Nigeria’s Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has denied masterminding the policy to remove subsidy on fuel, a policy that has sparked nationwide outrage and has grounded Nigeria’s economy since the beginning of the year.
Mrs Okonjo-Iweala is widely regarded in Nigeria as “The Face of Subsidy” and agent of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
But in a BBC interview on Monday, she passed the bulk to governors whom she said began pushing for subsidy removal six months before she joined the Goodluck Jonathan administration.
“The World Bank and IMF have nothing to do with this, absolutely nothing!” she said. “This is an internal government decision and President Jonathan has made it very clear. Remember, six months before I came, the governors have all pushed for subsidy removal.”
Mrs Okonjo-Iweala’s claim further confirms our earlier report that the state governors are the lead advocates for the removal of fuel subsidy.
A Premium Times investigations, published on January 9, had revealed that the governors’ real motivation for backing the policy is to enable them have control over more money, a situation that would empower them to dispense more political patronage, and in the process solidify their political bases.
A top cabinet source had told Premium Times that the states’ chief executives officers saw in the fuel subsidy cut an opportunity to rake more money since the Federal Government would no longer need to make deduction from their share of the Excess Crude proceeds to fund the subsidy scheme.
In fact, the governors traded the subsidy removal policy with the government’s establishment of the Sovereign Wealth Fund which was established to mop up the excess crude funds which the governors shared with the federal government, monthly.
“Subsidy removal has two decades of history, almost every government from Babangida to Obasanjo have tried (to remove subsidy), so it is not Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala,” Mrs Iweala said.
She added that both the speculations that she resigned and this – being “Face of Subsidy Removal” – is orchestrated by some groups who she said initially didn’t want her to join the Jonathan administration.
“These same people are now seizing the opportunity to say I am the face of subsidy,” she said. “It is absolutely wrong.”
Ashishana Okauru, the director general of the Governors Forum admitted that the issue of fuel subsidy removal “has been on the table” at the governors’ forum.
“In terms of sequence, I don’t know who did what first,” he said.
He added that although analysts and “university professors” could create a link between the decision to remove subsidy on fuel and the governors support for the Sovereign Wealth Fund, both issues were treated “independently” by the governors.
The governors have in turn blame the Central Bank Governor, Lamido Sanusi, for inspiring their decision.
Babangida Aliyu, the governor of Niger State, was on Monday quoted for claiming “an alarm raised by the CBN governor” led them to demand for the removal of fuel subsidy.