President Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday, asked Nigerians to expect further increase in the price of petrol, saying people would pay more as soon as the price of crude oil in the international market recovers.
He also justified the latest increase in electricity tariff, which has raised so much dust in the polity..
The President, who stated these at the First Year Ministerial Performance Review Retreat at State House Conference Centre, Abuja, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic, which has affected economies globally, has compelled us to make some far-reaching adjustments that may cause some initial pain, but which is necessary for long-term gains.
“As you all know, when oil prices collapsed at the height of the global lock-down, we deregulated the price of premium motor spirit, PMS, such that the benefit of lower prices was passed to consumers.
“This was welcome by all and sundry. The effect of regulation though is that PMS prices will change with changes in global oil prices. This means, quite regrettably, that as oil prices recover, we would see some increases in PMS prices.”
Continuing, President Buhari who was represented by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, said: “There are several negative consequences, if government should resume the business of fixing or subsidizing PMS prices. First of all, it would mean a return to the costly subsidy regime.
“Today we have 60% less revenue, we just cannot afford the cost. The second danger is the potential return of fuel queues – which has, thankfully, become a thing of the past under this administration.
“Nigerians no longer have to endure long queues just to buy petrol, often at highly-inflated prices. Also, as I hinted earlier, there is no provision for fuel subsidy in the revised 2020 budget, simply because we are not able to afford it, if reasonable provisions must be made for health, education and other social services. We now have no choice.
“Nevertheless, I want to assure our compatriots that government will remain alert to its responsibilities. The role of government now is to prevent marketers from raising prices arbitrarily or exploiting citizens.
“This was why the Petroleum Product Pricing Regulatory Agency, PPPRA, made the announcement a few days ago, setting the range of price that must not be exceeded by marketers.
“The advantage we now have is that anyone can bring in petroleum products and compete with marketers, that way the price of petrol will keep coming down.”
‘Why we hiked electricity tariff’
Justifying the increase in electricity tariff, Buhari said: “The other painful adjustment that we have had to make in recent days is a review of the electricity tariff regime.
“If there is one thing we have heard over and over again, it is that Nigerians want consistent and reliable power supply. So the power sector remains a critical priority for the administration.
“Protecting the poor and vulnerable, while ensuring improved service in the power sector, is also a major priority for government. And our policies, like the social investment programmes and other socio-economic schemes to benefit Nigerians, show that we remain focused on improving the welfare of the common man.
“The recent service-based tariff adjustment by the DISCOs has been a source of concern for many of us. Let me say frankly that like many Nigerians, I have been very unhappy about the quality of service given by the DISCOs.
“That is why we have directed that tariff adjustments be made only on the basis of guaranteed improvement in service. Under this new arrangement, only customers who are guaranteed a minimum of 12 hours of power and above can have their tariffs adjusted.
“Those who get less than 12 hours of supply (B and D and E Customers) will not see any tariff adjustment. The poor and under-privileged who were on R1 lifeline tariffs in the old structure will be maintained on lifeline tariffs, meaning that they will experience no increase.
“Government has also taken notice of the complaints about arbitrary estimated billing. Accordingly, a mass metering programme is being undertaken to provide metres for over five million Nigerians, largely driven by preferred procurement from local manufacturers, creating thousands of jobs in the process.
“NERC has also been instructed to strictly enforce the capping regulation which will ensure that unmetred customers are not charged beyond the metred customers in their neighbourhood.
“In addressing the power problems, we must not forget that most Nigerians are not even connected to electricity at all. So, as part of the Economic Sustainability Plan, we are providing solar home systems to five million Nigerian households (impacting up to 25 million individual Nigerians) in the next 12 months.
Solar power to complement supply
“We have already begun the process of providing financing support through the CBN for manufacturers and retailers of Off-Grid Solar Home Systems and Mini-Grids who are to provide the systems.
“The five million systems under the ESP’s Solar Power Strategy, will produce 250,000 jobs and impact up to 25 million beneficiaries through the installation This means that more Nigerians will have access to electricity via a reliable and sustainable solar system.
“The support to Solar Home System manufacturers and the bulk procurement of local metres will create over 300,000 local jobs while ensuring that we set Nigeria on a path to full electrification.
“The tariff review is not about the increase, which will only affect the top electricity consumers but establishing a system which will definitely lead to improved service for all at a fair and reasonable price.
“There have been some concern expressed about the timing of these two necessary adjustments. It is important to stress that it is a mere coincidence in the sense that the deregulation of PMS prices happened quite some time ago.
“It was announced on March 18, 2020, and the price moderation that took place at the beginning of this month was just part of the on-going monthly adjustments to global crude oil prices.
“Similarly, the review of service-based electricity tariffs was scheduled to start at the beginning of July but was put on hold to enable further studies and proper arrangements to be made.
“This government is not insensitive to the condition of our people and the very difficult economic situation and we will not inflict hardship on our people. Ministers and senior officials must accordingly ensure vigorous and prompt implementation of the ESP programmes to give succour to Nigerians at this difficult time.
“In this regard, the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, has created credit facilities (of up to N100 billion) for healthcare (N100 billion) and manufacturing (N1 trillion) sectors.
“From January 2020 to date, over N191.87billion have already been disbursed for 76 real sectors projects under the N1Trillion Real Sector Scheme, while 34 healthcare projects have been funded to the tune of N37.159billion under the Healthcare Sector Intervention Facility.
“The facilities are meant to address some of the infrastructural gap in the healthcare and manufacturing sectors as a fall out of COVID-19 pandemic and to facilitate the attainment of the Governors 5-year strategic plan.’’
‘Mankind struggling with COVID-19’
Speaking on the essence of the retreat, the President said: “We are meeting at a time that mankind is struggling to overcome the economic and social crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disrupted life as we knew it. The consequences of the pandemic will no doubt influence our deliberations at this gathering, especially as we will have to adjust our policy approaches and methods of working going forward.
“I stressed at last year’s retreat that the Nigerian people expect dedication and commitment by all of us in implementing policies, programmes and projects to improve the quality of their lives and set Nigeria on the path of prosperity.
“I also reiterated the resolve of this administration to set the stage for lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in the next 10 years. Even today, these remain our overriding objectives.
9 priority areas
“The priorities we set for ourselves were around nine inter-related and inter-connected areas, which are:
…Stabilizing the economy; achieving agriculture and food security;
…Attaining energy sufficiency in power and petroleum products;
…Improving transportation and other infrastructure.
…Others are driving industrialization with a special focus on SMEs;
…Expanding access to quality education, affordable healthcare and productivity of Nigerians;
…Enhancing social inclusion by scaling up social investments; as well as,
…Building a system to fight corruption, improve governance and strengthen national security.
“In the course of the past year, ministers have rendered reports to the Federal Executive Council on their activities and outputs related to the achievement of these objectives. Some of the notable achievements include: Economic recovery, prior to the outbreak of COVID-19. The economy recovered from a recession and we witnessed eleven 2 quarters of consecutive GDP growth since exiting recession.
“The GDP grew from 0.8% in 2017 to 2.2% in 2019, but declined in the first quarter of 2020, as a result of the downward trend in global economic activities caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Implementation of a Willing Buyer, Willing Seller Policy for the power sector has opened up opportunities for increased delivery of electricity to homes and industries.
Critical projects on-going
“We are also executing some critical projects through the Transmission Rehabilitation and Expansion Programme, which will result in the transmission and distribution of a total of 11,000 Megawatts by 2023.
“On transportation, we are growing the stock and quality of our road, rail, air and water transport infrastructure. The Presidential Infrastructure Development Fund projects are also progressing very well.
“These include the 11.9 km Second Niger Bridge, 120 km Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, and 375 km Abuja–Kaduna–Zaria–Kano Expressway. At the same time, we are actively extending and upgrading our railway networks, as well as our airports which are being raised to international standard with the provision of necessary equipment, to guarantee world-class safety standard.
“The government has continued to support the agricultural sector, the key to the diversification of our economy, through schemes such as the CBN Anchor Borrowers Programme and the Presidential Fertilizer Initiative programme.
“The work of the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council, PEBEC, has resulted in Nigeria moving up 39 places on the World Bank’s ‘Ease of Doing Business’ ranking since 2015 and Nigeria is now rated as one of the top ten reforming countries.
“We are confident that the on-going ease of doing business reforms would result in further improvement of this rating. Nigeria’s law enforcement agencies have significantly scaled up their footprint across the country.
“As part of the efforts towards strengthening our internal security architecture, the Ministry of Police Affairs was created. Among others, we have increased investments in arms, weapons and other necessary equipment, expanded the National Command and Control Centre to nineteen states of the federation, and established a Nigerian Police Trust Fund, which will significantly improve funding for the Nigeria Police Force. We have also approved the sum of N13.3 billion for the take-off of the community policing initiative across the country, as part of measures to consolidate efforts aimed at boosting security nationwide.
“Efforts are also being made to empower the youth and other vulnerable groups by enhancing investments in our Social Investment Programmes. These accomplishments are a testament to the fact that all hands are on deck in establishing a solid foundation for even greater successes in future.
“When we met one year ago, little did we know that the world would be in a serious economic, social and health crisis that had left even the major economies in disarray, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Just as in other jurisdictions, the socio-economic landscape of Nigeria has experienced a severe shock. Nearly 55,000 of our people have been infected with the virus, while we have recorded 1,054 deaths by September 4.
“The economy contracted by -6.1 per cent in the second quarter of this year; normal schooling has been disrupted; businesses are struggling and in certain instances completely closed; many people have lost their jobs and earning a living has been difficult.
“It has been a trying time for all of us and particularly for those in the informal sector who make their living from daily earnings. It has not been any easier for governments, whether at the federal, state or local government level.
“As a result of the poor fortunes of the oil sector, our revenues and foreign exchange earnings are stretched. Yet we have had to sustain expenditures, especially on salaries and capital projects, in order to keep the economy going. We acted to mitigate the effect of the economic slowdown by adopting the N2.3 trillion Economic Sustainability Plan but we have also had to take some difficult decisions to stop unsustainable practices that were weighing the economy down.
“As you all know, in response to challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic; we developed the N2.3 Trillion Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP), which consists of fiscal, monetary and sectoral measures to enhance local production, support businesses, retain and create jobs and provide succour to Nigerians, especially the most vulnerable.
“In addition to improving the health sector, the ESP lays emphasis on labour-intensive interventions in agriculture, light manufacturing, housing, and facilities management.
“It also complements on-going major infrastructural projects in power, road and rail by prioritising the building of rural roads, information and telecommunications technologies as well as providing solar power to homes which were not hitherto connected to the national grid.
“Alongside interventions in these critical areas, including agriculture and food security, affordable housing, technology, health, and providing jobs for youths and women post-COVID; the ESP will provide different avenues of government support for micro, small and medium enterprises, MSMEs, to enable them respond to the economic challenges of COVID-19.
“This includes safeguarding about 300,000 jobs in 100,000 MSMEs by guaranteeing off-take of priority products; and Survival Fund to support vulnerable SMEs in designated vulnerable sectors in meeting their payroll obligations and safeguarding jobs from the shock of COVID-19.
“Under the ESP MSMEs component, both the Survival Fund (Payroll support), and the Guaranteed Off-take Scheme, GoS, are to impact about 1.7 million individuals within three to five months. Also, 45 per cent of total business beneficiaries will be female-owned; and 5 per cent of total business beneficiaries will be dedicated to special needs business owners.”
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