“The system (fuel subsidy) will not work because there is so much room for abuse. Wherever you go outside Lagos and Abuja, fuel is hardly sold for N97 per litre. Civil society organisations are not speaking against this. They only attack the government. Government cannot be at all filling stations,” Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku, said in Abuja.
The declaration came barely hours after media reports of a suit in which a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party in Anambra State, Chief Stanley Okeke, is asking a Federal High Court to compel President Goodluck to totally withdraw subsidy on fuel.
Reacting to the Okeke suit, key figures in the civil society on Sunday, as reported by The PUNCH on Monday, described the court action as dubious and diversionary.
The government in January 2012 had a tough time repelling mass unrest coordinated by civil groups in protest against the wholesale removal of subsidy and the consequent jump in the per litre pump price of petrol from N65 to N141.
The government, following a two-week paralysis of the system, later retreated and fixed the price at N97 under a regime of partial subsidy removal.
But Maku, who spoke while briefing the media on the achievements of the Federal Government for 2012, said petrol could hardly be bought at the control price of N97 per litre outside Lagos and the Federal Capital Territory.
The minister said civil society organisations needed to rise up against exploitation by dealers in petroleum products, arguing that the government could not be at every filling station across the country. He said the people needed to ask questions on why they cannot buy fuel at the control price.
Despite the abuses in the system, Maku said the government would retain the subsidy regime because that was what the people wanted.
He said, “Government has paid subsidy for every litre of fuel sold in this country but dealers are selling above the regulated price. We have not deregulated fuel pump prices. For every price above N97 per litre, Nigerians are paying twice.
“People are profiteering from the system and it is wrong. Nigerians should have mercy on Nigerians. We are retaining the subsidy because that is what people want now.”
Okeke in his suit is asking the court to stop Jonathan from further payment of subsidy because the process is fraught with abuses.
The only way to stop abuse of the fuel subsidy scheme is the removal of the policy by the Federal Government, according to the plaintiff in a 27-paragraph affidavit deposed in support of the suit.
But while the spokesman for the Save Nigeria Group, Yinka Odumakin, said the suit was a grand plot to deceive Nigerians, human rights activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Femi Falana, vowed that civil society organisations would oppose Okeke and what the suit represented “vehemently”.
A political activist and elder statesman, Dr. Tunji Braithwaite, also described the suit as a “dubious diversion.”
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Labour Congress in its review of the state of the nation in 2012 said the year was “a year of unparalleled impunity” and that fuel subsidy thieves must go to jail.
The NLC, in a New Year message by its National President, Abdulwahed Omar, said the country was characterised by incessant job losses and unemployment, insecurity and corruption. It said that massive poverty in the country failed to tally with the growth rate claimed by the Federal Government.
Omar said, “Government will be unfair to the Nigerian people if it fails to expeditiously prosecute those who have stolen so much, and caused so much trauma and death to the people.
“We hold the view that no one is above the law in any decent society and if our government is committed to the enthronement of good governance and a corrupt-free society, they must get the named beneficiaries of the oil subsidy scam to not only refund all the money they have stolen, but also serve appropriate jail terms.”
The NLC said that revelations at various probes into the downstream sector of the oil industry showed unprecedented and horrendous corruption.
According to the union, the probes revealed “the rabid obsession of the ruling class to make the economy dependent on imported petroleum products was for the purpose of enriching themselves to the detriment of the Nigerian people.”
The NLC commended what it described as the heroic protests of workers and the Nigerian people against fuel subsidy.
It also commended members of National Assembly, particularly the House of Representatives for their positive interventions.
The union lamented the high rate of poverty in the country, adding that increasing number of families had become impoverished.
The NLC said, “Given the disturbing trend in the economy and governance in the past year, which was characterised by incessant job losses and unemployment, insecurity, and corruption, as well as unparalleled impunity, the sustenance of good governance would require re-srategising and more commitment to a peoples-focused and oriented policy thrust in the interest of the Nigerian poor.”