Why we didn’t protest against Buhari’s subsidy removal – Bakare

Kayode Ogundele
Kayode Ogundele

The General Overseer of the Latter Rain Assembly and Convener of the Save Nigeria Group, which spearheaded the 2012 protests against the removal of fuel subsidy by the administration of former president Goodluck Jonathan, Pastor Tunde Bakare, has explained why he and members of the group have not opposed the fuel price hike of the President Muhammad Buhari administration.

In a state of the nation broadcast Sunday at his church, Latter Rain Assembly, Lagos, titled “Voice of My Conscience,” the address was a response to accusations of partisanship brought against Bakare and other leaders of the 2012 protests by supporters of Dr. Jonathan, who have stridently argued that the former president was unjustly treated while his successor has been given a free ride.

Bakare argued that that those levelling accusations of partisanship against him are dishonest.

According to him, the conditions in 2012 and this year are different. Bakare pointed out that the price of crude in 2012 was over $100 per barrel.

He added that the current global economic climate has been made inclement by the dip in crude oil prices from about $65 when the current government came into power to about $48 presently.

Bakare also drew attention to the depletion of external reserves through mismanagement and corruption which, in tandem with the slump in crude oil prices, has severely weakened the naira.

“The naira was 218 to a dollar at the parallel market as at the time the new government came into power; it is now about 340 to a dollar. In comparison, it was about N164 to a dollar in 2012 when we protested.

“In the midst of such a chaotic economic environment, the new government met an alarming subsidy debt.

“We can recall that, by December last year, at the height of excruciating suffering experienced by Nigerians due to fuel scarcity, approval was given for the payment of N407.07 billion of the outstanding N642.922 billion, which implied that N235.852 billion remained outstanding – a sum that would likely increase due to exchange rate differentials and interest charges,” he said.

On account of the country’s significantly diminished capacity to earn foreign exchange on account of the dip in global oil prices, Bakare said, it should be obvious that the system of subsidised consumption that eats up 18% of government revenue is unsustainable.

“It is through this lens that fuel subsidy removal must be examined. Nigeria is not alone in this abysmal economic situation occasioned by the falling price of oil.

“Other oil producing countries, including members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and non-members of OPEC, are faced with the same situation and are taking drastic steps to manage the situation,” he explained.

The fiery preacher said the situation in Nigeria is made worse by the fact that humongous sums are spent on subsidising importation because of absence of local refining capacity.

Bakare called on those accusing him and others of partisanship to understand that the current situation differs significantly from the corruption-ridden 2012 subsidy crisis of 2012.

He emphasised that those opposed to the policy in 2012 were not against the economic arguments in support of fuel subsidy removal, but wanted the government to investigate the subsidy regime, punish those responsible for the mismanagement of the process and recover stolen funds before starting conversations around subsidy removal.

We have not changed our earlier conviction in spite of a He maintained that his conviction has not changed in spite of the regime change in the country

“We have only acknowledged that the new government has persistently demonstrated its anti-corruption stance while seeking policy solutions to the economic crisis, though there have been gaps in policy management. Indeed, four years after Ojota, our position remains the same.

“On the strength of this position, in our January 2016 State of the Nation broadcast, we challenged the nation to prioritise efficient downstream sector management,” he stated.

Bakare, who was Buhari’s presidential running mate in the 2011 election, however, advised the Buhari administration to review its communication strategy in a way that gets a public buy-in for the implementation of new policies.

“In this regard, the government must communicate clearly and transparently to Nigerians on the current petrol price policy as to whether or not the latest move is merely a hike in price or an actual deregulation.

“Even if it is the first step in the process of deregulation, Nigerians would want to know what happens if market conditions, in particular, foreign exchange realities, mandate a further increase in pump price,” he counselled.

Similarly, he advised that good governance at the three tiers of government must be the plank on which all palliative measures should rest.

He also advised that the anti-corruption war should not stop at the probe of the arms purchase scandal, but should extend the 2010-2011 fuel subsidy regime that gobbled up over N1 trillion of public funds.

“Indicted firms and persons should be investigated and stolen funds recovered, and these recovered funds should be injected, by way of a supplementary budget, into mitigating our infrastructural decay as well as the social welfare programme,” he demanded.

He also called on the federal government to ensure complete deregulation of the sector, which will be characterised by adequate local refining capacity and the enactment of downstream sector legislation, which will recognise the need for small businesses and households to access PMS for generator usage until the power sector stabilises, and should make adequate provision for same.

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