Diezani’s diehard subsidy

The history of fuel subsidy in Nigeria is as chequered as the Petroleum Minister, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke, is allegedly fraudulent, wantonly extravagant, disingenuous and insensitive to the plight of the ordinary Nigerian. Petrol subsidy removal started in 1978, when the then Olusegun Obasanjo junta jerked it from 8.4kobo to 15.37kobo. Since then, about three decades after, the so-called fuel subsidy has remained inelastic, rising to its current price of N97, and still counting. Last week’s hint by the minister of an impending removal of fuel subsidy,which followed on its heels, the exposé, amidst many others, of financial impropriety involving the oil minister, tend to lend credence to this assertions.

Diezani said during the Nigeria Oil and Gas conference in Abuja, last week that Nigeria could not continue with the payment of subsidy to oil marketers in the country and that there was need to deregulate the downstream sector. She said the nation had been faced with fuel scarcity in the last two months and there seemed to be no end in sight in spite of assurances by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).

If Diezani makes good her plan to increase fuel price, the Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) or petrol will jump from its current price of N97 to N141 per litre, an increase of about 60 percent in one fell swoop. When juxtaposed with the fact that this same minister only recently, on January 1, 2012, raised the pump price of petrol from N65 to N141 per litre, i.e. 130 percent, but was forced to drop to N97 by civil unrest, then the picture of Diezani’s insensitivity becomes clearer.

No wonder the oil minister put the wrong foot forward, having been enmeshed in series of scams from the outset ofher appointment as Nigeria’s  first female petroleum minister on April 6, 2010. Diezani has serially been accused of arbitrary awards of crude lifting contracts to obscure companies,in violation of NNPC’s guidelines. The probes by the House of Representatives, which report is still gathering dust on the Presidents table, in the wake of the 2012 oil subsidy strike, also indicted the minister of complicity in the N1.34 trillion fuel subsidy payment rackets.

Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi had to pay dearly with his tacit sack as Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) by President Jonathan for daring to blow the whistle on the NNPC’s unremitted $48 billion (later cut to $10.8 billion) oil revenue to the federation account.

Diezani is not done in her quest to task the ordinary Nigerian to pay for her opulent and profligate lifestyle through the so-called fuel subsidy regime. Last Thursday, the House of Representatives initiated a probe into an allegation that she spent a cumulative N10 billion in two years flying around in a private jet. The move to investigate the fraudulent activities came on the heels of the alarm raised by a group, Concerned Aviation Professionals (CAP).500,000 Euros (N130 million) is spent every month on the maintenance, meaning that, over the last two years, N10 billion has been expended on payments of allowances to the plane’s crew, hangar parking and rent based on a lease agreement. The private jet, a Challenger 850, is used exclusively by the minister’s immediate family even as the nation’s cash cow, NNPC,said it bankrolled the venture for two years.

Moving the motion for Diezani’s probe, Hon. Babatunde Adejare (APC, Lagos), decried that “an official of government could be bankrolling this waste in the face of ever dwindling public resources which amounts to a misplacement of priority, impudence and breach of public trust”. He noted that her action contravenes the Fiscal Responsibility Act “and all other laws on fiscal discipline”.

The questions arising from the steep mess in the oil industry, therefore, are: why is President Jonathan incapable of dealing decisively with the massive corruption in the industry? Why is it impossible for Nigeria to refine crude oil even when smaller and less endowed countries like Niger Republic and Cameroon could do so? Why must the

Nigerian people be made to pay for government’s failure to efficiently manage its four refineries in Kaduna, Warri and Port Harcourt despite the huge expenditure on their Turn Around Maintenance (TAM)? Is petrol really cheap in Nigeria, based on the international market rate? Why does the government not stem the profligacy and theft by its officials rather than milking the famished and deprivedNigerians to save cost?

There are more questions than answers flowing mainly from the fact that probes have become sources of further looting the public till. It is unfortunate that virtually all the probes conducted by the National Assembly are riddled by counter accusations of corruption against the lawmakers, thus casting doubt on their credibility and truncating the entire process. Consequently, not much is expected from the current probe of the oil minister as it will go the same way of its precursors. It’s business as usual with the Nigerian people at the receiving end.

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