On Monday, 13 July 2015, at two separate events, two elected prominent, influential and powerful public officers, one a Governor, the other a national legislator, made similar policy advocacy on fundamental aspects of the economy, which could determine the direction of civil society-government relationship in the coming period. They are the Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara.
Riding on the wave of anti-corruption concerns, the Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, in his lecture at a Wole Soyinka Centre event, advocated the scrapping of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), arguing that “if you don’t kill NNPC, it will kill Nigeria”. He justified his call by making reference to the undeniably monumental corruption in the NNPC. He revealed that “the NNPC only remitted about 58 per cent of the monies earned between 2012 and the first half of 2015. A company with the audacity to retain 42 per cent of a country’s money has become a veritable parallel republic!” This means that, as he rightly pointed out, the NNPC alone retaind more money than what the Federal Government, the Federal Capital Territory and the State Governments put together shared from the revenue accruing to the NNPC.
However, it is important to understand the ultimate goal of Governor Nasir El-Rufai, from the standpoint of implications for national development. His concerns appear not to be limited to tackling corruption. It appears Governor El Rufai has, in fact, given up hope that corruption can ever be fought successfully in Nigeria. Rather than insisting that the Federal Government under President Buhari should set in motion the process of bringing to justice all former top administrators, Ministers and Directors who had played a role in looting NNPC, Governor El Rufai merely lamented that “No one has been successfully prosecuted for this scam”. Rather than distinguishing the role of all past top looting-managers of the NNPC (such as Ministers) from the role of ordinary workers, Governor El Rufai put the burden of corruption in the NNPC on the entire workforce of “less than 1,000 employees of the corporation” who as he put it, are “feasting” on the collective wealth.
The ultimate goal of Governor El Rufai tends to be the privatization of NNPC and removal of fuel subsidy. According to online newspaper reports, El Rufai argued that “with his experience as a former Director-General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises, it was possible to destroy a bad organization and turn it into a good firm”. Thus, according to El Rufai, “the country should demonstrate a new purpose by slaying three huge dragons” which he identified as “fixation with public ownership”, “oil subsidy” and the NNPC. He was reported to have argued, that “oil subsidy regime had neither grown the Nigerian people nor guaranteed stability of refined products’ supplies”.
If the call by Governor El Rufai that the NNPC should be “killed” because of its intractable corruption should be followed to a logical conclusion, it amounts to saying that because corruption permeates all levels of government in Nigeria, from the Federal to the Local Governments, including the legislature, then, all the tiers of government should be “killed”; the Executive, Legislative and Judicial arms of government should all be dissolved. That would ultimately mean that there would be no office called the office of the Governor of Kaduna State, which El Rufai occupies today. This analogy reflects the depth, or lack of any depth, in the call by El Rufai for the abolition of NNPC on the account of pervasive corruption.
El Rufai is however not alone in the recent advocacy for removal of fuel subsidy. Apart from the promptings by spokespersons of world imperialism, the US Government, the APC Transition Committee, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, has added his voice in support of the pro-subsidy removal advocates. No dissenting voice has been heard from his colleagues, either in the House of Representatives or the Senate. They appear more preoccupied with who occupies the leadership positions in the National Assembly to be concerned with policy debates.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, has been busy researching and advising on “the most legal way to do it so that subsidy can go permanently”. Hon. Dogara’s concerns are not about how to bring relief to the masses of our country but about how the “stomach infrastructure” of dealers in the oil industry can be strengthened through fuel subsidy removal. On the same Monday, 13 July 2015, when Governor El-Rufai made his call for the abolition of the NNPC, slaying fixation with public ownership and removal of subsidy, Hon. Dogara was equally advising a delegation of the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) to mount pressure on the Executive arm of the Federal Government to inaugurate the price control board under the Price Control Act, which could, in exercise of its powers, remove petroleum products from the list of items whose pricing is subject to regulation. Alternatively, the IPMAN, according to Dogara’s advice, could pressurize the National Assembly to either repeal or amend the Price Control Act by removing petroleum products from the list of items whose pricing is subject to regulatory control.
The IPMAN delegation had sought the support of Mr Speaker for the “approval of government to engage in the swapping of crude oil for refined products” under a pricing regime in which petroleum products are not subject to regulated pricing.
Against the trends represented by Governor El-Rufai, Speaker Dogara, APC Transition Committee and world imperialism, President Buhari appears, for now, to be consistently alone, even within his own political party, the APC, in resisting removal of fuel subsidy. According to the Reuters, as posted by Uhuru Times, the Presidency has declared that Nigeria will stick with fuel subsidies for now as “President Buhari says investigating corruption is a bigger priority than scrapping price caps on domestic fuel”. The President is reported to have explained that:
“I have received …literature on the need to remove subsidies, but much of it has no depth. … Poor security, sabotage, vandalism, corruption and mismanagement – not necessarily subsidies – are the most serious problems of Nigeria’s oil sector.”
The critical concern is for how long would President Buhari be able to resist the powerful pro-subsidy removal forces in the APC?
President Buhari has good reasons to continue to resist fuel subsidy removal. Apart from the understanding already displayed in President Buhari’s statement quoted above, “killing” NNPC will have implications for job losses which will compound the unemployment situation and associated criminalities in social relations. The fundamental raison d’etre for the existence of social institution called government is not only for providing physical security but also economic security. Removing fuel subsidy, privatizing NNPC, and so on, will exacerbate the already harsh socio-economic conditions of the most vulnerable classes rather than attenuate their material wellbeing.
The unfolding trends of policy advocacy on the management of the petroleum industry, including pricing policy on petroleum products, have shown clearly that two dominant forces are in contention within the ruling APC. One trend is for discarding public ownership, price control and fuel subsidy removal. The other is for retention of some level of public ownership and exercise of governmental control on pricing and retention of fuel subsidy regime. By the recent public pronouncements depicted above, the anti-public ownership trend is represented by the Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir El Rufai, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara and the APC Transition Committee. The pro-public ownership trend appears to be represented by President Muhammadu Buhari. The trend that finally prevails within the APC-controlled Executive arm of the Federal Government and the entire National Assembly will determine whether the Buhari administration (and by extension, the entire APC) will go down in history as a pro-people ‘change’ government or a continuation of governance by declaration of war against the interests of the downtrodden.
Let President Buhari be consistently clear about it: no government, even the most brutal military dictatorship, has ever succeeded in muscling and silencing the Nigerian working people in the face of crippling economic policies, particularly, increases in the prices of petroleum products. Just as there is a direct relationship between removal of fuel subsidy and increases in the prices of all other goods and services, there is a relationship between the degree and momentum of popular resistance struggles and increases in the prices of petroleum products. In what appears to be inevitable impending social conflicts around the issue of fuel subsidy removal, President Buhari should lean on the outcries of the masses against the pressures of business and contractor dealers in and out of government circles.
Mr. Femi Aborisade is a Labor Law practitioner and a human rights advocate.
MONDAY, JULY 20, 2015. 3:55 p.m. [GMT]