PROPOSED FUEL PRICE HIKE AND THE FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION
PROPOSED FUEL PRICE HIKE AND THE FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION
Statement issued at a Joint Press Conference held by United Action for Democracy (UAD) and Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) in Lagos on Monday, January 14, 2008
We have followed with keen interest the ongoing debate on fuel prices. In particular, we’ve studied closely, as reported in the media, the outcome of the Labour parley with the government on the issue. There is one major fact that can be underlined from the above-cited meeting, which is that the Yar’Adua impostor regime is warming up to foist another hike in fuel prices.
According to Mr. Odien Ajumogobia, the Minister of State for Petroleum, the aforesaid meeting was “a preliminary meeting to determine the timing and composition of a larger broad-based stakeholders’ meeting” (The Punch, January 9, 2008). The above assurance notwithstanding, other facts, which emerged from the meeting and which clearly reflects government’s position on the issue were equally reported in the same The Punch. For instance, the report stated that the meeting “was informed by government’s eagerness to reduce, if not completely withdraw its subsidy of the pump price of petroleum productsâ€¦..President Umaru Yar’Adua had promised in June 2007 that his government would not increase the pump price for at least one year. But with the cost of crude oil in the international market increasing in the last months and hitting $100 per barrel at the close of last week, government officials had said that maintaining the current subsidy was unsustainable”.
While restating the agreement which Yar’Adua reached with Labour not to hike fuel prices for one year, Ajumogobia also disclosed that there was no allocation made in the 2008 Budget for shortfall between what fuel products are imported and their domestic prices. Therefore, against the above background, the so-called “larger broad-based stakeholders meetings” fixed for March 2008 will be no more than avenue through which government hopes to foist another fuel price hike on the already economically overwhelmed Nigerians.
OUR RESPONSE â€“ No to Fuel Hike Now! No to Fuel Hike in June!!
1 We fully endorse labour disposition and interpretation of the meeting as particularly stated by the NLC President, Comrade Abdul-Wahed Omar as reported in The Vanguard of January 9, 2008 thus: “We just met on ways to find out how to maintain the present price of fuel up to June and beyond. We just met and agreed to hold a broader meeting later so the issue could be tackled once for all”.
2 We urge Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) leaders at all levels to immediately commence mass mobilisation of their ranks to resist any effort to once again hike fuel prices. Government should be emphatically told that there is no justifiable reason for further hike of fuel prices.
3 Hinging the argument for a new hike in fuel prices on the premise that crude oil prices have gone up internationally does not hold water especially for an oil producing country like Nigeria. This is because while imported fuel products may cost more money, the other side of the picture is also that the actual costs of production have not risen and the country as a whole reaps more revenue from crude oil sales. So, why is it that government has never been interested in using the extra revenues being made whenever prices of crude oil go up internationally to improve the economy and better the lots of Nigerians in general?
4 Most importantly too, government should be told that it is its own utter failure in governance that has rendered local refineries non-functional and thus put Nigeria in an embarrassing situation where it depends virtually for its fuel products on importation. The Yar’Adua regime should be reminded that hundreds of billions of naira had, in our recent past, been taken from public funds purportedly to make these refineries work. The government should therefore be made to answer certain questions: Who are the individuals and organisations that were hired and paid to effect the repair of the refineries yet the refineries are in a total state of paralysis? What effort is being made to get these contractors refund our money or make the refineries work? It should be the looters and the corrupt elite, not the masses, should be forced to pay the bill for imports of refined fuel. If they have slashed their loot in other countries, then, Nigerians should publicly demand it is immediately returned to the country
5 Equally, government should be pointedly informed that all previous hikes in fuel prices had only worsened the economic situation, in particular, the living standards of most Nigerians. Once another fuel hike is imposed, the cost of production of goods and services will automatically go up especially given the fact that constant electricity supply is not available. Ipso facto, prices of transportation, food, and services will equally go up as people try to offset the new increment. Overall, this will only lead to more business closures, and increase in waves of crimes among jobless and hapless Nigerian youth.
6 For all the aforesaid reasons, Yar’Adua must be unambiguously told that we will not accept another fuel hike and we would rally the labour movement and the entire working people to resist it.
7 Therefore, beyond fighting fuel hike, we urge labour leaders to pointedly lead the fight against the current regime of privatisation and liberalization under which tens of millions of our youth have no jobs while a few capitalist moguls can boast of personal wealth running into tens of billions of dollars.
FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION
According to a World Bank estimate, over $400 billion have been looted and carted away by top placed Nigerian officials and government contractors in the past few decades. It was against this background that the so-called international community few years back prevailed on the Nigerian government to set up an official anti-graft body called the EFCC. Between the year 2003 when it was set up and now, the EFCC under Nuhu Ribadu had been able to expose and effect the prosecution of act of corruption by some highly placed Nigerians hitherto regarded as “untouchables”. Against this background, we condemn the tactical removal of Nuhu Ribadu as EFCC chairman, under the guise of sending him on a course.
However, in the course of the 2007 General elections, the EFCC worked more like an institution set up to hound anyone not in the personal good book of ex-President Obasanjo. For instance, shortly before the election, the EFCC chairman informed the whole world that about 31 out of 36 state governors had been investigated and found wanting. But up till date, only a few ex-governors have been charged to court. Many political commentators have equally pointed out the fact that the EFCC searchlight against corruption appears only to be limited to state government even though the federal government and its parastatals had always gotten the larger share of revenue allocations. Many wonder whether this implies that there was no corruption among top politicians at federal level. A proposition which of course is flatly contradicted by the fact that President Obasanjo’s eight years in power left little developmental legacies that correlate with the huge sums appropriated throughout his tenure.
We strongly hold that the fight against corruption must not be tied down to personal and arbitrary appointment of one good fellow or another. This is because we cannot reasonably expect government formed by corrupt politicians and who usually come to power through blatant electoral riggings and manipulations to sincerely sustain a genuine war against corruption. This is a central lesson which labour and youth activists must draw from Ribadu’s removal.
We are equally conscious that only a genuine working people’s government will have the real interest and capacity to wage a consistent anti-corruption crusade. One of the main reasons responsible for the escalation of corruption in governance in the past almost nine years has been the wholesale adoption of the philosophy of privatisation and liberalisation. Under this neo-liberal agenda, government has totally abandoned conscious policy of spending public resources to develop key sectors like education, health care, housing and necessary social infrastructures. At the same time, government has adopted the central policy of selling public enterprises and resources to individuals and capitalist corporations under the guise of economic reform. The combination of these two circumstances have created a situation where those in government now have so much money at their disposal which they are not statutorily compelled to use to develop the economy and or better the living conditions of Nigerians. Hence, the alarming rise in treasury looting by those in authority only to use this looted proceed to sell public properties to themselves and their allies at give away prices.
THE WAY FORWARD
Finally, we call on the NLC, TUC, and JAF to spearhead the immediate creation of an independent working class political party, which will be prepared to fight for the attainment of the above outlined goals. The absence of such a party was the primary reason while the 2007 general election was an exclusive fight between different sections of capitalist rogues. Even if the elections have been free and fair, it will only have brought to power capitalist anti-poor politicians that would strive to hike fuel prices from time to time while they themselves are looting the state resources to shield themselves and their families from the harsh effect of their pro-rich policies.
The Nigerian capitalist ruling class and the Yar’Adua regime in particular, have abundantly made it clear that they would rather attack the interest of the masses, rather than reduce the profit and opulence living standard of the elites. Within this context, a “strategic partnership” with the ruling capitalist government being championed by the NLC and TUC with the government is like keeping chickens in the custody of hyenas. Now is the time for our leaders in the labour movement to stop this futile and counterproductive approach and instead consciously begin the process of creating a formidable labour party that is prepared to offer coherent alternative economic and political options come 2011. If not, going by the sordid experience of the so-called local government elections which recently took place in many states across the country, the current set of looters and political usurpers would always find means to perpetrate themselves in power.