President Muhammadu Buhari has not directed government officials to remove fuel subsidy, President of the Senate President Mr. Ahmad Lawan, said Tuesday.
Fielding questions from State House correspondents after a meeting with the President, Lawan said Nigerians are concerned about the consequences of fuel price hike should subsidy be removed.
The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, said in October last year last that the federal government has only made provision for fuel subsidy for the first six months of 2022 as it looks forward to a complete deregulation of the sector.
“In our 2022 budget, we only factored in subsidy for the first half of the year; the second half of the year, we are looking at complete deregulation of the sector, saving foreign exchange and potentially earning more from the oil and gas industry,” she said.
But the Senate President said the lawmakers had interacted with their constituents during their recess and were of the view that the burden of fuel subsidy removal shouldn’t be passed on to Nigerians.
“Many of us are very concerned with the recent agitations, protests, and many citizens were so concerned, our constituents across the country are very concerned that the federal government will remove the petroleum subsidy. And for us, as parliamentarians, as legislators representing the people of Nigeria, this must be of interest to us.
“And we’ve just finished our recess, we had gone home to our constituencies and senatorial districts. And we felt the pulse of our people. And I found it necessary to visit Mr. President, as the leader of our government and our leader in the country, to discuss this particular issue of concern to Nigerians, and I’m happy to inform Nigerians that Mr. President never told anyone that the petroleum subsidy should be removed.
“I know and I agree that the subsidy is very heavy. But I think we must never transfer the burden to the citizens. I believe that we need to look at the quoted figure of maybe 100 million litres that people claim we’re consuming. Is it real? I mean is it either under recoveries of subsidy? Is it really 100 million liters per day? How on earth are we consuming that? We need to look at this critically and see how we can find the truth. Because I am not convinced that within the boundaries of Nigeria we are consuming 100 million liters.
“Probably neighbouring countries maybe benefiting from this. Can’t we do something about it? It is a failure on us if we are not able to control it, this particular aspect of smuggling if the petrol and then in return, push the burden to the ordinary citizen.
“So, I want to commend Mr. President, for still keeping this philosophy of ensuring that the most ordinary Nigerian does not suffer in any way. Government is meant to serve people. And the essence of government we all know is to protect the lives and property and welfare of the people. And that federal aspect is part of the welfare.
“It may not be exactly the way we want it in the implementation of subsidy. But that is our challenge as an administration and as a government. So we need to come together, both the legislature, the National Assembly, and those people and institutions and organizations that are responsible in dealing with this matter, to find a solution to this,” he said.
When reminded that the fuel subsidy regime has not been captured in the second half of the 2022 budget, and whether Nigerians should expect a supplementary budget that would address that, he said: “No I will not speculate, but what I’m telling you is, it is a burden quite alright. And we have to work as an administration, we need to work hard to find a solution to it. We shouldn’t push this burden to the ordinary man.
“A 100 million litres of petrol every day in Nigeria, I can tell you it is not correct. I don’t believe that. If it is not so, what do we need to do, we have to sit down and deal with this so that we find a solution as a government, not to push it to the people. If we do that, because it’s easier to just say we remove it. But of course, we know our situation today.
“People are taking out these petrol outside this country, the immigration, the customs, and everybody is supposed to be on their toes. Everybody should be on his toes. And we also need to mobilise our citizens, especially those at the borders. If you see something, say something, because these people are the ones that are causing us problems, they’re smuggling this thing. They’re not flying with it, they’re following villages and roads.
“So, we have to find a way so that the truth will be found. It can’t be 100 million liters. We can use the money freely for other things, especially social development, schools, hospitals but if we don’t do something, how are we sure that it will not even become 200 million liters in future and by the time you remove, is going to put a whole lot of stress on the lives people.”
Asked if the meeting indicates that the federal government would not remove fuel subsidy, he said: “No, I’m not going to speculate on that. But I’m telling you, what I know, from my discussions with Mr. President, and I don’t want to go beyond that kind of understanding. He didn’t tell anybody that we should go and remove petroleum subsidy.
“And those of us who represent the people know our people are already stressed over and again, this is going to kill everyone even if people don’t say we know is going to be too much for them.
“So it’s our task. Are we not fighting in insurgency and terrorism? Is it not taking our money, is it not taking our resources. So it’s a challenge we need to fight, we need to deal with challenges. This is why we came into government. I don’t know what the solutions are, but we must find solutions. Somehow. This is our own task.”
Reacting to comments by governors elected on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on the fuel subsidy removal the Senate President said: “Well, that’s their opinion. And they had their time. They should have done something about it. Now we have to do something about it. I have admitted that the burden is heavy.
“But I don’t think that the ordinary citizen should be the one to bear the burden. Those of us in government should come together and find a solution to this including the PDP states. And PDP as a political party, there must be an irreducible minimum level of partisanship. There’s a level at which you should not come down to because of politics. No. Citizens first, preserve the people, preserve the country, then we can look for any office to govern, but we shouldn’t toy with the lives of our people. I am very happy, very relieved with this meeting with Mr. President.”