WHY ATIKU’S PROPOSAL TO SELL REFINERIES IS CALLOUS, ANTI-PEOPLE
By Austin Braimoh And Cassidy Madueke
We shouldn’t be responding to the hysteria masqueraded as a response by the Atiku All Support Group (AASG) to our published stand on the callous, anti-people proposal by People’s Democratic Party’s Presidential aspirant, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, to sell off the country’s oil and gas assets in the name of privatisation. However, we are determined to educate these fellows on basic social economics and why the Nigerian people should always be at the centre of all economic policies and considerations.
We excuse their use of uncivil language to advance their spurious positions, it is understandable; we know how desperate they are to hoodwink Nigerians, but let us state here that we won’t go into the gutters with them.
At issue is the privatisation of Nigeria’s refineries as proposed by Alhaji Atiku, former Vice President in the administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, (1999-2007). We notice that the AASG sought to rouse base sentiments by alleging that NNPC’s operations are shrouded in secrecy to justify the predicates of their principal. While not holding brief for that corporation, it yet behoves us to amplify the giant strides recorded by the NNPC in matters of public accountability under the President Muhammadu Buhari administration. Since 2016, the NNPC has made it a matter of policy to circulate its financial and operating report every month plus its year-end report of same qualification at the end of each year. We wonder why Alhaji Atiku, and of course, his principal between 1999 and 2007, Chief Obasanjo, ignored this all important NNPC’s accountability connect with the Nigerian people. It would seem as if Alhaji Atiku is just now experiencing an epiphany in that regard, 11 years after.
It is convenient for politicians of the knowledge redundancy types to mouth, albeit glibly, the condemnation of subsidy in the pricing of petroleum products, especially, the widely-used Premium Motor Spirit (PMS). We assert here that government is premised on delivering services for the good of the mass of the people, a flip back to history shows that for more than 47 years, starting in 1973, PMS price had consistently been increased with the rationale of either reducing or removing subsidies on the product. This had led to a state of generic and generational inflation on the Nigerian economic template, in other words, every price increase historically lingers into the economy of the future. Of particular interest was the movement of PMS price during the Obasanjo/Atiku presidency, when, between June 1, 2000 and May 27, 2007, price moved from N20 a litre to N75 a litre a more than 250 percent price increase. Yet, nothing was done to the efficiency of the refining processes in those years except a desperation to sell them off to cronies and fronts just as the nation’s educational system were brought to its knees so the duo of Obasanjo and Atiku could make gains of it by establishing their respective universities.
If President Buhari had increased the price of PMS in May 2016, it was apparently to finally place a ceiling on possible increase on PMS price while insisting, at the same time, on the operational resurrection of the then moribund refineries. We can report that today, there had been no further PMS price increase since the only increase to N145 per litre. And subsidy payment associated with sustaining the social price of the product has shifted away from the awful rackets of few friends of the government diverting, inflating and pocketing subsidy claims to NNPC domiciled operational management of subsidy. Again, the NNPC’s monthly report is available to all and sundry to track subsidy management, not subsidy payment, as the AASG ignorantly claimed.
On the current performance threshold of the refineries, we gracefully invite the AASG to the 30th edition of the NNPC monthly report which gave the total crude oil processed by the local refineries for the month of January 2018, at 204,877 metric tonnes. Recall that as at 2015, the refineries were officially comatose at zero production. For us, this is what government should be about; transparently managed resources of state for the good of the larger majority of the people while conserving the public assets for the use of future generation.
We insist, once again, that whoever wants to own a refinery should go and build his or her own. The nation is experiencing the benefits of the GSM revolution not because NITEL was parceled out for sale but because investors secured operating licenses and independently funded the realization of their respective telecommunication companies. And by the way, among the telecommunication companies, what is the operating status of NITEL, the public telecommunication company sold off when Alhaji Atiku was the Chairman of the Privatisation Council Of Nigeria, the council that parceled out public enterprises for sale. Associated to that query is the worrisome reality to the effect that most of the companies privatised under the supervision of Alhaji Atiku have little to show in terms of operational efficiency and direct impact on the economy.
We should correct the spurious generalization of the intended sale of the Saudi Arabia oil company, Aramco, as so gleefully flaunted by AASG, obviously, in consequence of limited education. Saudi Arabia is selling just five percent of its holding in Aramco and this is limited to its upstream activities not the refineries. In addition, the five percent holding is to be sold to the public not operators. It is of course, a growing polemics to fraudulently assert unrelated examples to make a point. AASG is further enlightened that at no time did Brazil Petrobas or Malaysia Petronas sell any of their refineries to private operators.
Of course, we acknowledge the fact that Alhaji Atiku has an unwieldy track record in cornering national assets and expropriating them to his personal financial advantage. We point to the scandalous diversion of Nigeria’s wealth through Intel, the Alhaji Atiku controlled company that had to be forced to pay back $48million dollar by the management of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) in what has been described as an exploitative partnership between Intel and the NPA, apparently so skewed because Alhaji Atiku used his political influence when the contract was consummated.
We like to remind the AASG that privatization is not a single fit-all solution to an inefficiently run entity, this is why the International Monetary Funds and its conditionalities had become particularly odious to Nigeria and some other developing economies. But of course, we acknowledge Alhaji Atiku’s proclivity for IMF policies and conditionalities, when applied, it opens the economy to all manners of vulnerabilities that allow the very rich to cherry-pick at will, national assets that would be disposed.
This is in contrast to what President Buhari stands for. The preservation of our collective patrimony for the economic good of all, and even, the Bretton Wood Institution are applauding him for this in the short span of time he has occupied the office of the President. It is the World Bank that rated the Nigerian economy, for the first time since 1999, as one of the world’s four best improving economies. It is also the World Bank that returned the great verdict of Nigeria moving up 24 places on the Ease of Doing Business Global ranking. Besides, two weeks ago, the IMF sent a team of its Directors to Nigeria for on-ground review of economic policies, the team excitedly announced that the government economic policies, as encapsulated in the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, were impressive and realisable. These are commendable international applauses for the home-grown, ingeniously coupled economic policies.
Obviously, what President Buhari has done is to commit himself to a serious reflection on the Nigerian economic challenges, and evolved, in partnership with his cabinet, Nigeria’s own solution to Nigeria’s economic challenges. Not a lazy embrace of policies designed without considerations for the socio-political realities of Nigerians.
Right before us, we are witnessing a truly all-Nigerian stakeholder economy growing out of the rots engendered by the selfishness and recklessness of the past. Despite the pains of changing the national economic template from a rent-seeking one to a production-based template, the country is recording more numbers of millionaires in the agriculture, manufacturing and general entrepreneurship segments of the economy. This is unlike the past which Alhaji Atiku belonged, where a few with access to power abuse their offices to corner resources of state to step out as emergency billionaires right before a bewildered, frustrated populace, who know that these nouveau riche had no roots and linkages to the economy.
Braimoh and Madueke are Chairman and Secretary respectively of Buhari Media Organisation.