Hon. Farouk Lawan
By Kunle Akogun, Onwuka Nzeshi and Olawale Olaleye
The federal government may pay up to N2 trillion as subsidy on fuel consumption for last year, Chairman of the House of Representatives Ad hoc Committee on Monitoring Subsidy Regime, Hon. Farouk Lawan, has said.
Lawan told THISDAY that by the figure available to him, based on testimonies and documents submitted by those who have appeared before the committee, fuel subsidy for 2011 may, at the end of the day, exceed the various figures of between N1.3 trillion and N1.7 trillion that various government officials are bandying about.
Lawan who spoke of pressure on him by those seeking to influence the outcome of the probe, however, allayed fears that the report of the committee will end up on the shelf like those of others before it.
He also dropped a hint that marketers who shun the committee’s invitations to appear before it would be presumed to be guilty and maybe indicted when the report is written.
The House had set up the committee following the crisis that trailed the deregulation of the downstream sector of the oil industry on January 1 that led to the hike in the pump price of petrol from N65 per litre to about N141.
The federal government, faced with a crippling nationwide strike and street protests, after negotiation with the organised labour, cut the price to N97 per litre.
Lawan told THISDAY in an exclusive interview shortly before the committee rounded off its three-week-long public hearing that from the committee’s interactions with fuel importers and the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, it was clear that outside the N1.75 trillion already paid, there were some outstanding payments which will shoot the subsidy payment in 2011 to N2 trillion.
According to him: “When the campaign for the removal of subsidy was going on, the general impression given by those in government was that about N1.3 trillion had been spent on subsidy in 2011. Although this figure was meant to frighten Nigerians and convince them on the removal of subsidy, as I speak to you, the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria has admitted that so far, N1.75 trillion was paid in 2011 and they are still receiving Sovereign Debt instruments on subsidy.
“I can tell you that from our interaction with the importers, from our engagement with the NNPC, we know that there are still some outstanding payments which means that we might be talking of about N2 trillion paid on subsidy payments at the end of the day in 2011,” he said.
He added that when the figure is compared with the N245 billion which was the amount captured in the budget for subsidy in 2011, it reveals the level of extra-budgetary expenditure that was incurred and it also shows the direct subsidy payments that was done by the NNPC to itself without following due process.
Lawan said some of the questions that Nigerians have been asking would be addressed by the committee’s report.
On alleged moves to influence the committee and threats to its members, the chairman said most of the pressures on the committee members were indirect, adding that the people concerned could not summon the courage to approach him directly because of what he called his well-known non-compromising nature.
He said: “Yes there were pressures from various angles. There were indirect overtures to see if we can compromise. Many of them are, however, afraid to approach me directly maybe because of the image I have carved for myself in the last 12 years.
“Some of the stakeholders have tried to reach me through some of my relations and friends. There were other instances of some people who would suggest that they could ‘talk’ to me to yield some grounds. But I can assure you that we have made up our minds that the greater interest of Nigerian people is greater than any personal interest of anybody.”
On the other hand, Lawan said there have also been positive pressures from Nigerians, urging the committee to do a good job, stressing that “we intend to listen to that pressure more than the other pressure because we know that what we do will significantly determine the way things are done in this country.”
According to him, although the committee has not finished its task, it is achieving results, noting that because of the ongoing probe, ”things are already changing.”
He cited an instance when the CBN governor, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, disclosed that the “the kind of sharp practices and manipulations associated with the foreign exchange regime are already giving way because of what we are doing.”
“So, we are already seeing some positive changes and I think we need to just carry on and do a job that will beat the expectations of Nigerians,” he said.
Lawan, in another interview, said oil marketers who failed to honour invitations and those who after turning up failed to present certain documents as requested by the committee, would be presumed to be guilty of allegations levelled against them.
“I have said it severally that if you failed to appear, you are automatically indicted. And those we asked to bring back documents and did not are also indicted because we will assume that you did not import the petrol as may have shown in your claim for subsidy,” he said.
While expressing satisfaction with the activities of the committee, Lawan said the amount of revelations before the committee is an indication of the success of the exercise, adding that much of these would be revealed in their report.