‘A deregulated oil sector would increase fund for capital vote’
Senator Roberts Ajayi Boroffice, a member of the Committee on Trade and Investment represents Ondo North in the upper legislative chamber. He spoke to NIYI BELLO, among other issues, on the expected gains of the total deregulation of the downstream sector of the oil industry and how to prevent future occurrence of the kind of controversy that almost scuttle the 2016 Appropriation Act. Excerpts:
Last Wednesday the Federal Government deregulated the downstream oil sector and announced a new petrol pump price of N145. What is the socio-economic implication of this on Nigerians?
The removal of subsidy means that more money would be available in the budget for development. I am sure whatever financial gains we get out of this will go into capital budget and it is money in the capital vote that would facilitate development and energize the economy and also create wealth for our people. I know that right now people will feel uncomfortable but the hardship is going to be temporary.
With this development, there will be competition in the downstream sector because anybody can import petroleum products from any part of the world. If you are selling at N145 and another one is selling at N140, of course, you will have to adjust your price or go and be buying from where you will be able to make profit at a lower price to the consumer.
This is a departure from what we had before. In fact in the United States, two gas stations can be located near each other and still be selling fuel at different pump prices. Of course the one that is more expensive would lose customers because every cent matters a lot to an American.
In Nigeria, competition would eventually bring down the price. We have people that can bring in petrol at reasonable prices but an un-deregulated oil sector does not allow that. Initially it is going to cause some hardships but when the process runs its full course, we are all going to enjoy it. It is going to be like the deregulated telecommunication sector. You know initially we were buying SIM cards for as much as N30, 000 when GSM was first introduced to Nigeria, but now it is about N200. That is what competition does. When it was NITEL alone, you have to be a big man to own a telephone. And you remember one of our leaders then said telephone was not for the poor.
If it is going to be an open market, why then did government fix the price?
I don’t know how government, through the regulatory bodies, arrived at that particular price but I can tell you that the protection of the interest of Nigerians is part of the factors. I am in Akure now and there are fuel stations selling at N160. So it depends on the indices deductible from the vagaries of the oil economy. As I said, initially it is going to be chaotic and price riots but eventually the whole thing would settle down.
A lot of controversies surrounded the 2016 Appropriation Act leading to many Nigerians blaming members of the National Assembly. What do you think are responsible for these?
It is unfortunate that the Nigerian public views the National Assembly in negative light especially on the controversies that dodged the 2016 budget. While I cannot speak for the House of Representatives, I want to say that we started on a wrong foot at the Senate of the 8th Assembly. Some of us Senators don’t know the difference between partisanship and patriotism. I have not been comfortable with some bills and motions emanating from the chambers. The Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) bill for instance was in bad taste and capable of further alienating the Senators from their constituents.
I said we started on a wrong foot because the current Senate leadership emerged from an Order that was illegally amended. But in a democracy, the majority would have its way. However some of us are in court to challenge the process. We must follow due process.
Are you calling for a new set of leadership in the Senate?
That depends on what the court decides. If the court says we are right and we should go back to status quo ante and use the existing standing rule, which we believe, is the correct one, then we will go back to the status quo and follow the normal procedure in electing a new leadership. It is not personal. We are doing this to preserve the rule of law, honour and integrity of the legislature. This change mantra must not be by words of mouth alone. It must percolate to every aspect of our national life. We are not fighting individuals but we are fighting for the integrity of the senate and the sanctity of the rule of law.
Why was the process of passing this year’s budget so cumbersome?
In the budgeting-making process when the Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs) present their budge, the Senate refers it to the various committees, which become standing committees of the appropriation committee.
All these sub-committees do the analysis of the budget; carry out subtractions and additions of the figures where necessary, before submitting to the appropriation committee. Usually the chairmen of the committees in the Senate and the House of Representatives and other members will sit and concur on the changes that have been made to make the job easier for the appropriation committee of the National Assembly.
The two appropriation committees will now look at the documents and if there is going to be a very serious adjustment and issues that are controversial, and they have to take a definite decision, they put the matter to vote.
But because of the large number of members of the House of Representatives, usually Senate members are outvoted. The average committee membership in the House is about 30 while that of the Senate is about 10 and it is one-man-one-vote. I think it is wrong. In the worst scenario, it should be equal representation. With this arrangement, it is whatever the House of Representatives want that they get.
This is not fair to the Senate members whose areas of representation is much more bigger that that of members of the House of Representatives. Here we have members of the House who are representing a federal constituency, an average of two local governments, having more power in deciding how the resources of the country are appropriated. It is an aberration that should be corrected.
We are told when we submitted our budget that the document came out in a different form and funds were taken from various areas and devoted to some specific projects where individuals have interests. This is against the law and it is wrong. There is an example of N4 billion that was mopped up and taken by somebody, which he put in the budget to promote areas of his own interest.