By Adeyinka Aderibigbe

The Minister of Information and Culure, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has called on Labour to shelve its proposed strike over the removal of fuel subsidy and the increase in electricity tariff.

He said the action, which is expected to begin across the country today, would further compound the hardship of Nigerians.

He said government took those hard decisions because it could no longer fund subsidies as its incomes have been adversely affected by the ravaging COVID-19.

He spoke at the weekend in Lagos with reporters the reasons behind the decisions.

According to him, contrary to the accusations that the Muhammadu Buhari administration has been insensitive to the plights of the people, it took a long time to convince Mr President to increase electricity tariff and the pump price of petrol. He said government resolved that the regime of subsidy should go because it has not been beneficial to the masses.

Mohammed said the government is determined to cushion the effects of the harsh decisions on the people through some interventions, including the promotion of gas exploitation for domestic and vehicle use, the introduction of survival funds to the masses and the mass metering targeting about five million Nigerians.

He said: “It is painful to us as leaders that ordinary Nigerians are not benefiting from the subsidy regime which has been in place for decades. The Federal Government spent about N10.4 trillion on fuel subsidy between 2006 and 2019, most of which went to people who either collected the subsidy and pocketed the money or imported the product only to divert the product to neighbouring countres where they are sold for higher fees.

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“The government can no longer afford the cost of the subsidy, especially under the prevailing economic condition where revenue and foreign earnings by the government have fallen by almost 60 per cent due to the lockdown occasioned by COVID-19”.

Mohammed said the import of deregulation is that PMS prices will continue to change with changes in global prices of oil, which means that as oil prices recover, Nigeria may continue to witness increases in PMS prices.

The minister, however, said the pain may not last forever as modular refineries are beginning to come on stream. According to him, the Waltersmith Modular Refinery would be commissioned in Ibigwe, Imo State, next month.

It would refine 5,000 barrels of crude per day to increase rapidly to 50,000 barrels of crude subsequently. This, he said, is in addition to the 650,000 barrels per day from Dangote Refinery, which would soon begin operation.

The minister said even with the increment in the price of petrol to N162, the cost of the product is still cheaper in Nigeria than in neighbouring countries where it sold for about N340 – N366.

On electricity tariff adjustment, Mohammed said: “The aim is to support the revitalisation of the industry on which the government has spent almost N1.7 trillion to buy bulk electricity from Transmission Commission of Nigeria (TCN), when the Distribution Companies (DisCos) who were supposed to distributed the generated electricity were not solvent enough to pay for the kilowatts of electricity collected from Generating Corporations (GenCos), to consumers.”

Mohammed who said electricity was much easier to be controlled, urged Nigerians to shun wasteful habits, adding that if consumption is controlled, it would be easy to manage expenses on electricity.

He, however, said besides the mass metering which would obliterate the menace of estimated billings by all DisCos, government plans the provision of solar power electricity to another five million Nigerians who are not captured on the national grid on its renewable energy initiative.

The project which, he said, would commence in October would provide another 25,000 direct jobs while about 25 million secondary jobs would be provided to Nigerians.

Mohammed said the intervention of the German firm —Siemens Corporation —which would come on stream from next year, would also contribute to put an end to darkness in the country, as the corporation would be providing 7000 MW of electricity in the first phase next year, and another 11,000 MW would be added by the end of 2023, while the third and final phase which would see to the generation of 25,000MW of electricity would be added much later.

Mohammed urged Nigerians to bear with the government in the task of putting an end to paying subsidies for services which are largely private sector driven, without commensurate support to the poor and average Nigerians.

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