House stays with the people, reverses removal of subsidy

The House in session

The House of Representatives, in a historic resolution, has ordered the immediate reinstatement of petrol subsidy, a week after its removal by the federal government sparked widespread protest and condemnations across the country.

At an emergency session convened and well attended Sunday, the House denied the Jonathan administration a crucial plank of support for the touchy policy, and ordered a reversal of petrol retail price to the initial N65 per litre.

Two committees of the House are to dialogue with the government and labour, and also monitor the government spending on subsidy in the future.

The move comes as a grave blow to the administration, which has insisted the deregulation of the petroleum sector remains the lone option available to the nation to save needed funds for infrastructure in order to avoid catastrophic economic collapse.

While that may not be “altogether questionable”, the lawmakers argued, government’s decision to roll out the plan on a new year day, upon a nation confronted with the horror of unrelenting terrorists attacks,  was “insensitive’ and wrongly timed.

“I believe what we have done today as the House of Representatives, is in the best interest of the country,” speaker, Aminu Tambuwal said.

He added, “As leaders, it is our collective responsibility to do those things that follow due process and show respect for the rule of law.”

The outrage was clear amongst majority of the members who spared no harsh remarks against an executive decision that has hiked the price of petrol to more than N140, fuelled street demonstrations and resulted in the killing of at least two Nigerians by security forces.

The police has denied its officers were behind the killings.

In a televised address on Saturday, prompted by the unrest, President Goodluck Jonathan carefully avoided commenting on the killing, but warned of his administration’s preparedness to be “decisive” on those planning to disturb public peace.

He announced a 25 percent pay cut for the executive arm of government, and a restriction of foreign travel as immediate measures to help curb public anger and demonstrate his government’s effort at minimizing waste. More public works will be made available too while transport workers have agreed to reduce their fares, the president said.

“Only trips that are absolutely necessary will be approved,” the president said. 

The measures have been rejected by the organized labour as insufficient, and not dealing with the main issue of reversing the price of petrol. The Nigerian Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress welcomed the House resolution, but said the strike and protests will continue on Monday.

While the House ruling – without a similar vote by the senate- remains advisory and not particularly binding on the president, it provides a vital rallying tool against the policy for the organized labour and civil society organizations.

Lawmakers criticized Mr. Jonathan for timing of the policy as well as the measures he rolled out to cushion the effect of the decision.

“The removal is ill-timed and based on faulty assumptions,” said Femi Gbajabiamila, who represents Surulere, Lagos state. “The so called palliatives are basic entitlements of the citizenry which the government has failed to provide for years.”

The House called for more negotiation and the understanding of labour and civil society.


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