Presidency: Economic Challenges Compelled Buhari to Remove Petrol Subsidy

Minister of Finance, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed

By Omololu Ogunmade

The presidency yesterday shed more light on the removal of fuel subsidy, which has triggered a continuous increase in the price of the commodity in tandem with the value of crude oil in the international market.

According to it, but for a myriad of economic challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, President Muhammadu Buhari would not have allowed the rise in the pump price of petrol so as to protect the vulnerable.

It stated that history will be kind to the president for summoning the courage to take such a hard decision that will save Nigeria from economic ruination.

The Buhari administration has come under attack since last week when the pump price of petrol went up again, rising from N148 per litre to about N162.

The price hike was induced by the jacking up of ex-depot price of petrol from N138 to N151.

Since the current hike of fuel price was done last week, condemnations had trailed the decision of the Buhari-led federal government from various segments of the society which described the president and his government as insensitive, particularly coming at the time that most Nigerians are facing economic hardship.

Reacting to the criticisms yesterday, the presidency in a statement, said Buhari as a leader had to summon the courage to take difficult and unpopular decisions this time because the country is confronted with economic challenges caused by COVID-19 pandemic.

This is the second time in one week the Buhari administration is speaking on the latest price hike that has triggered a nationwide outrage with threats of a strike by labour unions.

The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, at a web seminar organised by the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), last week had explained that fuel subsidy constituted a drain on the country’s meagre resources.

She added that Nigeria is going through a difficult economic period because of the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic and all the decisions taken were geared towards weathering the current headwinds posed by the pandemic.

But in the latest defence of the deregulation policy of the administration, the presidency, in the statement signed by presidential spokesman, Malam Garba Shehu, said history would be kind to Buhari because he would go down in history as a leader who contributed to the economy by eliminating the petrol subsidy.

“There is nothing new in the fact that the country is today fighting multiple challenges along with COVID-19, including low earnings, near-collapse of the oil market, floods, threats of terrorism and banditry but the challenges notwithstanding, a good government must take decisions for people’s good.

“As President Muhammadu Buhari takes these difficult decisions, both popular and unpopular, and as a leader because he is demonstrating the right courage to take such decisions as they become necessary in view of present circumstances.

“History will be kind to President Buhari because in addition to his amazing ability to command votes, he will be remembered as the president who made real contributions to economic and overall national development by eliminating the evils of corruption embedded in subsidies,” it said.

The statement said Buhari took a bold step in the overall interest of Nigerians and appealed for understanding of citizens, including members of the opposition.

The statement said Buhari was pushing development goals in this challenging moment, adding that contrary to insinuations by the opposition, history would be fair to him.

“President Buhari has shown a rare determination to carry out the bold initiatives as these ones driven by nothing other than the greatest good for the greatest number of people. In carrying out the reforms, the president needs the support and understanding of all citizens-inclusive of the opposition parties, the labour movement and civil society groups.

“In these challenging times, the president is pushing development goals, not politics and history will judge him in favourable terms rather than his critics in the new media and the opposition,” it stated.

The statement said even though the administration had worked hard to meet the high expectations of the people on it, there yet needed to take tough decisions to put the country on track.

It said successive administrations had mulled the idea of subsidy removal with a view to halting the mismanagement of the country’s resources but lacked the courage to push it through.

The presidency, therefore, described the move, along with others, as necessary reforms in contrast to perception by critics that the action is ill-timed and ill-conceived.
“The administration has worked hard to meet many expectations, but still, there are certain tough decisions which had to be taken to put back the country on the path of sustainable development.

“To stop the mismanagement of taxpayers’ money, eliminate corruption associated with subsidies on petroleum products, power, fertiliser among others, the administration took the decision to implement long-delayed reforms, withdraw and allow the market to determine their prices.

“Subsidy removal in these sectors had long been foreseen by successive administrations as game changers in search of solutions to move forward with the nation’s development.

“These are reforms that are necessary and overdue. Blueprint upon blueprint, timeline upon timeline had come and gone but the courage to take bold decisions was not there.

“Over the last few days, one claim acquiring a potent resonance with the online community, sections of the labour movement and the opposition is that the actions are ill-timed and ill-advised,” it said.