By Yemi Oyeyemi, Abuja.
When it was first made public that the Senate was contemplating a N5 increase on petroleum products, there was an outpouring of rage on the 109 Senators. Some offered lame excuses, Senate President Bukola Saraki offered an unacceptable explanation from Ilorin, Kwara State.
Laboured fumed and began the activation of its cells around the country. Expletives, not short in supply for federal lawmakers Nigerians see as overpampered, flew from all directions.
Some Senators joined in pounding the Senator Kabir Gaya-led Committee on Works for the insensitive suggestion.
This group of angry Senators made good their plan Thursday.
Senator Kabiru Gaya (APC Kano South), who sponsored the National Road Funds Bill hurriedly moved for its withdrawal to save it from total rejection.
Trouble for the bill had earlier started last week Friday when it was widely reported in national dailies, that its proposal on N5 charges on every litre of petroleum products, was targeted at increasing the fuel price from N145 per litre to N150.
Gaya in his submission while presenting the report of the Senate Committee on Works on the proposed charges, argued that the planed N5 levy on every litre of petroleum products would not in any way lead to increase in the price of fuel as the charges will be deducted from source within the existing petroleum price template approved by the Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency, PPPRA and being used by importers/marketers.
He said: “There was media report last week that we are increasing fuel by N5. That is not true. We intend to remove the N5 from the current N145 per litre. If this bill is passed, the government will realise about N94 billion per annum into the National Road Funds for road maintenance across the country”.
But many of the Senators were not convinced with Gaya’s submission by insisting that the proposal would be injurious to many Nigerians economically and vehemently kicked against the bill being passed for third reading by the Senate.
First to kick against it was another Kabiru, whose voice has been mooted lately since becoming the chairman, Senate Committee on Petroleum (Downstream).
Senator Kabiru Marafa (APC Zamfara Central) declared that the proposal will further impoverish Nigerians.
According to him, sourcing revenues for road maintenance in the country should be limited to road sector itself and not extended to other areas as the proposed N5 charges on petroleum products would regardless of the explanations given by Senator Gaya , lead to increase in the price of fuel and invariably worsen the hardship being faced by Nigerians.
He said: “My comments are on the method of funding. The claims that the N5 charge has already been captured are not correct. Taking another N5 from refined products will add to the suffering of the people.
“This will bring untold hardship to the people of Nigeria. We have already addressed something like this in the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB). I oppose this recommendation very vehemently”.
A submission also supported by the Senate Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio (PDP Akwa Ibom North West), who said he had great reservations on the proposals and urged the Senate to be very cautious in handling the bill.
“I want to align myself with the submissions of other speakers. I have reservations about the bill. I do not want the chamber to just pass a law and it will not be effective. I had an experience with the Police Funds when I was a governor. Throughout my time as governor, I did not get any fund”, he said.
Consequently in line with the request of the sponsor of the bill, Senator Kabiru Gaya for its withdrawal, the presiding officer, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, put the question to a voice vote whether it should be stood down, almost all the lawmakers yelled ‘Aye’ (Yes), including members of committee on Works who signed the initial report that recommended that the price of fuel be increased by N5.
However before the Senate stood down consideration of the bill, the Deputy Senate Leader, Bala Ibn Na’Allah, stressed that as explained by Gaya, Senate never planned for price increase on fuel as widely reported last week.
His words: “We need to suspend our procedure and explain to Nigerians. If we do not do this, there will be trouble. Nigerians will think that we want to increase fuel price.
“Senate has no intention of increasing the price of fuel. There is no ambiguity about it. What we are trying to do is to find other sources of funding road infrastructure. We do not want to impose hardship on the people of Nigeria. We want to ensure that those who voted for us have comforts in their lives”.
Meanwhile, the upper legislative chamber has raised the alarm over the continuous operation of fuel subsidy regime. It said contrary to claims by the Federal Government, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC is still operating subsidy regime in the country.
Senator Marafa, who made the claims on the floor of the Senate Thursday, said contrary to claims made by the Federal Government that the fuel subsidy regime had been abolished; NNPC was still making secret payments.
He claimed that the situation has crippled the downstream sector of the petroleum industry, where NNPC has become the sole importer of products.
The lawmaker revealed that his committee was currently investigating the illegal payment of subsidy by management of NNPC.
He said: “Even the price of N145 is not realistic. The NNPC is still operating the subsidy regime. NNPC is now the only body importing petroleum products into the country. You cannot import petroleum products into the country right now with the current trend. We are investigating this subsidy payment by the NNPC”.