Oil Marketers’ Strike And Labour’s Comedy Of The Absurd
The organised labour’s tactical support for indicted oil marketers and economic saboteurs should come as no surprise to close watchers of the Nigerian political economy. That would simply be symptomatic of the inherent ills of our pseudo-socialist anti-government establishment plagued by secret crimes while moralising on the public domain, economic saboteurs who align at dusk with armed robbers to rob a community, then lead the mourner’s train at dawn.
Allowing these criminals to have free reign, riding roughshod over our collective conscience and unchallenged by those who should put up a resistance, would not be in the best interest of our nation. The present dedicated assault on the Federal Government by these characters, without consideration for the fact that there would be no locus to negotiate even their existence if Project Nigeria collapses, should be resisted by all those who want to see Nigeria out of the woods of economic sabotage.
Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, was, earlier this month, the object of much public opprobrium when he made the economically realistic, even if not politically correct, assertion that the current subsidy regime in the country was not sustainable, just as he raised fears over the nation’s economy, during an interview with Reuters at Nigeria investment conference in London, while responding to the claim by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) statement that it was owed $7 billion in government fuel import subsidies. Sanusi’s fears were fuelled by the falling oil prices and domestic output, rising inflation, worsening situation in the euro zone and rising global food prices. To him, falling oil prices and low domestic energy output due to declining global demand raised concerns for the economy, just as the worsening situation in the euro zone and rising global food prices might also push inflation higher. In my view, addressing the issues raised by Sanusi is a national assignment. Nigerians are, in any case, familiar with the drama of obscene wealth display in the Farouk Lawan/Femi Otedola bribery scandal to which the nation has been freely treated in the last two months.
However, like the proverbial thief in Chinua Achebe’s world who steals enough for the owners to notice, some faceless marketers, who simply wish to continue to profit from our collective misery, have threatened to embark on a strike if the Federal Government failed to honour their dubious claims. “We understand that a paltry N21 billion for the private sector and N30 billion for NNPC has been earmarked for the outstanding payment every month. Where does this amount lead us in loan repayment and interest charges they (government) queried?” they said. The demand is clear: the Federal Government should pay all outstanding fuel subsidy claims irrespective of their dubious origins, immediately, while also settling all accrued interest rate charge. The marketers, who said they were not embarking on further importation of fuel until their demands were met , even had the temerity to issue a threat: “In event that we are not paid within seven days and queues resurface, we should not be held responsible because our stocks would have been exhausted in a matter of days.” Their strategy is working, because, already, long queues have started hitting fuel stations in the Federal Capital Territory, where panic buying to store up enough supply for the days ahead had begun.
But is their position a patriotic one? No. And here’s why. In a statement entitled “IMPORTANT DEVELOPMENTS IN THE MANAGEMENT OF FUEL SUBSIDY PAYMENT,” the Federal Ministry of Finance defused the fraud behind the demand of the marketers. The position of the Federal Government on fuel subsidy payments was crystal clear: while the government would do its best to encourage honest efforts by genuine companies engaged in fuel importation, it would not fall for the cheap blackmail of indicted marketers who are using all kinds of subterfuge to escape sanctions.
“We know that Nigerians are fully in support of this position because the money belongs to all Nigerians and it is important that the correct steps are taken to protect the public interest.We would also like to stress that marketers with legitimate and unencumbered claims have been paid and will continue to be paid as these details show,’’ the statement said.
Indeed, this claim is incontrovertible, as Batches D/12 and E/12 involving 14 oil marketers with a claim of N17 billion were fully settled between April and May 2012. In addition, since early July 2012, N25.6 billion worth of claims have been fully settled. In all, between April and August this year, in respect of 2012 PMS claims, N42.666 billion had been paid to 31 oil marketers. This definitely confirms government’s commitment to ensuring that issues concerning genuine marketers with legitimate claims were dealt with expeditiously.
As revealed by the finance ministry, following the work of the Presidential Committee on Fuel Subsidy Payments led by Mr Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, 25 firms are being investigated based on evidence that they may have engaged in fraudulent activities under the fuel subsidy regime. Curiously, these firms, which should refund various amounts to the national treasury, are still pressing claims, taking advantage of the nation’s free democratic space to pursue their subversive agenda.
As for those with relatively minor cases to settle their claims under the following circumstances; their 2012 outstanding claims will be netted out against their expected refunds to government and those with a positive net balance, that is outstanding claims greater than expected refunds will be processed and paid. For marketers with a negative balance with government, (those who owe government more in refunds than government owes them), the Aig-Imoukhuede committee is accelerating review of their documents so that their claims can be processed and settled, if cleared, without further delay. In this same manner, the government is prepared to attend to claims by firms to also be attended to with the same despatch.
However, while President Goodluck Jonathan and Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala should be commended for their boldness in tackling the fuel thieves, much still needs to be done. While it is clear that those behind the proposed strikes are marketers being investigated for possible fraud, Nigerians are waiting to see if the Federal Government would take the battle to a logical conclusion by prosecuting the marketers. Surely, Iweala made my day when she vowed : “We want to make it clear that government will fully investigate their activities and if found guilty, bring them to book and recover all public funds fraudulently obtained, in the guise of fuel subsidy claims. No degree of blackmail will stop the government from doing its work. Government will, therefore, pursue justice and ensure that those who are found guilty are appropriately sanctioned.’’
Dr Abdulahi sent this piece from Tafawa Balewa, Bauchi