The greatest pickle or predicament that this country faces is the inability of government to listen to itself. A greater percentage of our problems should have been deciphered by now, if only the government has listened to itself. Let’s take two issues, the recent National Conference and the sustenance of the oil subsidy which is the greatest conspiracy against Nigeria and the Nigerian people.
Just like the on-going campaign agenda styled Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria, the idea of the National Conference was conceived by Oronto Nathan Douglas (48) from Okoroba in Nembe Area, Bayelsa state. A man with big ideas but highly elusive, Oronto carries the title of Special Adviser to the President on Research and Documentation. He is more than that. He is the altar – ego of the President. Oronto was part of the legal team that represented the Ogoni leader, Kenule Beeson Saro-Wiwa (1941-1995). I have not seen Oronto since Saro-Wiwa was executed on November 10, 1995. He later became the Commissioner for information and Culture in Bayelsa when the state was created on October 1, 1996.
With his failing health, Oronto a background worker, romanced the Afenifere to come on board for the National Conference and to be sympathetic to Jonathan’s Presidency. The National Conference was inaugurated on March 17 this year with 492 delegates-an assembly of the best brains that we could boast of.
The conference ended on August 14 this year and its report was submitted on August 21 to the President who assured that the report of the Conference “will not be wasted”. On October 5, the President set up a seven man Panel headed by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Adoke Bello Muhammed (51) from Okene in Kogi state. That was the last we have heard of the National Conference. With the help of my friend, Senator Musa Adede (60) from Ogoja in Cross Rivers state, who was the Chairman of Committee on Transport, I was able to read the report of the National Conference. I must confess that I commend members of the National Conference for a job well done.
Now Party Politics is in the air and with the election fever that has gripped the nation, at best, the report of the National Conference, like the Justice Niki Tobi/SuleKatagun/Bishop Matthew Kukah report of 2005 dialogue conference, the Justice Kutigi/Bolaji Akinyemi’s report will end up in the library of the office to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
In June 2000, there was a national strike over the price of petro set by the Federal Government. President Olusegun Obasanjo then set up a committee of all stake holders to look at problems associated with petroleum product supply and distribution through widespread and genuine consultation with the entire spectrum of the Nigerian society. The 33-member committee was headed by Chief Rasheed Abiodun Gbadamosi (70) who is the son of the late industrialist, Chief Sule Oyeshola Gbadamosi. The Committee submitted its report on November 15 2000. The NLC members of the committee headed by Comrade Adams Oshiomhole wrote a minority report. On November 26 2000, the government set up a five man panel headed by Chief Vincent Ogbulafor, then Minister of Economic matters, to reconcile the two reports. Other members of the panel were Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, Mr. A.O. Adeyemo, Mr. Arubisan Okegbe and Prof. P. T. Akhire.
Chief Gbadamosi’s committee made 47 suggestions and the government accepted 42 of the suggestions especially on price support and market liberalisation. Only one of those suggestions has so far been implemented and that is the establishment of Petroleum Pricing Regulatory Agency with the appointment of Dr. Oluwole Oluleye as the pioneer Secretary.
The Gbadamosi committee insisted on the complete deregulation of the downstream sector of the oil industry so as to resolve most of the issues in cost structure pricing and subsidy of the Petroleum industry. The committee also insisted that deregulation of the industry will mean that market forces of demand and supply, will be the determinants of product prices
Suffice it to note that the four refineries that we had, were no longer working. For example, the Warri refinery was commissioned in 1979, the Kaduna in 1980 and the three in Port-Harcourt were commissioned in 1965, 1971 and 1989 respectively.
After failing to implement these recommendations, the government unilaterally increased the prices of petroleum on January 1, 2012 resulting in massive protest by all Nigerians and the establishment of a pressure group known as OCCUPY NIGERIA which has become moribund now.
No other subject has drawn the attention of Nigerians more the issue of oil subsidy. The latest figure indicates that Nigeria has so far spent over 2trillion naira on oil subsidy alone. No doubt the oil subsidy is killing us and only few very few of not more than twenty are benefitting from the subsidy.
On March 18 this year the Minister of Petroleum, Mrs. Deiziani Allisson-Madueke (54) raised an alarm at the Oil and Gas conference in Abuja that the payment of subsidy to oil marketers can no longer be sustained by the Federal Government “the subsidy policy cannot be sustained any longer, this is because the subsidy payment did not benefit the poor it was targeting but rather benefitting the rich” she declared. Only Mrs. Madueke can identify the “rich”, she referred to. On May 28, the Senate Committee on Finance headed by Senator Ahmed Muhammed Markafi (58), former Governor of Kaduna state, demanded the removal of oil subsidy Just recently on September 15, the Federation Committee Allocation Committee ended in a deadlock when the Commissioners of Finance of the 36 states insisted that the oil subsidy should be withdrawn because of the drop in the oil money allocation to the states. The question we need to ask is why can’t this oil subsidy be removed?
With the way things are going and with the sustenance on oil subsidy and the global drop in the Prices of petrol many poor states like Adamawa, Benue, Cross Rivers, Gombe, Osun, Ekiti, Ebonyi, Kogi Kwara, Jigawa, Kebbi, Taraba and other landlocked states will run to economic problems by January.Now we are finding it very difficult selling our oil.
Certainly if we have implemented Gbadamosi committee’s report, we would have faced some problems at the take-off in 2000 but by now, we would have overcome those problems. We are now held captive expecting the inevitable. With declining capacity in the real sector, poor performance of major infrastructural facilities, large budget deficit, rising level of unemployment and inflation and with the impending devaluation of the naira soon to be announced, we are heading for economic depression.As the say in Spanish,” Recojetuhenomientrasque el sol luziere which means make hay while the sun shines”. And the French also said “aide toi et le cleit’aidera which also means help yourself and heaven will help you”. There is economic doom on the horizon.
Eric Tenioa, a former director in the Nigerian Presidency, lives in Lagos.