In jurisdictions where subsidy is removed, infrastructure is in good shape – Ozekhome

Chief Mike Ozekhome, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) as well as Constitutional Lawyer and Human Rights Activist in this interview with Efe Aghalokpe speaks on the recent increase in pump price of fuel and removal of oil subsidy.   
What is your position with regards to the recent increase in fuel price and subsidy removal?
In this age of information technology, no one can hide behind his finger again and believe he is invisible, nor cover the sun with his palm. Government’s deregulation of the petroleum sector has thrown up much anger, melancholy and dejection amongst the populace.
On January 1, 2012, then President Jonathan increased the price of PMS. The nation literally burnt. “Occupy Nigeria”, “Save Nigeria” groups, ACN, Balarabe Musa, Dangiwa Umar, Wole Soyinka, Bakare, and leading lights of the present govt, such as Governors, Senators, leaders, etc, came out smoking. They bayed for GEJ’s blood. He was never forgiven, even after he reduced the price to N97 per litre from the proposed N141. This was the remote cause of his electoral defeat. Petroleum increase commenced under President Shehu Shagari when price went up from slightly over 15k to 20k per litre; through Babangida, Shonekan, Abacha, Abubakar, OBJ (serially), Yar’Adua, GEJ, till now, PMB (N86.5 to N145).
What goes around, it is said, comes around. So, let us see, from the benefit of history, those who have been consistently patriotic, or patriotically consistent.
What is your reaction to NBA position on fuel subsidy removal?
What I understood the NBA to be saying is, yes, we can remove subsidy on petroleum products but the time is not ripe for that.
In jurisdictions where subsidy is removed, the infrastructure are in good shape, hospitals are in good shape and the roads, very good. There’s water, abundant health facilities and educational opportunities. Capacity building and employment opportunities are there. But, in the case of Nigeria, the common man is already bearing the brunt of impoverishment within the society. To remove fuel subsidy now is to further impoverish that common man….
For us to remove the subsidy now, the common man will be trampled upon. So, the NBA is saying some of infrastructural facilities should be put in place before the subsidy is removed.
In Nigeria, economic forces do not appear to obey or honour the Newtonian Law of motion. The law of motion propounded by Isaac Newton states that everything that goes up must come down. But, in Nigeria, when it goes up, it continues to go up, up and up….
So, what the NBA is saying is that, we agree that the oil subsidy would be removed, but phase it in a time line of about seven years doing A, B, C and D; break the backbone of the cartel and build more refineries, remove corruption and leakages.
Then begin to repair the existing refineries, licence more private people to build more refineries. After all, the Igbos were refining crude oil during the civil war. And they were using it to run their vehicles. So, what happened, 41 years after the end of the civil war in January 1970, that we cannot refine our oil….
My argument is subsidising your products is a misnomer. A farmer does not subsidise his yam to be able to eat it. If we produce crude oil, we should be able to enjoy crude oil as a God-given gift, without having to pay the same rate which obtains internationally because it is an advantage that we have oil. We cannot live by the river and still wash out hands with spittle. But, from all indications, it appears that, at the end of the day, whether today or tomorrow, or five years time, there is no way we cannot deregulate this sector of the economy because that is the norm across the world. But, first, put in place facilities that will cushion the inevitable inconveniences and suffering that will emanate from subsidy removal.
The government should also ensure it curbs corruption that has always besetted the sector. Between 1981 and 1982 when I was a youth corper, I bought a small Subaru car, I was fuelling it with 20 kobo from Lagos to Agenebode. But, today, you need an average of about N10,000 to fuel the same car. The question is: Why has there been a geometrical increase in the prices of oil without a comparative geometrical increase in the comfort and living standards of the people?”.
Five years later, I am today vindicated. Nothing new has happened to alter my above position.
Do you think, Governor Fayose’s 2nd prediction out of the 20 is now fulfilled?
“There will be removal of fuel subsidy and petrol (PMS) will sell over and above N100 per litre, leaving the masses in more serious hardship. The product will not be available and long queues in petrol stations will persist through the first quarter of 2015 and beyond”. Fayose, is dead on target..
What did you say of E-Rifai  commented on during Jonathan’s regime?
“If another government was in power, let us assume General Buhari was the President of Nigeria, he would not withdraw the subsidy. He will fix the problem. He will audit who is taking the money in the subsidy, who is paying what, how the money multiply three times in one year and fish out the thieves and deal with them”.
“Because they financed his election. But Buhari would have sorted that out. That is the first thing to do. Now, while you are paying the subsidy, even one quarter of what you are paying is a lot. General Buhari’s administration would have ensured that within 12 months all the refineries are working at full capacity. His administration would have built the fourth refinery that will bring our domestic production to the point that we don’t need to import a single drop of petrol. And once we can produce our petrol from our own crude oil, at out own cost, we can sell it at any price we like. That is what Buhari’s government would have done. Nigerians made a very big mistake for not electing Buhari, and they are learning every day. Many people have told me that they voted for Jonathan and they are regretting it now…..
“There is no question of Buhari withdrawing subsidy because he has been Petroleum Minister, Chairman of Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) and so on. He built three out of the four refineries we have in this country. And he built that out of patriotism to ensure that we can produce domestically. So, the question of withdrawing subsidy would not even be on the table”.
Mallam, how now? Let us hear you speak out now that you are APC governor of Kaduna State.
Sir, do we take it that the new administration now understand subsidy?
I recalled The National leader of the All Progressive Congress, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu in  DECEMBER 18, 2015, said –:”Because he (GEJ) is slave to wrong-headed economics, the people will become enslaved to greater misery. This crisis will bear his name and will be his legacy. The people now pay a steep tax for voting him into office. The removal of the subsidy is the “Jonathan tax”….. The situation shows that ideas count more than personalities. People may occupy office but how that person performs depends on the ideas that occupy his mind.” Insisting that the subsidy removal was ill-timed, Tinubu said there must be some conditions precedent before such a step could be taken:
“First government needs to clean up and throw away the salad of corruption in the NNPC. Then, proceed to lay the foundation for a mass transit system in the railways and road network with long term bonds and ….., fully develop the energy sector towards revitalizing Nigeria’s economy and easing the burden any subsidy removal may have on the people.” The APC leader now sings a new tune:
“President Buhari has, with this decision, put an abrupt and just end to this assault against our economy and political system. He has made a courageous and prudent decision. It is time to end the fuel subsidy and to begin to subsidize the true needs of the people. To Mr. President, I say congratulation for having the courage to remove the subsidy.”
Tinubu who still admitted that the development meant “higher fuel costs generally”, and will cause “pain and dislocation”, said the president did not end the subsidy regime essentially to save money but “for the nobler purpose of putting those same funds to fairer, more equitable use in order that government might better serve those of us who are truly in utmost need.”
Really? What has changed? Where are the mass transit system, developed energy sector, revitalized economy and “easing the burden any subsidy removal may have on the people”, which you had argued are conditions precedent? What about the subsidy removal being “Jonathan tax”? Do we now take it as “Buhari tax”? What about the people getting “enslaved to greater misery”, as you had then predicted? The situation is certainly worse today sir.

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