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FLASH BACK: Lai Mohammed’s 360 degree change from critic to advocate of fuel subsidy removal

BEFORE the 2015 general elections, Nigeria’s Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, then the National Publicity Secretary of the main opposition party, All Progressives Congress (APC)  was vocal in criticising plans by  Goodluck Jonathan-led government to deregulate the downstream operations of the oil and gas sector.

Jonathan wanted to remove the fuel subsidy so that the pump price could be determined by the forces of demand and supply, allowing marketers to fix the price. The opposition, represented by Mohammad, was vociferous in its condemnation of the planned subsidy removal.

However, five years after, the then mouthpiece of the APC, who now speaks for the incumbent government is not only defending the recent removal of subsidy by President Muhammadu Buhari administration, he is also attacking those condemning the action by the government.

The Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) on Tuesday, September 8, announced that major and independent marketers are now free to fix the retail price of the Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) known as petrol.

Abdulkadir Saidu, Executive Secretary of PPPRA, during a press briefing in Abuja said that government would no longer release guiding price bands for the sale of petrol at filling stations.

He noted that the downstream arm of the oil and gas sector had been fully deregulated with this development. Saidu said the price of petrol would be driven by the forces of demand and supply and the international cost of crude oil.

Saidu, represented by Victor Shidok, the General Manager, Administration, and Human Resources of the PPPRA, said that owing to the difficulties in accessing foreign exchange by oil marketers, the PPMC is currently the sole importer of the commodity and announces the prices at which it sells the commodity to oil marketers.

A week before, PPMC, a subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, increased pump price from N148 to N151.56k.

The new price was announced in a memo with reference number PPMC/IB/LS/020 issued on Wednesday, September 2 by D.O Abalaka of PPMC.

“Please be informed that a new product price adjustment has been effected on our payment platform.

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“To this end, the price of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) is now one hundred and fifty-one naira, fifty-six kobo (N151.56k) per litre. This is effective from September 2, 2020,” the memo read.

What Lai Mohammed said of fuel subsidy before 2015 elections

Before 2015, Mohammed expressed a strong opinion against subsidy removal.

In 2012, PM News Nigeria reported how the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) through Mohammed, then the party’s National Publicity Secretary,  criticised the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan’s plan removal of subsidy.

He called on the National Assembly and organised labour to stop subsidy removal.

He had said, “ACN said it remains convinced that fuel subsidy removal is not in the interest of Nigerians, hence will not support it, and that – based on informed analysis – the average true price of a litre of fuel is 34.03 naira, which means Nigerians have been overpaying for the product.”

Also, in an April 2012 report by Vanguard Newspaper, Lai Mohammed said former President Jonathan should apologise to Nigerians for his government’s ill-advised removal of the so-called fuel subsidy in January.

He had also said the report of the House of Representatives Committee that probed the management of the subsidy had shown that the removal was an egregious error of judgement that had left Nigerians feeling swindled by their government.

Mohammed further called on the former President to revert the fuel price to the pre-January price of N65 per litre and then proceed to implement the recommendations of the committee without delay, especially the prosecution of all indicted persons and companies.

“Against all informed pieces of advice, even from well-informed industry insiders and analysts, President Jonathan approved the removal of fuel subsidy and went ahead to defend it,” he had said as the spokesperson of his opposition party, ACN back then,

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“Well, the President is human and therefore can also be wrong. But when he is, as it has now been proved, he should be humble enough to admit it and apologise.”

 Lai Mohammed defends subsidy removal now that his party is in power

In spite of his opposition to the removal of fuel subsidy by the Goodluck Jonathan administration in 2015, Mohammed,  has become a strong advocate of market forces determining the pump price pf petrol.

He recently described criticisms against the removal of subsidy by the Buhari led administration as ‘unnecessary and mischievous’.

Mohammed said subsidy on fuel is unsustainable, stating that the nation had spent N10. 413 trillion on fuel subsidy in the last 13 years (2006-2019) and that petrol in Nigeria remains the lowest on the continent.

He made this comment during a joint press conference in Abuja with Saleh Mamman, the Minster of Power, and Timipre Sylva, Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, to address the concerns raised by Nigerians over the increase in pump price and electricity tariff.

“With the price of crude inching up, the price of petrol locally is also bound to increase, hence the latest price of N162 per litre. If perchance, the price of crude drops again, the price of petrol will also drop, and the benefits will also be passed on to the consumers,” he said.

“The angry reactions that have greeted the latest prices of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) are therefore unnecessary and totally mischievous,” the Minister added.

According to him, ’the long-drawn fuel subsidy regime ended in March 2020, when the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) announced that it had begun fuel price modulation’ and which was in accordance with the prevailing market dynamics, and would respond appropriately to any further oil market development.

Mohammed added that the price of fuel had dropped from N145 to N125 per litre, and then to between N121.50 and N123.50 per litre in May due to the low price of crude oil and consumers were left to ‘enjoy’ the then price pump.

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