Nigerians were thrown into panic and confusion last week after the news broke that fuel price has increased from N196 per litre to N212 per litre. This came barely two weeks after the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) promised there would be no price hike for Premium Motor Spirit, popularly known as petrol.
While Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Mr. Timipreye Sylva, urged Nigerians to disregard the increase, explaining that it was a mix-up, Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency, PPPRA, has declared that its publication of monthly template does not amount to increasing the price of petroleum products, as such increases are supposed to be determined by market forces, under the current deregulation of the sector.
This means the government no longer has any business with fuel price regulation.
A popular Senior advocate and people’s lawyer, Femi Falana, spoke extensively about this matter amongst other issues of national interest in this interview with Reuben Abati, a veteran journalist and anchor of the popular radio program, City Talks on 105.1. Below are excerpts.
Whats’ your view over the £4.2m loot returned by the UK? Who does the money belong to? Is it Delta State or Federal Government?
The federal government is totally wrong in the sense that the posting of the federal government is not anchored on any provision of law other than the agreement signed by the attorney general and his counterpart in the United Kingdom. As far as the constitution is concerned, any agreement or treaty signed between Nigeria and another country will have to be enacted into law by the national assembly.
Number two, the fund in question does not belong to the federal government in the case in the UK, it was proved that this money left the coffers of the Delta State Government and so if the fund is going to be returned having been confiscated after a criminal trial it has to return to the primary place of transfer.
And it came in this particular instance, from Delta State we have precedence in the case of Plateau state when the Governor Dariye was caught with some fund in the United Kingdom, the fund when repatriated was paid into the account of Plateau State government, same for Bayelsa State with respect to the one million found in the apartment of late Governor Depriye Alameishagha. So there can be no justification for treating the Ibori loot differently because under our constitution, any form of discrimination has been prohibited.
So I said somewhere, equal has to be treated equally so there is no way the government can say, in the case of Ibori that the money will be used to construct roads in Kano or Ibadan to construct bridge, whereas nobody is talking Delta State, you know, it’s even insensitive to adopt that kind of tactics but as I said, we have to consider, where was the money lost? And under international law, the federal government position cannot be justified.
Well, the position of the Attorney General was that the law that has been violated as that of the federal, two that the parties involved in the negotiation are sovereign nations, and that that the federal government is a victim. How is the federal government a victim?
Well, in the first place, the case instituted against Governor Ibori in Nigeria was dismissed. The effort of the EFCC under Mallam Nuhu Ribadu was frustrated by the federal government and so, governor Ibori without a trial was discharged and acquitted.
It was after that fiasco that the EFCC contacted its counterpart in Metropolitan Police in the United Kingdom to say this guy is too big to be caged by the Nigerian system, what can we do together? It was the EFCC that provided the entire evidence, as a matter of fact.
The then-attorney general, Chief Mike Andoaka, SAN frustrated the trial of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption which is that the victims of the corrupt practices shall be compensated, the federal government is not the victim. The victims are the people of Delta State.
You will recall a case of EFCC Vs Delta State government which at a time when the Ibori case started, the Delta state government reportedly said no money was missing and that Delta State has not lost any money and indeed these same people in Delta State when James Ibori returned in 2017, threw a big welcome party for him in his community, so people are now saying if the people and the government are saying nobody stole their money, do they have the moral basis to claim this 4.2 million pounds?
Well, again, those issues are totally irrelevant, in the case of Governor Alameisiagha, when he escaped from the Uk and returned to his state, he was given a heroic welcome, so this thing is normal in a country where the question of probity has not really been discussed.
But coming to the current situation I have just told you how the federal government frustrated the trial and if the federal government had succeeded, Chief James Ibori would not have been convicted in the UK, but as far as the case of EFCC against James Ibori,
I’m talking of conviction proceedings that were when Mallam Nuhu got the EFCC to apply to have the 15 million of the bribe given to him, forfeited to federal government, it was on that occasion that the Delta State Government headed by Governor Oduaghan so reported that the money was not lost and that statement was limited to the 15 million naira bribe, it did not cover all funds, illegally removed from the coffers of Delta State.
And there is no time anywhere that the Delta State ever claimed that the money found in England did not belong to Delta State, and by the way, Reuben, General Mohammadu Buhari repeatedly maintained that the late General Sanni Abacha never stole a dime from the coffers of Nigeria, but the same government headed by President Mohammed Buhari now receives regularly the remaining loot of Abacha so why don’t we say to the United Nation that since the leadership of Nigeria has once said Abacha never stole a dime then it means no money was stolen.
Some people are saying, maybe the money should be shared between Delta State and the federal government. what do you advice?
There’s no basis for that, it is the British government that will highlight what it has spent on the prosecution of the case, it has nothing to do with the federal government. They did not play any part in the process, they only wrote a letter demanding that the money be repatriated to Nigeria.
The federal government has not performed its duties under the law, because as far as article 35 of the united nation convention is concerned, this money has to go to the victims, by the way, contrary to what some senior lawyers had said, the British government is not releasing this money out of its own generosity, secondly, it was not the law of Nigeria that was involved, Chief James Ibori broke the British Law, not Nigerian law.
In the case of Nigeria, he was free. He was discharged and acquitted by a court that never tried him, so we are not dealing with the Laws of Nigeria we are dealing with the laws of the United Kingdom and the United Nation Convention against corruption.
Yesterday, Lagos was thrown into confusion. We found queues at petrol stations on the basis of pricing templates that was released by the Petroleum pricing and regulatory agency earlier in the day, recommending a pump price of N209 and N212 at the filling stations. Immediately fuel stations just set their own meters to 212.
By yesterday evening the minster had come around to say the president was not aware of what has been done, and the government has not approved the increase in the price for fuel. NNPC also disowned the process. However recently the same Minister of State Timipre Silva was the one who informed the country that the market forces henceforth will now determine the fuel price, where are we with this?
The government is confused and the confusion will be further compounded very soon. Because the government has lost total control of the management of the economy. Right now the economy is the central bank, the central bank has left banking and now either releasing money to Niger Delta or giving grants to Agric, so the central bank has left banking completely, and it only takes dictation from IMF and World Bank.
The IMF and the world bank have insisted that the price of fuel in Nigeria be dictated by the so-called invisible market forces. And that is the position of the government.
So you cannot say on one hand that market forces will determine the price of fuel and the other, saying you want to regulate or fix the price, they are all confused, so it’s left for the Nigerian people react decisively and ensure that the laws of our country are obeyed.
The power to fix petroleum product by the virtue of section six of the petroleum act is vested in the minister of Petroleum resources in this case, President Mohammadu Buhari is the Minister of Petroleum Resources. So if he’s not aware, some action must take place. He must proceed to deal with the officers who caused the problem. It’s not enough to have to apologize. If the government is convinced that PPPRA has no power to make the announcement or to fix the price unilaterally, then government must take decisive action to show Nigerians that somebody is in control.
So far, we haven’t seen any indication and for me, what the government is saying going by the NNPC is that we have long decided to increase the price of petroleum products in March 2021. That does not mean that the price has come to stay. So they are still going to increase the fuel price due to the incessant devaluation of the naira.
Why is Nigeria’s fuel price determined by International market forces?
Consistently, the government has to choose to listen to the people. What the government announced last year was that we are going to switch from PMS to CNT, which is Comprised Natural Gas, whose price would not be more than N90, that was the announcement last year. And many countries including India, even Cote’ Divoire has switched to CNT so that the number of vehicles using PMS will be substantially reduced.
Again Central Bank pumped out about 250 billion naira for the construction of CNT all over the country, again, we haven’t heard anything from that. Now the government claimed that the fuel is being smuggled outside Nigeria, whereas our own internal consumption is supposed to be about 40 million liters per day it is now set to about 60 million liters because of smuggling, and we have told them you can stop smuggling, but the government is not willing to do that.
We are being told that fuel is being smuggled to neighboring countries like Benin, Togo Ghana and the rest of them, and we have simply suggested, go and build mega stations in those countries, just as you can regulate the price that fuel is being sold in the country and make it impossible for smugglers to work.
There was a time I went for WBA meeting in Benin Republic and I met and discussed with the Prime Minister, and we discussed suggestions and he jumped at it. If we are selling fuel directly to motorists in Togo, Ghana, and Benin Republic, the government of those countries will collect tax. Nigeria will make money and at the end of the day, smugglers will be rendered totally useless.
There’ll be no smuggling anymore. But our government is not prepared to embrace this alternative suggestion. We also told them, since you are unable to fix the refinery, don’t import refined fuel from Europe and America because it is very expensive. There are West African countries, there are African countries that have the capacity to refine fuel. Simply engage in Trade by Barter.
Give them fuel and ask them to refine what you will need locally for you, but the government again is not prepared. I was the one that suggested this to the government seven years ago. Go to Cote’D Voire, today we are refining about 50,000 barrels per day from Cote D’voire.
We also asked them to go to Niger, we are refining fuel from Niger also, there are still countries like Chad, Senegal, and all that can refine petroleum for us, but the government profits from smuggling. There is a cabal that lives on smuggling and for that reason they make it impossible for the refinery to function. They also make it impossible for Nigeria to sell Petroleum directly to our neighboring countries.
If we continue this way and are not careful, before the end of this administration, a litre of fuel will be N500, but I can assure you, that will not happen.