*Ekweremadu, Lawan, Akpabio, others lead offensive against controversial bill

*As NNPC faces probe over alleged secret operation of fuel subsidy regime

From: FRED ITUA, Abuja

The Senate, on Thursday, dumped its controversial National Roads Funds Bill, which recommends increase of fuel pump price from N145 to N150 to fund road projects in the country.

The withdrawal of the bill, followed the adoption of a suggestion by Senator Binta Masi Garba, that it be stepped down in the interest of Nigerians.

The Senate committee on Works, headed by Senator Kabiru Gaya, had last week, in a report, recommended a levy of N5 chargeable per litre on any volume of petrol and diesel products imported into Nigeria and on non-locally refined petroleum products.

It had also proposed that toll fees not exceeding 10 per cent of any revenue be paid as user charge per vehicle on any designated federal road. The payment will not be applicable to roads under the Public Private Partnership arrangement.

The Senate panel, had equally proposed that there should be an “inter-state mass transit user charge of 0.5 per cent deductible from fares paid by passengers to commercial mass transit operators on inter-state roads.

“There shall be a road fund charge of 0.5 per cent on the assessed value of any vehicle imported at any time into Nigeria. There shall be lease, license or other fees which shall be 10 per cent of the revenue accruing from lease or license or other fees pertaining to non-vehicular road usage along any federal road and collected by the Federal Roads Agency.”

“Mr President, my distinguished colleagues, the committee recommends that the Senate do consider and pass the bill for an Act to establish the National Roads Fund and other related matters connected therewith, 2017.

“It is our hope that this legislation, when passed, will contribute positively to the economic growth of the nation and impact positively on the lives of Nigerians and deliver a road sector that will be a model for other countries,” part of the report signed, had read.

But during Thursday’s proceedings, Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, Senate Leader, Ahmad Lawan, Minority Leader, Godswill Akpabio and Kabiru Marafa, led the offensive against the withdrawal of the bill which ought to have been considered and passed.

Putting up an earlier defence before the bill was withdrawn, Gaya said: “There was a media report last week that we are increasing fuel by N5. That is not true. We intend to remove the N5 from the current N145 per litre. If this bill is passed, the government will realise about N94 billion per annum.”

Senator Marafa, while opposing the bill, said its passage will further impoverish Nigerians. He urged his colleagues not to support it.

He said: “My comments are on the method of funding. The claims that the N5 charge has already been captured was not correct. Taking another N5 from refined products will add to the suffering of the people.

“This will bring untold hardship to the people of Nigeria. We have already addressed something like this in the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB). I oppose the recommendations.”

Senate Leader, Lawan, while moving that the bill be stepped down, said: “The report of Gaya will not work. When we reach the bridge, we will cross it.”

Akpabio, who seconded Lawan’s motion, quipped: “I want to align myself with the submissions of other speakers. I have reservations about the bill. I do not want the chamber to just pass a law and it will not be effective. I had an experience with the Police Funds when I was a governor. Throughout my time as governor, I did not get any fund.”

When Ekweremadu who presided put the question to a voice vote, almost all the lawmakers yelled ‘aye’, including members of committee on Works who signed the initial report, which recommended that the price of fuel be increased by N5.

Gaya, again got up to defend his position. He said: “We need to make further consultations. There has never been a proposal for increase. We are saying a deduction from the current N145.

Deputy Senate Leader, Bala Ibn Na’Allah, supported Gaya. He added: “We need to suspend our procedure and explain to Nigerians. If we do not do this, there will be trouble. Nigeria will think that we want to increase fuel price.

Ekweremadu in his final intervention, before the Senate adjourned for the day, said: “Senate has no intention of increasing the price of fuel. There is no ambiguity about it. What we are trying to do is to find other sources of funding road infrastructure. We do not want to impose hardship on the people of Nigeria. We want to ensure that those who voted for us have comforts in their lives.”

Meanwhile, the upper chamber has raised the alarm over the continous operation of fuel subsidy regime. It said contrary to claims by the Federal Government, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) is still operating subsidy regime in the country.

Chairman, Senate committee on Petroleum Resources (Downstream), Senator Marafa, who made the claims on the floor of the Senate on Thursday.

He said contrary to claims made by the Federal Government that the fuel subsidy regime had been abolished, NNPC was still making secret payments.

Marafa claimed that the situation has crippled the downstream sector of the petroleum industry, where NNPC has become the sole importer of products.

The lawmaker revealed that his committee was currently investigating the illegal payment of subsidy by management of NNPC.

Marafa said: “Even the price of N145 is not realistic. The NNPC is still operating the subsidy regime. NNPC is now the only body importing petroleum products into the country. You cannot import petroleum products into the country right now with the current trend. We are investigating this subsidy payment by the NNPC.”