By Ejiofor Alike
The recent hike in the price hike negatives the principles of the Nigerian constitution, Alliance for Survival of COVID-19 and Beyond (ASCAB) has said.
The group, a coalition of over 80 labour and civil rights groups, led by a human rights activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Femi Falana, has also called on President Muhammadu Buhari to live up to his responsibility.
In a statement issued yesterday, the Chairman of the coalition and radical Lagos lawyer, Falana insisted that the increase was illegal and should be annulled.
ASCAB said the hike will increase the tempo of anger, frustration and desperation of Nigerians who are daily being pushed to the extreme of tolerance of the government’s extremist socio-economic programmes
The group said handing over the mainstream of the economy to the mood swing of global economic forces was like putting Nigeria on auto pilot, which might lead to a crash.
Falana said Nigerians have been stretched beyond their reasonable elastic limit with the ceaseless imposition of policies that push the masses to cliff edge of livelihood.
“The federal government has taken yet another illegal decision. Nigerians are not expected to obey illegal orders,” Falana said
He cited the Supreme Court judgment that vested the right to increased fuel price in the hands of the Minister of Petroleum, a position presently being held by Buhari
He said contrary to the provisions in the constitution, the federal government had been using the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) to fix the prices of petroleum products, adding that following the recent challenge of the usurpation of the powers of the Minister of Petroleum Resources to fix the pump price by the ASCAB, the federal government decided to transfer the power to the Petroleum Products Marketing Company (PPMC).
He said “the PPMC announced a new Ex-depot price of N151.56 for petrol last week. In justifying the illegal and insensitive increase in the pump price of fuel, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva was quoted to have said that the government is no longer in the business of fixing prices for petroleum products, saying “we have stepped back. Our focus now is on protecting the interest of the consumers and making sure that marketers are not”
ASCAB faulted the minister, accusing him of reinforcing an illusion that the increase is without the prior consent of the federal government.
He said in the same vein, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed has publicly confirmed the decision of the federal government to hand over the duty of the Minister of Petroleum Resources to the so-called global market forces.
ASCAB recalled that while speaking from Abuja during a web seminar organised by the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), last week, she explained that all tough measures adopted by the federal government were geared towards weathering the current headwinds posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to her, “what that means is that the price of refined petrol will be determined by the global price of crude oil, so the price will keep changing according to how the global market operates.”
ASCAB insisted that decision of the federal government to abdicate its responsibility to fix the price of fuel is the height of official impunity, which should not be tolerated in any democratic society.
ASCAB said “indeed, it is a reckless violation of Section 6 (1) of the Petroleum Act, which provides that: “The Minister may by order published in the Federal Gazette fix the prices at which petroleum products or any particular class or classes thereof may be sold in Nigeria or in any particular part or parts thereof.”
ASCAB cited the case of Bamidele Aturu versus Attorney-General of the Federation (unreported suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/591/2009), where the Federal High Court declared illegal and unconstitutional the policy decision of the federal government to deregulate the downstream sector of the petroleum industry contrary to the combined effect of the provisions of the Price Control Act and the Petroleum Act.
According to the learned trial judge, Adamu Bello J. (as he then was):
“It seems to me that a combined reading of the provisions of sections 4 and 6 of the Police Control Act and the Petroleum Act leaves one in no doubt that the control of and regulation of prices of petroleum products among others, is a legal duty imposed on the government of the Federation acting through its relevant functionaries, that is, Minister of Petroleum Resources and the minister in charge of commerce by the two acts of the National Assembly referred to, so any decision by the government to deregulate the downstream sector as it affects the fixing of price of petroleum products must contend with those enactments. In other words, any decision to deregulate the downstream sector of the petroleum industry by not fixing the prices of products while these extant laws remain in force and has not been amended or abrogated, will be in conflict with those enactments an therefore be illegal.”
ASCAB said since the judgments and orders of the Federal High Court are binding on the federal government as well as all authorities and persons in Nigeria pursuant to section 287 (3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 the decision of the PPMC to increase the price of petrol is contemptuous, illegal, null and void.