Tonye Cole, governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Rivers State in the March 18 governorship election and co-founder of Sahara Energy, has pleaded with President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to engage in more discussions with labour unions in the country over the removal of fuel subsidy.
His advice comes as the country is dealing with the aftermath of the president’s announcement of the removal of fuel subsidy. An announcement that came during the swearing-in of the president.
Cole, who is contesting the result of the Rivers State governorship election that declared Siminalay Fubara the winner and now governor, gave this advice on Channels Television’s Politics Today programme on Tuesday.
He said, “We have been on the journey for over 20 years; this thing of supplying your neighbours with fuel from Nigeria is not new; it is not today. They will tell you about fixing the borders—we already know that the borders are so porous that you can’t fix them.
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“You talk about fixing the refineries before you do it, but you also know that is a problem that we have been living with for over 20 years and it has not been done. And I think that if we continue looking at it, let us fix these borders and refineries before we remove subsidies. Subsidies will never be removed.
“The choice to remove the subsidy has already been made.”
He admitted that the federal government has taken the right steps to have a cohesive front in dealing with the fuel subsidy brouhaha.
“I listen to the NLC and TUC, and one of the things that they have done is that they have actually had discussions with Labour, PENGASSAN, and different unions about how we remove subsidy because everybody knows that it has to be removed,” he said.
He did a retrospection on a pronouncement made by the NNPC Limited, which couldn’t remit any money to the national coffers because, according to him, all its monies had been spent on the payment of fuel subsidy.
He argued that this trend of subsidising fuel was very injurious to the government and that it had become necessary for the government to remove it. “We can’t continue that way,” he said.
On the ensuing confrontation between Labour and the Bola Ahmed Tinubu-controlled Federal Government, he said that if he were in the shoes of the government, he would first of all call Labour and the Nigerian people and have a discussion with them.
“The first thing is that I am going to call labour, call the Nigerian people, and we are going to have a true discussion about where we are moving,” he said.
He added that the president has to communicate with the people on this matter. He said that an official communication with the people on this matter would go a long way to assuage people’s belief that this is a man of empathy, and he would be able to understand the poor man’s problem and how to address it.
“Once he does that, people will be okay with it,” he said.
On what should be done for the poor, especially taking into consideration the impact the removal of fuel subsidy will have instantly, he said, “We have to make sure as a nation that we already have a database of the poor, and you have to be able to directly impact their bottom line. If you are increasing pricing, you have to be able to give conditional cash transfers to the very poor so that they don’t enter a lower level of poverty that they cannot come out of.”
He identified the foreign exchange differentials as a major evil in the fuel subsidy situation. He advised, however, that the government must address foreign exchange earnings, localise supply, and take steps to reduce imports and increase local production to get rid of the fuel subsidy menace for good.