Oil subsidy: Will APC allow President Buhari to play ball?

One of those few Nigerians well grounded in the nefarious and technically slippery Nigerian oil terrain is the , . He is a colossus in the industry, mostly at the downstream sector. He has invested heavily in the promotion of the trade. He knows all the department of the sector. He has made stupendous wealth from moving the “black gold” product from one place to another. Yes, the gossip in some quarters is that the man, by this trade, is richer than his home of Anambra in the .

If a man of this resume speaks on any subject matter within the industry, l think it will be the principle of economic wisdom for people to listen. If we [Nigerians] fail to give thought to his comment, again strictly on oil matters, we shall be doing so to our own collective peril. Ifeanyi Ubah was quoted recently as urging “to stop subsidising petrol and probe oil marketers whose actions almost led to the shutdown of the country recently”. Two things played out here that need urgent and critical evaluation. First, is the urgent need for the Federal Government to deregulate the industry by total removal of oil subsidy, and the second, according to Ubah, is “probing the oil marketers”.

Let us for now step down the call for probing the oil marketers while we consider for serious adoption the removal of the subsidy. I am not saying that Ubah’s “wise” call for probing the oil marketers should be entirely discarded. No, what l am saying is to step it aside temporarily for reason l shall mention shortly.

Ifeanyi Ubah even psyched up on this topic by saying that “he is not a stranger to the sector, having been a former minister of petroleum. He will be respected if he takes the step because there is no point in paying subsidy when Nigerians are not benefiting from it”.Here really is the “atomic bomb-shell” – Nigerians are not “benefiting from it”. Could that be true? Yes, but not the total truth. Few “first class” Nigerians are benefiting massively from the subsidy paid to the oil marketers. This tiny group of “super Nigerians” included those once listed for “offenses of oil subsidy scam” – a list once compiled and presented to Nigerians by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission. IfeanyiUbah was one of the “few privileged Nigerians” that made that list”honourably”.

Let us return to the issue of removing the subsidy because of its contentiousness. Evaluation of IfeanyiUbah’s conclusion, while advising the will be a better guideline on the way forward on this matter. “The President will be doing the right thing if he deregulates the sector so that the product will be sold at cheaper rate in the future. I have always been of the view that we should deregulate so that we can cut out corruption, but unfortunately, Nigerians didn’t take it from former President Goodluck Jonathan”.

There are two secrets revealed in this piece of advice. The first one is that if we must eliminate corruption in Nigeria, deregulation leading to removal of oil subsidy becomes inevitable and must be done with speed. The second is more of a revelation and that is the fact that the immediate past president, Goodluck Jonathan, was bold enough at a time to have attempted total removal of the oil subsidy but “Nigerians did not take it from him”. This is enough food for thought. Nigerians did not take it from him!

The way and manner we deal with these two secrets revealed above will determine how much success or otherwise Nigeria shall be able to achieve in the battle against oil subsidy. The first step is the boldness to remove the subsidy while the second is the possibility of compromising those “Nigerians” that resisted Jonathan’s attempt [subsidy removal] at a time.

Getting the first is going to be easy with in the saddle as President because he has vowed to “kill corruption before corruption kills Nigeria”. The second one however, is not going to be easier as Buhari, a democratically elected President, can only achieve what he intends to do by working with Nigerians – the same “Nigerians” that ganged-up against President Jonathan when he embarked on the voyage of “subsidy removal”. This assignment of bringing these “Nigerians” to support President Buhari may really be tough, but, to my mind, is achievable if we apply the wisdom of identifying these “Nigerians”. Let us search them out.

It was the first day of January 2012, when President Jonathan gave Nigerians “a bad new year gift”, so it was called, by total removal of oil subsidy, that the “Nigerians” Ifeanyi Ubah said resisted Jonathan was “born”. Being a new-born baby, the “naming ceremony” took place at the popular Gani Fawehimi Freedom Square at Ojota area of . Invitations for the naming ceremony was sent out by the “The Save Nigeria Group”, a movement put together by the radical Lagos State-based cleric, Pastor Tunde Bakare, while the Lagos State government, under the political umbrella of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, the precursor and “mother” of today’s , , provided the logistics for the fun and it was appropriately tagged “Occupy Nigeria”.

It was at this “naming ceremony”, loaded with the largest carnival in the annals of Lagos State history that Jonathan’s bold attempt to remove the oil subsidy was “shot down” by the “parents of the newly-born baby”. Who are the parents? It is easy identifying them as those pointed out above and they are the people of the same character that later made the formation of the APC possible. They are the “Nigerians” identified by IfeanyiUbah that “did not take it from Goodluck Jonathan”.

The question therefore is: Will the APC, now in control of the Federal Government, agree with President Buhari to remove the cancerous oil subsidy so that Nigeria can be saved from this monumental corruption that is “killing us”? Will they? Only time shall tell.

Godwin Etakibuebu, a public affairs commentator, wrote from Lagos.

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