Human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Femi Falana, has slammed the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) over the fresh fuel price hike, adding that it lacked constitutional powers to fix the prices of petrol.
This is just as the House of Representatives yesterday summoned the Group Chief Executive Officer of NNPCL, Mele Kyari, and operatives of independent marketers in the country in reaction to the hike in price of petrol.
In a statement released in his capacity as the chairman of the Alliance on Surviving Covid-19 and Beyond (ASCAB), Falana said the prices of petrol should be fixed by market forces, adding that “the increase of the pump price of petrol by NNPCL is an affront to the rule of law on the ground that it is illegal in every material in particular.”
The statement read: “In his inauguration address delivered on May 29, 2023, President Bola Tinubu announced that his administration would govern the country in accordance with the rule of law. The implication of the commitment is that the actions of the government and its agencies will be carried out under the law. The people of Nigeria were taken aback on Tuesday when NNPCL increased the pump price of petrol from N500 to N617. After increasing the price, NNPCL turned around to claim that it was fixed by market forces. It is submitted that the increase of the pump price of petrol by NNPCL is an affront to the rule of law on the ground that it is illegal in every material particular.
“In Bamidele Aturu v Minister of Petroleum Resources (Suit No FHC/ABJ/CS/591/2009), the plaintiff challenged the plan of the Federal Government to deregulate the downstream sector of the petroleum industry and allow market forces to determine the prices of petroleum products. In a landmark judgment delivered on March 19, 2013, the Federal High Court, presided over by Adamu Bello J. (as he then was) held that by the combined effect of the Petroleum Act, Price Control Act and the Constitution, the Federal Government must always fix the price of petroleum products sold across Nigeria.
“Dissatisfied with the judgment of the Federal High Court, the Federal Government filed an appeal at the Court of Appeal. Even though the appeal has not been determined, NNPCL has usurped the power of the Federal Government to determine and fix the prices of petroleum products in the country. It is undoubtedly clear that the action of NNPCL is illegal and contemptuous since the judgment of the Federal High Court on the subject matter has not been set aside by a higher court.
“It ought to be pointed out that NNPCL is no longer an agency of the Federal Government but a limited liability company, which is regulated by the Nigerian Upstream Regulatory Commission (NUPRC) and the Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority in charge of the petroleum industry. The action of NNPCL has confirmed that the company has continued to exercise monopoly in the importation and distribution of petrol in the country contrary to the letter and spirit of the Petroleum Industry Act, 2021.
“Having liberalised the petroleum sector, NNPCL lacks the power to fix the prices of petroleum products in any part of Nigeria. It is high time that NNPCL was restrained from further fixing the prices of petroleum products in the country,” Falana submitted.
In the same vein, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on Wednesday chided the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led Federal Government over Tuesday’s hike in the pump price of petrol. National Publicity Secretary of the main opposition party, Debo Ologunagba, in a statement, described the new price as a provocative exhibition of extreme insensitivity and callousness towards Nigerians, adding that the recent increment worsened the already suffocating economic situation under APC leadership and has the capability of triggering very serious crisis in the country if not abated.
The statement read in part: “Our party insists that the N617 per litre of fuel is excessive, unacceptable and cannot be justified under any guise. It is appalling that instead of seeking ways to stabilise and grow the economy, the APC administration has abandoned the welfare of Nigerians, which is the primary purpose of government under Section 14 (2)(b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) and left citizens to the vagaries of market forces and exploitative cabal; a disposition that is characteristic of a government that is not accountable to the people.”
PDP said it was alarmed that “with its ill-thought out, badly planned and hurriedly-executed policies, APC is running Nigeria’s economy aground with the value of naira rapidly plummeting, businesses and production shutting down, citizens losing their means of livelihood, commercial and social activities crippled, with millions of families no longer able to afford their daily needs as the costs of food, medication and other essential goods and services continue to skyrocket.”
PDP dismissed APC’s “insensitive and lame argument of market forces and comparison of price of fuel in Nigeria with those of other countries, which have functional infrastructure, variety of affordable alternative transportation system and sources of energy; strong currency and where citizens earn far higher than what obtains in Nigeria.”
Even with the removal of subsidy on petroleum products, PDP maintained that with a deft, transparent and innovative management of resources, economic potentials, national comparative advantage and expanded value chain in refining capacity, fuel should not sell for more than N150 per litre in Nigeria.
EARLIER, president of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Joe Ajaero, said Nigerians have not been told the truth on the issue of petrol pricing.
Speaking on Politics Today, a Channels TV programme on Tuesday night, Ajaero said the government is punishing the masses. Ajaero noted that President Tinubu’s administration is toying with Nigerians, and NNPCL is only being clever by half.
“NNPCL cannot import and say the commodity is imported by marketers, that is not true. If the government withdrew subsidies of petroleum products and suddenly, while we are about to start committee meetings, there is another price increase, why then will the government seek a court injunction and use other measures if it is not their business?
“It seems we have entered a reign where Nigerians are being punished unnecessarily and where lies are coming up everywhere. If you have a single market where everybody must change dollars at N800/$1, you remove the market where people were changing dollars at N450 to import, it means the very moment that dollar value increases to even N900/N1,000, you will tell us that you imported it at current value.
“Even though the products you have now are not the ones that were imported under N800/$. Government is toying with Nigerians. What is happening is not economics, but a reign of impunity.”
Yesterday, wading into the crisis caused by the price hike, the House of Representatives summoned the NNPCL boss to explain the current situation of the industry.
The decision followed the adoption of a motion under matters of urgent national importance at the House plenary session presided by the Deputy Speaker, Benjamin Kalu.
Sponsor of the motion, Ikenga Ugochinyere, decried the incessant increment of fuel price, which is worsening the plight of Nigerians. He particularly referred to the increase in cost of transport fares and food items as some of the biting effects of the increase in the price of fuel in the country.
The Deputy Speaker described the motion as timely since it was reflective of the feelings of Nigerians. “If we remain silent on issues like this, it would look as if we are insensitive to the plight of Nigerians,” he noted. The House resolved to constitute an ad hoc committee whose membership would be drawn from across the 36 states to probe into the issue accordingly.