LAGOS – Consequences of full deregulation of the downstream sector of the oil industry or removal of fuel subsidy by the Federal Government began taking its toll on the citizenry yesterday across the country. Commuters had to contend with over 100 per cent hike in transport fares as fuel price ranged from N140.50 to N200. Price differentials were noticed in many petrol stations within the same town.

This came as mixed reactions continued to trail the policy with some members of the House of Representatives describing the Federal Government action as a breach of faith and vowed to lead the mass protest being organised by Labour against removal of fuel subsidy.

We ‘ll stand with the Nigerian people – Reps

Reacting to the issue, some members of the House of Representatives vowed to “stand by the Nigerian people” on the matter because the timing “represents the height of insensitivity.”

Samson Osagie, said as representatives of the people, the House would stand with the Nigerian people to stop what he called “executive madness.”

Chairman House committee on Capital Market and Institutions, Herman Hembe, described the action of the executive as “wicked and out of tune with the realities of poverty that faces our people.”

“How can the government be so insensitive as to bequeath hardship to its people as a New Year gift? Why should the ordinary Nigerian be made to suffer for the failure of past governments? This action is patently wrong and if it means for us as a parliament to lead a protest against it, we will do that.”

Orker Jev in his reaction accused the government of callousness and hypocrisy, saying the government could not say it is still consulting and at the same time take its people by surprise.”

Also, Rep Oliseh Omegwu, who represents Ndokwa East/Ndokwa West/Ukuani said the government should have removed the aspect of the cabal that had benefitted from the subsidy and leave the aspect that affected the poor.

He said what the Federal Government had done “amounts to throwing the bath water away with the baby because the midwife was bad. The manner the proceeds from the withdrawal of the subsidy will be managed is equally wrong because the Local Government, as we all know, is dysfunctional. If you channel the funds through the states and LGs, this will further over-enrich governors who decide virtually everything in Nigeria.”

Residents moan on the Plateau

In Plateau State, as fares rose by a 100 per cent, residents spoken to decried the policy. They said it was out to inflict further hardship on Nigerians.

Intra and inter-city transport fares were affected with some of the drivers charging more than double the old fare for long distances.

Most fuel stations in Jos, the state capital did not open for business but the few that opened sold petrol at between N140 and N141 per litre while the NNPC Mega Station sold for N138 a litre.

It’s long trek in Ilorin

The joy of new Year’s celebration was cut short in Kwara State following the announcement of the policy.

Situations suddenly changed at the filling stations in Ilorin, as the sale of petrol was abruptly stopped in the stations as a result of the development. As from 5pm residents were stranded on the roads as commercial vehicles were suddenly unavailable to transport them to their respective destinations. This development made them to embark on a long trek to their homes.

NMA, residents, others kick in Edo

In Edo State, some prominent citizens and the Nigerian Medical Association, Edo State branch expressed shock at the sudden removal of fuel subsidy. In a statement by its Chairman, Dr. Philip Ugbodaga, the NMA said: “We see this announcement as not only provocative and evil but a very bad New Year gift to the Nigerian people. This is wicked, uncaring, harsh and capable of throwing our country into uncontrollable anarchy.”

“The planned engagements with the Nigerian people that started with town hall meetings in Lagos and Benin City organised by NPAN and the Coalition to Save Nigeria (CSN) respectively are inconclusive and this action is meant to present a fait accompli to the Nigerian people. Government’s inability to curtail frivolous and wasteful spending by its officials and unpreparedness to curb corruption in the oil industry is being visited on hapless Nigerians by this unpopular and unpatriotic decision to increase fuel prices.”

A Benin based lawyer, Mr. Afolabi Olayiwola, described the removal as callous, saying that removing the subsidy without the refineries working was wicked.

It’s an invitation to crisis – Tsav, Shuluwa

Speaking on the issue, Chief Abu King Shuluwa said removal of fuel subsidy was an invitation to crisis and chaos.

To former Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav, the decision was unwise and counter productive.

According to him, the decision would not only aggravate hardship but would also worsen the security challenges the country was currently facing and erode whatever gains Nigerian workers made from the new national minimum wage.

”Mr. President acted very unwisely by removing fuel subsidy at this point in time. This will raise costs and further increase and aggravate our existing hardship including a rise in crime wave as insecurity will increase. On the whole, the recent minimum salary increase will loose it’s desired effect”, Tsav said.

Meanwhile, most filling stations in Makurdi the Benue State capital did not dispense petroleum products to motorists on the premise that they had none, but the few that had were selling between N145 to N155 per litre of PMS. The development has also prompted a sudden astronomical increase in inter and intra city transporation fares from Makurdi.

UAD protests today

Meanwhile, the United Action for Democracy, UAD will commence mass action against the decision today. In a statement issued yesterday by its General Secretary, Comrade Ken Henshaw and its National Convener, Jaye Gaskia, the body said it had established contact with allied organisations for the mass action. It called on Nigerians to resist fuel subsidy removal and described the action of the federal government as the height of insensitivity towards the challenges of poverty in the country.

In Port Harcourt

Meantime, in Port Harcourt most of the fuel stations were seen dispensing petrol at N140.00 per litre. At some of the NNPC filling stations visited pump price of fuel was N138. Few fuel stations were seen selling. The increase in the pump price of fuel had caused a hike in the price of transportation. At the motor park vehicles were seen charging N600 per passenger from Port Harcourt to Ahoada, a trip that was N250 during the Christmas.

Commercial bus drivers have topped N20 on their fare for every stop in Port Harcourt.

Meanwhile, Rivers State Police Commissioner, Mr Suleiman Aba has warned Labour unions and civil society groups in the state against embarking on protest marches and demonstrations against removal of fuel subsidy.

Maritime operators back policy

However, Maritime operators have thrown their weight behind fuel subsidy removal, saying it was in the interest of the nation.

Chairman of the Indigenous Shipowners Association of Nigeria (ISAN), Chief Isaac Jolapamo, said the policy would benefit the maritime industry because subsidy had made it impossible to determine the actual volume of refined fuel consumed in the country.

In his own reaction, Adewale Adeyunju, Chairman of the dock workers branch of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN), told Vanguard that government was not sincere to Nigerians because they said the subsidy would be removed by April. He wondered why government suddenly decided to remove it now.

National President of the Association of Nigeria Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA), Prince Olayiwola Shittu, said that the maritime was in support because government would no longer fix the price of fuel.

Similarly, the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Engr.Omar Sulaiman, said fuel subsidy cost the Authority about $100 million annually, noting that the removal would not only ensure the collection of revenue but also help to develop infrastructure at the ports.

At the seminar organised by the Maritime Reporters’ Association of Nigeria (MARAN) with the theme Removal of Fuel Subsidy and Impact on the Maritime Industry; most of the operators who spoke supported government’s decision to removal subsidy.

Economic activities paralysed in Adamawa

Commercial, economic and social services in the Adamawa State
Capital were paralyzed Monday morning as commuters and car owners were
apprehensive over the sudden hike in the price of petroleum products, especially the PMS.

Before Monday, some filling stations in the state capital had started selling petrol at N100 per litre and the price was jerked up to N150 per litre on Monday even though some stations sold at N130. Meanwhile, commercial motorists increased their fares by over 200 per cent. For instance, a trip that used to cost N50 from Jimeta market to the Modibbo Adama University of Technology (MAUTECH) now costs N150

An Independent Marketer, who pleaded anonymity told Vanguard that there could be a slash of price on fuel but certainly Nigerians must brace up for some difficulties if actually the Federal Government had good intentions for the masses.

Residents, motorists groan in Asaba

In Asaba, the Delta State Capital, residents, especially motorists yesterday lamented the cut throat price of petrol, which is now selling at filling stations between N145 to N150 per litre, describing the development as a sad one. As most of the stations closed shop yesterday, the few that operated sold above the new official pump price of N141 per litre and dispensed at N150 per litre. Piqued at the development, National Co-ordinator of the Forum for Justice and Human Rights Defence, Mr. Oghenejabor Ikimi, said “we make bold to state that same is a declaration of ‘war’ against the ordinary citizens of this country which labour and the civil society groups would resist on behalf of the poverty stricken masses of this country.”

Urging a reversal, he advised the Federal Government to instead revamp the Warri, Kaduna and Port Harcourt refineries, make NNPC accountable, solve the power problem and improve the security of lives.

President Jonathan needs help – ACN

Commenting on the issue yesterday, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) said removal of fuel subsidy at a time the country was facing its most-potent internal security threat ever, had exposed the limitations of President Goodluck Jonathan as a leader and heightened the need for elder statesmen to come to his rescue, before he brings the house crashing down on all.

In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party said no one needed a soothsayer to know that the removal of fuel subsidy and the lingering Boko Haram threat were a potent mix that could push the country to the precipice in this New Year.

It therefore called on the National Assembly, as the true representatives of the people, not to betray those who elected them – as President Jonathan has done – and also on Organized Labour not to abandon the people, their constituency, adding: ‘’both the National Assembly and Organized Labour must act to stop the subsidy removal.’’

ACN said that while the Boko Haram crisis is a clear and present danger to Nigeria, the Jonathan Administration’s shock fuel subsidy removal, despite opposition from most Nigerians, is like pouring fuel on a naked fire, the end of which will definitely not be pleasant for anyone.

“Our democracy and indeed the very survival of our nation are in peril, perhaps at a level equalling the civil war period. The PDP government at the centre, through a combination of incompetence, lack of direction and meaningless headiness, has allowed the Boko Haram crisis to fester instead of moving quickly to nip it in the bud.

“As if that were not enough, President Jonathan has gone ahead to instigate a fresh crisis, by hearkening to the voices of agents of the Bretton Woods Institutions instead of the voices of Nigerians who elected him. Removing the non-existent fuel subsidy at a time the majority of the population are barely surviving and the ranks of jobless youths is swelling negates the aphorism that when you are in a hole, you stop digging. The dislocation in social order that the fuel subsidy removal will engender will definitely strengthen the hands of the Boko Haram end-gamers and worsen the country’s plight.

“Since President Jonathan has now opted to embark on an anti people misadventure it is now up to the elder statesmen, our past leaders, to move quickly to prevent him from bringing the house crashing down on all of us. After all, it is said that elders cannot sit back and allow things to go wrong,’’ the party said.

ACN accused the Jonathan Administration of testing the will of Nigerians and running a government by deceit, adding that during the recent so-called stakeholders’ meeting in Lagos, Minister of Finance Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said the President had not taken a decision on the subsidy removal and would not do so until he had consulted fully with all stakeholders.

“Also, while the government has denied being influenced externally to remove fuel subsidy, it is common knowledge that IMF has been pushing countries in West and Central Africa, including Nigeria, Ghana,

Cameroon, Guinea and Chad, to remove fuel subsidy on the senseless premise that it does not help the poor but promotes corruption and smuggling. Ghana has already taken the bait.

“In any case, when President Jonathan met with the ACN and other political parties, we (ACN) told him clearly what the government had to do before contemplating fuel subsidy removal, if at all there is a subsidy. We said existing refineries must be made to work while new ones must be built, so we can stop exporting expertise, technology and jobs with crude oil. He promised to get back to us before taking any decision.

He never did. Therefore, is anyone still wondering why the citizens here don’t trust their governments?’’ the party queried.

Commuters stranded in Calabar

In Calabar, the removal of fuel subsidy has drawn the ire of residents, who were stranded when commercial vehicles were suddenly off the streets.

Cross River State chapter of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN,said that the president through the fuel subsidy removal “wants to commit suicide” and called on the people to rise up and stop those claiming to be their leaders from punishing the common man the more.

Decision is unpopular – Agbakoba, Falana, Aturu, others

Reacting to the decision yesterday some lawyers described the development as illegal and treacherous.

Former President of the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, Mr Olisa Agbakoba, faulted the withdrawal of fuel subsidy, saying it is“an unpopular” decision.

Agbakoba said that the government disregarded ongoing consultations with the different spectrums of the public on the matter. “It is unfortunate. I am highly disappointed that government disregarded public outcry against fuel subsidy removal.”

His words: “There are ongoing public consultations on this issue and it was even debated at the National Assembly without any conclusion. I expected President Jonathan to have waited for the legislators to return from their Christmas break before taking any action on the issue,” he said.

Agbakoba, who also described the decision as ill-timed, added: “It is wrong for the government to take such abrupt decision about an issue so sensitive and unpopular.”

Also, Mr. Femi Falana said the decision was illegal and unconstitutional because “the decision to increase the pump price of petrol can only be taken by the PPPRA Board but the Board whose members include representatives of the Media, the Nigerian Labour Congress, the Trade Union Congress, NUPENG, PENGASSAN never met to deliberate and take a decision on the matter.

Therefore, the deregulation policy announced by the PPPRA is illegal as it contravenes section 7 of the PPPRA Act. To the extent that the NNPC is allowed to continue to import 50 percent of petroleum products, there can be no deregulation in the circumstance.

“The National Assembly should not hesitate to reject the illegal decision of the PPPRA and proceed to allocate N240 billion for fuel subsidy in the 2012 Appropriation Act. Whereas fuel subsidy of N240b was provided for in the 2011 appropriation bill signed into law by President Jonathan the amount was illegally increased to N1.4 trillion by PPPRA in collusion with the so called cabal.

It is pertinent to point out without any fear of contradiction that until the 2012 budget is passed into law, the budget of 2011 including the N240b voted for fuel subsidy remains valid and binding on all authorities in Nigeria including the presidency and the PPPRA.”

He said the Senator Magnus Abe committee report will assist the National Assembly in taking an informed decision in the national interest.

Bamidele Aturu, a Lagos lawyer and activist said, “President Goodluck Jonathan has continued in the controversial and detestable path of his predecessors by choosing to foul the festive mood of Nigerians in the New Year with the announcement of the commencement of so-called deregulation of the oil industry and the withdrawal of the phantom subsidies on the prices of petroleum products.

“It is indeed a contravention of an existing law of this country. The Price Control Act, an existing legislation by virtue of section 315 of the Constitution clearly lists petroleum products as one of those products which prices must be regulated by the Government. This law to the best of my knowledge has not been repealed. It is therefore obligatory for the Government and its agencies, including in particular the contraption known as the PPPRA, to obey the law. For purporting to deregulate the downstream sector of the oil industry the government is violating the rule of law which it claims to respect.

In their own take, a group of lawyers, Lawyers of Conscience in a statement signed by Benedict Ezeagu and Sadiq Mohammed, National Coordinator and P.R.O. respectively, deplored “the decision of President Goodluck Jonathan-led Federal Government to hand over the future of the country to IMF, World Bank and Western Imperialists through this evil New Year gift of unwarranted increment in the prices of petroleum products, goods and services in Nigeria in the name of ‘Fuel Subsidy removal’ through the unfortunate official announcement by the so-called PPPRA.”

It’s ill-timed – Kumo

Former national Secretary of All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Senator Saidu Umar Kumo, also decried the timing of the policy.