Friday, December 23, 2011
From Ayodele Samuel, Lagos Labour and civil society yesterday used the Town Hall meeting organised by the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) in Lagos to reiterate their stiff resistance to the planned removal of subsidy on petroleum products by the Federal Government. Their position was sequel to a debate which with delegates from the Federal Government led by the Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, including the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, the Group Managing Director of NNPC, Austen Oniwon and the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke, SAN, as well as the Central Bank of Nigeria Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. The bigwigs in government canvassed reasons why subsidy should be removed with opposition to it coming from labour leaders, members of the civil society and prominent human rights lawyers, including Femi Falana, Olisa Agbakoba and others. The Vice-president of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Issa Aremu said while the labour body was entirely not opposed to the planned deregulation, it has strong fears that the aftermath of the removal of subsidy would be immediate catastrophy for the nation. “Nigerians will resist any attempt to pay higher prices for imported petroleum products,” Aremu vowed, adding that the government should move from subsidising import to subsidising local production of petroleum. Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana urged the Federal Government to listen to “alternative suggestions” and allow for more time to engage Nigerians before going ahead with the plan to remove fuel subsidy. He said that the fuel cabal had a field day because the government had refused to implement all the necessary laws that would have prevented them from ripping off Nigeria. “Don’t impose further punishment on Nigerians. They cannot afford to pay for the corruption and inefficiency of government,” he said. “20 licenses were given to build new refineries by former President Obasanjo but nobody made use of the advantage since the licenses were given to same people importing the petroleum products. Obasanjo increased fuel prices six times in eight years yet nothing changed; government should listen to alternative suggestions,” he said. To lawyer and activist, Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), though there is nothing “conceptually wrong” with the promise of competition and free market that fuel subsidy removal will bring, government has to sacrifice more before going ahead with the policy. “We are not giving subsidy removal a bad name; if you want to put a burden on us, show us the one you (government) are carrying,” Agbakoba said. In defence of zero subsidy however, Okonjo-Iweala, in her presentation, said fuel subsidy removal was long overdue to allow for better regulation of the oil sector and for transparency. According to the minister, government could no longer sustain the subsidy which she said gulped about N1.3 trillion in 2011 alone amounting to over 30 percent of total government expenditure. Letting markets determine the pump price of petrol in Nigeria would push it up to N120 ($0.74) per litre, she said, from N65, but it would save over N1 trillion ($6.13 billion) in subsidies in 2012. “The subsidy is not benefiting Nigerians, but few people that have found themselves in the oil industry.” What the federal government is trying to do is to use the money (subsidy) for the benefit of the poor citizens in the society. “What we should argue about is the issue of lack of trust between Nigerians and the government,” she said. Okonjo-Iweala admitted that there were some “untoward things” going on in the management of the oil sector, but said continuing with subsidy payment would be unwise. However, the Central Bank Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, appeared non- definite on the matter. His words: “those in government are to promote a policy that is meant for all Nigerians, We (Government official) don’t have power. Infrastructure, Agricultural sector is poor, and there is no job, if the price of petroleum increases today, it will be 100 percent increase of consumable goods, we want to remove one trillion naira to whom? But in another breath, Sanusi drew applause when he said Nigeria spent $16 billion of its foreign exchange on costly imported fuel in the first 11 months to this year - $8 billion sold by the bank to petroleum importers and a further $8 billion spent by the Treasury on the subsidy itself. “Removing the fuel subsidy is not some magic silver bullet that can solve all the problems of Nigeria ... but the burden is unsustainable on the government’s finances,” he said. “We can keep paying the subsidy into 2015, but the next government will be saddled with the debt,” he said. He acknowledged the move was likely to prove unpopular, but asked: “Is it our responsibility to pursue the popular policy or the policy that is right for Nigeria.” The Petroleum Resources Minister, Alison-Madueke explained that to lessen the impact of subsidy removal, government is working to make the country’s refineries function at 90 percent capacity utilization in 24 months time. “The government has good policies on ground to build refineries and repair the existing ones,” she said, adding that plans are in the offing to upgrade major highways across the country to lessen the pain that may accompany the planned removal. Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo state in his contribution, said he was not against subsidy removal in principle, but against realistic measures not being taken ahead to serve as a buffer for Nigerians. “Whatever the NLC decides is my stand because I will always be for labour. The question is not fuel subsidy, but if we must subsidise, what must we subsidise?, he asked. President Jonathan should be commended. It is on record that the last time when Petroleum price was increased it was during Obasanjo regime, Jonathan has never increased the pump price instead Late Yar’Adua reduced it to 65 naira, but the situation which the president brought is far more complicated than those before him. However, we have the right to insist on subsidy removal or to say no for government either executive or legislature to benefit from the removed subsidy.” “The price of transport could double ... The poor man cannot afford that,” said Ben Bruce, CEO of popular Nigerian television station Silverbird. “(If you) remove the subsidy, this is what you have to do: subsidise transport for the poor folks trying to go to work.” ($1 = 163.2500 naira) The roll call of dignitaries who graced the occasion is not limited to Chairman of Dangote Group Alhaji Aliko Dangote; chairman Silverbird Group Ben Murray Bruce; Zenon Oil boss Mr. Femi Otedola ; Veteran Broadcaster and owner of Channels Television John Momoh , TELL magazine Nosa Igiebor ; Vanguard’s publisher, Sam Amuka-Pemu; Ray Ekpu, formerly of Newswatch, former Ogun State governor, Chief Olusegun Osoba and former NPAN president, Isa Funtua.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Under the Nigeria Constitution, illegal possession of fire arms is liable to 2 years imprisonment, but in Delta state, officers of the Nigeria police force might have killed the governorship candidate of the Citizens Peoples Party (CPP) during 2007 and 2011 gubernatorial elections. Chief Ogbe Onokpite for this offence, AYODELE SAMUEL writes. The news of the killing of Chief Honourable Ogbe Onokpite, who was the candidate of the Citizens Peoples Party (CPP) in the Delta state 2007 and 2011 gubernatorial elections, has continued to spark up protest in many quarters. Onokpite, a Canada based Nigerian who had recently returned home to actively participate in politics of the state was, on the 26th of April 2011, following the April governorship election in Delta state, arrested at the INEC office after he challenged the manipulation of results that were being collated at the centre. He was imprisoned at the Nigeria Prison Okere, Warri, on what many politicians described as trumped-up charges of murder. He spent over two months in the prison without charge and was later freed, after which he met his untimely death at Orhuwovru in Udu Local Government Area of the state. The conflicting stories leading to the circumstances surrounding what political watchers in the state describe as an extra-judicial 'summary execution' have continued to cause tension in the state. The Commissioner of Police, Delta state Command, Mr. Ibrahim Tsafe, when confirming the killing of Onokpite told newsmen that his death took place on Saturday at Beeland Hotel, Orhuwhorun Road. He said he is not aware that Onokpite was a candidate of any political party but that two of Onokpite's boys who were arrested with two AK-47 rifles escorted the police to the hotel where the deceased was killed in an attempt to escape. According to him, at about 2pm, undercover operatives at Beeland Hotel, Orhuwhorun Road, Udu Local Government Area intercepted a Honda car vehicle with registration number AM 528JRT driven by one Malik Okorokporo, 33years. He said that when the driver of the vehicle was flagged down by police patrol men at Udu/Orhuwhorun road and a search conducted, "we recovered two AK47 riffles with No. 20613 and 13702, with over 60 rounds of live ammunition." Tsafe said that the suspect confessed that the riffles were to be delivered to one Collins Egbara, Chairman of Agaga Community, now at large allegedly on the instance of the deceased. "The suspect took the patrol team to Beeland Hotel to apprehend his principal (Onokpite) who attempted to take to flight on sighting the police, but was maimed. The principal gave up the ghost on the way to the hospital". The Commissioner of Police also said that Onokpite's killing was just a criminal case and not politically motivated. "I don't know his political lineage. I don't have his political history. I see him as person who actually was having criminal tendencies and all that we have on him showed that he was a criminal. Another police report says that they had intelligence that Chief Ogbe was in the process of purchasing arms. In an interview, the Commissioner of Police, Delta State Command, Mr. Ibrahim Tsafe, said that Chief Ogbe and 'accomplices were ambushed by the police detectives who were deployed in the hotel from the Area Command of the Nigeria Police Force, Warri," and that he "was negotiating for arms in the hotel." Mr. Tsafe further said that Chief Ogbe was coming down from the hotel, when "we asked him to surrender but he declined to surrender, instead he confronted the police in company with his men." In this account of the police, a gun battle ensued in which Chief Onokpite received fatal injuries, saying, "he died before help could get to him in the hospital." But eyewitnesses account said "Chief Ogbe was actually shot in his hotel room, unarmed. Chief Ogbe had been staying at Beeland Hotel, on Oruwhorun Road, which is owned by a popular PDP chieftain, Chief Ben Egbetamah in Udu local government area of Delta state." Another witness said, "Chief Ogbe was arrested and shot, then taken alive by the police, in whose custody he then bled to death." Reacting to the news, Members of the Liberate Delta People's Movement said, "we overwhelmingly see the killing as politically-motivated, particularly as the state is preparing for local elections." They have called on the Federal Government and International agencies to look into the matter. The group's spokesman, Mr. Cadre Drake, said "We do not want to see the return of these kinds of killings to our state. This is somebody who was in prison and freed only recently. If what is reported is true, that he was arrested, then we do not expect the police to take the law into their own hands. There must be full transparency in examining this incidence; and the Delta state police can no longer be in charge of the investigations. It is true that Uduaghan's administration has been issuing threats against the opposition in the state and against citizens who are calling for accountability and the restoration of the people's mandate. This is completely unacceptable." Also a Lagos lawyer Festus Keyamo, said the former governorship candidate was assassinated and accused the police of extra judicial killing. Keyamo said he was going to petition the Police authorities for a full coroner inquest into the killing. Also, elder brother of the deceased, Chief Victor Onokpite, who reacted on behalf of the Onokpite family of Uvwie, said their brother was not a gun-runner or armed robber, and blamed his killing by the police on politics. Reacting on behalf of the state government, the Delta state commissioner for information, Barr. Chike Ogeah, who said the killing was not politically motivated, noted that the incident was very unfortunate and that the police should be allowed to finish their investigations on the matter. While saying that the state does not want any form of extra-judicial killing, the commissioner said it is the duty of the Nigeria Police Force to come out and explain what really happened. At the meantime, many in Delta state are questioning the various accounts of the events by the police. Among the questions being raised are: the source of the police 'intelligence'; whether or not a gun battle actually took place; where was his "boys" arrested and whether the event was planned. Chief Ogbe Onokpite's political associates and family are still waiting for police in Delta state to provide answers.