By Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri

Last week, the Senate ad-hoc committee investigating the activities and finances of the Subsidy Re-investment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P) raised an alarm that N500 billion, accruing to the project, has not been accounted for. The committee, headed by Deputy Senate Leader, Abdul Ningi, stated that a total amount of N834.33 billion accrued to SURE-P between January 2012 and September 2013.

N834.33 billion is the sum total of receipts from the 25 billion litres of petrol which the partial withdrawal of subsidy yielded within the period. The unaccounted sum is the difference between what the SURE-P committee, headed by Dr. Christopher Kolade, claimed to have received during the period under review. Kolade told the Committee that only N300 billion has been released to SURE-P committee.

Nigeria’s Petroleum Minister, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke was absent at the meeting, and did not send any representative to clarify the gaps in receipts and disbursements of fuel subsidy savings.   The Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, was also absent at the Senate hearing. The continuing failure of the responsible officials to explain the discrepancies in the administration and disbursement of SURE-P funds provoked public outrage, fuelling widespread speculations that the money may be missing. In addition, the disappearance of the SURE-P funds is reminiscent of the unprecedented Multi-trillion Naira fuel subsidy fraud that triggered a nationwide uprising in January 2012 just after the federal government withdrew subsidy on premium motor spirit (PMS).  Till this day, no one has been punished for that malfesance.

Unsurprisingly, the missing SURE-P funds generated heated debates among a broad spectrum of Nigerians. Spaces for Change’s Discussion Forum hosted intense online exchanges and deliberations among young Nigerian professionals around the world, examining the implications of the missing funds on national growth and the economy.  ‘How much exactly has Nigeria saved from partial withdrawal of fuel subsidy since January 2012, and what happened to the money?”

Here are excerpts from the discussion:

Temitope Adeyinka: I think it’s pretty much straightforward to determine how much we’ve spent on PMS subsidy this year going by public statistics from NNPC, Petroleum ministry & PPPRA.

Nigeria currently consumes an average of 39.66 million itres of petrol according to Petroleum Minister. This is in agreement with the records NNPC submitted to the senate concerning petrol consumption in Nigeria between January 2012 and September 2013 which put total volume of petrol consumed in 21 months at about 25 billion litres (translating to an average daily consumption of 39.68 million litres).

On the pricing template on PPPRA website, monthly landing costs of petrol in Nigeria from January 2013 to date are stated. http://www.pppra-nigeria.org/pms.html. If we use the figures from the petroleum minister & NNPC with the monthly subsidy calculations from PPPRA, total subsidy on petrol from January 2013 to October 2013 comes to about N624 billion.

Sunkanmi Adesina: We don’t even know how much oil we produce; how much we sell and how much is being stolen. So, how can we be sure of how much we’re paying for subsidy?  By the way, have we all forgotten that N700b was budgeted at the beginning of 2011, and we ended up paying N2 trillion? 2 years down the line, has anybody been punished? Is it not the same Minister that is still overseeing the Ministry of Petroleum Resources?

Nigerians are actually paying 50% while FG is paying 50%. Without that, FG would have spent N1.9 trillion on subsidy? In 2011, when N2 trillion was spent, FG cried blue murder, and made a strong case that subsidy must be removed because marketers just collected trillions without supply. Now that we are spending N1.9 trillion, who is FG is holding responsible for the reckless, unnecessary spending they diagnosed in 2011? Who is FG holding responsible?

The Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala argued that if money being paid on subsidy is diverted to other sectors, there will be significant improvement in infrastructural developments and other kind of developments. But since they removed 50%, there’s no added advantage for Nigerians, who are now paying more for fuels. And if there’s no visible advantage, it can only mean that the money accrued, now being tagged SURE P, has been re-looted! So why do you want me to care whether it’s oil marketers that commit fraud, or Government cronies in the name of SURE P?

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