The ground appears to have been prepared for another New Year confrontation between President Goodluck Jonathan and civil rights activists with a stiff opposition by the latter to a suit asking Jonathan to remove totally the subsidy on fuel.
A chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party in Anambra State, Chief Stanley Okeke, has filed a suit in which he is asking a Federal High Court to compel the President to remove fuel subsidy.
Okeke is also asking the court to compel Jonathan to return to the Federation Account “such money earlier appropriated and or approved for the payment of fuel subsidy.”
The suit was filed on December 21.
But the Save Nigeria Group said the suit was a grand plot to deceive Nigerians, while human rights activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Femi Falana, vowed that civil society organisations would oppose Okeke and what the suit represents “vehemently”.
An elder statesman, Dr. Tunji Braithwaite, also described the suit as a “dubious diversion.”
Okeke, in the suit in which he listed the defendants as Jonathan; the Minister of Petroleum, Diezeni Allison-Madueke; and the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said the subsidy fund was unjustifiable in the face of corruption in the system, perennial fuel shortage and long queues in the country.
The only way to stop abuse of the fuel subsidy scheme is the removal of the policy by the Federal Government, according to the plaintiff in a 27-paragraph affidavit deposed in support of the suit.
He is also asking the court for an order directing Okonjo-Iweala to stop further payment of fuel subsidy, submitting that the payments had been corrupt, illegal and unlawful.
The PDP chief asked the court to determine the following questions:
*Whether in view of the official corruption and abuse of office inherent in the fuel subsidy regime as evidenced by the in-going trial of certain individuals in the Federal High Court Lagos, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is validly competent to order the removal and or abolish the fuel subsidy scheme;
*Whether consequent upon the perennial fuel shortages and the attendant long queues on our roads, it would be proper and lawful for the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to completely remove and abolish the fuel subsidy regime;
*Whether having regards to the near infrastructural collapse in our country, it would be proper to re-channel funds meant fuel subsidy scheme into the building of infrastructural facilities, and;
*Whether the 2nd and 3rd defendants being appointees of the President by not ensuring a corrupt free subsidy regime has not failed in their principal duty to Nigerians.
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the case.
Spokesman for the SNG, Yinka Odumakin, told The PUNCH on Sunday night that the suit was a gameplan to increase the prices of petroleum products in the New Year.
Odumakin said, “This is a nation of organised grand deception. President Goodluck Jonathan said there would not be fuel subsidy removal. What is happening is an orchestrated plan to increase fuel price.
“The action is like a case of the witch crying yesterday and the following day, the child is dead. Who will not know it is the witch that killed the baby?”
He said the SNG’s last protest was not about subsidy removal but the corruption in the system.
“The President should know that Nigerians are not idiots. We are waiting for them,” he said.
Falana told one of our correspondents on the telephone that, “We are going to oppose the suit vehemently and totally. We and other civil society organisations will join the suit to oppose the plaintiff and the interests being represented.
“The President has already declared in his Presidential chat that he was not going to remove subsidy on fuel. It is very clear that Nigerians are opposed to any further removal of subsidy on fuel.
“Nigerians cannot be punished for the fraud and the criminality of smugglers that have characterised the fuel subsidy regime.
“The cases being referred to by the plaintiff are still in court, nobody has been convicted so far.”
Braithwaite said, “The fuel subsidy itself is a swindle on the national treasury, by which trillions of naira and billions of dollars are stolen by those in government and their accomplices who are easily identifiable by the hapless masses.
“However, a lawsuit in the present corrupt environment of Nigeria is yet another dubious diversion to buy time for the cruel and oppressive governments in Nigeria.”
Braithwaite said Nigerians had a responsibility to hold ‘King Corruption’ accountable in the people’s own court and to recover the loot.
Another human rights activist, Jiti Ogunye, said the suit could be an “arrangee case” that would not be opposed by the President and other agents of the Federal Government.
He said, “Is an order of mandamus, as a prerogative writ in administrative or constitutional law, or an order like that lies to compel the performance of a public duty? The answer is no. It is a policy issue that is not justiciable in court of law.
“We hope that this is not an ‘arrangee case’ since the defendants – the President and other agents of the Federal Government – might not be willing to oppose the suit.
“We also hope that the Nigerian Labour Congress and other civil society groups, who fought bitterly in January to oppose the removal of subsidy on fuel, are watching. We encourage them to join the suit as interested parties so that it will not be a cut-and-dry case between the plaintiff and the Federal Government.”