By Oluwakemi Ishola
The Presidency has continued to defend the recent hike in petrol prices, as spokesman Garba Shehu on Friday questioned how many Nigerians benefit from low fuel charges.
The Buhari administration earlier this year put in motion plans to cut out fuel subsidy and deregulate the petroleum downstream sector.
Since then, prices of petrol have fallen, in line with a dip in international demand attributed to the coronavirus pandemic.
However, in September, the price of petrol went up, sparking outrage among many Nigerians.
Many have blamed the government for allowing the prices to rise even as many Nigerians are still dealing with the effects of the pandemic.
On Friday, during an interview on Channels Television’s Politics Today, Mr Shehu argued that it is unfair for poor Nigerians to continue to subsidise the lifestyle of urban dwellers.
“We belong to a global market system,” Mr Shehu said. “We are buying, mostly, refined products from the international markets.
“Is it fair that the taxpayer’s money . . . how many Nigerians have cars anyway? How many of them run generators in their homes that they need this fuel for? Is it fair that the farmer and the herder and all of these low-level people in our society, that the taxpayer money is taken from them and is subsidising the lifestyle of our city, urban dwellers?
“So the President is just trying to be as practical as possible on this matter.”
Deregulation is the answer
Mr Shehu also defended President Muhammadu Buhari’s comments on Independence day, where he compared the price of fuel in Nigeria with that obtained in Saudi Arabia.
He said: “So Saudi Arabia is important in this discussion because what is the technical cost of producing a barrel of oil in Saudi Arabia? It’s not more than a quarter of what we spend here. And yet you see that they charge more than Nigeria. How much comes to Nigeria? One, you look at their technical cost. So therefore Nigerians should be realistic.”
He added that it was unwise for the government to continue to determine prices and be an active player in the petroleum industry.
Deregulation, Mr Shehu argued, will see an end to long queues during festive periods.
“Government is not the best manager of businesses; we should surrender them to the market,” he said.
“We have done this with the telecoms; the telecoms are serving the whole nation excellently well, and when we do this with petrol, we will no longer have to cope with queues, spending two nights ahead of Christmas travel.
“All nations of the world put this thing to the market. We should no longer pretend”.