Tobi Soniyi and Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
Nigerians may heave a sigh of relief as the federal government said monday that an increase in the price of petrol was not yet on the card in spite of the clamour for a hike by marketers of the product.
Relief came the way of Nigerians through separate statements by the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, and the Group Managing Director (GMD) of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Dr. Maikanti Baru, who, after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja said the issue was not on the agenda.
“There is no memo on that,” Kachikwu told State House correspondents who asked him pointedly whether government contemplated an upward review as demanded by marketers.
Also responding to the same query, Baru to whom Kachikwu had earlier referred the correspondents to, said: “There is nothing like that. Go to PPPRA (Petroleum Product Pricing and Regulatory Agency).”
Buhari had yesterday met separately behind closed-doors with Kachikwu and Baru in his office. Details of the meetings, which might not be unconnected with the agitations for further petrol price hike, were not disclosed despite promptings by State House correspondents.
First to be granted audience was the NNPC boss. The Minister of State for Petroleum came later. And both were also engaged by the president.
The meeting came 48 hours after former GMDs of the corporation demanded an upward review of the price of petrol, saying the current N145 per litre ceiling was unrealistic.
They spoke at the end of a one-day meeting called by Baru, arguing that the current price cap of N145 per litre contradicted the government’s liberalisation policy, especially with the worsening foreign exchange rate and other price determining components, including crude cost and Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) charges, among others, remaining uncapped.
Those who attended the weekend meeting where the possible fuel price hike was discussed included the representative of the immediate past GMD, Kachikwu, Senior Technical Assistant, Mr. Johnson Awoyomi; Dr. Edmund Daukoru, Chief Odoliyi Lolomar, Dr. Thomas John, Mr. Lawrence Amu, Dr. Jackson Gaius-Obaseki, Mr. Funsho Kupolokun, Dr. Abubakar Yar’Adua and Dr. Joseph Dawha.
The outcome of the meeting lent credence to the argument of oil marketers on August 8, 2016 that scarcity of foreign exchange to finance the importation of petrol had made a price increase from N145 inevitable.
State House correspondents’ encounter with Kachikwu and Baru was, however, not comforting as both initially would not be specific on government’s position on the matter, suggesting a possible dilemma of the Buhari administration over the issue.
Confronted with the question on whether there was a plan to jack up fuel price as he was leaving the president’s office, Baru denied that there were plans to increase fuel price.
He, however, did not give any detailed answers to questions from the correspondents.
The NNPC boss who refused to take questions, advised reporters to refer any questions on fuel price to the PPPRA.
Kachikwu also did not answer questions when he emerged a few minutes after 4p.m., advising reporters to direct their questions to Baru.
The federal government liberalised the downstream sector of the petroleum industry on May 11, 2016, and announced an increase in the pump prices of petrol from N86 and N86.50 per litre to between N135 and N145 per litre.
It had also stated that the market was to be driven by the factors of demand and supply, as it was now largely in the hands of private sector players.
Senator Berates Former NNPC GMDs
Meanwhile, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Information, Senator Aliyu Abdullahi, yesterday criticised Baru and his predecessors over their demand for petrol price increase, describing them as enemies of Nigerians.
He told journalists in Abuja, that the demand coming at a time Nigerians were groaning under severe economic hardship was insensitive and could be counter-productive.
Abdullahi said: “Let me make it very clear that all of them that are speaking do not have the moral standpoint to even advise us on what to do because they had a hand in the problem; and I cannot see how you can solve a problem under the same condition that created it. They are more or less acting as enemies of the people and even the government they are advising.
“I think Albert Einstein is quoted to have said doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is insanity. Are we expecting these people’s advice to change the narratives? As far as I am concerned, maybe they are sent to destroy this government and as far as I am concerned we would not allow them to do that.”