Electricity tariff, food and petrol price hike – who will bankroll Nigerians?

The Buhari administration has ruptured the ceiling of liberties it enjoys. Like King Solomon in his last uneventful years, the government has compounded the yoke of the people with the rocketing of the prices of essential commodities. It appears the administration has lost its sensory organ and has become insentient to the ‘’wailing’’ of citizens. And like the Israelites in the twilight of a failing Solomon rule, Nigerians are seeking another ‘’messiah’’.

Just five years ago, President Muhammadu Buhari made overtures of blunting the economic perils Nigerians endure. He seduced citizens with the promise of humbling the dollar and arresting the price of petrol. Buhari once famously said: “Who is subsidising who?’’ This was in reaction to the fuel subsidy controversy and the intransigent price of petrol.

Initially, the president was very unequivocal about detaining the price of petrol. On different occasions, he insisted that the price of the product will not be increased to attenuate citizens’ burden. Perhaps, he did not understand the economics of the oil industry or he was just making political statements. Also, it could be that his genuine intentions do not dovetail with the realities of the oil market – this rests solely on ignorance.

Nigerians took to the streets in January 2012 when the Jonathan administration announced a hiked petrol price. The mass action wore on for weeks. Some of the appointees of the Buhari government were the dramatis personae of that protest. The Buhari campaign seized the citizen angst and deployed it for political advantage in 2015. There were posters of Buhari promising to slice the price of petrol to N87 from N97. Today, the price of the product is about N160 per litre in the retail market.

Really, I submit to allowing market forces govern the price of commodities – in deference to the principles of a market economy. I also believe that the fuel subsidy regime deserved to be couped and banished. It was an egregiously corrupt system. However, my grudge against the current administration and I think that of many Nigerians as well is its insincerity. The government was never honest about its intentions; all its promises were just a gambit. And it has reversed itself in plethora of pledges and aborted its contract with citizens.

Also, these are perilous times for Nigerians. Citizens have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Unemployment rate is at its highest – 27.1 percent — and businesses are shutting down and furloughing workers. Who will bankroll Nigerians? It is a contradiction, that while the prices of commodities soar, there is no form of safety net for citizens. Yes, while we allow market forces to play, it is the duty of the government to protect citizens from the crushing effects of this free-for-all – as it is the case in other market economies.

But instead of frontally addressing the economic fallout of the pandemic, the government busied itself with programmes such as — feeding school children at the waning of the lockdown – in which over N500 million was wolfed down. Let us even assume that the children were fed, have their hunger pangs ceased? Were they given the bread of life? This is simply deodorising a problem instead of surgically attacking it. Lack of access to jobs, education, and growth opportunities foregrounds poverty and hunger.

And while the government was administering the “COVID-19 lottery”, its agencies were going after Nigerian businesses which ordinarily should be protected from the perils of the pandemic. NIPOST announced a new licensing regime for the post and delivery sector, mandating businesses to renew their licence with N20 million. The agency backed down after an outcry by citizens, but this does not obviate the general insensitivity of the government.

A thinking government will identify real businesses (especially SMEs) afflicted by the pandemic and intervene seminally; not this conjuring by the ministry of humanitarian affairs. It is even more complex when the government cannot aggregate the data of businesses needing a lifeline in the country. The economic interventions by other governments in countries in the throes of similar health crisis have been heavily on SMEs.

But instead of protecting businesses, the government is over-burdening them with taxes and tariffs in the heat of a meltdown effectuated by COVID-19. Nigerians need a stimulus not asphyxiation. What has the administration done for Nigerians and their businesses this period? This is the reason for the pushback and outrage over the electricity tariff and petrol price hike. To Nigerians, the government would rather tax than help them through a rough patch.

Really, it appears the response of the government to the concerns of citizens is tax and tariffs. Even if the price hikes are natural, the question still is, what is the government doing to protect Nigerians, especially the poor? I believe Nigerians will pay whatever tax or price there is to pay, if there is an enabling system for their business to thrive and opportunities for jobs and growth.

The concomitant effect of the petrol price hike is the ballooning of the price of foodstuff and other essentials. This is why Nigerians are wailing. If there was a means to afford an adjustment in their lifestyles or living conditions, they would not be railing against it. No job, no business and no medium of survival. How do you extract a toll from a broke man? He can only pay with his blood – and that is by a revolt.

The Buhari administration has failed to “bankroll’’ Nigerians where it matters. Instead of spreading prosperity, it is promoting and perpetuating poverty. The administration will remain an asymptote of hypocrisy and deception long after it is gone.

Fredrick Nwabufo is a writer and journalist

Twitter: @FredrickNwabufo

NNPC: Setting The Records Straight By Erasmus Ikhide

L-R GMD NNPC Mele Kolo Kyari in a handshake with President Muhammadu Buhari

LEGENDARY author Chinua Achebe once echoed the eternal phrase that “if you don’t like someone’s story, please write your own”. It doesn’t add up in climes like ours that every now and then we throw stones at maladministration and official graft, yet never make conscious efforts to effect a positive change when given opportunity to lead.

It is common place for many at the helm of affairs in MDAs and parastatals to reinforce failure, but there are some conspicuous ‘few’ such as Mele Kolo Kyari, the Group Managing Director, GMD, of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, who have vowed not to disappoint themselves and the nation as well.

They come prepared because success is when preparation meets opportunity. Christopher Columbus was not a fool when he warned that you can never cross the ocean until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.

Without being economical with the truth, it is a fact that many are wont to raise their eyebrows just at the mention of NNPC because the corporation is widely regarded as a cesspool of corruption, a cash cow that feeds the insatiable greed of those who found themselves calling the shots there.

Yes! A cesspool of corruption in a nation where joblessness, poverty and insecurity remained unchecked. A nation where tens of thousands and millions of children of school age roam the streets freely, begging for bread and constituting public nuisance. A nation where billions of dollars allegedly disappeared from the NNPC, still unaccounted for.

In fact, the downtrodden on the streets of Nyanya, Abuja, will readily appraise anyone working at the NNPC as a millionaire because the rogues fleecing the nation of its resources are predominant there.

This may explain why President Muhammadu Buhari couldn’t trust any other Nigerian with the Ministry of Petroleum and decided to make himself the acting Minister of Petroleum. But with the benefit of evidence, one can state here that the coming of Mele Kyari promises to change that ugly narrative for the better as far as the NNPC is concerned.

For the first time in June 2020, he killed one medusa by publishing the 2018 Audited Financial Statement of the NNPC. The statement covered all the 20-plus subsidiaries in the NNPC group. It was the first time in 43 years NNPC accounts would be audited and published for scrutiny!

Before then unaudited monthly financial and operational reports were published, but Kyari is the first Group Managing Director, GMD, to subject the accounts to an independent audit. However, sarcastically, the audited accounts exposed the very reason why previous GMDs failed to embark on such a suicide mission. The NNPC reports were usually calamitous.

Again, Mele deserves an applause for taking the bull by the horn and exposing the drains through which our common patrimony was distributed among the few. Mahatma Ghandi posited that an eye for an eye will leave the whole world blind.

In the light of this, Mele Kyari scored another A1 by mediating and securing a truce between Almighty Shell/Belema oil, operators of OML 25 and the oil well’s host communities in Akuku Toru Local Government Area of Rivers State. This happened just a few weeks of assuming office in July 2019.

Addressing conflicts with oil-producing communities in the oil-rich Niger Delta region is a sine qua non for stable oil production capacity which in the long run will translate into millions of dollars needed by the country to service its recurrent expenditures, capital infrastructures and huge debt burdens. Luckily enough, crude oil production under his watch has continued to sky rocket. The NNPC under his eagle-eye also executed the NPDC OML 65 project which should generate more revenue and create jobs in the areas of operation.

The NNPC under his proactive leadership has continued to canvass for a shift in the mono-cultural economy of the country; this is hinged on the impact of COVID-19 which has reduced the demand for oil and made oil prices to plummet. In a tweet on August 19, 2020, Mele asserted thus: “A year ago, #NPDC was producing around 136,000 bpd. Today, we are doing 260,000 bopd. This is a magnificent growth in any upstream company. Our target is to grow this to 500,000 bpd. This is possible within two   years as we have lined up projects to achieve that “. Impressive!

He posits again in the accompanying tweets that “#NPDC is a top grade company that’s producing oil at a cost cheaper than most of its competitors. This is part of our target of bringing down the cost of production to $10/barrel. We are using the #NPDC as a benchmark so that once it delivers, every other company must deliver”.

The Nigerian Petroleum Development Company, NPDC, is a fully-owned subsidiary of the NNPC engaging in oil and gas exploration and production activities in the hydrocarbon-rich regions of coastal Nigeria, both onshore and offshore. Under Mele’s supervision, the NPDC has become the largest producer of gas in Nigeria.

Another milestone is that Mele’s NNPC is breaking new frontiers with its partnership with Akwa Ibom State government to establish a logistics base in Ibaka. This is part of the efforts to develop capacity and grow local content.

The project is sited on a 2000 acres of land contributed by Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State. Hear Governor Emmanuel on transparency at the NNPC: “Since I became a member of the National Economic Council, I have had cause to interact closely with the oil and gas industry.

I want to tell you that we are feeling the positive impact of the present NNPC board and management in terms of accountability and transparency (and especially) in financial reporting.

We hope that they keep this up”. What can be more sterling than this unreserved commendation to NNPC- led leadership. Simultaneously, the NNPC exported $378.42m worth of crude oil and gas in June 2020 and thus earned $4.60bn from crude oil sale in one year.

These figures were contained in the NNPC June 2020 monthly financial and operations report! The uninterrupted fuel supply in the country in recent times is a testament of Mele’s innovativeness. Prior to his appointment, hiccups in the supply of petroleum products were a common feature in the Nigerian economy.

The incessant disruptions in fuel supply affected Nigerians’ ability to plan effectively. They could not predict when the next fuel scarcity would hit the country and families were often on panic mode, spending days and nights in long fuel queues at filling stations.

But that is no longer the case, thanks to Mele’s managerial acumen. His midas touch can also be seen in the commissioning of the Ajaokuta-Kaduna-Kano, AKK, gas pipeline which had been a story for the gods since the 1980s.

To mitigate the impact of the coronavirus on the people, the NNPC under Mele introduced the launch of a Petroleum Industry Intervention Fund which garnered a pledge of N21billion and is being used to fund medical interventions across the country’s six geo-political zones.

These include ongoing construction of an infectious Disease Hospital in Maiduguri, Borno State and partnership with ThisDay Media Group, Sahara Energy, the CBN and others to build the 230-bed ThisDay COVID-19 isolation, recovery and treatment centre in Abuja.

Though the NNPC is not out of the woods yet, it is safe to applaud the guts of a GMD who aspires to clean the augean stable instead of being an impotent king at the NNPC Towers. Ikhide, a public affairs analyst, wrote from Lagos