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 CNS Story:

NIGERIA-FUEL Jan-4-2012 (440 words) With photo. xxxi

Bishops accuse Nigeria of collusion, fraud over removal of fuel subsidy

By Peter Ajayi Dada
Catholic News Service

LAGOS, Nigeria (CNS) -- A group of Nigerian bishops accused the government of selfishness, collusion and fraud and said removal of a fuel subsidy showed "insensitive timing."

"Must the poor suffer to make the rich smile? It may not be fair to blame the ... government alone for all the woes of Nigeria, but this government must take full responsibility for the insensitive timing and execution of this policy on fuel subsidy," said the statement, signed by Archbishop Felix Alaba Job of Ibadan, president of the Ibadan Ecclesiastical Province of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Nigeria.

The bishops said the government made "the poor suffer in the selfish interest of a few who have fraudulently enriched themselves in collusion with those in the corridors of power" in setting public policy.

The statement from the bishops of the Ibadan, Ilorin, Ondo, Osogbo, Oyo and Ekiti dioceses emailed to journalists Jan. 2 said the announcement by the government of President Goodluck Jonathan to end a widely supported fuel subsidy would mean additional hardship for poor people.

After the Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulation Agency announced the end of the subsidy Jan. 1, pump prices of for fuel rose between 100 percent and 250 percent across the country, immediately leading to higher prices for goods and services, according to reports. Prices rose from about 41 cents per liter of fuel to between 89 cents and $1.57 per liter, surveys showed.

Labor leaders quickly mobilized and began mass protests Jan. 2 in opposition to the new policy.

The government has had no further comment.

The bishops of the Ibadan province charged that the government decided to remove the subsidy long before consulting with the public and others across Nigerian society.

"We deplore the fact that economic considerations were prioritized over moral implications and immediate public interests in the timing of this subsidy removal," the statement said.

The bishops called upon the government to investigate alleged corruption between the petroleum industry and government officials before removing the subsidy. They also said the government's failure to provide a secure environment for people and property must be reversed in order to attract investors to the Nigerian economy.

The bishops said that the government action serves to penalize ordinary Nigerians for fraudulent practices within the government.

The government's decision also "did not allay palpable fears of harsher economic effects on the average Nigerian, nor did it take any action to protect or support the poorest and most vulnerable Nigerians," the bishops said.

"We declare that it is immoral to impose removal of the petroleum subsidy on economically weakened Nigerians while political office holders continue to live in embarrassing opulence," the statement added.


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