While ratifying the report of its committee on Finance, which probed allegations of unremitted $49.8 billion oil revenue made by former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mallam Lamido Sanusi, the Senate last week concluded that no money was missing from government's coffers. In adopting the Senator Ahmed Makarfi-led committee report, the senators also approved that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) should refund to the Federation Account the sum of $218,069,354.32, being the balance of the gross lifting under the third party financing. However, in laying to rest the controversy about the alleged unremitted billions of dollars by the NNPC, the Senate rejected the recommendation for the removal of the subsidy on petroleum products. What rankles is not even the decision, but the reason and arguments advanced in its defence.
Senate President, David Mark seemed convinced that the opposite decision would be the right thing to do, but chose instead not to take that route. In his own words: "If we sit here now and say remove fuel subsidy, I think that those who are benefiting from subsidy are very powerful and tomorrow they would influence media reports and create the impression that the Senate is anti-people". The logic of Mark's submission is quite simple: the Senate should ignore the benefits of removing thesubsidy on petroleum products and only pay attention to the cartel it describes as 'very powerful'.
The further implication of this pronouncement is that the 'power' of this dreaded clan of subsidy beneficiaries supersedes that of the constitution, the will of Nigerian voters and the clear, facts-based submission of the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC). The Committee had urged the Senate to cancel the subsidy because it is "a fraud against the country". Yet the Senate has resolved that its imagined image in the public domain, as well as its desire not to annoy those ripping off the country, should be the overriding considerations in its decisions.
We agree with FAAC that there is no justification for the retention of the subsidy regime that has proved to be nothing but a byproduct for waste and monumental corruption. The objection here, as we have argued several times in the past, is not to the existence of subsidy, but to the fact that it is not getting to those for whom it is meant. There is still fuel scarcity in the places where the subsidy was expected to impact positively on and the price of thedifferent categories of petroleum products has not responded to the alleged subsidy.
It is unacceptable that what should worry the Senate President and his colleagues is the anger of some faceless persons and not the welfare of Nigerians and the stability of the national economy. The Senate should be worried about earning a reputation for decisions that subvert and undermine the fair and judicious distribution of our patrimony. More than anything an individual or a group might say about the National Assembly, our lawmakers should seek to be vindicated by the verdict of history.
However, when the leadership of such an august body begins its engagement on a serious matter that has grown into an open sore for the nation by shirking its responsibility on the pretext that it does not want to offend some fat cats, then all seems lost.
Fortunately, it is not too late for the Senate to revisit the matter before words begin to spread around that the 'powerful' persons allegedly benefiting from the subsidy are actually behind the pre-emptive strike of the Senate. Such allegation does more damage to the image of our distinguished senators than the possible negative perception that may arise from supporting the continuation of the corrupt regime of fuel subsidy.