The National Economic Council, on Thursday, in Abuja, asked the Federal Government to put the June deadline for petroleum subsidy removal on hold, pending the review of existing plans to provide palliatives for Nigerians.
While arguing that the petrol subsidy should not be removed now, the council said the Federal Government would broaden consultations with state governments and other key stakeholders such as labour unions, petroleum marketers, the Ministry of Finance, Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission and representatives of incoming administration.
This ‘expanded committee’ would “determine if the removal can be done by June as planned,” it said.
The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, disclosed this to State House correspondents shortly after the valedictory NEC meeting presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo at the Council Chambers of the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
She said there might be a need to send a supplementary budget to the National Assembly if the incoming administration aligned with the decision to extend subsidy removal.
According to Ahmed, the Council has however agreed that the subsidy must be “removed now, rather than later,” as the nation cannot afford it anymore.
She said, “Council agreed that the timing of the removal of fuel subsidy should not be now; but that we should continue with all of the preparatory works that need to be done and these preparatory works have to be done in consultation with the states and other key stakeholders including representatives of the incoming administration.
“Council agreed that the fuel subsidy must be removed earlier rather than later because it is not sustainable. We cannot afford it anymore. But we have to do it in such a way that the impact of the subsidy is as much as possible, mitigated on the lives of ordinary Nigerians.
“So, this will require looking at alternatives to the fuel subsidy that needs to be planned for and subsequently put in place. But also, what needs to be done to support the people that will be most affected as a result of the removal.”
She noted that the 2023 budget provides for subsidy only up to June 2023. More so, the provisions of the Petroleum Industry Act require the deregulation of several sectors 18 months after the effective date of the subsidy removal.
Therefore, she said the Federal Government had agreed to form an expanded committee to consider the removal process. This includes determining the exact time and the measures to be taken to support the poor and vulnerable and ensure a sufficient supply of petroleum products nationwide.
“So this is a decision that has been taken to expand the committee that is currently working with representatives of the states and it will also have to be engaging with the petroleum marketers.
“The immediate committee comprises the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning, the NNPCL, the regulator, and the downstream and upstream regulators.
“So there’ll be an expanded committee so that it is not just a few people’s thoughts that will guide the process so that there is sufficient consultation taking inputs from key stakeholders on the measures that need to be taken. What I said is that it is not going to be removed now, which means it will not be removed before the transition is completed,” Ahmed said.
The minister noted that the nation would now be operating “two laws in the oil sector.”
However, the incoming administration would have to amend both the Appropriation Act and the PIA to bring them at par with current realities, based on their decisions on the fuel subsidy, she explained.
Ahmed said, “So if the committee’s work, which will include the representatives of the incoming administration determines that the removal can be done by June, the work plan will be designed to exit in June. But if the determination is that the period needs to be extended, that will mean that as a country will have to revisit the Appropriation Act, for example, because the 2023 budget only made provision up to June. So, if we’re extending beyond June, it means we have to revisit the Appropriation Act and do a supplementary or amend the bill and also the PIA.
“These are the reasons why we had to do this consultation with NEC to get input from the governors. They’re going to provide to us their representatives to work together with us to have a defined process that will take us towards the removal. But one thing that is clear is everybody agreed that the subsidy should be removed very quickly, because the cost is only not efficient, but is also not sustainable. And that when the time comes for removal, the removal will be done once and for all.”
Successive administrations have failed to cut or completely remove the subsidy, a socio-politically delicate matter in Africa’s largest economy.
Between January and September 2022, the Federal Government said it spent $7.5bn on fuel subsidy, describing it as an inefficient use of resources stifling Nigeria’s economic potential.
On April 12, 2023, the International Monetary Fund asked Nigeria to cut borrowing, raise revenue by increasing taxes to grow its economy at 3.2 per cent in 2023.
With a tax-to-GDP ratio of eight percent, Nigeria ranks among the lowest globally, as its total debt stock is predicted to hit N77tn by May end.
However, the NEC argued that the subsidy should be removed in a way that does not worsen hardship.
Ahmed said, “This requires looking at alternatives to fuel subsidy that need to be planned for and subsequently put in place, but also what needs to be done to reduce the impact of the removal.”
“On the $800m, the Minister stated that “So far, what we have is that $800m that has been secured and intact. Again, that is a matter for discussion. The states may have their own plans, they may want to have their own designated programmes different from what the federal government may want to do.”
Workers Wages Eroded
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Labour Congress has commended the Federal Government on the 40 per cent salary increase for civil workers in the country.
This was part of resolutions at the end of the National Administrative Council meeting of the NLC.
This was contained in a statement jointly signed by the President, NLC, Joe Ajaero, and the Secretary-General, NLC, Emmanuel Ugboaja, and made available to one of our correspondents on Thursday.
The statement read in part “We commend the federal government on its just-announced salary award decision to public servants in the country.
“This we are sure is in recognition of the extent to which its policies of last two years have caused hyperinflation in the country and deeply eroded the real wages of Nigerian workers.”
The NLC also warned state council members to desist from covering state governors committing atrocities against workers in their states.
Reacting to this, a facilitator with the Nigeria Economic Summit Group, Dr Ikenna Nwosu, said, the move would continue to fuel inflation.
“It was a campaign promise of the President, he campaigned on the basis of that. So, he is supposed to implement it during his regime. Why is he moving to another government and asking them to implement it. One of the implications is that it will continue to affect our credit risk rating by the rating agency and continue to spiral inflation.” he said.
Also speaking, the Director-General of the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association, Mr Wale Oyerinde, urged the Federal Government to use the period of the suspension to complete the turnaround maintenance of the Port Harcourt refinery.
He said, “NECA noted the suspension of the planned subsidy removal and urged the government to use the period of suspension to complete the TAM of the Port Harcourt and other refineries.
“While the removal is highly desirable and the way to go in order to save the country from the continuous funding of inefficiency and consumption, the social economic impact on Nigerians cannot also be overlooked. The time extension should be used to mobilize national consensus, fix the refineries and tidy up the operational framework that will ensure that the country never returns to the subsidy regime.”
On his part, the Deputy-President of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Gabriel Idahosa, criticised the Federal Government for lacking the political will to do the needful and end fuel subsidy for the better.
Idahosa noted that on several occasions, interest groups such as the LCCI as well as economists and financiers across the country had advised the government to bite the bullet and end a subsidy regime that has significantly damaged the economy.
Also speaking with The PUNCH, a professor of Economics at the University of Uyo, Akpan Ekpo said the decision to stop fuel subsidy was not carefully thought out and was one that was going to inflict unprecedented hardship on suffering Nigerians.
Ekpo said, “I’m not surprised, because I’m one of those people who said they should not remove subsidy until certain things are done. We have four refineries that are not working. Let the refineries start working. When they start working, we will be sure of the supply side. If they are not working, let us know why, or sell them off.”
Meanwhile, while speaking at a quarterly economic outlook press conference, the President of the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines, and Agriculture, John Udeagbala, noted that “while the chamber is not against the removal of fuel subsidy, it is concerned about the impacts of the subsidy removal on businesses which are already burdened with so much economic pressures and difficulties, leading to the shutdown of many SMEs and more unemployment in the country.”