Following the outright removal of the petroleum products subsidy by the federal government, which has already ushered in another fuel price regime in Nigeria, there arose a sharp disagreement between a former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who is also a national leader of the ruling All progressives Congress, APC and a renown Lagos based Human Right Lawyer and activist, Chief Femi Falana.
Tinubu described the decision of the President Buhari-led Federal Government to remove petrol subsidy as courageous.
The government, through the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, on Wednesday, announced the removal of the subsidy on petrol, pegging the upper limit at N145 per litre from N86.50k.
Tinubu air his view vis a statement in Lagos on Thursday, said though the decision was a difficult one, it would ultimately become beneficial to the generality of the people instead of enriching the pockets of a few Nigerians, who enjoyed the fraud of the subsidy regime.
In furtherance of his argument, Tinubu, however, said that the subsidy regime on petrol had been bastardised beyond redemption, saying it would be a waste of time to attempt to sanitise subsidy payments.
The ex-governor added, “The president’s decision to reallocate funds once earmarked for the fuel subsidy and commit those funds to other more socially productive services and undertakings was a difficult decision. It was also a necessary one.
“Over the years, the operation of the measure was distorted to where it no longer functioned for the benefit of the masses but for the undue enrichment of a small club of businessmen, some legitimate in their work, some not.
“Instead of remaining a positive aspect of the social contract, the subsidy was transformed into an opaque haven of intrigue and malfeasance. It was turned into a shadowy process from which the unscrupulous extracted large sums of money without providing the services and products duly paid for. Fake businessmen became true billionaires over- night as if by supernatural force.
“To allow this unfairness to continue would have been a breach of the promise made by this government to the people.”
Tinubu added that the way out of the fraud inherent in the payment of subsidy on petroleum products was to end it altogether.
He stated, “It became a weapon of profiteering. The machinery of the subsidy had become so polluted that it was no longer feasible to talk about reforming it. Either it had to cease or we would have to surrender to the corruption now inherent in it.
“President Buhari has, with this decision, put an abrupt and just end to this assault against our economy and political system. He has made a courageous and prudent decision. It is time to end the fuel subsidy and to begin to subsidise the true needs of the people.
“To Mr. President, I say congratulation for having the courage to remove the subsidy.”
The ex-governor added, for some time, I have been a proponent of this action. I believed ending of subsidy was the only sure way to put to sleep the myriad demons that had invaded the subsidy process, sucking the blood of Nigeria, swallowing much of our needed money.’’
He argued that the action would put an end to agonising queues at filling stations while some unscrupulous businessmen’s bank accounts swelled at the detriment of the people.
The APC national leader said the current situation would also attract investors to the sector.
“Nigeria has taken the historic step needed to create a competitive environment that will eliminate smuggling, provide incentives for private refineries and attract foreign investments in the downstream sector and create employment,’’ he stated.
Tinubu admitted that the removal of subsidy meant “higher fuel costs generally”, saying, “I would be lying if I said this will cause no pain or dislocation.”
He noted that the President did not end the subsidy regime essentially to save money but “for the nobler purpose of putting those same funds to fairer, more equitable use in order that government might better serve those of us who are truly in utmost need.”
The APC chief added, “Thus, I ask everyone to take a step back to coolly and objectively assess what has been decided.
“We must not make the mistake of allowing our political and sympathetic attachment to the subsidy blind us to the hard fact that the purpose and benefits of the subsidy had long ago been taken from the common man to reside in the purse of elite few.
“We cannot persist in this imbalance and think it will help us to development. Instead, it is better to end the subsidy and use the funds to establish well-targeted anti-poverty programmes that actually assist the people in need.”
On the contrary, the human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, disagreed with Tinubu’s position, condemning the Federal Government decision on the price increase and described the action as illegal and immoral.
Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria warned Buhari not to allow the “parasitic ruling class” to hijack his administration.
Like Tinubu, Falana also, in a statement on Thursday, said the hike in the petrol pump price was contrary to the promise made by Buhari to the Nigerian masses while campaigning to be President.
He said by deregulating the downstream sector, the Federal Government was disobeying a court judgment obtained by the late human rights lawyer, Bamidele Aturu, against the Federal Government in a suit, marked FHC/ABJ/CS/591/2009.
According to Falana, the court had declared as unlawful the deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry because it was contrary to the combined provisions of the Price Control Act and the Petroleum Act.
Falana wondered why the Federal Government removed subsidy, after the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, had recently claimed that the government had scrapped subsidy and was, as a result, saving $1bn and another $1bn on fuel importation.
Why urging Buhari to reverse the increase, which he described as provocative, Falana said, “At this stage President Buhari ought to prevent neo-liberal ideologues from hijacking the administration for the purpose of punishing the Nigerian people for the looting of the treasury and mismanagement of the national economy.
“Contrary to the position of the parasitic ruling class that prices of goods and services be fixed by market forces, the Federal Government has a legal obligation to protect the people from exploitation.
‘‘For instance, the virtual collapse of electricity supply has forced many corporate bodies and individuals to invest heavily in generators and diesel throughout the country.’’