FUEL SUBSIDY: NIGERIANS MUST RESIST ANOTHER HIKE IN FUEL PRICES
ONE ATTACK TOO MANY ON THE WORKING PEOPLE
BUHARI GOVERNMENT SECURE $800 MILLION FROM WORLD BANK TO BE DISTRIBUTED TO 10 MILLION HOUSEHOLDS AS CASH
LABOUR LEADERS MUST RESIST FUEL HIKE ATTACK ON NIGERIANS
The Buhari regime’s budget for 2023 allocated N3. 6 trillion to fund the fuel subsidy for the year’s first half. This means that by the end of June 2023, the Nigerian masses are expected to brace up for a new regime of fuel price hikes. At this period, a new government would have assumed office. From their campaign promises, the working masses are in for another challenge of increase in prices of petroleum products on the claim of “subsidy” removal. The Buhari regime and even those before it have continued to deceive the Nigerian masses that the removal of fuel subsidy is in the interest of the majority of Nigerians, but this is not true as many Nigerians suffer the cost of the hike via inflations resulting to the high cost of living.
In 2016, the government of President Buhari increased the pump price of petrol to N145 per litre, up from ₦86.50 where the previous government of Jonathan left it. The increase was relatively left unchallenged by Nigerians with the expectation that the regime would keep its promises of fighting corruption in the oil sector, among others. Before the 2015 election that Buhari won, he said there was no such thing as a “subsidy” and even referred to it as a scam used by government officers to steal public funds. However, the subsidy payment under the Buhari government extraordinarily increased from ₦200 billion in 2015 to ₦3 trillion in the 2022 budget (over a 1000 per cent increase).
To imagine that the cost of subsidy in the country will be higher than allocation to a major sector of the economy is mindboggling. Since the return to democratic rule, all the elected presidents have continued on the same corrupt capitalist programmes,, including importing refined petroleum products. The ruling elites who profit from this kind of system will always be comfortable with importing against producing it locally. There are four refineries in the country, but none of it has functioned for many years. The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, disclosed that the “government spends ₦283 per litre of PMS or ₦18.397bn per day as a subsidy”. The statement reveals that the country consumes about 65 million litres of petrol per day, a figure that many analysts have dismissed as an overestimate. The Nigerian national petroleum company NNPC, as a sole importer of this product into the country, has many of its activities shrouded in complete secrecy, and figures of daily consumption are yet to be confirmed to the Nigerian masses. For a country blessed with crude oil resources and solely dependent on the refined product’s importation is unbelievable. What this means is that Nigerians will pay more for every litre imported as a result of transportation costs.
In March 2021, the Federal Executive Council (FEC), presided by President Buhari, approved the sum of $1.5 billion (about ₦600 billion as of then) for the rehabilitation of the Port Harcourt refinery. At that period, the Minister of State for Petroleum, Timipre Silva, told Nigerians the contractor, which was an Italian company, Tecnimont SPA, who, according to the Minister, are experts in refinery maintenance and assured the country that the refinery would start operating the first Quarter of 2023. Already in the second Quarter, the refinery is yet to start production.
Refineries in Nigeria have gone through a series of rehabilitation and tune-around maintenance with a huge amount of money devoted to it, but nothing meaningful has come out of it. According to a report by the Guardian Newspaper of March 18, 2021,” It would be recalled that Nigeria has spent about $25 billion in turnaround maintenance of refineries in the past 25 years, the prevailing development is coming after promises by the administration that the government would no longer spend on the facility. Previous rehabilitations notwithstanding, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) audit report last year revealed that three of the nation’s four refineries recorded N1.64 trillion cumulative losses in their 2014 to 2018 details”.
As the Buhari government wind-up on May 29, the focus will be geared towards the new president, and the anticipation would be if his regime will be any different from the corrupt capitalist programmes of the Buhari regime.
Will the Tinubu Presidency Offer any Hope?
Before the presidential election in February 2023, the campaign promises of the then All Progressive Congress (APC) presidential candidate Bola Tinubu on the fuel subsidy issue was that the subsidy would be removed. On one of the campaign grounds, Tinubu boasted that no matter how many protests in the country against a hike in the cost of fuel, he would remove the fuel subsidy (which translates to mean an increase in the pump price of fuel). From there, it is obvious that the Nigerian working people are in for yet another round of the challenge, and Nigerians must resist any attempt to further worsen the already deteriorating living conditions the APC government created.
A statement issued by the Tinubu media officer, as reported by This Day newspaper, shows that the Buhari-APC government failed in its promises. Excerpt from the statement “How can we be subsidising fuel consumption of Cameroon, of Niger, of Benin Republic. No matter how long you protest, we are going to remove subsidy,” Clearly, it confirms the failure of its government in the fight against corruption or to stop smuggling by enforcing border closure. The APC government is running away from confronting the real challenge of ensuring that the refineries work by producing refined oil for Nigerian consumption. The capitalist ruling elites and all the three leading contestants during the last presidential election are all in agreement with a hike in fuel prices. Atiku, for instance, is interested in selling all refineries to his friends, while Obi is in the same shoe as Tinubu over the subsidy matter.
It is at this junction that we in the Movement for a Socialist Alternative (MSA) urge the Joe Ajaero Labour leadership to resist any plan by the ruling elites to further melt economic hardship on the working people of the country. The union must commence the plan to build a working people political party built around the Socialist programme to nationalise the commanding sector of the country placed under democratic workers’ control and management.
$800 MILLION FROM WORLD BANK
The Buhari government have secured a sum of $800 million from the World Bank. This loan is expected to be distributed to 50 million vulnerable Nigerians or 10 million households as cash to cushion the effect of the fuel subsidy removal by the end of June. That means that, on average, each household is to get $80, which is about N60,000 (for parallel market conversion). This is another misplaced priority from the Buhari government. For a government to equate about N60,000 as a palliative measure to vulnerable Nigerians during the fuel hike regime is laughable.
The Buhari government is fun of this cash transfer policy that makes no significant improvement to the beneficiary. Moreover, the policy seems to be a pipe through which politicians divert resources easily. This will not be the first implementation of such a programme. The Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, which was created in 2019, has been responsible for the distributions. According to a Vanguard news report of February 7, 2023, the Minister is quoted as “…Sadiya said that no fewer than 1,940,325 vulnerable persons drawn from all parts of Nigeria get N5000 cash support monthly under the ministry’s Conditional Cash Transfer scheme, which also has the support of the World Bank”.
In January 2022, the Buhari regime was on the verge of hiking the price of fuel via the same claim to remove “fuel subsidy” on the advice of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). At the same time, the IMF suggested compensatory measures for the poor, which the government immediately jumped at and proposed N5,000 monthly transport allowance for about 40 million Nigerians. An amount which exceeds the subsidy it claimed to remove. The amusing scenario is that multilateral financial organisations are very quick to loan facilities to developed countries when it comes to reckless spending rather than using the same resources to facilitate local production.
LABOUR MUST RESIST ANTI-WORKER POLICIES
However, the MSA is aware that previous strike actions only prevented the government from reducing its proposed hike, only to launch another new regime hike on the working masses. We have also been at the forefront of expressing our opposition to the idea of an indefinite General strike not linked to a mobilisation of the working masses to commence the process of replacing the bourgeoisie regime with a government of the working people, which will set itself the agenda of nationalising the commanding heights of the economy and free the economy of the looting of the wealth by members of the ruling class and their cronies. This is what will make available the funds with which a workers’ government will construct new refineries, and end the importation of refined products like fuel and diesel, invest in alternative green sources of energy as well, while developing the means of production to the highest possible level already know to humanity.
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), need to categorically make it clear to the incoming Tinubu Presidency that workers will resist any attack aimed at worsening their living conditions, which is what any new increase in fuel prices will amount to. It’s clear that, like the Buhari regime, the business-as-usual practice will be the norm and that the corrupt practice around fuel importation is slated to continue with no plan in the offering to construct new refineries from public funds for refining petroleum products in the country for consumption by the Nigerian people.
The labour unions should be bold enough to call a 48-hour general strike to show their opposition to the planned hike in petrol prices and deregulation of the oil sector.
The capitalist policies of this government and the government before it have plunged the economy into this political and economic uncertainty. The elites have failed to invest the resources made from the economy to develop the infrastructure or fund vital sectors of the economy. Rather, it has continued its jumbo pay and allowances to the ruling elites making politics a lucrative business.
A genuine workers’ alternative organised under a political platform is, at this moment, crucial to rescue this country from the hands of corrupt capitalist policies. Workers should start to advocate the nationalisation of the commanding sector of the economy under democratic control and management by the working people of this country. This is the pathway to check corruption and wasteful spending as well as invest the resources of this country to develop the country.