Anger swelled up across the country yesterday as Nigerians pondered the introduction of N5 tax per litre of imported fuel advocated by the Senate.
Individual Nigerians and groups who spoke with our correspondents in different interviews yesterday were unanimous in asking the upper chamber to drop the idea.
The Secretary General of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Mr. Anthony N. Z Sani, called the planned fuel tax ill-timed.
Among other proposals, the National Roads Fund (establishment) Bill 2017, which passed the second reading in the Green Chamber on Thursday, seeks the introduction of the tax on non-locally refined petroleum products.
The ACF scribe said that increasing the fuel pump price at a time most Nigerians find it hard to meet basic needs due to economic recession is not good for the country.
He is of the opinion that while “there is the need for sources of funding needed for maintenance of roads, the National Assembly should be more realistic when it comes to taxation and methods of taxing the people.”
He added: “Nigerians are finding it hard to take basic needs for granted due largely to the downturn in the economy.
“So, the National Assembly should consider the appropriate timing for any taxation. What is more, N5 extra per litre is like indirect tax which does not make the people feel civil sense of responsibility that government’s money is their own.
“I would prefer some form of aggressive direct taxation at appropriate time, which would make Nigerians believe government is truly funded by tax payers’ money.
“Such practice would make Nigerians hold government accountable and make the people make judicious use of their democratic rights and ensure that votes count so that the ensuing leaders would be accountable.
“That would also make Nigerians to vote on real issues of real concern to real ordinary Nigerians as against the present practice where people vote more on religion and ethnicity, which are not helpful.”
Invitation to anarchy
President of Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, Comrade Shetimma Yerima, said adding a kobo to the price of petrol and diesel would amount to inviting anarchy.
His words: “I don’t know how they came about the idea of increasing the price. We will mobilise other progressive groups to make sure that the plan does not see the light of day.
“If they are wise enough, they will be concerned about how to wipe away hardship from the faces of Nigerians.
“You cannot continue to unleash terror on the people who supported you to win an election.
“The Senate is inviting anarchy and they should be prepared for it. We are sick and tired of all this. We are not in a Banana Republic where the ruling class keeps unleashing terror, suffering and hardship on the people.”
National President of Yoruba Youth Council and Secretary-General of the Coalition of Ethnic Nationalities Youth Leaders of Nigeria, Comrade Eric Oluwole, said: “The bill is coming at a wrong time for Nigerians, especially when we are trying to come out from the economic recession.
“Yoruba Youth Council will never allow the National Assembly to aggravate the suffering of the people using the bill. I know the average Nigerian is not happy about the present situation of our dear country where everybody is looking for a way to reduce hardship.
“The National Assembly should stop this bill. The ethnic youth groups in the country will not hesitate to mobilise against the bill, if the Senate fails to stop it.
Also speaking, the leader of the Ohanaeze Youth Council, Mazi Okechukwu Isiguzoro, said: “The bill is not the change that Nigerians voted for. We condemn it in totality.
“The Senate should find a lasting solution to the issue of petroleum products and the economy. Nigerians are not happy with the way things are going.”
Aba-based legal practitioner, Mr. Emperor Ogbonna, said “our senators should be talking about reactivation of moribund refineries. They should encourage modular refineries. The Senators should be talking about how we can stop importation of refined products.
”The idea of increasing the price of petroleum pump price should be jettisoned. We should be thinking of how to export refined products and how to sell the products to Nigerians at a more affordable rate.”
The chairman, Civil Liberties Organisation, Aba Unit, Prof. Charles Chinekezi, said “the argument is uncalled for and the proposal is simply a continuation of the flip flop policy making process in Nigeria.
“Does this argument actually pass the test of logical reasoning when you know that Nigeria is a major producing country and several nations rely on Nigeria for their own fuel supply by purchasing crude from us and even refined products earlier than now when our refineries were running?
”These lawmakers are now forcing Nigerians to believe that we, as a nation, are incapable of refining our crude, selling to ourselves and other nations like before because this refineries can no longer be resuscitated to run well forever more.
“Can they actually listen to themselves as lawmakers who have the fate of nearly 200 million people in their hands?
”In any case, this proposal is completely unacceptable and dead on arrival. The lawmakers should be able to think out of the box and not being self defeatist.
“We had the PDTF (Petroleum Development Trust Fund), PTF (Petroleum Trust Fund) toll gates scattered across the country as it were and other central policies aimed at funding special sectors of our national development, and each time, lawmakers and other elected leaders behave like people who are suffering from amnesia.”
Organised labour kicks
Organised labour, comprising the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC), also advised the National Assembly against any attempt to further impoverish Nigerians through increase in the price of petroleum products in the name of funding road maintenance in the country.
“They will be resisted. Our patience is over-stretched and we cannot contain it anymore. A word is enough for the wise,” President of Trade Union Congress, Comrade Bobboi Kaigama, and the General Secretary, Comrade Musa-Lawal Ozigi, said in a statement yesterday.
Kaigama, in a separate text message to The Nation, said the congress would do everything humanly possible to resist the proposed fuel tax.
He said: “TUC is against any law that will increase the pump price. Let them find other ways of raising money and not through transferring government responsibility to poor Nigerians. We shall resist it.”
The position of the TUC was elaborated upon in a statement by Kaigama and Ozigi, who warned the Senate against “further plans to impoverish Nigerians with the recent move to hike the prices of fuel, diesel, and even factor in other assorted charges and surcharges ‘to fund a Proposed National Roads Fund’.
“The Congress is also against the proposed sale or reduction of the nation’s stakes in some oil and gas assets.
“We are surprised that Nigerian lawmakers and other political office holders have become numb to our pains, agonies and miseries. This is painful.
“For over two years now, the organised labour has called for wage increase without any reasonable step taken. What we earn when a bag of rice was N8, 000 is still our take home now that a bag of rice is N20, 000. How do we survive? “Renowned writer, Williams Sharespeare, captures it right when he said, ‘When a beggar dies, there are no comets seen; the heavens themselves blaze forth at the death of princes.’
“Nigeria is always broke when workers talk about improved welfare but rich enough to meet the needs of the greedy politicians.
“Politicians are never in tune with the realities on ground because of their unchecked material acquisitive instinct.
“They close their eyes to the increasing number of suicides cases and domestic violence in homes caused by pressure and poverty.
“They seem not to be perturbed by the spate of armed robbery and the unbridled ritual killings by a group called Badoo in Ikorodu, a Lagos suburb.
“It is shameful that all our leaders can think about this time of all times is fuel hike!
“Precisely on September 5, 2016, it was reported that the Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Publicity, Sen. Sabi Abdullahi, said further increase in fuel pump price beyond 145 naira would translate to more hardship on Nigerians.
“He blamed former Group Managing Directors of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporations (NNPC) for raising such issue as a solution to the challenge of the sector. We are surprised that the position stated above few months ago no longer holds water.
“Well, the Congress hereby warns and calls on the Presidency and well-meaning Nigerians to prevail on the Senate and everyone behind the ungodly moves to drop them. “
President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Ayuba Wabba, dismissed the proposed tax as condemnable.
He said the NLC would resist it.
“How can they add to the economic burden of Nigerians?” he wondered before adding: “Most people cannot afford to pay their bills as we speak, and they are talking of increasing fuel price.
“Rather than impose more hardship on the people, the political class should cut their bogus budget and expenditure in order to make money available to fund road rehabilitation rather than transfer the burden to the people.
“We as organised labour would not allow such an action to sail through, because it is anti-people.
“Increasing fuel price in whatever form will affect so many things and we say no to it. Government should be sensitive to the plight of the people in any decision making process, because people come first in any issue”
Nigerians need a breathing space
— Ogun Assembly Deputy Speaker
The Deputy Speaker of the Ogun State House of Assembly(OGHA), Mr. Kunle Oluomo, described the timing of the bill as “inauspicious”.
Nigerians, he said, “need a breathing space” and should not be burdened with fuel price hike at a time the country is just striving to get out of an economic downturn.
He lamented that past mistakes that led to the phasing out of the toll gate system got Nigeria and citizens into the precarious situation they found themselves today regarding the parlous state of the roads and lack of funds for their maintenance.
He noted that there ought to be a back up structure in place by way of income generation for road maintenance and that the toll gates system was supposed to fill that gap, but rued that failed to deliver effectively and efficiently.
Mr. Steve Aluko, a director of Civil Liberties Organisation in Jos, said: “Any form of fuel hike at this point in time is inappropriate, insensitive and condemnable. It does not make sense to any reasonable person living in Nigeria.
“The senate has not deemed it fit to improve the standard of living of Nigerians.
“Nigerians are already impoverished and they want to add insult to injury. This is unacceptable to any reasonable Nigerian. It is against any moral consideration.
“I will advise them to jettison the idea immediately. But if they go ahead to pass that fuel hike bill, it then means they are only interested in inciting the Nigerian public.”
The Plateau State chairman of NLC, Comrade Jibrin Bancir, said: “Any idea of a fuel price hike is absolutely unacceptable to Nigerian workers.
“Nigerian workers and citizens are yet to recover from the harsh effect of the last fuel price hike, now the Senate is trying to introduce another hike.
“This is going to be resisted by Nigerian masses. Let the Senate know now that they should rescind their decision.
“The only bill that will bring relief to impoverished Nigerians now is a bill to reduce the current pump price of fuel.”
Human rights activist in Ekiti State, Mr. Morakinyo Ogele, said the Senate should not contemplate any fuel increase ‘under whatever guise’ during this period of economic hardship.
He said: “It appears our lawmakers have lost touch with the feelings of Nigerians who queued up inside the rain and sun to elect them into the offices they occupy today.
“I want to ask: what do they mean by National Road Fund through which they are demanding extra N5 from petrol consumers? Don’t they appropriate money for road rehabilitation every year which runs into billions of naira?
“Before considering the bill, did they consult with their constituents and gauge their feelings? These are some of the questions to ask them. But I strongly believe that no increase in the price of petrol will be acceptable to Nigerians at this period.
“Nigerians are saying no to fuel price hike even by a kobo.”
The Chairman of Trade Union Congress (TUC), Ekiti State Council, Comrade Odunayo Adesoye, emphasised that another hike in pump price being considered by the Senate is an attempt to push a bitter pill of suffering down the throat of Nigerians.
He said: “Another fuel hike to raise money for National Road Fund is not desirable because we believe that with N145, they should be able to do everything they want to do.
“This will inflict more hardship on Nigerians, especially the masses who are finding it difficult to buy a kongo of garri. FG should look inward to cushion the effect of suffering Nigerians are going through.
“The prevailing economic recession is affecting all sectors. Proposing another hike is like adding more to their burden.
“There is no policy that is implemented in Nigeria in a normal way. Our implementation is always faulty.”
A former chair of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in Kwara State, Comrade Emmanuel Aiyeoribe, said: “The Senate should “perish the thought.
” Mere mention of the idea shows that our leaders and representatives are insensitive to the plight of the masses. They lack the milk of human kindness.
“But we are ready for them. The masses and organised labour will resist that callous and rapacious move.”
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. John Baiyeshea (SAN), daubed it unwise and unreasonable at a critical time like this.
“Honestly, it is like attempting to eat from the devil’s pot,” he said. “The end of it will be woes and catastrophe.
“Who will deliver us from the hands of these dealers masquerading as leaders? They heap burdens on the people while they continue to feed fat on the nation’s resources through looting in the guise of bogus salaries and allowances.
“Meanwhile, most Nigerians are dying of frustration, disease, poverty and unemployment. God deliver us from their hands.”
Executive Director, Community Outreach for Development and Welfare Advocacy (CODWA), Comrade Taiwo Otitolaye said: “A hike in the price of fuel at this period of national hardship is to further elevate the sufferings of the mass of our people.
Abuja-based legal practitioner, Emmanuel Anyaegbunam, said: “Is this price increase being proposed going to be implemented outside the 2017 budget? There are several grey areas which they have not yet sorted out.
“Besides, this is not how to represent the suffering masses during a recession.”
Alhaji Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa, former Governor of Kaduna State, said: “Since about five years ago, we have known about plans by government to increase fuel price to about N250 per litre and for the naira to exchange at about N500 per dollar. We raised the alarm and discussed these plans five years ago; it is this same road that they are travelling down again.”
Mr. Kayode Ajulo, Ex-National Secretary, Labour Party said: “The proposal for an increase in fuel price today is an idea that cannot work.
“Statutorily, there is an agency of government that is in charge of decisions about changing of fuel price; if legislators want to do anything about the price, it becomes illegal.
“Besides, the suffering across the country is now too much and government has not been able to do anything significant. Increasing fuel price now is like trying to break the camel’s back.”