· Govs back subsidy removal, seek access to $3.25bn World Bank grant, loan from ECA
· NLC says protest will last for weeks, it’s open to dialogue
Tobi Soniyi and Paul Obi in Abuja
The ad hoc Committee on Crude Oil Theft Prevention and Control of the National Economic Council (NEC) has revealed that government does not have adequate operational vessels to patrol and secure the network of pipelines in the Niger Delta.
Briefing journalists at the end of the 67th meeting of NEC which held on Thursday at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, the Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State, Admiral John Jonah Atuama (rtd), said the committee also discovered that massive unemployment among youths in the Niger Delta region had contributed in no small measure to the rising incidence of oil theft and vandalism of oil company facilities in the region.
Atuama said that he reported to the council that the committee, which was set up sometime in 2013, consulted widely with relevant stakeholders including the Armed Forces Joint Task Force (JTF), oil companies, oil producing states, and the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), among others.
According to him, the scarcity of petroleum products in the Niger Delta area was also responsible for the recurrence of illegal bunkering.
He said the committee recommended that appropriate technology must be procured and deployed for surveillance of the oil and gas facilities.
The deputy governor said the committee also recommended that combat vehicles/boats be procured and deployed in difficult terrains to drastically reduce incidents of oil theft and illegal bunkering.
This, the committee said, would ensure full benefits of uninterrupted supply of oil and gas to the terminals and for domestic use.
Among others, the committee recommended that the federal government should set up special courts for the speedy prosecution of illegal oil bunkerers and oil theft suspects, and the engagement of traditional rulers to sensitise their communities on the criminal and environmental dangers of oil theft.
To address the problems in the oil sector on a long-term basis, NEC further agreed that there should be an increase in the refining capacity of the domestic refineries through the co-location of smaller cost-efficient refineries within the timeframe of 12 to 24 months.
It was also agreed that focus should be on restoring upstream production by positively engaging host communities to bring the current militancy to an end.
The Delta deputy governor added that council also agreed that attention should be focused on improving government funding in the upstream sector where funding had been less than 30 per cent and that government should be relieved of monthly cash-call funding and create a sustainable self-funding arrangement.
The council further agreed that government should continue to engage the general public and all stakeholders by providing relevant information and education.
Also yesterday, NEC approved a fiscal sustainability plan aimed at helping states navigate the current economic downturn.
NEC, which is composed of all the 36 state governors and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor, meets monthly and is chaired by the vice-president.
A statement issued by the media aide to the vice-president, Mr. Laolu Akande, said the Minister of Finance, Mrs Kemi Adeosun, reported to the council that the balance in the Excess Crude Account (ECA) stood at $2,259,688,878.06 as at April 30, 2016.
She put the interest that accrued to the account at $429,903.55 for the month of April 2016.
The chairman of NEC, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, informed the council that President Muhammadu Buhari had approved the reconstitution of the board of the Niger Delta Power Holding Company (NDPHC), adding that the board would be put in place soon.
The statement said that Edo State Governor Adams Oshiomhole on behalf of NEC’s ad hoc Committee on the Management of the Excess Crude Account and Payments into the Federation Account reported to the council that the sub-committee endorsed the forensic auditors’ firms as earlier proposed by the finance minister to audit the ECA.
Kogi State Governor Yahaya Bello also gave an update on states that have received bailout funds and those outstanding.
Bello said the CBN governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele reported to the council that 30 states had so far benefited from the salary bailout as at May 18, 2016 while 35 states had applied for Excess Crude Account-backed loans.
Bello said Kogi State’s application for the bailout funds was being processed and expressed the hope that the state would get it next week.
The governor also said the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, gave an update on fuel supply in the country.
He said Kachikwu briefed the council on the reasons the federal government removed the subsidy on petrol and gave oil marketers approval to source their foreign exchange requirements from autonomous sources to facilitate fuel imports and end scarcity of the product.
Also, the Minister of Budget and National Planning Udo Udoma told journalists at the end of the meeting that he made a presentation on the strategic plan for 2016 budget implementation.
The Deputy Governor of Enugu State, Mrs. Cecilia Ezeilo, in her briefing, said that in response to previous requests, the finance minister made a presentation to the council on the fiscal sustainability plan and fiscal framework for the states.
Ezeilo said that council approved the plan, which had five key strategic objectives: accountability and transparency; increase in public revenue; rationalisation of public expenditure; public financial management reforms; and sustainable debt management.
She said the minister recommended action points with a view to achieving the objectives that would align both the short-term and long-term sustainability objectives of the federal and state governments.
Ezeilo also said that the Minister of State for Solid Minerals presented a policy paper to the council. The policy paper was presented to NEC to apprise it of the reforms of the minerals sector and to particularly address the issuance of licences for solid minerals exploration by both federal and state governments.
Governors Endorse Subsidy Removal
Prior to the NEC meeting, the 36 governors had met and expressed support for the end of fuel subsidies, saying that the policy was in the interest of the masses.
The governors also said that they were making efforts to access $3.25 billion earmarked by the World Bank for social and infrastructure projects in the states.
Ogun State Governor Ibikunle Amosun, who spoke after the governors met Wednesday night in Abuja, said they supported the removal of the subsidy on fuel because they believed that it was in the interest of all Nigerians.
He said: “These are sacrifices that must be made by all. The president means well, the government means well, all of us mean well and if truly we are caring for the masses, we believe that the subsidy only serves the rich, not the masses.
“We believe the monies saved from the subsidy removal would be used for infrastructure development particularly for social services for all of the downtrodden masses.
“We are putting our weight behind it, while urging the federal government and indeed the state governments to see how we can ameliorate all the problems the masses would probably go through in the short-run because in the long run they would be the better for it.”
States Seek Access to World Bank Grant
Also speaking, the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) and Zamfara State Governor Abdulaziz Yari said the Country Director of the World Bank, Rachid Benmessaoud, had educated the governors on how they could access $4.25 billion earmarked by the World Bank for projects in the state.
He said: “Because of the cumbersome procedures in accessing these funds, most of the governors did not even know they had such funds there.
“It was the initiative of the Governor of Kaduna State that the World Bank should come and make this presentation so that it can educate the governors on the funds and how we can access them so that the states can invest in infrastructure.”
He explained that after the presentation, the governors expressed concern over how they would raise their counterpart funding in order to access the funds.
“World Bank accepted to look into the issue of counterpart funding and its officials agreed that they will give us the details state by state, that it’s how much each state is entitled to and how we are going to access it.
“As of now, they are ready to facilitate a kind of workshop for the state governors and the commissioners of finance and others, so that we can know how best to access these funds for the betterment of our respective states,” Yari said.
He however acknowledged that many states would have difficulty raising the counterpart funds because of the situation they had found themselves in.
He said: “We are struggling to see how we can pay salaries, that is the most difficult aspect of it and they promised that they will look into it and immediately that is done, the states will move fast to ensure we access it.”
The Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, gave further insights into the World Bank grant for the states, stating: “The World Bank portfolio for the states for this year is $4.25 billion and out of that $3.25 billion is lying there undisbursed, which means the states are not meeting their conditions or not moving fast enough to draw this $3.25billion.
“You know $3.25 billion can do a lot to improve the lives and livelihood of our citizens in the states and the World Bank has expressed its flexibility to look into the challenges we are facing, as well as the procedures or bottlenecks, in order to ease access to these monies because the World Bank wants us to withdraw the money as quickly as possible so that our citizens will get the benefits from healthcare to education and the rural access, agriculture and the revival of livestock and water supply.
“These are the areas that most of these funds are dedicated to and we all need the money because we are all broke, so we are going to work very hard to try to get these monies in trust.”
NLC: Protest Will Last for Weeks
However, as the governors endorsed the fuel subsidy removal, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) yesterday in Abuja warned that the ongoing protest would last for weeks until government heeds its demands.
The peaceful march by the labour union and its civil society allies in Abuja witnessed more turnout yesterday, as more unions joined the protest.
The protesters started from Berger roundabout at about 9 am and terminated at Garki Area 1 roundabout in the Abuja metropolis.
NLC President, Mr. Ayuba Wabba, stated that the union would sustain the protest for weeks, adding however that labour was “open to dialogue anytime government deems it fit to negotiate with us”.
While addressing the protesters, Wabba explained that the protest was aimed at opposing obnoxious policies that are detrimental to the generality of Nigerians.
“This is about policy engagement, this is about resistance of a policy that has been imposed on us and therefore we have made the point clearly that
NLC must be seen to be consistent by standing by the truth and by the people, because these policies are not consistent with the ideas of ensuring social justice,” Wabba said.
He stressed that NLC would continue to resist the N145 price of petrol because it is exploitative.
“We will continue to resist the N145 fuel pump price, which is being imposed on us; this is a further exploitation despite the hardship in the country
. We were also told that the increase never had a bar.
“Therefore we thought that we should make this position known, so NLC should make the point known. We are not worried that we are fighting this battle alone, because historically NLC has always stood with the people,” he added.
On the court injunction obtained by the federal government stopping the protest, Wabba still maintained: “We have not been put on notice, but when we were meeting with government they tried to bring up that issue but as for today, I want to say clearly, we have not actually been served.”
Asked if labour will return to the negotiating table, the NLC president said: “We are open to dialogue anytime government invites us back to the table, but I am not sure that we have received any further invitation from government.
“The protest for now is going to be for at lest one or two weeks then we can now review our position and look at how best to look at a lot of other options.”
Supporting the NLC yesterday was the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), which cut short its National Executive Council (NEC) meeting to join the protest.
The National President of the association, Mr. Samson Ugwoke, said: “We have been directed by NLC that we should proceed on an indefinite strike. We stood by the NLC led by Wabba during the election and he was declared winner of the election.
“My organisation cannot be different from the position of the NLC. We belong to NLC. Whatever they say, is what we are in line with. We cannot be different NLC, even if we have a different opinion, that will be subsumed by the general opinion of the NLC.
“We are against the increase of N145. From the look of things, it will cause hardship and the government have not engaged the labour leadership properly. If they had engaged them and let them know the nitty gritty, purpose and problem that may arise, labour may go along with them.
“You know that labour is asking for N56,000 minimum wage and what we have now is N18,000. N18,000 cannot be useful to a worker. What are you going to do with N18,000 per month?
“And now that they have increased the petrol price to N145, you can see the hardship on workers?”