The Buhari Presidency has shown again that it feels the pulse of the nation. This time it has listened to Nigerians’ outcry against the government’s intention to finally remove fuel subsidy which would have meant a much higher pump price of petrol. On Monday it postponed indefinitely that initial plan to end subsidy in July.
The Minister of Finance, Budget and Economic Planning, Hajiya Zainab Ahmed, announced the government’s new decision during a meeting at the National Assembly. She said, “The meeting was convened at the instance of the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan. Provision was made in the 2022 budget for subsidy payment from January till June. That suggested that from July there would be no subsidy.
“The provision was made sequel to the passage of the Petroleum Industry Act which indicated that all petroleum products would be deregulated. Sequel to the passage of the PIA, we went back to amend the fiscal framework to incorporate the subsidy removal. However, after the budget was passed, we had consultations with a number of stakeholders and it became clear that the timing was problematic. We discovered that practically, there was still heightened inflation and that the removal of subsidy would further worsen the situation and impose more difficulties on the citizenry.’
Zainab explained that “Mr. President (Muhammadu Buhari) does not want to do that. What we are now doing is to continue with the ongoing discussions and consultations in terms of putting in place a number of measures. One of these includes the roll out of the refining capacities of the existing refineries and the new ones which would reduce the amount of products that would be imported into the country. We, therefore, need to return to the National Assembly to now amend the budget and make additional provision for subsidy from July 22 to whatever period that we agree is suitable for the commencement of the total removal.”
We commend the government’s courage of conviction in admitting that plan to remove subsidy altogether was misinformed because it failed to consult widely. And failure led to misreading the mood of the nation which was totally against subsidy removal. That was reflected in labour’s threat to call nationwide protests by workers.
However, following the government’s change of position, the Nigeria Labour Congress Tuesday suspended the protests planned for today and February 2. Its national president Ayuba Wabba told journalists Tuesday that union members would be “demobilized” because the planned subsidy removal had been suspended. “Following the reversal by government, the national executive council of Nigeria Labour Congress met this morning (Tuesday) virtually to consider the new position of the government,” he said. “The NEC, after vigorous debates, took a decision to suspend the planned nationwide protest.”
By admitting its mistake, the government has managed to avoid what would have been an economically damaging nationwide strike. We also hope it has learnt a lesson from not consulting widely before taking a decision on a very emotive matter that subsidy has become.