President Goodluck Jonathan on Sunday assured Nigerians that the subsidy on petroleum would stay in 2013.
However, the President was silent on whether there would be an increase in the pump price of petrol or not. Our correspondent reports that the president’s assurance does not preclude an increase in fuel price. He adds that the President’s promise will remain valid even if the fuel price is hiked and government doesn’t fully remove subsidy.
“If we are going to remove subsidy from January, as you are afraid we will do in January, we couldn’t have made provisions for it in the 2013 budget. We have made provisions from January till December,” Jonathan said during the Presidential Media Chat aired live on network television and radio.
Fielding questions from a panel of interviewers, the President dwelt on a range of burning national issues including the convocation of a Sovereign national Conference, the 2015 election, and constitution amendment.
He said he was misunderstood when he said last Thursday that subsidy must go for development to take place in the oil sector.
“Why is it that people are not building refineries in Nigeria despite that it is a big business? It is because of the policy of subsidy, and that is why we want to get out of it,” the President had said while receiving the report of the graduating participants of the Senior Executive Course 34, 2012, of the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, near Jos, at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
But the President said on Sunday that he did not say the country was deregulating its oil sector. ‘‘I did not say we are deregulating. But all what we are saying is that if we are to get to that level of Canada, the policy that existed in January, which is public-private sector driven, we have to adopt that in Nigeria,” he said.
On the shortage of fuel and the return of queues at filling stations, the President said Nigerians should bear with his government.
He said, “This situation can manifest in different areas, some people may have the product and decide to manipulate the system so that they can get more money.
“I am asking Nigerians to bear with us. I got the report from the ( Aig) Imokhuede committee on Friday, an advanced copy of the report. The arguments by the marketers is that it is government that is owing them. (But) the preliminary report we have indicates that they owe the government.
“They (oil marketers) are businessmen; they could decide to manipulate the system to get more money. I got a copy of the report. We will look into it. Experts are being brought in to do forensic audit. The human element is there, and we have our own challenges. I believe that by the time we finish sanitizing the oil sector, the issue of fuel queue will be put behind us for good.”
Jonathan, however, said Nigerians would have to wait till 2014 to know whether he would contest in the 2015 presidential race or not. He nonetheless noted that four years four years was too short to make an impact.
“Four years is a very short time for a person to make an impact. Immediately you start talking about elections. Give us time. Before you start asking Mr. President whether he will contest elections, wait until 2014. Give us some time to make sure that myself and my cabinet work,” he said.
He said it was too early to ask “a sitting President whether he will contest elections or not.”
The President added, “This is one of the reasons we agitated for this single tenure issue. If a President tells you today that I am contesting it will generate a lot of issues; I am not contesting will also generate a lot of issues.
“If I say I am not contesting some of my cabinet ministers will even resign and go because most of them, if not all of them, are qualified to contest the position. So we have a four year tenure which is quite short, because if you look at the African scenario, it ranges from 4 years to seven.
“Some countries have five years, like South Africa, some seven years, others six years of double tenures, but we operate what we copied from the United States of America.”
The President said a sovereign national conference could not be convened now.
He said, “When you mention the word sovereign, people get frightened. The basic thing I believe, as a President who has taken an oath to defend the constitution of Nigeria, is that whatever we do, we should keep in line with the constitution, and the citizens should send their views on the constitution to the National Assembly.
“If today we jettison the provision of the constitution, we will run into anarchy and the best option is to keep in line with the provision of the constitution.”
Commending the constitution review by the National Assembly, he said that Nigerians were being allowed to debate all issues.
Jonathan said “You expose issues to all Nigerians, individual groups, religious groups, social cultural groups, ethnic groups, youth groups and all other patriotic groups have the opportunity to make inputs to the constitution.”
On the call for referendum, the President said that what the National Assembly was doing had the elements of a referendum.
He said, “What we are doing has satisfied the issue of referendum. Because in a referendum we would want to know the opinion of people, the thinking of the people on a particular subject matter.
“What the National Assembly is doing is that they are going from state to state, from constituency to constituency, from zone to zone to collate the thinking of the people, in terms of the provisions of the constitution in the areas that affect them.”
The President also said that the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Adoke (SAN), had been working on the report of the Justice Belgore Committee on constitution review.
Jonathan said that he would not comment on issues that were being discussed in the ongoing constitution review.
The President acknowledged that Nigerians had rejected the single tenure he suggested given their reactions to the idea.
“I made that statement on a single tenure, just to solve that problem of the overheating of the polity. But I believe from the reactions so far that Nigerians feel that the best thing to do is to maintain the double-tenure (system). That is why we made sure that we sanitise our electoral system. Of course you can agree with me that that is one area where we have done very well,” he said.
On the Soku/Oluasiri oil row between Bayelsa and Rivers states, Jonathan said even though he was an indigene of Bayelsa he would not influence the process.
He said, ‘‘I am Bayelsan by birth and all my life, I have lived in Rivers State. I have more friends in Rivers than Bayelsa. The issue has to do with boundary, the area you are talking about is a boundary between Rivers and Bayelsa.
“Before Bayelsa was created, Nembe and Kalabiri fought over the boundary. It is a very sensitive area. I have already directed all the relevant agencies to go and do their work professionally. Frankly speaking, revenue mobilisation is independent; it even took the government to court. I will not influence anything to favour Bayelsa State.’’