President Muhammadu Buhari, on Thursday, beat a quick retreat to the idea of fuel subsidy removal, which he had promised for next month, apparently leaving the incoming administration of Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu to deal with the contentious issue, which has already got Nigeria’s organised labour spoiling for a fight.
Both the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), representing junior and senior workers in the public and private sectors, had served notice to the government that it would face serious crises if it went ahead with the proposal without fixing the nation’s refineries as the first step.
Apparently fearing a repeat of the crisis that shut down Nigeria for days in 2012, during the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, the FG through the National Economic Council (NEC), said on Thursday, in Abuja, that it had agreed that petrol subsidy should “not be removed” as earlier planned for June 2023.
The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, disclosed this to State House correspondents shortly after the valedictory Council meeting presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo at the Council Chambers of the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Ahmed, who said the Council agreed on the need for continued discussions on the issue and that the FG, together with states and representatives of the incoming administration, require more preparatory work, added: “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 that this preparatory has 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.”
The Minister, who stressed that the FG would be working together with representatives of the states between now and June 2023, added: “We have a plan that we will start working on, putting the building blocks towards the eventual removal of the first subsidy. And if I may remind this forum that the budget for 2023 has a provision for fuel subsidy only up to June 2023 and also the Petroleum Industry Act has a provision that requires that all petroleum products must be deregulated 18 months after the effective date of the PMS removal and that that period is also up to June 2020.”