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No plan to remove fuel subsidy now, FG insists

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A prosecution witness, Chidi Nweke told an FCT High Court, sitting in Apo, Abuja how Adegbite Adetoye and Ponle Abiodun, two directors of Origin Oil and Gas Limited, lied and defrauded the Federal government to the tune of over N735 million in subsidy scam.

Finance Minister Zainab Ahmed yesterday reiterated government’s resolve not to remove fuel subsidy. She made the emphasis against the backdrop of long queues emerging at some filling stations amid the fear that a removal was imminent.

Mrs. Ahmed spoke during a joint briefing with Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Godwin Emefiele and Minister of Budget and National Planning Udoma Udo Udoma on the sidelines of the 2019 IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings in Washington DC.

“There is no plan to remove subsidy now because we have not yet found an alternative package to subsidy. We will not remove subsidy without another social safety net package,” the minister said.

She noted: “One of the issues that always comes up in the report, especially by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as a corporate body, is how we handle fuel subsidy. In principle, the IMF is saying fuel subsidies are better removed, so that you can use the resources for other important sectors. In principle, that is a fact. But in Nigeria, we don’t have plans to remove fuel subsidy at this time because we have not yet designed buffers that can enable us to remove fuel subsidy and provide cushions for our people. So, there is no plan to remove subsidy. We will be discussing with various groups. If we have to, what are the alternatives? We have not yet found viable alternatives. So, we are not yet at the point of removing fuel subsidy. Therefore, every rumour on plans to remove subsidy should be discarded.”

The minister revealed that part of the takeaways from the Spring Meetings was the discussion of additional financing assistance on climate change and power.

In his remarks, Emefiele expressed hope that Nigeria’s economy would lead growth in the African sub-region from the current 1.8 per cent to three per cent, and attain the CBN’s single digit inflation target of between six and nine per cent.

According to him, significant gains have been recorded in terms of financial inclusion, which today is around 64 per cent, close to the 80 per cent target by 2020.

He further allayed the fear of adverse consequences on Nigeria’s economy arising from Brexit discussions. Britain’s trade relationship with Nigeria was not as high as that of China and the United States, he explained.

Udoma said that during talks with officials of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), he asked support for Nigeria’s efforts at leveraging private sector capital to fund critical infrastructure.

“At the State of the African Region, discussions centered on the role of regional cooperation in tackling fragility in Africa. A major takeaway was the need to pay attention to women empowerment and education of the girl child, as these have positive implications in dealing with fragility and reducing conflicts. As you know, investing in our people and the issue of girl-child education are some of the objectives of the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan,” said Udoma.

Ahmed’s reassurances came as the leadership of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association (PENGASSAN) warned that the advice by the IMF to remove subsidy would destabilise the nation.

The oil workers described a statement on boosting Nigeria’s economy credited to IMF’s media chief for Africa as injurious to the citizenry. It created panic buying, hoarding of petroleum products, and pushed up the prices of goods and services, they said.

The general secretaries of NUPENG Olawale Afolabi and PENGASSAN Okugbawa Lumumba said yesterday that the statement was poisonous and wondered why IMF was still advising the government to inflict more hardship on the people.

“We empathise with them (Nigerian workers) and will not turn blind eyes to any further attempt to increase their pains and impoverish them further. It is quite bewildering and baffling that IMF is not considering the pains and agonies Nigerians went through, even to achieve the acknowledged gains of 2018, with almost two-thirds of the world’s hungriest people among Nigerians,” the secretaries said in a statement.

The Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPRA) meanwhile has allayed the fear of Nigerians of any scarcity of fuel.

In a statement by PPRA Executive Secretary Abdulkadir Saidu, the agency insisted the country has sufficient deposit of petrol to meet demands.

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“The agency wishes to assure Nigerians to disregard panic buying as there is adequate product supply in the system to meet the demands of consumers,” it said.

It added: “PPPRA, in line with its mandate to regulate petroleum products supply and distribution as well as establish an industry data bank, has continued to monitor products supply in the sector in line with best practices.

“Thus, PMS average daily supply for the year 2017, 2018 and 2019 are about 46 million, 54 million and 56 million litres respectively. These indicate an improved level of supply in 2019.

“Based on the available data, there is adequate supply of PMS with over 21 days sufficiency. PPPRA therefore urges fuel consumers across the country to desist from panic buying as the agency would continue to monitor the supply situation and take every step required to ensure that there is no disruption in the supply chain.”

Also, the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) vowed it would from today clamp down on petrol dealers hoarding or diverting products in Ekiti State.

The Ekiti command said it would not allow “unscrupulous dealers” to create artificial scarcity in the state over a non-existent anticipation that the official pump price would be increased.

“We are starting the operation on Monday and those sabotaging the system will be arrested and brought to justice. We realised that some petrol dealers have created long queues and artificial scarcity and we ready to address the issue,” Commandant Solomon Iyamu told journalists in Ado Ekiti, the state capital.

He added: “If we get to your petrol station and we find that it has as high as 10,000 litres of petrol in its pits but the dealer is not selling, then he is liable and such person will face the law.

“We learnt from good authorities that a very high number of our petrol stations are now hoarding the product. Some are also selling above N145 per litre. These are issues we will tackle squarely.”

In a related development, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) raised the alarm over increasing vandalisation of its pipelines, saying the trend has affected the distribution of petroleum products.

Group Managing Director Maikanti Baru stated this in Enugu at the weekend during the company’s Day at the ongoing 30th Enugu International Trade Fair.

He called on Nigerians to support the corporation in its effort to secure pipelines in the interest of the country.

He stated that in December alone, 257 pipeline-vandalised points were recorded. Ibadan – Ilorin, Mosimi – Ibadan and Atlas Cove – Mosimi network accounted for 90, 69 and 57 compromised points or approximately 34 per cent, 26 per cent and 22 per cent.

“Aba – Enugu pipeline link accounted for seven per cent, with other locations accounting for the remaining 11 per cent of the pipeline breaks. I implore you as good citizens of this country to keep an eye on our assets for common good. Acts of vandalism are economic sabotage that has led to wanton destruction of innocent lives and the environment. Let us join hands to end the scourge,” said Baru.

He restated that desire of the corporation to ensure steady supply of petroleum products in the country, even as he cautioned depot owners and terminal operators against selling petrol above the official ex-depot price of N133.28 per litre.

He insisted that the price of petrol remains N145 per litre and urged consumers to report any station selling the product above the regulated price to the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR).

Baru said that as part of efforts to ensure that the country “is kept wet with petroleum products”, no fewer than 55 depots across the country are fully stocked with products.

He listed the depots as 23 in Lagos; seven in Port Harcourt; 11 in Warri; six in Calabar and eight in Kaduna. He added that to make the Easter holiday pleasurable, the corporation had made necessary arrangements to berth two vessels of 50 million litres of petrol daily.

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