•Says it’s senseless for petrol to be cheaper in Nigeria than S’Arabia
•At N305,113, minimum wage higher in Saudi, PDP replies Buhari
Omololu Ogunmade and Chuks Okocha in Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday rallied Nigerians to chart a new path to achieve a greater nation.
The president, in a nationwide broadcast to mark Nigeria’s diamond jubilee, also spoke on why he was persuaded to pull the plug on the fuel subsidy era, triggering a higher petrol price regime.
According to him, it does not make sense for petrol to be cheaper in Saudi Arabia than in Nigeria.
Data from the Energy Information Administration, US Department of Energy, International Energy Statistics, show that Saudi Arabia has the second largest proven oil reserves in the world—some 268 billion barrels, approximately 16 per cent of the world’s proven reserves— as against Nigeria’s 36.8 billion barrels.
However, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) dismissed the president’s comparison between the fuel price in Saudi Arabia and Nigeria, saying it does not take into account the national minimum wage in the Middle East nation, which is N305,113 and Nigeria that pays N30,000.
In addition, the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBF) described Buhari’s nationwide broadcast as “the tale full of sound and fury signifying nothing.”
Besides the speech, Buhari also joined other dignitaries, including two of his predecessors, Gen. Yakubu Gowon and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, at a low-key ceremony at the Eagle Square, Abuja to commemorate the nation’s 60th Independence anniversary.
Buhari, in the nationwide broadcast, outlined efforts by his administration to make Nigeria greater, saying no past government did what his government is currently doing with the available scarce resources.
In defending the end of fuel subsidy regime that was greeted by criticisms from a cross-section of Nigerians and threats of an industrial action by labour unions, the president said it was necessary to save the economy.
He compared the pump price of petrol in Nigeria with what obtains in neighbouring countries and beyond, saying that Nigeria’s price is the cheapest.
Buhari who said his administration had managed to keep things going, alleged that those who presided over “near destruction of the country,” still have the temerity to criticise his government.
He said his government had no option than to face the reality and take tough decisions, which he said culminated in the hike of the pump price of petrol.
He said the necessity to adjust fuel price had been realised since he came to power, but what would be the attendant effect became a burden on the government.
He explained that it was such imminent effects that necessitated certain programmes introduced by the government to cushion the impact on the poor and the vulnerable.
He said: “In this regard, the level of petroleum prices is no longer possible. The government, since coming into office has recognised the economic argument for adjusting the price of petroleum. But the social argument about the knock-on effect of any adjustment weighed heavily with the government.
“Accordingly, in the last three years, we have introduced unprecedented measures in support of the economy and to the weakest members of our society in the shape of: trader moni, farmermoni, school feeding programme, job creation efforts, agricultural intervention programmes.
“No government in the past did what we are doing with such scarce resources. We have managed to keep things going in spite of the disproportionate spending on security. Those in the previous governments from 1999-2015 who presided over the near destruction of the country have now the impudence to attempt to criticise our efforts.
“In the circumstances, a responsible government must face realities and take tough decisions. Petroleum prices in Nigeria are to be adjusted. We sell now at N161 per litre. A comparison with our neighbours will illustrate the point; ( a), Chad, which is an oil-producing country charges N362 per litre (b). Niger, also an oil producing country sells 1 litre at N346. (C). In Ghana, another oil- producing country, petroleum pump price is N326 per litre.
“Further afield, Egypt charges N211 per litre. Saudi Arabia charges N168 per litre. It makes no sense for oil to be cheaper in Nigeria than in Saudi Arabia.
According to him, if Nigeria must attain the greatness desired by all, its strength must be consolidated, commitment must be increased and there must be a collective encouragement to do what is right.
He appealed to all to forge ahead in the collective spirit of togetherness beyond this 60th independence anniversary celebration, adding that “we are greater together,” than being split into smaller entities.
Buhari expressed optimism that when the one year designated to celebrate the nation’s diamond jubilee lapses in September next year, all will be proud of the decision to collectively forge ahead.
“Fellow Nigerians, to achieve the great country we desire, we need to solidify our strength, increase our commitment and encourage ourselves to do that which is right and proper even when no one is watching.
“Fellow Nigerians, let us collectively resolve to continue our journey beyond the sixty years on the clear understanding that as a nation we are greater together than being smaller units of nationalities. By the special grace of God we shall come through any transient challenges.
“It is my sincere hope that by the end of this anniversary on September 30th 2021, we will all be proud of taking this individual and collective self-assessment for the progress of our great nation,” he added.
The president who thanked Nigerians who entrusted him with the mandate of leadership, said he was committing himself afresh to the service of Nigeria.
He asked the citizens to reflect on how the country got to its current state as the basis for all to work together.
Paying tribute to Nigeria’s founding fathers, Buhari recalled how Nigeria’s Prime Minister at independence, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, received constitutional instruments which he said symbolised Nigeria’s independence on October 1, 1960.
The president, who said the event of October 1, 1960 was laced with optimism that the country would forge ahead in harmony, added that the population of Nigeria, which was 45 million at independence, has now risen beyond 200 million with multiple challenges.
According to him, yesterday’s anniversary presented Nigerians with the platform to ask themselves how much they had upheld the aspirations of the founding fathers, whose policies and programmes of their era positively impacted every sector of the country.
He said: “On October 1st 1960 when Prime Minister Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa received the constitutional instruments symbolising Nigeria’s independence, he expressed his wish that having acquired our rightful status as an independent sovereign nation, history would record that the building of our nation proceeded at the wisest pace.
“This optimism was anchored on the peaceful planning, full and open consultation and harmonious cooperation with the different groups, which culminated in Nigeria emerging as a country without bitterness and bloodshed.
“Our founding fathers understood the imperative of structuring a national identity using the power of the state and worked towards unification of Nigerians in a politically stable and viable entity.
“That philosophy guided the foundation that was laid for our young nation of 45 million people with an urban population of approximately 7 million occupying an area of 910,768 square kilometres. These demographics led to development challenges for which major efforts were made to overcome.
“Today, we grapple with multiple challenges with a population exceeding 200million occupying the same land mass but 52 per cent residing in urban areas.
“Sixty years of nationhood provides an opportunity to ask ourselves questions on the extent to which we have sustained the aspirations of our founding fathers. Where did we do the right things? Are we on course? If not where did we stray and how can we remedy and retrace our steps?”
Buhari who recalled how Nigeria went into the civil war and came out with the resolve to embark on reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation, noted that Nigeria had been under military rule in 29 of its 60 years of existence.
He said the summary of his message was the need to chart a new path together, highlighting the state of the economy and how important state organs have been experiencing a decline over the years.
He called for national healing and appealed to all to jettison ethnic sentiment and see themselves as Nigerians first.
He stated that Nigeria’s problem is predicated on the fault lines of such sentiment.
He praised Nigerians in Diaspora for their successes in science, technology, medicine, sports and arts, among others, as well as the resourcefulness of their kinsmen at home.
He said: “We came out of the civil war with a focus on reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation that enabled the country to put in place world-class development structures and a strengthened public service that well served the government. This positive trajectory continued with a return to democratic government which was truncated by another round of military rule.
“For a cumulative 29 of our 60 years existence as a nation, we have been under military rule. My summary of our journey so far as a nation is necessary to appropriately chart where we need to go and how to get there TOGETHER.
“We need to begin a sincere process of national healing and this anniversary presents a genuine opportunity to eliminate old and outworn perceptions that are always put to test in the lie they always are. The stereotype of thinking of ourselves as coming from one part of the country before seeing ourselves as Nigerians is a key starting point to project us on the road to our deserved nation’s evolution and integration.
“To start this healing process, we are already blessed with the most important asset any nation requires for such – our people– and this has manifested globally in the exploits of Nigerians in many fields.”
The president highlighted various gains inherent in the spirit of oneness,and listed ways citizens can promote unity.
“I am convinced that if we pursue our aspirations together, would be able to achieve whatever we desire. That informed our adopting the theme: ‘Together’ to mark this epochal event. “Together we can change our condition for the better and more importantly, together we can do much more for ourselves and for our country.
“I chose the path of self-reflection because this is what I do on a daily basis and I must confess that at most times, I always felt the need for a collective reflection as I know that the foundation for a solid future which this administration is laying can only be sustainable if there is a collective commitment by Nigerians.
“Nigeria is not a country for Mr. President, any ruling or opposition party but a country for all of us and we must play our part, irrespective of challenges we face, to make this country what we desire. To achieve this, we must focus our minds, together as a people, on ways of resolving the identified critical challenges that underlie our present state. These include:
“Evolving and sustaining a democratic culture that leaves power in the hands of the people; Supporting the enthronement of the rule of law, demanding accountability of elected representatives and contributing to good governance; Increasing our commitment to peaceful co-existence in a peaceful, secure and united Nigeria;
“Harnessing and optimising our tremendous human and natural resources to attain our goal of being in the top twenty economies of the world and in the process, ifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years; strengthening institutions to make them stronger in protecting National Interests; and imbibing tolerance in diversity,” he said.
The president, who described himself as a firm believer in transparent, free, fair and credible elections, said the attitude reflected in his own election.
He added that “the recent build-up and eventual outcome of the Edo State elections should encourage Nigerians that it is my commitment to bequeath to this country processes and procedures that would guarantee that the people’s votes count.”
The president also yesterday joined Gowon and Jonathan, who were the only Nigeria’s former leaders who attended the anniversary celebration, at the Eagle Square, Abuja, to mark the occasion.
The two ex-leaders joined Buhari to sign anniversary register during the ceremony.
The ceremony was also attended by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo; a former Chief of General Staff, Lt-General Oladipo Diya (rtd.) and former Vice President Namadi Sambo.
Other dignitaries at the occasion included Senate President Ahmad Lawan and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, cabinet members, top government functionaries and diplomats.
The ceremony featured intriguing displays, traditional dances and other entertaining performances by a combined group of both military and civilian artistes.
However, the high-point of the event was the fly past in the air displayed by the Nigeria Air Force helicopter pilots, which was very brief because of poor weather conditions.
The Nigeria Air Force explained that the fly past was abridged in contrast to plans because of low clouds at the Eagle Square.
Minimum Wage is N305,113 in S’Arabia, PDP Replies Buhari
Reacting to the president’s broadcast, the PDP described the economic assertions in the independence anniversary speech as a huge slap on the sensibilities of Nigerians.
The main opposition party, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, said Buhari’s attempt to justify the increase of fuel price in Nigeria by comparing it to the N168 per litre cost in Saudi Arabia is a morbid joke.
The party stated that the minimum wage in Saudi Arabia is N305,113 (3,000 Saudi Riyals), which is 10 times higher than the paltry N30,000 which is largely unimplemented in Nigeria.
It charged Buhari to address the divisive tendencies and poor economic policies of his administration.
According to the PDP, “is Mr. President not aware that, on the average, a person working in Saudi Arabia earns around 4,230SAR (N430, 267) to 16,700 SAR (N1,698,693) per month?
“Our party charges Mr. President to always check his books before making such offensive comparisons, including the price in Egypt where monthly average earning is around N222, 841 (9,200 EGP) against our N30,000.”
The party said in comparing the costs with other countries such as Ghana, Chad and Niger where purchasing powers of citizens are much higher, “did Mr. President reflect on the cost of house rent, education, healthcare and average dependence on fuel for daily survival by ordinary citizens as obtainable in Nigeria?
“If the flawed assertions as evident in Mr. President’s speech are a direct reflection of how policies are formulated in his administration, then one needs not wonder why our economy is in doldrums.”
The PDP said if the Buhari administration had continued the programmes by previous administrations to revive the refineries and provide infrastructural backbone for the productive sector, fuel price will not be more than N100 per litre in Nigeria.
“Our party also holds as ludicrous that President Buhari is hyping his ‘better together’ theme when the administration he heads, runs on nepotism, disregard for rule of law, human right abuses, corruption, political intolerance, suppression of free speech and aggression towards dissenting voices,” it added.
The party also urged Buhari to toe the line of the Edo State governorship election in the October 10 Ondo State governorship election so as to consolidate the legacy of free and fair election under his watch.
Buhari’s Speech Uninspiring, Say Southern, Middle Belt Leaders
On its part, the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBF) described Buhari’s broadcast as “the tale full of sound and fury signifying nothing.”
The organisation said Buhari would have made sense if he had used the opportunity to outline the process of reconstituting Nigeria to return it to the path of productivity, autonomy for the federating units and sustainable peace and development.
The SMBF, in a statement by Yinka Odumakin (South-west), Chief Guy Ikokwu (South-east), Senator Bassey Henshaw (South-south) and Dr. Isuwa Dogo (Middle Belt), said: “The Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum has examined the broadcast of President Buhari to mark the occasion of the 60 years of independence of Nigeria and disappointingly concludes that it was like the tale full of sound and fury signifying nothing.
“In the midst of all the country is going through that requires the leadership to summon the constituent units to the table of brotherhood to seek fundamental ways out, all we were treated to were the usual bland sermons and empty rhetoric.
“The president said he was engaging in self-reflection but he never remembered how our founding fathers negotiated a federal constitution which put us on the path of development in the early years of independence until military intervention set us on the ruinous unitary lane which has fostered underdevelopment to the point that we are now the global secretariat of poverty at 60.
“It is shameful that on this type of occasion, our president had to be lecturing us on why we had to pay more for fuel because countries like Ghana, Egypt and Niger are paying more.
“The president would have been more inspiring if he had used the opportunity to lay out the process of reconstituting Nigeria to return it to the path of productivity, autonomy for the federating units and sustainable peace and development. To leave Nigeria under its failing structure and be talking of launching ethical whatever is a meaningless distraction.”