Precisely on Monday 29th May 2023, the Nigerian citizens were shell-shocked by the abrupt and sudden increase in the price of Premium Motor Spirit(PMS) also known as Petrol, following the inaugural speech of the President Bola Ahmed Tinubu GCFR. The effect of this decision by the Federal Government on subsidy removal in the face of a very challenging economy could best be described as catastrophic, going by reports obtained from our members - Doctors and Dental Surgeons working in health facilities, parastatals and agencies of Federal, State and Local Government areas, other health workers and our clients all over the country.
The National leadership, arising from an emergency National Officers Committee meeting deliberated on the above issue and observed the following:
1. That the decision by the Federal Government to remove fuel subsidy and the subsequent announcement on the inauguration day was hastily done, without proper consultation, effective planning, socioeconomic cushioning and protective measures.
2. That the operations of NNPCL and how the subsidy regime is shrouded in secrecy, underscores the illicitness of the entire process.
Therefore, the opinion of Federal Government to ultimately remove fuel subsidy in order to meet her social obligations is instructive, however the absence of strategic planning in a very low and fragile economy like ours renders such a decision very illtimed.
3. That several issues such as non-functional refineries, crude oil theft, lack of proper accountability and administration of revenue generated from that sector, including deep-seated corruption in the subsidy scheme, are all staring us in the face, and are cogent contributors to the high price of PMS. Nigerian citizens are unfortunately paying the price for longstanding political and economic mismanagement of the subsidy scheme.
4. That going by the budgetary provisions for the subsidy payment by the Federal Government subsisting till the end of June 2023, we are miffed by this decision by government, the NNPCL making releases of upward price reviews PMS and the opportunists disposition of the oil marketers without any reprieve from the Federal Government.
5. That comparatively, Nigeria ranks one of the lowest amongst Petroleum producing nations in terms of Minimum wage and highest in cost of domestic purchase of Petroleum products.
6. That this sudden increase has adversely affected all critical sectors, especially Transport, Power, Health, etc ultimately transmitting the knock-on effect to other sectors of the economy, thereby worsening poverty. There is an abrupt increase in the rate of morbidity and mortality in the country.
7. That, in the face of negative social systems, low minimum wage, with millions of Nigerians living in abject poverty, the dramatic increase in fuel price impinges negatively on the ability of most Nigerians to meet the basic needs, especially food and healthcare.
8. That the cumulative effect of the sudden price increase in the healthcare sector is an issue of great concern, especially in a country amongst the poorest healthworkers welfare and infrastructure. In the suburban regions and villages most patients are now drawn to seeking healthcare in traditional settings due to their inability to pay for quality healthcare. This will worsen mental health and increase depression and suicidal tendencies.
9. That the issues of accrued national debt crisis from humongous borrowing - especially in the twilight of the last administration, and the high cost of governance as seen at all levels of government, especially the Federal Executive and Legislative Arms are the major factors plunging the country into an unprecedented economic crisis.
From the forgoing, the National leadership has resolved as follows;
1. That we strongly align in solidarity with the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and call on the Federal Government to urgently suspend the removal of fuel subsidy and revert to the old pump price of PMS to avert the looming multisectoral industrial disharmony that may grind the country to a halt.
2. That our refineries should be revamped to functional capacity as soon as possible, and licenses should be given for the establishment of more refineries to encourage local production of Petroleum products.
3. The Federal Government should institute measures to stop crude oil theft, secure our borders and stop leakages within the oil and gas sector.
4. There should be a committee set up by the Federal Government to audit the subsidy regime since its inception and the use of funds recurrently allocated for repair of our refineries and that the culprits brought to book.
5. There is urgent need for the Federal government to strengthen healthcare financing by ensuring at least 15% budgetary allocation to the health sector. There is also need to achieve the universal health coverage through primary healthcare and National/State health insurance schemes across the country, in order to reduce out-of-pocket expenses and guarantee accessible and affordable healthcare.
6. The Federal Government should set up a robust economic team that will establish cushioning measures to protect citizens when the subsidy is eventually removed. Priority should be given to measures aimed at addressing the widespread hunger and poverty in the country. They should also bring on board palliative measures to mitigate the impact of the eventual subsidy removal on citizens, especially those on low incomes.
7. That the Federal Government, in the spirit of patriotism and sacrifice, should take measures to cut down the cost of governance by the Executive and the National Assembly, reduce borrowing, and channel such funds to other critical sectors of the economy, including minimum wage increase.
8. The Bola Ahmed Tinubu-led administration should demonstrate empathy to the citizens of this country, by doing what is necessary to alleviate the sufferings of the Nigerian people.
Dr Sofiri Starson Peterside Jnr.
Dr Enobong Akpan