Deregulating petroleum pricing is illegal and immoral, By Femi Falana

Lagos Lawyer, Femi Falana

On January 1,2012 President Goodluck Jonathan  usurped the statutory functions of the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA)  by increasing the pump price of petrol from N65 to N141 per litre. However,  following nationwide protests and an industrial action which had a paralytic effect on the neo-colonial economy and  the Federal Government was forced to swallow its arrogance and drop the  insensitive official policy by reducing the price to N97 per litre. The Central Bank Governor, Mr Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the Finance Minister, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and other neo-liberal ideologues who had said the economy would collapse without full deregulation began to sing a new song when they saw the anger of the masses.

Although the  investigations conducted into the illegal payment of N2.3 trillion to fuel importers (when N245 billion was earmarked for “fuel subsidy”) indicted several top government officials and agencies of the Federal Government such criminal suspects have been treated as sacred cows. Similarly, other probe panels and audit firms have indicted the NNPC for diverting trillions of naira without any sanction. Between 2009 and 2012 MDAs are reported to have refused to remit over N4 trillion to the Federation Account. All those involved in committing such outlandish economic and financial crimes have been granted amnesty by the Federal Government. Afterall, the official looting of the economy has become the cornerstone of the transformation agenda of the Goodluck Jonathan Administration.

In the circumstance,  the jumbo loans being recklessly procured by the Federal Government can no longer fund the profligacy of the parasitic ruling class. Hence, President Jonathan has announced his decision of his Administration to further inflict  harsh economic hardship on hapless Nigerians through another hike in the pump price of petrol under the pretext of deregulating the downstream of the petroleum sector. The provocative announcement has been made at a time that Nigerians are paying more for epileptic elecricity supply and other deteriorating social services. While the masses are asked to further tighten their belts the pampered members of the ruling class are granted duty waivers, oil blocks, huge loans from intervention funds etc.  Others are allowed to collect double or multiple salaries through ghost workers or direct theft of pension funds. The Banks which became distressed as a result of mismanagement and the failure of the so called “captains of industry” to pay back huge loans have been bailed from public funds to the tune of N3 trillion.

To facilitate uncontrolled capital flight from the country by corrupt public officers, importers  and  traders  the National Assembly has legalised currency trafficking. The CBN promotes such capital flight by selling millions of dollars all manners of forex dealers on on a weekly basis.  Owing to such unprecedented diversion of public funds by a plutocratic ruling elite the Federal Government is unable to fund the national budget. Hence, the resort to the callous decision to increase the pump price of petrol.

However, in the case of Bamidele Aturu v Attorney-General of the Federation in which judgment was handed down last week, the Federal High Court presided over by the Honourable Justice Adamu Bello declared illegal and unconstitutional the deregulation policy of the Federal Government. The import of the judicial decision is that since the proposed increase of price of petrol is anchored on deregulation it is illegal in every material particular.

Therefore, as the judgment is valid and subsisting   the Federal Government will be engaging in  executive lawlessness if it goes ahead to announce any increase in the price of petrol. In the interest of the Rule of Law President Jonathan is  advised to jettison the insensitive, immoral, contemptuous and illegal policy forthwith. However, if the Federal Government has decided to increase the pump price of petrol  it should be prepared to sign its death warrant as Nigerians will be mobilised to make the country completely  ungovernable.

A few weeks ago, President Jonathan paid glowing tributes to the Late President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela for channelling the oil wealth of his country to improve the lives of his people. President Jonathan should emulate Hugo Chavez who never increased the price of any petroleum product while he was in power for 14 years. But it requires courage and commitment on the part of the State to nationalize the major sectors of the economy .

Instead of engaging in incessant increase  in the price of petrol the Jonathan should  collaborate with the National Assembly to pass the  Petroleum Industry Bill in line with Article 21 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights which has imposed an obligation on all African States  to “eliminate all forms of foreign economic exploitation particularly that practices by international monopolies so as to enable their people to fully benefit from the advantage derived from their natural resources”.

Mr. Falana, a member of the velvet rank of the Nigerian Bar, SAN, was President of the African Bar Association

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