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Saraki and the subsidy question
Effective January 2012, the much “talked” about fuel subsidy would be rested, going by the action of government in recent times. But as the debate rages on, the recent adoption of the motion for investigation of the management of petroleum subsidy in the 2011 budget, sponsored by Senator Bukola Saraki and 14 others, increased my enthusiasm of what to expect from the legislative arm of government in the years ahead.
It was one of the few instances I saw such lively and interesting debate on the floor of the Senate that drew attention from all concerned because it was a topical, timely and well- researched motion. I was also glad that the Senate leadership directed the standing committees on Petroleum, Appropriation and Finance to commence investigation into the operation of the fuel subsidy scheme.
If I may borrow from Senator Saraki’s words “with this trend, by year end, we will have a fuel subsidy bill of over N1.2 trillion as against the N240 billion budgeted for it in the Appropriation Act”. This much can’t be ignored because the implementation of the 2011 Appropriation Act will be difficult if a variation of N1.2 trillion arises as a result of the level of expenditure incurred on fuel subsidy alone.
As I watched the debate on the floor, I was blown away by his courage to ask questions, to demand accountability from our leaders and the way forward for Nigeria and Nigerians. I think we do have a right to ask questions, which Senator Saraki pointed out by his actions, and one glaring question is who authorised the expenditure on fuel subsidy?
Senator Saraki’s courage is commendable, especially in a country where those who have the responsibility of protecting the overall interests of citizenry keep mum for inexplicable reasons. This is even more evident in the oil and gas sector that is bedeviled with cronies with “vested” interests.
This exposé raises the immorality in the operation of fuel subsidies, so much so that the capital budget for the entire country is N1.1 trillion and a single agency of government could incur same amount with impunity and disregard for procedures. It is therefore unjustifiable that in one accounting year we have spent on petroleum subsidy what is 14 times the value of capital budget of the power sector alone.
These are pertinent questions that ought to be asked just like Senator Saraki did because the government is accountable to the people. It also raises a serious question on the independence and integrity of the legislative arm of government. The executive arm of government cannot spend money that has no budgetary provisions. Yes, and if there was a need to spend more money, what happened to the notion of presenting a supplementary budget to the National Assembly?
Senator Saraki’s courage does not come as a big shock because it has somewhat been his trademark while he was governor of Kwara State and Chair of the Governors’ Forum. Daring to say the truth about the realities on ground is an attribute not common with politicians in this country. But with Senator Saraki’s action, there seems to be hope for Nigeria and Nigerians.
Representatives of the people should borrow a leaf from him because the boldness to question the management and application of fuel subsidy, given its surreptitious nature is uncommon.
We can’t sit and watch while an infinitesimal percentage of the population, milk us dry in the name of fuel subsidy. The activities of agencies operating the fuel subsidy policy ought to be investigated not just by standing committees of the Senate, but by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission too. It is high time we called a spade a spade in this country. Our elected officials must account for their actions and inactions as it concerns the populace.
We should encourage the likes of Senator Saraki representing Kwara Central Senatorial District and the 14 other Senators to greater heights because it takes guts and uncommon courage to challenge the “cartel” in the petroleum industry. If not for a man that has the interest of the people at heart, what could have propelled him to sponsor the motion to investigate the activities surrounding implementation of fuel subsidy?
This in my opinion is the way forward for Nigeria. It should not be business as usual and for once we are relieved by the fact that there exists someone like Senator Saraki amongst the pack. I salute his courage; I salute his sense of patriotism and his dedication to the Nigerian project.
This motion and subsequent findings would indeed quell some misconceptions about members of the National Assembly because I am confident that some of Nigeria’s brightest minds are housed in that hallowed chamber. Representatives of the people should take a cue from Senator Saraki’s uncanny insight because everyone would agree that his motion is probably the most proactive in the recent times.
Lest we forget: he is a first-time senator!
This is a challenge to other first-timers and ranking members of the National Assembly.