By Adewale Sanyaolu
Nigerians expectations that the Federal Government would live up to its promise to cushion the effect of the last fuel price increase in May 2016 with a N500 billion social welfare scheme may have been dashed as no one seems to know what has become of that policy.
Not even the Federal Government which made the bogus pledge through the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) when it raised pump price of petrol from N86.50 to N145 on May 11, 2016 appeared convinced that it should keep its promise to the citizens.
‘‘In furtherance of its mandate to ensure the efficient supply and distribution of petroleum products, the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency, (PPPRA), hereby announces, effective immediately that the new price band for PMS shall be at a maximum of N145/litre. However, NNPC retail stations on the outskirts of major cities are advised to sell at price lower than N145/litre,’’
PPPRA said the review had become imperative in the face of extreme difficulties faced by petroleum product importers in sourcing foreign exchange. To meet the consumption demand of the nation, importers will henceforth be permitted to source for their foreign exchange requirements from the secondary sources.
The Federal Government had also said the increase will bring an end to persistent fuel scarcity while private investors will be encouraged to fix the refineries. But less than two years after the sweet promise from the Muhammadu Buhari administration, the fuel queues are back while the refineries are performing at an abysmal 18 percent of capacity utilisation.
To cushion the harsh effect of the new pump price on the people, the presidency had set up a 16-man committee on palliatives to implement the N500 billion earmarked in the 2016 budget for social welfare scheme.
But stakeholders are, however, worried that the N500 billion social welfare programme may have become one of the several unfulfilled promises of the current administration, hence the call on government to give Nigerians an update on the scheme in the interest of the economy.
Components of N500bn social welfare
Some of the intervention and palliatives built into the N500 billion social welfare included; N5,000 monthly payment to one million extremely poor Nigerians for 12 months, N60,000 direct provisions of very soft loan-cash for 1.76 million Nigerians, which will include; market women, men and traders, artisans and agric workers without the requirement for conventional collateral.
Others include N23,000 to 30,000 per month to 500,000 unemployed graduates who would be trained, paid and deployed to work as volunteer teachers, public health officers and extension service workers, also 5.5 million Nigerian children starting with 18 states – three per geopolitical zone to be fed for 200 days.
They would also be given electronic devices to empower them technologically both for their assignments and even beyond that.
Besides, 100,000 artisans would also be trained and paid N191.5 billion as contained in the 2016 budget.
In this same vein 100,000 tertiary students in Science Technology Engineering and Maths-STEM, plus Education will partake in the N5.8 billion already provided for in the education grant in the budget. Today, Nigerians have forgot a promise was made before the pump price increase last year. But those who are in tune with the terms of the promise are asking the question ‘when will the N500 billion social welfare be made available to the citizens?’
Dormant 16-man committee
Unfortunately, nineteen months after inaugurating the committee, headed by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, which also has a representative from the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation Prof, Adamu Usman, as Secretary, nothing has been heard of it on what it has been able to achieve on the N500 billion social welfare.
Other members representing the Federal Government on the committee are the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, Minister of Budget and Planning, Sen. Udo Udoma, Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, Minister of Solid Minerals, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, the Chairman of National Salaries and Wages Commission, Chief Richard O. Egbule and a representative of the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation.
Messrs Peter Adeyemi, Amaechi Asugwuni, Ibrahim Khaleel, Igwe Achese and Segun Efan would represent the Nigeria Labour Congress while Augustine Etafo, Alade Lawal and Abdullahi Sale would be representatives of the Trade Union Congress.
AFAN, SERAP knock FG
Angered by the failure to keep its promise to Nigerians, the Chairman, All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Lagos State Chapter, Otunba Femi Oke, said it remained worrisome that more than one year since they made presentation to the Lagos State State Government through the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, nothing has been heard.
Oke said his association with about two million members in partnership with some foreign investors from Atlanta Georgia in the United States packaged a robust and comprehensive action plan towards the implementation of the Free Homegrown School Feeding Programme.
Apart from Osun State, that tried to do something in this regard, no other State has made effort towards the implementation of programme. I know this much because I have close interaction with my colleagues in other States. But the feelers I am getting are not encouraging.
As regards the N60,000 soft loan to members, no AFAN member in Lagos has benefitted from the scheme, and I am not sure any of our members in other States have been able to benefit from such as well.
Oke said it was regrettable that government will make pronouncements and not follow-up on same after making people to commit resources into research findings and logistics. This is not the best for the country and the economy.
As we usher in the New Year, we are being hopeful that government will endeavour to implement the policy in 2018.The programme cannot just be jettisoned. There should be communication on the way forward.
For his part, the Deputy Executive Director, Socio- Economic Right and Accountability Project (SERAP) Mr. Timothy Adewale, took a swipe at the Federal Government, saying it is not enough for Government to make bogus promises, when such cannot impact on the lives of Nigerians.
He said the natural resources of any country should be for common good of the masses and not for the benefit of a selected few, adding that government cannot afford to take Nigerians for a ride.
‘‘For us at SERAP, any economic policy of government that does not impact on the socio- economic well being of Nigeria is worthless. No matter how elitist a policy seems, once it cannot trickle down and have a ripple effect on the common man on the street, that is a failed policy.’’
Adewale said Nigerians have become used to failed promises, and as such, not expecting much progress from government to impact positively on their lives, adding that what Nigerians would go against is to inflict more pains on them.
Fuel queues, dysfunctional refineries
In justifying its decision to increase fuel price then, Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Mr.Ibe Kachikwu, had said: “In order to increase and stabilise the supply of the product, any Nigerian entity was now free to import, subject to existing quality specifications and other guidelines issued by regulatory agencies.
All oil marketers will be allowed to import petrol on the basis of forex procured from secondary sources and accordingly PPPRA template will reflect this in the pricing of the product.
We expect that this new policy will lead to improved supply and competition and eventually drive down pump prices, as we have experienced with diesel.
In addition, this will also lead to increased product availability and encourage investments in refineries and other parts of the downstream sector. It will also prevent diversion of petroleum products and set a stable environment for the downstream sector in Nigeria.”
But nearly two years after the Minister made the promises, non of what he had said has been achieved as Nigerians are not only contending with fuel scarcity Kachikwu promised would be a thing of history but marketers have also failed to import petroleum products due to huge outstanding subsidy liabilities hanging on the neck of the Federal Government.
Majority of the marketers are still unable to access forex from the official window despite a Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) directive to banks to make foreign currencies available to them. The result is what we are witnessing today as the NNPC has remained the sole importer of petroleum products through its Direct Sale Direct Purchase (DSDP) scheme.
In the same vein, the promised private investments are no where to be seen for the refineries as the ENI/Oando partnership to revitalise the Port Harcourt refinery through a Build Operate and Transfer arrangement was recently suspended by the Senate.
Commenting on the development, Head of Energy Research at Ecobank Transnational Corporation, Mr. Dolapo Oni, said the reliance on DSDP by marketers could have been responsible for the fuel scarcity because marketers are not importing anymore but rather waiting for the DSDP product and buy from NNPC because access to forex is still a major constraint.
He was worried that government does not have the resources to commit into the turnaround of the refineries, hence its reliance on private investment which is not forthcoming, while the one that ought to have come on stream has been bungled by the Senate.
Oni said it was regrettable that about 45 per cent of Federal Government’s revenue is dedicated to servicing of debt and repayment, leaving little or nothing for capital expenditure, a development, he said will make rehabilitation of the refineries an almost impossible task.