BLUF (Building Leverage and Unity on Fuel Subsidy Struggle)
Text of Press Conference, Abuja, 16th January 2012
The Fuel Subsidy Struggle: Remove Corruption, Not Subsidy
This morning, President Goodluck Jonathan addressed the nation on the Fuel Subsidy Regime (FSR). He focused on his agenda for the deregulation of the downstream petroleum sector. The President accused Nigerians for their actions which he said had caused “a disruption of economic activities”. He also alleged that “a near-breakdown of law and order in certain parts of the country as a result of the activities of some persons or groups of persons who took advantage of the situation to further their narrow interests by engaging in acts of intimidation, harassment and outright subversion of the Nigerian state”.
The tone of the address was reminiscent of the era of military dictatorship when political generals talked down to the people, warned them and threatened to deal with them as if they were not citizens with rights and interests. The form and substance of the address was to blackmail civil society and citizen groups of having a regime change agenda. Protests and opposition to a policy agenda unilaterally imposed by the President on the teeming millions of Nigerians suffering from its effects were translated as enemy action that would be dealt with the repressive apparatuses of the State.
We note with consternation the military occupation of numerous sites in our towns and cities by military tanks and hardware as if we are in war. Of concern include the occupation of the military at Ojota (Gani Fawehimin Square) Surulere, Maryland among others in Lagos; the Berger Roundabout and the Wuse II intersect by ASCON Filling Station in Abuja; the Lugard House Roundabout in Kaduna; and the nodule junctions in Kano; just to name a few. We recognize that it is the constitutional prerogative of Mr. President to deploy the military for internal security manoeuvres as the President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria. However, we are quick to add that the implications are very simple, that the responsibility for violations and abuse of the fundamental human rights of citizens by the deployed military personnel lies squarely at the purview of Dr. Goodluck Ebelle Jonathan, GCFR.
On the issue of increase of fuel prices, he reaffirmed his position that his government will “will continue to pursue full deregulation of the downstream petroleum sector”, but will for the moment reduce the pump price of petrol to N97 per litre. The Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) was then directed to ensure compliance with this new pump price. The message of the millions of Nigerians in all our cities, towns and villages protesting against the policy is completely lost on the President. More importantly, the democratic demands that unilateral action by the Executive on such a sensitive issue is unacceptable is.
Our coalition notes with concern the deliberate and concerted efforts of the FGN aimed at the “divide and rule” of the larger civil society; and frown at the systematic name-tagging of CSOs as security risk, which has been the ostensible reason for government to reinforce militancy in the country. This is evident in the fact that the leadership of the oil workers’ unions started receiving threats from government-sponsored former militants after declaring their intention to shut down oil production. The other evidence is the undue flooding of the streets by military personnel this morning after the President’s speech, as an effort to thwart the people’s right to peaceful protest.
We condemn the narrowing of access to mainstream media, which have been coerced into denying Nigerians a fair share of space as required by extant broadcast regulatory frameworks. An orchestrated media campaign is beng used to dehumanise Nigerians as their rights to hold and express opinions have been violated, especially by state broadcasters, the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN). We equally note with concern the purchase of airtime in the commercial private broadcasts stations by the government to further the propaganda agenda of FGN. All these have reinforced the use of alternate and social media by Nigerians to express themselves and canvass their genuine demands. It is therefore disturbing that the Honorable Minister for Information, Labaran Maku, has now found it necessary to complain about the social media platforms being used by Nigerians in the face of the muscling and narrowing of the traditional media.
The political colouration and anti-opposition stance adopted by the government and many media outfits is also deplorable. The public is being given an impression that the participation of people with opposing views is inimical for our democracy. Nothing is farther from the truth. As a people’s movement that is not just made up of Labour or civil society, it is our belief that President Jonathan’s attempt to decimate opposition voices is most unfortunate. This is more so as the government is introducing ethno-religious dimensions to discussions, with far-reaching implications for our national security. We alert Nigerians that we are finding ourselves in the early stages of an authoritarian regime.
We are appreciative of the move by the Federal Government of Nigeria, through the Honorable Minister for Petroleum, to commence investigations into the series of payments relating to “oil subsidy”. In addition, we acknowledge the willingness of the FGN to now study and act on the KPMG Audit Report of the NNPC among others as part of the renewed anticorruption drive by the GEJ Administration. Furthermore, we note the resolve of the Executive arm of government to liaise with the NASS for the expedited passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB). Our concern remains that these laudable steps shall not be “Nigerianised” and made to just placate Nigerians for the spur of the moment. We implore the renewed EFCC to deepen the series of investigation beyond the cosmetic and media blitz that have characterized the operations of the organisation. We are convinced that the NASS shall live up to their Constitutional Responsibilities and do a thorough job in this regard.
On the NLC/TUC’s position calling of the strikes and protests against the removal of subsidy, we state unequivocally that organised civil society groups and the generality of Nigerian workers were not consulted before the Labour presidents took their decisions. Our representatives to the negotiations were not consulted before actions were taken. We do not support the position; we insist on complete reversal before Nigerians will call off their agitations for fairness and dignity.
Finally, we note with concern the posture of international community who have watched as President Goodluck Jonathan authorised the cold-blooded murder of 20 innocent, unarmed, and nonviolent protesters and now the deployment of soldiers onto the streets at a time when there is no insurrection nor threat of invasion. We call on all organs of the African Union, the United Nations and other world institutions that care about the spread of democracy to condemn this increasing authoritarian disposition. President Jonathan must note that he will be held liable any mishaps as a result of using the military for quelling a civil protest.
Dr. Jibrin Ibrahim
Director, Centre for Democracy and Development
President, United Action for Democracy
Director, Advocates for Change and Social Justice
Dr. Otive Igbuzor
Executive Director, Centre LSD
Dr. Hussaini Abdu
Country Director, Action Aid Nigeria
Women Environmental Programme
For and on Behalf of Nigeria Civil Society, Building Leverage and Unity on Fuel Subsidy Struggle (BLUF)