The National Economic Council, on Thursday, in Abuja, asked the Federal Government to put the June deadline for petroleum subsidy removal on hold, pending the review of existing plans to provide palliatives for Nigerians.
While arguing that the petrol subsidy should not be removed now, the council said the Federal Government would broaden consultations with state governments and other key stakeholders such as labour unions, petroleum marketers, the Ministry of Finance, Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission and representatives of incoming administration.
This ‘expanded committee’ would “determine if the removal can be done by June as planned,” it said.
The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, disclosed this to State House correspondents shortly after the valedictory NEC meeting presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo at the Council Chambers of the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
She said there might be a need to send a supplementary budget to the National Assembly if the incoming administration aligned with the decision to extend subsidy removal.
According to Ahmed, the Council has however agreed that the subsidy must be “removed now, rather than later,” as the nation cannot afford it anymore.
She said, “Council agreed that the timing of the removal of fuel subsidy should not be now; but that we should continue with all of the preparatory works that need to be done and these preparatory works have to be done in consultation with the states and other key stakeholders including representatives of the incoming administration.
“Council agreed that the fuel subsidy must be removed earlier rather than later because it is not sustainable. We cannot afford it anymore. But we have to do it in such a way that the impact of the subsidy is as much as possible, mitigated on the lives of ordinary Nigerians.
“So, this will require looking at alternatives to the fuel subsidy that needs to be planned for and subsequently put in place. But also, what needs to be done to support the people that will be most affected as a result of the removal.”
She noted that the 2023 budget provides for subsidy only up to June 2023. More so, the provisions of the Petroleum Industry Act require the deregulation of several sectors 18 months after the effective date of the subsidy removal.
Therefore, she said the Federal Government had agreed to form an expanded committee to consider the removal process. This includes determining the exact time and the measures to be taken to support the poor and vulnerable and ensure a sufficient supply of petroleum products nationwide.
“So this is a decision that has been taken to expand the committee that is currently working with representatives of the states and it will also have to be engaging with the petroleum marketers.
“The immediate committee comprises the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning, the NNPCL, the regulator, and the downstream and upstream regulators.
“So there’ll be an expanded committee so that it is not just a few people’s thoughts that will guide the process so that there is sufficient consultation taking inputs from key stakeholders on the measures that need to be taken. What I said is that it is not going to be removed now, which means it will not be removed before the transition is completed,” Ahmed said.
The minister noted that the nation would now be operating “two laws in the oil sector.”
However, the incoming administration would have to amend both the Appropriation Act and the PIA to bring them at par with current realities, based on their decisions on the fuel subsidy, she explained.
Ahmed said, “So if the committee’s work, which will include the representatives of the incoming administration determines that the removal can be done by June, the work plan will be designed to exit in June. But if the determination is that the period needs to be extended, that will mean that as a country will have to revisit the Appropriation Act, for example, because the 2023 budget only made provision up to June. So, if we’re extending beyond June, it means we have to revisit the Appropriation Act and do a supplementary or amend the bill and also the PIA.
“These are the reasons why we had to do this consultation with NEC to get input from the governors. They’re going to provide to us their representatives to work together with us to have a defined process that will take us towards the removal. But one thing that is clear is everybody agreed that the subsidy should be removed very quickly, because the cost is only not efficient, but is also not sustainable. And that when the time comes for removal, the removal will be done once and for all.”
Successive administrations have failed to cut or completely remove the subsidy, a socio-politically delicate matter in Africa’s largest economy.
Between January and September 2022, the Federal Government said it spent $7.5bn on fuel subsidy, describing it as an inefficient use of resources stifling Nigeria’s economic potential.
On April 12, 2023, the International Monetary Fund asked Nigeria to cut borrowing, raise revenue by increasing taxes to grow its economy at 3.2 per cent in 2023.