By Gabriel Ewepu
ABUJA-AS novel Coronavirus, COVID-19, the crisis continues across the country, Civil Society Organisations, CSOs, Friday, including Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC, ActionAid Nigeria, AAN, Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice, ANEEJ, Concerned Nigerians, CN, Coalition in Defence of Nigerian Democracy and Constitution, CDNDC, Health For Mother Earth Foundation, HOMEF, YIAGA AFRICA, and Agrecourse Integrated Service Limited, rejected Federal Government’s N143 hike in the pump price of Premium Motor Spirit, PMS, also called fuel on Wednesday.
The CSOs spoke with Vanguard over the hike in the pump price of the commodity and described it as sad, callous, criminal, insensitivity, unfortunate, increased poverty, and others.
It will be recalled that the National Assembly about three days ago told electricity Distribution Companies (DisCos) to halt the proposed increase in tariff for power consumers till the first quarter of 2021, only for the Federal Government on Wednesday announced the hike of the pump price of PMS from N121.50 to N140.80 per litre, through a statement by the Petroleum Product Pricing Regulatory Agency, PPPRA, recommending between N140.80 and N143.80 as the new retail range for the commodity.
The Executive Director, CISLAC, Auwal Ibrahim Rafsanjani, said, “The decision by the Federal Government to increase the pump price of fuel at this period of COVID-19 when most Nigerians have lost their job or have suffered a setback in their financial status and even job status I think is not a good idea.
“If you look at other countries that are not even petroleum producing countries have reduced the cost of petrol. Again when you look at other countries that are genuinely supporting their citizens as a result of COVID-19 pandemic Nigeria instead of helping its citizens is now creating additional hardship by increasing the pump price of petrol.
“The Nigerian government was also considering increasing electricity tariff, these are not decisions meant for the good of Nigerians. It is contradictory for the Nigerian government to say they are supporting vulnerable Nigerians and at the same time Nigerians have not seen the impact of the so-called palliatives and contributions of well-meaning Nigerians and the international community, and even the loan collected by Nigeria, Nigerians have not yet witnessed the positive impact of this loan.
“Thirdly, Nigerians have claimed to have recovered some money and assets from looters, and we are just wondering what is the point of getting all these assets and monies and cannot be used for the betterment of Nigerians, or is it meant for other looters to take it away? I think the Nigerian government needs to think about it support to Nigerians or about governance generally.
“Nigeria is been ranked as one of the top poverty countries in the world; suffers a huge employment market, the setback of manufacturers, companies, and industries. A lot of difficulties now faced by Nigerians, and for Nigeria to now wake up and increase the price of fuel at this point in time.
“I think it is not a wise decision but should reverse as quickly as possible to mitigate and provide relief to many millions of Nigerians because the implication of this is that there is going to be on the increase; transportation fare will go up and a lot of things that have to do with petrol including fueling of generators since there is no stable power supply and will affect small and medium scale businesses since the government cannot provide required electricity for Nigerians so they use generators for their business activities.
“I think one of the major setbacks in the last five years is the absence of a sound economic management team that will help to provide the right economic policies in the country.
“What we have is full of inconsistencies, full of contradictions, lack of connecting with the people because of the people who are running the economic affairs of the country are in touch with the people will know that at this point in time the increasing price of petrol is not going to be easy with Nigerians.
“The question is why is it that it is only people in power are enjoying themselves either at the national, state, and local government levels? Because they did not buy fuel and everything is bought with taxpayers’ money so they don’t know about the suffering of Nigerians. It is unfair to add more suffering to Nigerians.”
The Country Director, ActionAid Nigeria, AAN, Ene Obi, said, “The Senate recently asked the Electricity Companies not to increase tariff, the Nigeria Labour Congress also backed that up, and where is this one of Petroleum increase coming? Who asked them to reduce it in the first place? For the first, the Government took a decision that nobody talked to them about, to be on the people’s side. There has been serious inflation already because of COVID-19, do they understand what this is going to mean?
“Airline has said they will charge more because they have to fly at 50 per cent capacity and transporters having the same issue. Any increase will bring more suffering for the majority of Nigerians and will naturally create further inflation.
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“ActionAid Nigeria is part of COVID-19 Labour Civil Society Coalition and we will take the issue to our meeting
“It should be resisted because countries use what they have to help their people in bringing down the cost of social facilities. The oil comes from our land but loads irresponsibility of governance over the years has led to our refineries not functioning, huge area of employment for the masses not giving attention while they continue importation. Very sad, the way Nigerians are treated.
“We say no to any increase. Labour is mobilising and we will mobilise against any hike in fuel price.”
The Convener, Concerned Nigerians, CN, Deji Adeyanju said, “It is not only wrong, in fact, is criminal of what the government is doing. It is extremely criminal in the sense that anyhow you look at it you. Are we still running a subsidy regime because everybody is confused about what is going on?
“Why is that it is the PPPRA is still the one fixing the price of petroleum products in the country it means that somebody is lying to us. So anyhow you look at it, it is practically impossible that this is how to remove the subsidy regime and this cannot be the removal of the subsidy regime.
“Again on the second issue, this is being done at the time when the pandemic is raging here. The scores o the pandemic is daily increasing. You can see the negative impact it is going to have on the economy and will lead to hyperinflation.
“And anyhow we look at it again this will also lead to loss of jobs. So it is a lose-lose situation for the country.”
The Executive Director, ANEEJ, Rev David Ogolor, said, “The increase of pump price of petrol by the Federal Government demonstrates insensitivity toward the plight of poor Nigerians which will not help the Government in the long run.
“A few months ago the Government received loans from the IMF and World Bank and in less than two months fuel price has now been increased which shows that the loan was based on conditions. This is not good for Government image.
“It will damage the Government credibility and reduce Public trust for the Government, particularly at this critical period of COVID-19 pandemic. Why other governments are strengthening palliative measures to curtail the impact of COVID-19 our Government is increasing the pains of poor Nigerians which will definitely undermine the country.
“The immediate effects of this policy will be visible in the next few weeks. My humble advice to President Buhari is that he should look beyond excessive taxation and fuel rent to raise money to finance the budget.
“In the face of high-level unemployment and insecurity in the country I urge the Government to reverse this anti-people’s decision. It will lead to more deforestation as people look for alternatives to access energy.”
The Convener, Coalition in Defence of Nigerian Democracy and Constitution, CDNDC, Ariyo-Dare Atoye, said, “It is unfortunate that we are mostly left with no option than to continue to assess this government in the negative for its obvious lack of sincerity of purpose and inconsistencies.
“The latest increase in the pump price of petrol to N143 amid the worsening economic crisis and raging coronavirus pandemic is not only distasteful, but it is also outrightly insensitive and mischievous – as it amounts to giving with one hand – halting the increase in electricity tariffs – and talking with other.
“Unfortunately, Nigeria’s socioeconomic reality only responds to negative market trends, because the downward review of the fuel pump price a few weeks ago, did not really amount no any significant corresponding decrease in the prices of many commodities, but we are now likely to see a sharp increase in the costs of many things, especially with the latest unthoughtful action.
“Since the government is not ready for the total deregulation of the downstream sector, then its action must consistently be to ameliorate the sufferings of Nigerians and not to overburden it.”
The Executive Director, YIAGA AFRICA, Samson Itodo, said: “It is insensitive for the government to do so at this crucial moment. When will the government subsidize the hardship faced by the common masses?
“It is obvious we the people exist for the government and not vice versa. This hike will make the cost of commodities skyrocket from the current expensive level. It will result in job losses because the cost of overhead will increase and businesses will struggle to cover operational costs.”
Director, Health for Mother Earth Foundation, HOMEF, Arc Nnimmo Bassey, said, “The government should know that the spate of suggested prices increases will add up to increase of poverty in the country. There is a threat of increase in electricity tariff and now of pump price of petrol at a time when the public was sold the idea that the petrol price would rise or fall depending on the price of crude oil.
“You may have seen the report indicating that the quality of petrol from illegal refineries is far higher than the petrol the government imports or allows into the country.
“Is not that a big shame? Petroleum products (with high sulphur contents and other impurities) that other countries have outlawed are still being allowed into Nigeria.
“What’s wrong with us? Is it that the lives of citizens don’t matter? Why sell toxic petrol to people and yet jerk up the price in the midst of financial squeeze. I just can’t get it.
“When the COVID-19 pandemic is added to the multiple crises and threats, the conclusion is that Nigerians will survive only by the skin of their teeth. We can do better.
“Refine the petrol locally and the price will be a fraction of what is being charged. Support local enterprise — research centres and entrepreneurs to upgrade the bush refineries into cost-effective and ecologically benign modular refineries and this vexing issue will be laid to rest.”
The Chief Executive Officer of Agrecourse Integrated Service Limited, Ayoola Oluga, also said that “Increasing fuel prices during this tough period will cause more problems for the average Nigerian.
“Already, many people’s salaries have been reduced while some people have lost their jobs. As it is, the level of food production has reduced due to an increased price of fertilizer. This will surely result in increased food prices in the coming months. Increasing fuel prices is not the right move.”