Nsukka – Abia State Governor, Dr. Alex Chioma Otti, has said that the removal of fuel subsidy by the administration of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu was the right decision for Nigerians and ought to have been implemented ten years earlier to place the nation on the path of sustainable national development.
However, the former bank Chief executive asserted that the policy’s implementation was mismanaged as “more could have been done to insulate the public from the anticipated shocks”. He also noted that “the pronouncement was made on the day the new government was sworn in, giving no room for robust engagement”.
Otti made the assertions on Thursday while speaking as the 63rd Founders’ Day lecturer of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), Enugu State, said that the Federal Government should have embarked on more strategic planning and communication before removing the subsidy to insulate the public from the anticipated shocks.
While speaking on the theme: ‘Petroluem Subsidy Removal: Dealing with the Challenges, Harnessing the Opportunities’, he argued that the old arrangement only approves subsidy payments for imported petrol and that the major beneficiaries were elite businessmen who can pool the resources to go into fuel importation.This system, according to him encouraged arbitrage, waste and other forms of corruption as a result of the absence of effective monitoring and reporting systems and deliberate manipulation of the system by connected individuals in connivance with dishonest officials.
Otti also stated that complexities of the subsidy regime encouraged a lot of unwholesome practices and in the end, rather than benefit from the extensive outlay as had been originally intended, the poor ultimately find themselves funding the extravagant lifestyle of the rich and highly connected.“One thing I have learnt in communicating policies and plans is that you can never get everyone to agree with your proposals.
“However, sincere and clear communication, using various channels would help on two fronts: buy you genuine public support and give your audience an opportunity to understand your intentions better.“The removal of fuel subsidy was clearly the right decision and should have been done about ten years ago or earlier but even then, I am of the considered opinion that more could have been done to insulate the public from the anticipated shocks.“Being a policy that would introduce shock into the system, I believe it should have been communicated better. I do not think that much was done to properly educate the public on the issues at stake”, he said.
Left to Right: Prof Elo Amucheazi, Chairman of the occasion, Governor Alex Otti, Prof Charles Igwe, Vice Chancellor, UNN, Chief Aka Eze Aka, Enugu State Commissioner for Information, representing Dr Peter Mbah, the Enugu State Governor
Advocating for a more comprehensive policy framework to support specific areas of needs as identified by the World Bank, the governor cited examples from other nations, like Angola and Senegal, where governments strategically retained subsidies on essential products for the poor.He stated that measures such as subsidized mass transit, cash transfers, food assistance, and low-interest agricultural loans should have been considered to support the urban and rural poor.He expressed concerns that the removal of the subsidy had exacerbated living conditions for citizens and called for the immediate implementation of robust policies to address rising poverty and unemployment.
Proffering solutions to the challenges associated with subsidy removal, Otti said:
“For a start, I would recommend the immediate development and implementation of robust policy measures to address the challenges of rising poverty and unemployment.
“One, all levels of government must immediately invest in mass transit schemes, strictly as a social service and not as a money making venture. However, they must be managed by people with a good understanding of how transportation within and across cities work. The mass transit buses must never be used as a political compensation programme otherwise, the aim would be defeated, even before it takes off.
“I would support a fit-for-purpose partnership with registered transport unions and transporters to work out an effective system that would see the government acquire energy efficient buses and hand them over to the transporters with a mandate to cover certain routes and charge below-market rates, just enough to cover operational expenses and no more.
“Priority should be given to civil servants and private individuals going to work every morning and returning home in the evenings. Fares must be moderate, possibly 50% of what independent transporters charge and where possible, commuters may be issued monthly electronic tickets which would be presented at the point of entry, limiting cash handling and the associated corruption.
“Where possible, local bus manufacturers should be allowed to supply and maintain the buses to further stimulate the economy. Such buses should be powered by CNG (compressed natural gas) as it has been adjudged a cheaper source, even though their prices are going up.”
He then noted that his administration had steadily been patronizing Innoson, an indigenous automobile manufacturer.
The Governor outlined some of the measures being taken by his administration to cushion the adverse effects of the subsidy removal as follows; prompt payment of salaries of civil servants on the 28th day of every month, health insurance scheme for retirees with 4,700 pensioners already enrolled, tax holiday to micro, small and medium enterprises,
“We also launched free medical service programmes in all public hospitals in the state so that in this period of economic difficulties, lack of cash would not stop people from attending to their health needs. So far, thousands of individuals including pregnant women, nursing mothers, and others with various ailments have been attended to. The on-going free medical services cover surgeries, including eye operations, drugs, laboratory, scans and related diagnostic services.We are presently working on a template to pay transport-support allowance to civil servants starting from this month. Our plan is to raise current salaries by a certain percentage depending on grade levels. The aim is to cushion the harsh impact of the rising inflationary trend on their earnings and support them to provide the basic things for their families.Our plan to launch a N10 billion MSME fund as announced on our inauguration day is still on course and we would soon conclude the modalities for accessing the funds. The target shall be existing and intending entrepreneurs with innovative and bankable ideas.
In his welcome address, the Vice Chancellor of the University, Professor Charles Igwe, said that the lecture is aimed at creating an opportunity for serious reflections and discussions on issues of national and global interests, adding that the honour of delivering the Founders’ Day lecture is reserved for persons of uncommon achievements. Describing Governor Otti as a first-class economist, banker and versatile manager of men and resources, the vice Chancellor noted that the lecturer belonged to the special family of alumni of the university having bagged an honorary doctorate degree of the institution.
Earlier in his opening remark, Elochukwu Amucheazi, a retired professor of Political Science from the institution and pioneer Director General, National Orientation Agency(NOA) paid tributes to the founder of the institution, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe.
He recalled the political and academic legacies of the first Nigerian President. According to him, Nigeria’s continued unity was Zik’s political legacy while UNN, which he founded from savings of the Eastern Nigerian Government, as the first land grant university with a new curriculum was his academic legacy.
Other dignitaries at the event held at the University’s Princess Alexandria Auditorium include the Enugu State Governor represented by Chief Aka Eze Aka, the State Commissioner for Information, Prof Frank Ndili, the 7th Vice Chancellor of UNN, Rt. Revd Dr Alloysius Agbo, Bishop of Nsukka Diocese, Anglican Communion, Prof Onyemachi Ogbulu, Vice Chancellor, Abia State University, Uturu, Mazi Ugochukwu Agodi Okoroafor,mni, Special Adviser, Monitoring & Evaluation to Governor Otti
After the lecture, Governor was hosted to an interactive session by the Abia Forum, UNN at the institution’s Arts Theatre involving lecturers, staff and students of the University from Abia State.
After listening attentively to their submissions, Otti reassured them all that he was committed to building a New Abia State. According to him, “Abia bụ ndị mbụ, anyị agaghị abụ ndị ikpeazụ” which can be translated to mean that “Abia State is the 1st State(alphabetically), we shall not be the last”.
Second from right, Mazi Ugo Okoroafor,mni, former Director, Corporate Communication, CBN and Special Adviser to Governor Otti, second from left, Mazi Ikechukwu Bismarck Ọjị, MNSE, COREN, Publisher, hoo!haa!! Newspapers
He invited all Abians to come back home since the investment climate had improved and things could only get better.