The oil subsidy conundrum

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In the past few years, oil subsidy has become one of the most contentious issues in Nigeria. Indeed, there have been divergent opinions on the issue of oil subsidy removal. While some Nigerians believe that it has become imperative for the federal government to remove fuel subsidy as a deliberate policy aimed at conserving and maximizing the nation’s oil wealth, others oppose it. Those opposed to oil subsidy removal say the action would further push up inflation.  Although, most Nigerians would not support the waste inherent in the subsidy regime, they contend that government has not demonstrated enough commitment toward addressing the corruption inherent in it by getting the refineries to work.

But the proponents of fuel subsidy removal argue that money, which would have been frittered away on subsidy, would be diversified to improve the lot of a majority of the less-privileged Nigerians through the provision of infrastructure that would provide employment for the teeming jobless citizenry as well as improve education, health, power, water resources and agriculture. Following the raging controversy on the issue, the Federal Government appears to be in a dilemma over the removal oil subsidy and the privatization of the refineries.

However, as the Federal Government dilly-dallies over the contentious issues, Chief Philip Chukwuedo Asiodu, technocrat, elder statesman and one of the five famous ‘Super’ Permanent Secretaries in the military administration of General Yakubu Gowon (1966-1975) believes that oil subsidy should be removed and the refineries privatised.  When the editorial team of TheEconomy trailed him to his residence on Victoria Island, Lagos, for an exclusive interview, he was emphatic that “it is a national disgrace to be talking about oil subsidy.” He recalls in 1993 when as Secretary for Petroleum and Mineral Resources he had addressed the issue. According to him, he had gone into negotiation with the trade unions that used to deride him as the ‘Apostle of Appropriate Pricing’ and was able to convince them to accept the removal of oil subsidy. He believes that it is the right way to go as it would remove the corruption associated with oil subsidy and the vandalization of pipelines. He equally endorses the privatisation of the refineries, but cautions that it should not be done in the shoddy manner the privatisation of the power sector was handled.

With an elephant memory that belies his age, the Oxford-trained technocrat recounts the unceremonious way he and his colleagues were booted out of the civil service by the military regime of Murtala Mohammed through the mass purge of 1975. He explains that Nigeria’s path to indiscipline and disregard for planning was actually encouraged by the Murtala/Obasanjo regime when it carried out the purge and abandoned the 1975 – 1980 national development plan.

A relentless champion of reforms, Chief Asiodu believes that the country needs a reformed, non-partisan and truly independent civil service as well as a focused leadership to journey into the league of developed economies. At 80, the doyen of Nigerian Civil Service is still quite vibrant, articulate and forthright. He dwells on virtually all the issues raised by the editorial team of TheEconomy in this no-holds-barred interview which lasted for three hours. It’s quite insightful. Enjoy it.

 

Chris Ajearo

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