The lingering debate over the planned removal of fuel subsidy has finally split the 36 members of the Nigeria Governors Forum as some of them have vehemently disassociated themselves from the planned deregulation of the petroleum sector.
SUNDAY PUNCH authoritatively gathered that some of the governors had from the outset kicked against the Federal Government’s plan to remove the subsidy but were afraid of ‘rocking the boat’ after the NGF announced that the 36 of them were supporting the President.
However, following the outrage that greeted the subsidy proposal, the governors who are against the subsidy removal decided to make public their true positions on the matter.
The Governor of Osun State, Rauf Aregbesola, told our correspondent on Friday that he was totally against the plan by the FG to remove subsidy from oil. He described it as ‘inhuman and inconsiderate.’
Speaking through his Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Sunday Akere, Aregbesola, said the FG lacked the discipline to manage funds accruable from oil subsidy removal.
Akere added that initially, the governor refused to condemn the position of the NGF so as not to be seen as being ‘alone.’
He said, “The national executive of the Action Congress of Nigeria has condemned the inhuman and inconsiderate decision of the Federal Government on subsidy removal.
“The Governors’ Forum is made up of 36 governors; if Osun decided to condemn the position of the forum, it would just be Osun alone among 36 states.
“Osun ACN does not support the position of the forum on the issue. When the late Gen. Sani Abacha set up the Petroleum Trust Fund, Nigerians, at least, saw some projects constructed with the fund.
“Nigerians have not seen our refineries work despite repeated oil subsidy removal by the Peoples Democratic Party government at the centre. It is a shame.”
Also the Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, told SUNDAY PUNCH that although the NGF was in support of the removal of subsidy from petroleum products, not all the governors supported the policy.
The governor, however, said it would be irresponsible of any of the governors to come out to mention the names of those who were against it.
Accordingto him, doing so will amount to an attempt to score a cheap political point because since the majority of governors are in support of it, there is nothing the minority could do to change it.
He said, “If you view it objectively, what is called fuel subsidy is actually corruption subsidy. It is a huge scam among those in the oil sector. But the government lacks credibility and that is why it cannot win the argument against the subsidy removal.
“The greatest crisis the government has is the crisis of credibility. There is no trust for the government. This must quickly be addressed. People don’t believe the government and they have reasons to doubt whatever it says. The National Assembly can only make political noise about it because this is a policy matter.”
In Oyo State, a close aide of Governor Abiola Ajimobi who pleaded anonymity told our correspondent that the administration was not in support of the ‘anti-people policy.’
He said, “The Governor did not subscribe to the idea, he decided to maintain a low profile on the issue in order not to heat up the polity.”
The Special Adviser to the governor on Media, Dr. Festus Adedayo, was however not available in the office when our correspondent visited. His telephone lines were also switched off at the time of filing this report.
Reacting to the anti-subsidy position of the governors, the Director-General of the NGF, Dr. Asishano Okauru, said he was not aware of any division or crack in the forum.
Okauru said the forum had already taken an official position on the issue and insisted that he had not heard of any situation where any of the governors moved against the collective decision of the forum.
Okauru, who spoke in a telephone interview with SUNDAY PUNCH, said, “I can only tell you that the Nigerian Governors’ Forum has taken an official position on the matter. But I am not aware of any crack in the forum because no governor has gone against the agreement of the forum.”
However, the Kwara State Governor, Abdulfatah Ahmed who is of the Peoples Democratic Party said any governor could back out of the fuel subsidy removal.
Hesaid, “There are quite a lot of benefits to be derived from subsidy withdrawal as enunciated by the NGF. Our position is very clear and why the decision was taken is also in the public domain. The position remains the same.
“For the ACN governors that backed out, fortunately Nigeria is a free society, there is freedom of association and thought. They have a right to decide what their position should be at any point in time. They have a right to do whatever they want to do. Nobody can take their rights from them.”
Speaking on the crack in the NGF, the President of the Trade Union Congress, Mr. Peter Esele, said it was not enough for the governors to say they were not in support of the planned deregulation.
According to him, they have to fight to win people’s trust as Nigerians no longer trust them.
He said, “They have to ensure they have the peoples’ trust. It is not enough to make statements. TUC will only take their words seriously if they join labour in this fight. They should come out to protest with us against the removal of fuel subsidy then we will know they mean what they are saying.”
However, the Acting Secretary-General of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Owei Lakemfa, said the organised labour was happy that some governors ‘know the truth.’
Lakemfa called on other governors to join them in rejecting the subsidy proposal.
He said, “If there are governors that know the truth, we welcome them. Subsidy is a crime against the Nigerian people. How they will put the money saved to use is also suspect.
“The Minister of Petroleum Resources listed some of the things they will use the money for but these projects are in the budget already! She mentioned that the South-West Road will be constructed with the money saved if the subsidy is removed; that is very shocking because the contract for that road has been awarded.”
In October, the NGF, after a National Economic Council meeting, agreed that fuel subsidy should be removed as it was not contributing to the expected well-being of Nigerians.
Governor Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State, who is also the chairman of the forum, had said, “One of the most important issues that we canvassed and decision reached was that governors supported the Federal Government’s move to remove subsidy because we believe it is in the interest of this country.
“We will save money for the development of the economy and at the end of the day; we will provide opportunity for the greater number of people.”