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SMEs, Urban Poor Bearing Brunt Of N550 Petrol Price

Since the hike in the price of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) across the country following the total removal of subsidy on the product on May 31, 2023, Nigerians are increasingly becoming skeptical about federal government’s plans to introduce palliatives.

Leadership Newspapers

by Our Correspondents

Since the hike in the price of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) across the country following the total removal of subsidy on the product on May 31, 2023, Nigerians are increasingly becoming skeptical about federal government’s plans to introduce palliatives.

LEADERSHIP Weekend investigations revealed that the removal of the subsidy which had been in place for several years has mostly affected a cross section of small business owners, civil servants, bankers and the urban poor who are currently bearing the brunt of the nearly 300 percent increase in the price of PMS.

President Bola Tinubu had in his May 29 inauguration speech categorically declared subsidy as “gone”, adding that it was unsustainable for the citizens to continue paying N195 per litre for PMS.

The World Bank on Tuesday warned that some 7 million Nigerians would become poor if the government failed to compensate them or provide palliatives.

The global apex bank disclosed this in its June 2023 report of the Nigeria Development Update.

The warning may however be already taking shape as small business owners in virtually all parts of the country are reporting the effects of the high petrol price on their bottom line.

While a majority of Nigerians, particularly those living in rural areas still engage in farming, early indications suggest they have not been spared by the challenges occasioned by the increase in the price of PMS.

A farmer in Makurdi, the Benue State capital, Terzungwe Shawon, who spoke with this paper, said farmers have not been spared from the hardship caused by subsidy removal, as the over 100 per cent increase in farm inputs has pushed most farmers from commercial farming to subsistence farming.

A proprietor of a private school in Osogbo, the Osun State capital, Alhaji Moshood Tiwadayo, said the hike in petroleum products has taken its toll on the enrolment of pupils in his school, adding that the little addition to students’ transport fare has caused sharp drop in their daily attendance.

However, Alhaji Tiwadayo, who is in support of the subsidy removal because of its adverse effects on the nation’s economy pleaded with government to fashion out palliative measures that would serve as relief to the general public.

A growing number of Nigerians are however expressing doubt that the palliatives would arrive anytime soon.

Mrs Adunola Alabi, also a resident of Osogbo, expressed pessimism on the possibility of palliatives that would spread among the masses, adding that the past palliative measures are designed to favour public servants at the expense of other members of the public.

Osariodion Ighalo, a metal construction worker in Asaba, Edo State, told LEADERSHIP Weekend that life has been very difficult for him and members of his household as he could barely afford the cost of PMS to fuel his generator.

He said, “We are tired. Things are very difficult for us, especially we artisans that depend on fuel to do business. You can see that since morning, I have not done any work and that has been the situation. People are complaining that the cost of goods and services has gone up about 300 percent without commensurate wage increase.

“I want the government to immediately put measures in place to alleviate the suffering of the poor in the country. Government, in my opinion, can give some kind of loan or grant to business owners to stay afloat.”

But Idris Omo Ojo, a vulcaniser in Asaba, however applauded government’s decision to end petrol subsidy, noting that Nigerians will, in the long run, benefit from the monies saved from non-payment of subsidy.

He advised government to demonstrate sincerity of purpose and accountability in the utilisation of the proceeds since there is no more subsidy payment.

Speaking on the issue, the owner of a cyber cafe in Ekpo Abasi Street in Calabar, Cross River State, Eno Peter, urged the federal government to ensure that palliatives are put on ground before venturing into electricity tariff increment.

He said government should not make the mistake it made months ago when it removed the subsidy on petrol without putting adequate measures in place to cushion the effect.

“If you want to increase electricity tariff, make the palliatives available or else, we would all suffer,” he told our correspondent.

On his part Abel Aniyom, an operator of barbing salon, urged government at all levels to work hard, move faster and come up with better policies and programmes that can provide succour to the citizens, rather than initiating policies that worsen the already hard economic situation the people are enmeshed in.

Aniyom said, “We don’t need harsh economic policies like electricity tariff increment considering the pains we are already going through as a result of fuel subsidy, which we were told earlier would make life more meaningful in the long run.”

Also, Godwin Frank, a graphic designer who specialises in art work and printing of billboards, banners, fliers, brochures, company profiles with his office located in Yenagoa, said the fuel increase has really weighed his business down, adding that running errands with his car, going different places to meet clients and doing their jobs involve fuel.

“Considering our income, especially what is coming per day, sometimes you don’t have up to N5000 per day and you burn fuel worth N5000 every day because of the increment. So, it draws us back and it is a bit challenging in the business. Spending your income and your expenditure, it is not matching and you have other things to do at home.

“For electricity, we hardly see light three times a week. It will come in three hours, four hours and it is gone. Sometimes it will come in the night when we are not doing business. When there is no light, we need to use fuel. Usually, we use N2,000 fuel in a day for the office but now it has increased to N4,500 if there is no light.

“We just look up to God believing that the situation will change because there is no provision to march this high level of expenses for now. It’s really challenging.”

Godwin further emphasised that he does not see any hope in sight that things would get better in the long run, noting that from his experience over the years, Nigerians will only adjust to the system.

“We Nigerians don’t believe things will go down; we just adjust to the system. Over the years, from Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, we have been adjusting to things. So, I don’t believe what they are saying. If Buhari did it and we adjusted, definitely Nigerians will adjust and get used to this current situation.

“Saying they will bring solution to it, I don’t believe it honestly because right now, people are already adjusted to the fuel price; no protest. If they are not adjusting to it, there will be protests. If government sees there is no protest and people are adjusting, they will leave it there.

“Making provision for palliatives and other things, we know that it is just for the rich. When they get it, it’s for some selected people not just for the masses. That is what we have seen over the years in this country”, he said.

The zonal secretary of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), South South, and secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Bayelsa State, Comrade John Angese, stressed that the fuel increase has brought more harm to the people because every other thing has been affected and life is becoming more unbearable for the ordinary Nigerian.

He advised that the government should step up its game and ensure that the welfare of its citizenry becomes a priority by finding other ways of providing succour aside palliatives if the subsidy removal will make any difference.

“We have been languishing in abject poverty; life expectancy is going down by the day and I don’t think it is proper that more injury be inflicted on the people who are already suffering, and are already impoverished by policies of government.

“Palliative is not anything to go by. How much palliatives are you going to give to the people to cushion the effect of the fuel subsidy removal? They must come with policies that will make life more meaningful to the people. Opening the border is fine, the prices must be regulated to come down, ensure that prices of goods and services begin to drop drastically so that the little money an individual has can go for such goods and services for maximum satisfaction”, he said.

On the proposed increase in electricity tariff, Angese said, “To worsen it, the regulatory body has come up to say tariff hike in electricity. To me, it is insensitivity of the government to the people at this particular time. We are crying over increase in fuel and to go ahead to say electricity distribution will still go up is like double jeopardy to the ordinary person.

“So, I think it is an ill-timed decision and to worsen it, we don’t get value for the money for the services being rendered by the electricity distribution company. Hardly do you get light in most of the areas in Bayelsa State where I stay. It is like we are paying for services that are not rendered.

“The distribution companies are not interested in fixing the facilities that are bad; the consumers contribute money to get these things repaired and at the end, they pay for light that hardly comes.”

In the northern part of the country, the same story of collapsing businesses and dwindling incomes are being told, with citizens raising questions about the ability of the government to deliver palliatives.

And concerned with the previous experience on various government palliative measures, people in Yobe State have expressed doubt on the effective implementation of the proposed federal government interventions meant to cushion the effects of fuel subsidy removal in the country.

Speaking with LEADERSHIP Weekend, a lecturer with the Accountancy Department of the Yobe State University, Prof. Ibrahim Umar said Nigerians have every reason to disbelieve the government, taking into consideration their past experiences with similar measures, especially with regards to implementation of related policies.

He said, “Our major problem is institutional failure in implementing government policies largely due to systematic corruption, hence the doubt by the generality of Nigerians.

“As I am talking to you, Nigerians are suffering from the hike in the prices of basic commodities necessitated by the subsidy removal which ideally the palliatives or interventions measure ought to have been on ground before the removal.”

Leadership Newspapers

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