A former governorship aspirant on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Akwa Ibom State, Ide Owodiong-Idemeko has urged the Federal Government to invest the funds saved from petrol subsidy removal in critical sectors to boost economic recovery.
Ide Owodiong-Idemeko, who was one of the panellists at the 2023 Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) Energy and Labour Summit held in Abuja identified the areas as education, health, agriculture and transportation.
The summit has as its theme, ‘Petroleum Downstream Deregulation and Gas Utilisation: For a Sustainability Energy Future in Nigeria’ was declared open by the Senate President, Godswill Obot Akpabio, represented by the Senate Committee Chairman on Petroleum.
The panel discussion focused on ‘Fuel Subsidy Removal: Balancing National Economic Realities and Social Impact’ and had dignitaries and experts in the industry such as Peter Esele, former President of Trade Union Congress and PENGASSAN, Yusuf Lawal Othman, National President of Nigeria Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO) and Razaq Obe, Commissioner for Energy and Mineral Resources, Ondo State.
Speaking on the way forward for Nigeria after the subsidy removal on fuel, Obong Owodiong-Idemeko recalled that the nation had earlier earmarked the sum of three trillion naira to pay for the subsidy in the budget without any idea of how to raise such funds.
While describing the subsidy removal as the way forward for the country, he noted that the sudden removal has taken a toll on low-income earners.
According to him, “It is instructive to know that even the three trillion naira that was in the budget was not money that is readily available; thus, the step that has been taken is good when you don’t even have the money you captured in the budget.
“We also have to look at the immediate effects of the subsidy removal which includes an increase in inflation and poverty level, hardship and inequalities in the various segments of the society, all these we have to deal with in the short term while looking forward to reap the benefits of the subsidy removal in the long term.”
In a statement in Uyo, made available to the media, he noted that it was “Obvious that the subsidy has denied the nation of the money that would have been put into other areas of investment.”
According to him, “When you look at the data available between 2010-2020, we spent about N40 billion on foreign exchange for education and N11 billion on health tourism. I think the government has to look at this.
“If we take the money out of subsidy and spend it on a significant upgrade of our educational facilities and quality of learning in our institutions, tertiary, secondary and primary schools, then a significant amount of money will be saved and pressure will reduce on foreign exchange.”
The former ExxonMobil top employee maintained that the education and health sector were two areas that can equalise the existing gaps and inequalities within the social categories and social class in the country, stressing that most wealthy Nigerians strive to send their children abroad for studies because of poor quality of education in the country.
“If we take what we spent only last year on education which records put at about 1.3 billion dollars and plough back to our university system, it will provide quality and accessible education for low-income people studying in Nigeria,” he added.
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On Agriculture, Obong Owodiong-Idemeko said that the country spent about N2 trillion on food importation.
According to him, “That is an area with significant impact on low-income earners; if we can invest such money back here in our agricultural sector, it will create lots of impacts, food will be cheap, inflation, hunger and poverty will be addressed.”
He also urged the government to invest in transportation to help the already challenged masses go about their daily activities without many challenges.
“As identified, the four key areas of investment to reap the benefits of subsidy removal on fuel remains health sector, education sector, agriculture and transportation sectors and I urge government and individuals to position themselves to maximise the benefits provided in these areas,” he said.