“By the time we stabilise power, we will create more jobs.”
President Goodluck Jonathan has stated that the nationwide petrol scarcity and price increase experienced by Nigerians was not a plot by his administration to increase the pump price of petrol from the current N97/ litre.
The last attempt to hike the price of the commodity, from N65 to N140 per litre in January 2012, was met with a nationwide protest that threatened to ground the economy. Government was then compelled to rescind its decision and fix the current price.
There has been speculation that the recent scarcity of petroleum products was a sly attempt by government to increase the pump price of petroleum products.
However, answering questions from a four-member panel of editors during his 7th Presidential Media Chat on Sunday, the president vowed not to attempt any such illegality. He also threatened to deal decisively with any marketer of petroleum products found to be manipulating the pump price at their filling stations, to exploit innocent consumers.
“I will not, I repeat, I will not increase pump price of petrol through the back door,” the President said. “If I want to do it, I will do it clearly and bear the consequence. The law says that you have to announce the change to Nigerians on a particular time and a particular day. No president wakes up and change pump price. He must follow the law. If I want to do it, I will do it, even if it will cost my job; because if I am doing it I will do it because of what Nigerians would gain, and not what individuals would gain.”
Dismissing the current scarcity of petroleum products as “indirect deregulation”, he said artificial scarcity created by any fuel marketer was a criminal act that must be treated as such.
“If the operator is manipulating the pump price to exploit Nigerians, it is a criminal act. I will set up the machinery to investigate the allegation. If we get anybody, we will deal with them as criminals,” he warned.
He assured that he would immediately direct the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR – the government agency responsible for ensuring that marketers don’t cheat the consumers through the manipulation of the pump price – to investigate and establish the veracity of the reports.
On efforts to ensure regular power supply in the country, the President noted that the recent privatisation of the successor companies of the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, had not immediately translated into improved electricity supply. He said one promise he was giving to Nigerians was that the country would not go back to the days when the combined generating capacity of all the power plants was less than 2000 megawatts, MW of electricity.
“We are not moving as fast as we could have moved, but the steps we are taking now will lead the country to a better situation, because of privatisation. Transiting the sector from public sector ownership to private sector is not easy,” he stated.
He said apart from the issue of lack of electricity meters for consumers, there was the challenge of inadequate gas supply. He assured that government was working to resolve the issue. The private investors, he said, were now making the best out of a very bad situation by trying to provide estimated bills to the customers. He noted that government still had a key role to play to stabilise the situation and that 100 per cent private sector investment would not turn things around overnight.
On job creation, the President said government cannot employ everybody but instead would create the right environment for the private sector to create jobs. He said that although government’s effort, through the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme, SURE-P, to create 10,000 jobs for young unemployed Nigerians was not where government wanted it to be, significant progress was being made in agriculture and small-medium enterprises.
He said a number of countries have indicated interest to come into the country to set up production companies but were deterred by the challenges in the power sector.
“By the time we stabilise power, we will create more jobs. What we are trying to do is to reduce the number of people government is paying salaries so that it can invest in infrastructure to enable the private sector create jobs,” he said.
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