President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday stoutly defended his administration’s recent fiscal policy measures, particularly the deregulation of the petroleum pricing regime, saying the measures are inevitable if the abuses in the downstream subsector are to be curtailed and the economy better positioned for citizen’s socio-economic wellbeing.
The President, who justified the fiscal policy stance of his government in his Independence Day nationwide broadcast to mark Nigeria’s 60th Independence Anniversary, said it had become imperative to deal with the lingering problems which past administrations could not frontally tackle in order to realize the nation’s huge economic development potentials.
Buhari pointed out that in addition to public health challenges of working to contain the spread of the Coronavirus, the country had suffered a significant drop in its foreign exchange earnings and internal revenues due to 40 per cent drop in oil prices and steep drop in economic activities, leading to a 60 per cent drop in government revenue.
He lamented that the APC-led government was grappling with the dual challenge of saving lives and livelihoods in face of drastically reduced resources, adding that in view of the fiscal constraints sustaining the level of petroleum prices is no longer possible.
The President said: “The government, since coming into office has recognized the economic argument for adjusting the price of petroleum. But the social argument about the knock-on effect of any adjustment weighed heavily with the government.
“Accordingly, in the last 3 years, we have introduced unprecedented measures in support of the economy and to the weakest members of our society in the shape of; a. Tradermoni b. Farmermoni c. School Feeding Programme d. Job creation efforts e. Agricultural intervention programmes
“No government in the past did what we are doing with such scarce resources. We have managed to keep things going inspite of the disproportionate spending on security. In the circumstances, a responsible government must face realities and take tough decisions”, Buhari added.
On the downstream sector pricing regime, the President said petroleum prices in the country would be adjusted even as fuel currently sells at N161 per litre.
According to him, a comparison of the pricing with neighbouring countries prices showed that currently Chad, which is an oil producing country charges N362 per litre; Niger, also an oil producing country, sells at N346 per litre; Ghana, another oil producing country, sells petroleum pump price is N326 per litre; Egypt charges N211 per litre; and Saudi Arabia charges N168 per litre.
The President said it remained illogical for oil to be cheaper in Nigeria than in Saudi Arabia.
In what seems his appeal to Nigerians to prepare for the challenges ahead, Buhari said that “to achieve the great country we desire, we need to solidify our strength, increase our commitment and encourage ourselves to do that which is right and proper even when no one is watching.
“Fellow Nigerians, let us collectively resolve to continue our journey beyond the sixty years on the clear understanding that as a nation we are greater together than being smaller units of nationalities. By the special grace of God we shall come through any transient challenges.
“It is my sincere hope that by the end of this anniversary on September 30th 2021, we will all be proud of taking this individual and collective self-assessment for the progress of our great nation” the President projected.