FG Must Roll Out Palliatives To Cushion Pains Of Fuel Price Hike – Ubani | Independent Newspapers Limited
Newsletter subscribe


FG Must Roll Out Palliatives To Cushion Pains Of Fuel Price Hike – Ubani

Posted: May 15, 2016 at 3:00 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Barrister Monday Ubani is former Chairman of the  Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Ikeja branch. In this interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI, he speaks on the war against corruption, fuel price hike, new minimum wage controversy and other issues. Excerpts:

Many Nigerians were shocked when UK Prime Minister, David Cameron described Nigeria as a fantastically corrupt country despite efforts being made by the present administration in tackling corruption. Are you shocked by that statement too?

No, I think it was a private discussion. Maybe the PM wasn’t even aware he was being recorded. It was a private gossip. It is like two colleagues talking about their boss without knowing someone else is eavesdropping.  If God can open our ears to hear some of the things that is being said about us, even by our relations in their bedroom, we will be alarmed. So, what the PM said is a normal gossip. But the reality on ground is that Nigeria is fantastically corrupt.  The PM is only saying what everybody knows. One cannot justify the fact that for 16 years, the civilians have been in power so far.  If you see the amount of trillions of naira we generated by way of income, and yet, there is no sector in the country that is actually working.  Take for example the roads. There is no road in Nigeria today that you can call an international road with 10-lanes and interconnectivity that we have in African countries like South Africa, Ethiopia etc. Look at the Third Mainland Bridge that was constructed by the military, but  under this sixteen years of democratic rule, there is nothing one can refer to as a legacy project that we have spent all these monies generated on.  Yet, oil price was being sold for over $100 per barrel all these years until now. So, the PM was only stating the obvious. Every child knows that Nigeria is a corrupt nation. I believe Nigerians are criticising him because of pride and to defend our sovereignty. If we look at what Britain has done for us as a nation in prosecuting looters. We need to appreciate them. What more do we expect them to do for us when we are the ones taking the monies to their country? Now, they are even trying to sensitise UK citizens and other nations in the world that they should not be accepting looted funds. We should even commend them for calling for this anti-corruption conference in order to discuss about corruption.  It tells you that they mean well for our country and we should show appreciation for what they are doing.  But the reality is that Nigeria is a fantastically corrupt country. There is no country as bad as Nigeria when it comes to the issue of corruption. In fact, we even under-report our corruption. There is no single sector you go to today that bribery and corruption does not thrive; even in the private sector. Nobody is concerned about rendering services but what they stand to gain from people, to manipulate and extort them in order to make so much money. Corruption is endemic in our society and it is everywhere, from the lawyer, doctor, accountant, public office holders. Look at the medical sector for example.  Medical doctors employed by the government into government hospitals will go and establish private hospitals while still in service.  Then they will go on strike so people can patronise their private clinics. Even when government provides drugs, they will steal those drugs and take it to their clinics. When a patient comes for operation, they will say there is no chance and thus refer you to their private hospitals. Is  that not corruption?

During the conversation with the Queen, the Archbishop of Canterbury interjected that Nigeria’s new president is not corrupt. Do you see that as a good one?

I am happy that during the discussion, the Archbishop of Canterbury made an exception after the PM described Nigeria as a fantastically corrupt nation. He said ‘but this current president is not corrupt and he is fighting corruption’.  That gives me immense joy.  But come to think of it, nobody is emphasizing that statement from the Archbishop. What they are focusing on is what the PM said. The truth is, the whole world knows that we have a president who abhors corruption and is doing everything to eradicate it.  I just read the papers and saw the new sets of people being tried; people in NAMA, Navy, Air force and even the Army. They are revealing all the stealing and corruption that took place under the last dispensation. And revelations are coming to light about how billions were shared. There was a particular ministry where officials were taking N500m every month  out of the treasury into one man’s account. Yet, that man is still alive. When he goes out, people greet him and show him solidarity. You even see such ones receiving chieftaincy titles, telling you how senseless we have become. And when such a person who have crippled the nation and destroyed lives is caught and being tried, some people will come out talking about the rule of law. You see a lot of people today with fat accounts, cars and houses. Those accounts did not come as a result of any enterprise but as a result of stealing public money. We definitely can’t continue this way.

 What is your take on the recent petrol price hike ?

I think what the government has done is a bitter pill and Nigerians are not happy about it, but I tell you this; the pain Nigerians are going through today is as a result of the failure to plan for the future by the political elites.  If they have done what they are supposed to do, we won’t be where we are today. Look at the issue of refinery in the last 16 years of democratic rule. If we had built refineries, maybe Obasanjo built two and Jonathan also built one, I am sure there won’t be this fuel scarcity and price fluctuations we are experiencing today. We have crude oil in this country and there is no need for us to rely on importation of fuel if we have our refineries.  Now, look at the position of the dollar to a naira, it is clearly a disadvantage. Now, the government has also said they want to build refineries and they have also issued licences to private individuals, I believe this is a step in the right direction. If we deregulate, the private investors will build refineries and when we refine these products here, it will not be as expensive as when we import. These fluctuations in price are as a result of the strength of the naira to a dollar. We pay more because we are importing.  If we refine here, it won’t be so. I think the reality has dawned on us. The government tried to managed the situation for almost a year and realise that it is something that is practicable. There was the issue of sabotage, diversion of fuel and so on. The reality now is that we have to bear the brunt. On this juncture, I want the government to do two things. First, they must show sensitivity to their lifestyle of opulence and also tighten their belts. If you still see governors moving about with convoy of cars and they are not making sacrifice, then Nigerians have a right to be angry and revolt.  You can’t be buying cars worth N36m and then you tell Nigerians to tighten their belts. Secondly, the government must roll out palliative measures, especially on cost of food items. Now, that fuel price has been increased and the oil sector deregulated, there will be hyper-inflation because everything we do is tied around oil. Now, that we have seen that there is a spiral effect on cost of living condition, what to do now is roll out palliative measures. People must be employed. For those working, the condition of service is also not good. A lot of companies are cheating Nigerians and making the condition of their workers burdensome. So, government must come in and save Nigerians.

Don’t you think we should have allowed former President Goodluck Jonathan when he made the same move four years ago?

If you recall, the former president (Goodluck Jonathan) told us that he spent N2b on fuel subsidy. From N400m, it jumped to N2b. We find out that there is no sincerity on the part of the immediate past administration, yet they were busy stealing.  It was this issue of lack of trust that made Nigerians to rise in protest then. Nigerians are ready to go to the grave with any man that shows transparency and build their confidence. The moment Nigerians see you operating a double standard, they will not show solidarity with you. The protest in 2012 was very spontaneous. Nigerians expected the then president to block all loopholes and curb corruption, but he didn’t do that. Now, Nigerians have a president who is retrieving stolen funds and has promised to deal with any corrupt officials in his administration. So, Nigerians are ready to support such a person, especially when there is this genuine intention to build our basic infrastructures.  If these things are implemented fully, it will be an engine that will rev up our economy and have multiplying effects in the economic sphere.  Government must carry out more of capital projects. I am looking forward to a time when seventy percent of our annual budget goes to capital; whereas thirty percent goes for recurrent.  That is what the Lagos State government is doing. By the time we do all that, the economy will rebound and people will become the ultimate beneficiary.

Some have also complained about the timing. Do you think FG should have tarry awhile before taking the decision?

That is one good argument. But I believe now that the budget has been signed into law, there are lots of palliative measures included in that budget such as the social intervention fund and so on.  I believe that there is no right time to inflict pain.  There is no right time to remove fuel subsidy. If we say it is not right in 2010, it is not right in 2012, it is not right in 2016, even if we wait till 2020, some people will still protest that it is not the right time. But after the protest and the palliative measures are put in place, and people see that the government is sincere, Nigerians will be happy that this decision is taken.

Some Nigerians have also wondered why we have to pay higher for petrol when the price has significantly dropped in the international market. What explanations can you proffer for this?

It is as a result of forex. The price of crude oil in the international market has actually dropped, but what is our dollar exchange rate? Then it was N157 to a dollar, now it is N345. We are buying with dollar and not with naira. So, it will definitely affect the price of the product we are importing. What the marketers even use now is the parallel market rate or black market to import. Yes, crude has fallen, but we are importing with dollar which is very high.

What is your take Increase in Minimum Wage?

Even the N56,000 is small especially if you take into cognizance the level of inflation and the fact that Nigerians are government unto themselves. You provide power, water, security and so on. N56,000 cannot even pay the school fees of some pupils. But the reality on ground is that some states owe. Some states have not paid salaries for seven months. Even the federal government is lamenting over the burden of salary payment.  If they increase now, how will they be able to meet up with the requirement of stealing?  What will be the essence when government say let us agree to Labour’s demands and then, they owe workers for years? I think it is better we adopt a more practical approach to this problem. We must allow government to create a conducive atmosphere to produce the middle class that will become the engine room of the economy. To me, one of the best things that this government will do that will alleviate suffering of Nigerians is to find a lasting solution to power supply.  If we have 18 hours uninterrupted power supply daily, you will see Nigeria’s economy rebound. Also, we must diversify the economy. Like it is happening now, this overdependence and reliance on one particular product is suicidal. Now that the mono product has problem in the international community, see what we are going through now. Thank God we are not like Venezuela. They also depended on oil and now, they are queuing up for bread. I pray we will act fast before things degenerate to that level.

Some have also called for a review of revenue sharing formula. Do you see this as a solution?

In reviewing the formula, you must also review the strategy of these governors’ stealing. If you review the revenue formula, they will have more money at their disposal to steal. We must put a measure in place that will discourage corruption at all levels, be it in private or public sector. Review of the revenue formula is okay because the state and local governments will gain more money, but the question is, what will they do with the money? Will they pilfer it or use it to develop basic infrastructures?  Look at what happened under (Ngozi) Okonjo- Iweala. The governors demanded for the Excess Crude fund. They shared it among themselves, yet there is nothing to show for it in their states.  Governors are receiving billions as security votes, yet they cannot account for it. I agree that the federal government is getting too much and we must review our structures, reduce the presence of federal government in everything and restructure Nigeria to run a proper federal government. Autonomy of the federating units is very important.

Monday Ubani

I think so far, Governor Ambode has proved his critics wrong that he understands governance.  He is working round the clock in order to ensure that he gives Lagosians good governance.  There are many things he has said which make me believe that the man really understands the needs of Lagosians before he came into office. One thing that even strikes me is the simplicity that he has brought into office.  He has a listening ear and is also very accessible.  Recently, I complained about an issue and I was invited by the state government for a meeting with the people that were affected.  And we resolved the issue.  That is what a democratic government is about. People should be able to have access to their governors and government officials. Accessibility to government and communication are two very key tools that government can use to get people’s confidence. People can easily reach you and also as a government you carry them along in making key decisions that affect their lives, they will be very happy. Nigerians are very easy to govern. I think Governor Ambode’s one year has been impactful especially if you consider  what he has done in the area of security, road infrastructure, workers’ welfare. Even look at what he did on  Ikorodu road. He erected barriers to prevent people from crossing the expressways, thereby ensuring free flow of traffic and eliminating needless loss of lives. He could have said that t is a government road and turn the other eye.  That is what governance is all about. However, there is still much work to be done and I want to encourage him not to rest on his oars.