Plenary resumed at the ongoing National Conference on Monday, with delegates engaging in heated deliberations over the recommendation of the committee on public finance and revenue generation that fuel subsidy should be totally removed.
Chairman of the committee, Sen. Adamu Aliero, presented the report, saying subsidy on petroleum products was a major financial burden on the nation.
He said the removal of subsidy will ensure product availability at all times and significantly checkmate smuggling and other illicit cross-border activities, affecting the nation’s economy.
“For the period from 2006 to 2011, subsidy accounted for 30 per cent of government expenditure while subsidy payment had reached N2.527 trillion between 2012 and 2013,” he said.
“This is a burden too heavy to bear for a developing country like Nigeria as the country has the lowest fuel pump price compared with other countries in sub-Saharan-Africa.
“This situation encourages smuggling and government resources that would have been used to undertake more developmental programmes are utilised to pay subsidy.”
But Mike Ozekhome, a delegate of the federal government, opposed the recommendation.
He said the removal of fuel subsidy would bring untold hardship to the masses and promote corruption through enriching some sections of the society.
“I believe there is nothing called subsidy of fuel. We do not subsidize our own product. I think it is high time that we dropped this issue of subsidy because it encourages the elites of our society who have held us by the jugular to continue to exploit the common man. I do not agree that there should be any removal of subsidy,” he said.
“It is one of the greatest issues that we have to confront in this country. Does a farmer subsidize the piece of yam that he is going to eat with his family? Do you begin to take a knife to measure the yam and say for me to eat this, I must find out the price that it is sold in the market? There is nothing like subsidy.”
However, Hon. Oruk Otu, a delegate from the south-south supported the recommendation of the committee.
According to him, fuel subsidy amounts to sheer waste of resources that would ordinarily have been used to develop the economy, adding that its impact is not being felt.
“I totally support the removal of fuel subsidy. In Cross Rivers State, we don’t feel the impact of subsidy removal. We don’t purchase fuel at the rate of N97 per litre. In Calabar, we buy fuel at 120 and 140 at Ogoja,” Oruk said.
“Why are we living in denial? Why are we pretending? Nobody will protest if subsidy is removed. Nobody in Cross Rivers will protest. It is only in Lagos that they will protest. Only few paid people will go about causing riot in the street.
“Remove subsidy because 30% of the budget is used for subsidy. This year about 2.5 trillion will go for subsidy. 118% of capital expenditure will go for subsidy.”
But Femi Falana, human rights activist and also a delegate, protested over the manner in which Oruk presented his case.
He said the constitution guaranteed the rights of all citizens to demonstrate over issues that they are not satisfied with.
Referring to the code of conduct of the house, Falana urged the chairman of the conference to call Oruk to order because he had gone out of line in attacking the integrity of some persons including him.
Idris Kuitigi, former chief justice of Nigeria and chairman of the conference, cautioned delegates to be careful and avoid making statements that could fan embers of discord.
Most of the delegates strongly opposed the recommendation on the removal of subsidy saying it was not in the interest of the ordinary Nigerian.