards removing it.
The Executive Secretary of MOMAN, Mr. Obafemi Olawore, said there has not been enough political will to remove the subsidy, saying “if we continue to say that government is bleeding, the economy is bleeding because we are spending money on subsidy and we are not making effort to block it then there is a problem.”
Explaining the reason for the existence of fuel subsidy in the country, Olawore noted that what is produced in the country is not sufficient which is why the country resorted to the importation of premium motor spirit, PMS or petrol.
He, however, argued that the pump price of petrol cannot be isolated from the international price of crude, as “Once you buy at the international market, there is going to be a difference of what is produced and what you are told to sell.
“Whether it is right or wrong is not what am after. What I am after is that somebody is buying the product at a particular price and therefore he has to recover his cost, if he does and he recovers fully and you tell him to sell at a lower price then there is gap and that gap is the subsidy.
The Chairman of Depot and Petroleum Products Marketers Association of Nigeria, DAPPMA, Mr. DapoAbiodun, said his association is fully in support of government’s move to deregulate and sanitise the downstream petroleum industry.
On the issue of deregulation and subsidy, we in DAPPMA support government’s move contrary to what the masses think or thought, because they accuse us that we are the beneficiaries of subsidy; we were being called criminals, the cabal. Let them remove subsidy, let your efficiency be your profit.
Although he admitted that there have been some sharp practices in the industry, he argued that the marketers were not alone in it and accused some government agencies of complicity.
“Anytime you have a regime where you buy at a price and you are being told to sell at a fixed rate and the government is paying you back, there is a guarantee, it will be abused, particularly in a country like Nigeria.
“Let’s think about it, we are not government; there is no marketer, be it the DAPPMA, or MOMAN or IPMAN or JEPTFON that will allocate one single drop of petroleum to itself. So that’s where you will start this question from.
“Where were we in 2009 and 2010, what was the volume of PMS that was being allocated and imported into this country. What happened? Did marketers allocate these products to themselves? How did the number of marketers that were loading and importing petroleum products into this country rise exponentially?”
He attributed the astronomical rise in subsidy payments in 2011 to the sudden increase in the number of product importers, saying, “Sometime last year, from giving PPPRA allocation to about 20, 30 people, it rose to about 100 people. Did MOMAN give those allocations to themselves? Did DAPPMA give those allocations to themselves? So, we all know what happened.
The consumption of petroleum today is less than 35 million liters per day based on the allocation they were given, and as we speak, there are no queues. So this goes to say that something was happening in the past.”