Lawmakers debunk claims of incitement

THE GUARDIAN Newspaper- Azimazi Momoh Jimoh

AS the House of Representatives moved to consolidate its position on the reversal of the fuel subsidy and stop what the lawmakers described as an anti-people move by the Executive, some lawmakers have dismissed allegations that they aimed to incite the people.

Presidential aide on Media Affairs, Dr. Reuben Abati, was quoted as saying: “What they (lawmakers) have decided has no substantial effect whatsoever. Maybe it will have a moral effect and maybe people will now be quoting the House of Representatives as opposing the decision. If that is the case, the House will know that it is inciting the people against the government of which it is a part. I am not sure that the powers of the Legislature go as far as dictating what should be the content of the budget.”

But Opeyemi Bamidele, (ACN, Ekiti), described Abati’s statement as contemptuous, and said that the House would in the course of processing the 2012 budget align with the best interest of the people.

He added that the House could not be inciting the people when it took effort to play a mediatory role in the faceoff between the administration and labour affirming that the call on the administration to reverse the price increase was balanced with the call on labour to give room for further negotiation.

According to Opeyemi, the lawmakers were better placed to appreciate the pains of the people on the hike in the price of petrol, which he said has further worsened the case of civil servants many of whom were yet to benefit from the national minimum wage.

A principal officer who preferred anonymity confirmed that the House would take another decision after establishing through its ad-hoc committee constituted to investigate the issue if there was really any subsidy in the present price regime. According to the House principal officer: “In our draft resolution we contemplated that the House shall invoke its lawmaking and appropriation powers to serve the best interest of Nigerians in the 2012 budget.”

Toby Ikechukwu, (PDP, Enugu State) said: “Our position is purely advisory, it is left for the Federal Government to take it or leave it. We have stated our stand and we know what to do at the appropriate time. The House will speak very soon through the Appropriation Act.”

Opeyemi added: “The Executive has laid before the National Assembly the 2012 budget proposals. We will do everything that will ensure the delicate balancing that the nation needs.” He said that in the process, the House would look at all items and make adequate provisions for government to pursue its commitment to Nigerians.

At the end of the emergency session, many lawmakers restated that the House would make it impossible for the removal of subsidy to work as they noted that the ultimate power on subsidy was with the National Assembly, which had the responsibility to allocate resources through the Appropriation Act.

As the debate rages, the House is looking at other options. The Chairman of the House Committee on Services, Yakubu Dogara, (PDP, Bauchi State) said: “The removal of subsidy on fuel is illegal because it violates the Price Control Act since petroleum products are listed as one of the products that must be subsidised and the Act has not been repealed by the National Assembly.”

Also, Ibrahim Bello, a Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) member from Kaduna State said that members were ready to resort to the impeachment process should the President insist on the removal of subsidy on fuel.

“I do not think President Jonathan would go ahead with this agenda. This is democracy. A President should not just try to impose his ideas on the people as if we are in a classroom. Honestly, I do not believe that the President is the owner of this agenda. The way things are going, it looks as if he is being teleguided by some people because if you have a plan for Nigerians and they are opposed to it, drop it, why insist on it.

“If Mr. President should wake up one day to unilaterally remove the subsidy on fuel, the Constitution has provided for the impeachment process, which we would go ahead with. That is the provision in the Constitution; it is there; it is just for one of us to raise it and we continue from there. And we are prepared for any kind of blackmail from any quarter on this issue.”

But there is disquiet among the House leadership regarding how the matter should be resolved. Some people wanted the extreme position while others wanted the House to appreciate the need for the removal of oil subsidy and co-operate with the President.

The Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) may be one of the victims of the legislative measures as the Deputy Minority Leader of the House, Suleiman Kawu Sumaila (ANPP, Kano) said that the process of repealing the Agency’s Establishment Act had already begun.

Sumaila said: “The Act establishing PPPRA was the making of the National Assembly and we have decided to repeal the Act to save Nigerians from the agonies imposed on them by this monster agency. I am sponsoring a bill, which will seek to repeal the PPPRA establishment Act or amend the section, which gives it the unilateral powers to increase prices of petroleum products.

“We have obtained the consent of over 200 members of the House who have endorsed the move and we are also talking to the Senate so as to give it a concurrence as soon as we passed it because we will give the bill an accelerated passage.”

He said he believes that the House would restore subsidy through the 2012 Budget, as “the powers of appropriation is vested in the National Assembly. We will use the law to stop this act. It is another form of terrorism against Nigerians who are already impoverished. This is another form of terrorism against the people, which we as their representatives will not allow.”

The House Leader, Mulikat Adeola- Akande, has a contrary view. During the debate Akande-Adeola defied the massive support accorded the motion by her colleagues to support the removal of fuel subsidy, saying that the President did the right thing to save the economy from imminent collapse.

She cautioned her colleagues against opposing a government they were part of as she stressed that only constructive engagement could take Nigeria out of the present situation.

“As leaders and people who are part and parcel of government, I expect everybody to speak from one side of the mouth not speaking from both sides of the mouth. Again we should be mediators instead of acting as judges,” she said.

Yakubu Barde (PDP, Kaduna) said that the present administration deserved commendation for removing subsidy. According to him, the issue that should be tackled at the moment was that of corruption to make the impact of subsidy removal felt by the public.

Henry Seriake-Dickson (PDP, Bayelsa State) urged his colleagues to take steps to encourage the President and strengthen the Executive to take the proper action in repositioning the economy.

After the debate on the removal of subsidy and the consequent declaration of strike by labour unions and civil society organisations, the House finally demanded that the government should suspend the removal of subsidy and that the strike by labour should be suspended.

Adopting a motion sponsored by Tajudeen Yusuf (PDP, Kogi State) and 60 other lawmakers, the House set up a committee to mediate between the Federal Government and labour unions on the issue. It equally set up another committee to verify and determine the actual subsidy requirements and monitor the subsidy regime.

The emergency session, which lasted for over three hours was attended by 294 members and was a very stormy one during which lawmakers took passionate positions in favour and against removal of subsidy.

In the motion as adopted by the House, the lawmakers:

• urged the Executive to suspend its decision on the removal of fuel subsidy in appreciation of the mood of the nation and allow more room for consultation;

• urged the organised Labour and other stakeholders to suspend the intended strike action and submit to further dialogue on the matter;

• appealed to Nigerians to exercise restraint in expressing their displeasure over the removal of fuel subsidy in order to allow more room for dialogue and consultation to resolve the situation;

• called for an ad-hoc committee to interface with representatives of the Executive and organised labour with a view to finding a common ground on the matter and to report back within one week;

• to further set up an ad-hoc committee to verify and determine the actual subsidy requirements and monitor the subsidy regime.

Defending his motion earlier, Tajudeen noted that, “although deregulation as a policy may not be altogether objectionable, proper procedure and good timing of such policy is not only equally important, but indeed very imperative especially in a democratic dispensation.”

He noted that adequate distinction was not made between the Federal Government’s contribution to the subsidy and the contribution of the state governments and local governments.

As part of measures to achieve fiscal consolidation, President Jonathan had requested the National Assembly to approve the proposal for the withdrawal of fuel subsidy as contained in the Medium Term Fiscal Framework (MTFF) document.

Jonathan had stated in the MTFF document that: “A major component of the policy of fiscal consolidation is government’s intent to phase out the fuel subsidy beginning from the 2012 fiscal year. This will free up about N1.2 trillion in savings, part of which can be deployed into providing safety nets for poor segments of the society to ameliorate the effects of the subsidy removal. The accrual to the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) as a result of the withdrawal of the fuel subsidy will also augment funds for critical infrastructure.”


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