As an opposition political party, the All Progressive Congress (APC) had claimed that fuel subsidy was a fraud perpetrated by the Peoples Democratic Party-led administration.
Its presidential candidate, General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) had promised to stop such fraudulent subsidy. He also promised to make the comatose refineries work and build new ones if elected by Nigerians.
Being a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Nigerians believed the APC flag bearer as he spoke so authoritatively while flaunting his record of performance in the management of the petroleum industry in the 1970s.
But as soon as the APC won the 2015 general election the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) was made to change fuel subsidy to “under recovery” of petroleum products.
After five years in power the APCled government has neither fixed the ailing refineries nor built new ones. Having run out of ideas like other factions of the ruling class the Buhari administration has decided to impose economic hardship on the Nigerian people through a rash of increases of VAT, stamp duty, bank charges, interest rates, electricity tariff and fuel hike.
For daring to challenge the recycling of neo-liberal policies which have continued to increase poverty, unemployment and insecurity in the land the Federal Government has declared a war on the Nigerian people in general and activists in particular.
Thus, in his closing address at the first ministerial performance review retreat held at Abuja on Tuesday, September 8, 2020, President Buhari said inter alia: “I have to charge all of you to defend the government vigorously and not allow irresponsible and politically motivated activists to keep spreading patent falsehoods about this government. Information to the public should be better packaged. Go on the offensive. ..”
Despite the official threat oozing out of the Presidential Villa we have decided to join issues with the Federal Government over its decision to make the masses of our people bear the brunt of the IMF-inspired neoliberal policies which have continued to promote poverty in the midst of plenty of human and natural resources.
Since President Buhari once said that “we have no other country than Nigeria” we are going to stay here and fight the mortgaging of the sovereignty of the nation through questionable local and foreign loans as well as the implementation of the conditionalities attached to the IMF palliative loan of $3.5 billion.
Having handed over the fixing of prices of goods and services to the so-called market forces the Federal Government has turned round to blame “irresponsible and politically motivated activists” for pointing out that the duty of fixing the prices of petroleum products has been imposed on the Minister of Petroleum Resources by section 6 of the Petroleum Act.
We have been accused of spreading falsehood for citing the case of Bamidele Aturu v Minister of Petroleum Resources (2015) 1NHRLR 73 where the Federal High Court declared the deregulation of petroleum products illegal, null and void pursuant to the combined effect of section 6 of the Petroleum Act and section 4 of the Price Control Act. Unlike in the past when fuel hike was blamed on the criminal activities of smug glers, privatisation or deregulation the Federal Government has pointed accusing fingers at the coronavirus pandemic.
But contrary to such escapist rationalization we insist that the latest fuel hike was instigated by the devaluation of the Naira via the dollarisation of the neo-colonial economy by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). Since the Naira is being rendered increasingly worthless because it is said to be overvalued by the IMF the Federal Government has openly declared that the prices of PMS will continue to increase.
Having provoked the Nigerian people to anger and fury the Federal Government should be told that no amount of intimation will cow the people to submission.
I salute the Alliance on Surviving COVID- 19 and Beyond (ASCAB) for organizing public protests against economic policies that are considered inimical to the interests of the Nigerian people. In spite of the official campaign of calumny against activists we have decided to challenge the Federal Government for implementing anti-people’s policies and programmes.
Upon the realization that it could not fund the N450 billion set aside for “under recovery” in the 2020 budget of the Federal Government the Buhari administration opted for compressed natural gas to power vehicles in the country.
Thus, at a press conference held in Abuja on January 16, 2020, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Mr. Timpere Sylva, disclosed that the introduction of compressed natural gas (CNG) as an alternative fuel would crash the cost of transportation and play a crucial role in eliminating the huge burden of subsidy payment as CNG would be sold at between N95 and N97 per litre unlike PMS that was then selling at N145 per litre.
While announcing that the Federal Government had put necessary infrastructure in place for the project to commence in September 2020 the minister said that: “Already, there is a pilot programme in Benin City, which has worked for a long time.
About 4,000 vehicles are already on CNG in Benin. We want to expand that CNG programme across the country and we believe it is going to create a lot of opportunities for Nigerians and also give Nigerians a new lease of live because the commodity would be accessible.”
About a month later, the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) started awareness campaign on the usage of CNG as an alternative to PMS which was putting pressure on the Naira on a daily basis.
The DPR urged Nigerians to embrace CNG as it is cleaner, cheaper and more eco-friendly than PMS. Shortly thereafter, it was disclosed that the Ministry of Petroleum Resources had secured partnership with NIPCO Gas Limited and Green Fuels Limited for immediate conversion of petrol-consuming vehicles to compressed natural gas-fired ones, building CNG retail outlets across the country.
According to Wikipedia, “CNG is used in traditional gasoline/internal combustion engine automobiles that have been modified or in vehicles specifically manufactured for CNG use, either alone (dedicated), with a segregated gasoline system to extend range (dual fuel) or in conjunction with another fuel such as diesel (bi-fuel). Natural gas vehicles are increasingly used in Iran, Pakistan, India and other large cities. Its use is also increasing in South America, Europe and North America because of rising gasoline prices.”
In the past two years Cote d’Ivoire has acquired over 700 Crossway Low Entry and 50 Crealis buses powered by CNG which are currently running in Abidjan. However, in response to high fuel prices and environmental concerns the Olusegun Obasanjo administration had adopted CNG as an alternative to PMS in 2006 when it gave licences to three companies – Nipco Plc., Contact Global and Global Steel – for the development of compressed natural gas for vehicles.
When a team of Nipco Plc. visited him at Abeokuta, Ogun State on June 12 this year, former President Obasanjo recalled that: “When I gave the licence in my time, the idea was to use what we had and by now, we could have put half of all the vehicles on gas.”
former Special Assistant on Petroleum Resources to President Obasanjo, Dr. Muhammed Ibrahim, who was on the delegation of Nipco Plc. said that he was a member of the team of experts that initiated the full concept of development of gas for vehicles and other applications in the country. At the material time it was disclosed by the Managing Director of the Nigeria Gas Company (NGC), Engr. Chris Ogiemwonyi, that Nigeria could save about N474.5 billion annually if all the gasoline consumption in the country was replaced by CNG.
But the programme has been sabotaged for the past 14 years due to official gridlock and unfavourable policies of the Federal Government influenced by the cabal of fuel importers. Hence, instead of switching to CNG in September as promised by Mr. Sylva on behalf of the Federal Government the Pipeline and Products Marketing Company (PPMC) announced the increase of the pump price of PMS from N145 to N151 per litre.
To add insult to injury the Federal Government has said that henceforth the prices of fuel would be dictated by market forces. Instead of handing over the Nigerian people to market forces, albeit illegally, I call on ASCAB to mount pressure on the Federal Government to implement the policy of switching from PMS to CNG without any further delay. No doubt, Nigeria is the only oil producing country without functional refineries.
Even though the four refineries have collapsed the Federal Government has been spending billions of Naira on their so-called turn around maintenance. Instead of insulting the Nigerian people for protesting against fuel hike the Federal Government ought to apologise for its failure to fix the collapsed refineries and build new ones.
In exercise of our fundamental rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression we are going to embark on public protests within the COVID-19 regulations. We call on the police and other security agencies not to attack the planned peaceful protests, marches and rallies. Let me end this piece by warning those who want to rule a dead people to be prepared to be hunted by their ghosts! Falana (SAN) is the Co-chair, Alliance on Surviving COVID-19 and Beyond (ASCAB).