By Chukwudi Nweje, Vivian Onyebukwa, Oyinlola Pelumi Adewale (Lagos) Chijioke Agwu (Abakaliki); Timothy Olanrewaju (Maiduguri); Obinna Odogwu (Awka); Jude Chinedu, (Enugu); Sylvanus Viashima (Jalingo); Rose Ejembi (Makurdi); Tony John (Port Harcourt) and Oluseye Ojo (Ibadan).
Don’t ever try it! Don’t even contemplate it! That’s the message that Nigerians from all walks of life across the country are sending to the Federal Government on its proposed increase of fuel pump price from its present price to N340 per litre, as from next year. They include civil servants, the self-employed, unemployed, civil rights advocacy groups, lawmakers and political pressure groups, from Lagos to Lafia, Port Harcourt to Potiskum, Jalingo to Jamare, Maiduguri to Makurdi, Abakiliki to Abak and Ibadan to Bida.
While expressing its view on the matter, Afenifere, the Pan-Yoruba group, through its National Publicity Secretary, Jare Ajayi, warned that the plan, if implemented, could plunge the country into social, economic and industrial crises whose outcome nobody can predict. Noting that the fuel subsidy has been a mantra used by the political elite to siphon state funds into private pockets in the past, he wondered why the Federal Government couldn’t wait for the refineries to come on stream before removing the so-called petroleum subsidy.
Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) said the proposed fuel price increase exposes the policy inconsistencies, somersaults, as well as lack of honesty and transparency on the part of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led All Progressives Congress (APC) Federal Government. The activist, who is also Chairman Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) picked holes in the proposed N5, 000 monthly palliative to 40 million Nigerians.
“If you calculate the N5, 000 to be given to each of 40 million Nigerians, you will see that there is a huge inconsistency in it. If you replace fuel subsidy with N5, 000 to 40 million, it will give you N200 billion monthly and N2.4 trillion annually, which is higher than the N1.8 trillion the government claims is the fuel subsidy. So how can the government replace N1.8 trillion with N2.4 trillion if they are honest?.”
Vice Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Ebonyi State Council, Mr. Benjamin Nworie, berated the Federal Government for being insensitive to the plight of poor Nigerians, and called on Nigerians to stand up and resist the hike when and if it is eventually implemented.
Former Deputy Chief Whip of the Anambra State House of Assembly, Nze Tony-Uche Ezekwelu, said that while he is in support of allowing the market forces to determine the prices of petroleum products, he is wondering how the Federal Government arrived at N340 per litre. His words: “If you calculate everything, including the gain, the petroleum production will sell at about N287 at the petrol station with between N16 and N25 gain per litre. So, how they arrived at N340, I don’t really know. When the fuel pump price increased to N87 per litre, at the time of Goodluck Jonathan administration, the opposition party led by Tinubu and Buhari called the subsidy fund a fraud. They said that if they’re voted into power, they would revert the fuel price to N45 per litre. To me, the issue of subsidy is a fraud. As far as I am concerned, there is actually little or no subsidy for fuel in Nigeria.”
Charles Okeke, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Tshabron, and MTN Connect warned that increasing fuel pump price to such astronomical height will see life coming to a halt for majority of Nigerians. “I don’t see how Nigeria will survive except the people that are in the corridors of power, like the governors who are all supporting this for whatever reason they think.” He also pooh-poohed the idea of giving N5, 000 to 40 million Nigerians, calling it a political gimmick. “If they are going to implement it, it will be the worst policy that a government had ever made. Everything will just crumble,” he said. Roseleen Folarin, a Reel Estate developer believes that doing so will be the height of wickedness and insensitivity any government can unleash on its already suffering people.
Yunusa Abdullahi, an office assistant, and Hajiya Halima Mohammed, a widow and a schoolteacher, both based in Maiduguri, Borno State, noted that increasing the prices of fuel will only increase the present economic suffering and hardship that almost everybody is passing through. Ejike Nnamani, Enugu-based commercial driver noted that it will be like pouring fuel on a burning fire, in a situation where everybody is crying over the increase in the prices of gas, foodstuffs and public electric power tariff. A civil servant and resident, Onyema Amujiri, asked: “How will salary earners like us cope? The N5000 they said they’ll pay some people is just a joke taken too far. How are they going to achieve that and even if they do, what effect will it have? Will the money be enough to ameliorate the suffering of the people? How much is N5000? What can it buy in the market? What problem can it solve? As I am talking to you now, I’m angry. That’s why I always avoid talking about anything that has to do with this country. Our leaders are just too insensitive.”
Bishop Nath Ofor, General Overseer, Jesus Campaigners Ministry sees the proposed sharing of N5, 000 as nonsensical. “What can 5,000 do in a life of an individual?,” he asked. Gabriel Yough, a civil servant, warned the government to expect possible backlash if they try it.
“You can’t push the people to the wall and expect them not to turn back and do something rash. We should learn from the palliative experience during the ENDSARS protest that Nigerians can be very angry and reactive.” Sarah Danjuma, a trader and dealer in grains called on government to think of the worsening impact it is going to have on Nigerians in the face of increases in house rent, electricity tariff, school fees, charcoal, gas and food prices. “If you increase the fuel price, it means that every other item will double their price,” she said. “A bag of maize will end up selling for over N30, 000.”
Chairman, Human Rights Defenders, Ebonyi State Chapter, Mr. Sampson Nweke described the move as harsh and oppressive, adding that doing that will amount to an overkill in the light of the increasing cost of food items and cooking gas. “Any increment will be resisted because it’s anti-people and unacceptable,” he warned. “The Federal Government should not add to the anger of its mis-governance.”
Mr. Livingstone Wechie, a prominent social crusader and public analyst and Solomon Lenu, spokesman for Civil Society Organisations in Rivers State, expressed similar view. Wechie believes that “the N5, 000 announced by the Federal Government comes as a huge distraction and too unrealistic to serve a palliative for Nigeria. Under what economic indices and data are they paying Nigerians? Lenu, in his view, sees it as an insult and vows to resist it. He declared: “We, members of the civil society will resist this injustice (fuel hike). We won’t accept it.”
Tagher Ushahemba, a driver and Tina Nyiyongo, a self-employed person believe that increasing the fuel price to N340 per litre will turn their worlds upside down.
While Ushahemba insists that it is not “even an option that should be considered at all by any responsible government,” Nyiyongo fears that “prices of other commodities including foodstuffs will also increase.” Dr Ahmed Sanusi, a retired lecturer, from Bauchi State University, warned with a voice laden with anger: “we are about to enter an unbearable situation where you will need four or five other sources of income to survive. May God help us.” Kevin Umeh, a lawyer, foresees a situation where, from next year onward, living will no longer be a matter of survival but survival of the fittest. Ayomide Mayowa, an Uber driver who has been in the business for about three years said although there had been increases in the prices of fuel in the past, this one, N340 per litre, will be the mother of them all. “What are we Uber drivers meant to do? How do we survive after each ride?,” he asked before adding: “People will soon toss Uber aside and start jumping into buses because they might not be able to afford our fares again.”