The downstream sector of the Nigerian petroleum industry has since been deregulated. But the Federal Government of Nigeria has been selling the lie that it retains subsidies on petrol and kerosene. As has become self-evident, the “subsidy” has been a clever web of graft through which billions and trillions of naira have been shared among thieves.
After the mass protests against the “removal” of subsidy on petrol in January 2012, several panels of inquiry found that close to N2trillion had been stolen in the name of subsidy between 2010 and 2011. And, in 2012, about 123 private jets bought and brought into Nigeria were all traceable to the same people purportedly importing subsidised fuel. Only recently, the nation was regaled with tales of kerosene “subsidy” that gulped N700 million daily. Yet, the kerosene supposedly sold N50 per litre is found only in the land of ghosts.
We urge the federal government to quickly remove what it calls “subsidy” on all petroleum products. The 36 states’ finance commissioners have already reached an agreement on this. We believe that they and other whistle-blowers mean well for Nigerians, because there is no subsidy in the first place. Nigerians should recall that the protests of January 2012 did not stop government from increasing the price of petrol at that time: a litre moved from N65 to N97. For the past one month that fuel scarcity has persisted nationwide, a litre has sold N200 and N250.
A clear proof of sabotage lies in the irony that an oil-rich country imports almost all of its fuel needs. The four refineries have been crippled and the Greenfield refineries promised by this administration have yet to see the light of day. All talk of privatising the existing refineries has been muted, apparently because the managers of the petroleum sector have not been sincere all along. Similarly, SURE-P and other programmes meant to cushion the effects of high fuel prices have not been allowed to succeed.
It is time to let them have their way and for ordinary Nigerians to gird their loins for harder times. But we expect that the high prices that will follow an announcement of “fuel subsidy removal” will be temporary. The existing cartel may unite to keep the products’ prices high, but new players/importers will inevitably force the prices down. With competition from both importers and private refineries, the fuel prices are not likely to remain high after a year or two. And once a more purposeful government that can manage our God-given resources more efficiently emerges, the prices will crash.
In supporting the removal of “subsidy”, therefore, we are not asking that more pains be inflicted on already traumatised Nigerians. We have only taken notice of the monumental corruption, lack of transparency and inefficiency existing in both the nation’s oil industry and government apparatchiks. When we allow them to remove the phantom subsidy, one pipe through which they siphon trillions each year will be blocked. Then, we shall see reason to block other pipes — such as security and defence expenditures –also deliberately invented for stealing public funds.