The Federal Government had been using the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency to fix the prices of petroleum products. But following the recent challenge of the usurpation of the powers of the Minister of Petroleum Resources to fix the pump price by the Alliance on Surviving COVID-19 and Beyond (ASCAB), the Federal Government decided to transfer the power to the Petroleum Products Marketing Company. Thus, the PPMC announced a new ex-depot price of N151.56 for PMS last week. In justifying the illegal and insensitive increase in the pump price of fuel the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva, had said, "Government is no longer in the business of fixing prices for petroleum products, we have stepped back. Our focus now is on protecting the interest of the consumers and making sure that marketers are not."
In the same vein, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, has publicly confirmed the decision of the Federal Government to hand over the duty of the Minister of Petroleum Resources to the so-called global market forces. Thus, while speaking from Abuja during a web seminar organised by the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, last week, explained that all tough measures adopted by the Federal Government were geared towards weathering the current headwinds posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to her, "What that means is that the price of refined products (petrol) will be determined by the global price of crude oil, so the price will keep changing according to how the global market operates.”
With respect, ASCAB insists that decision of the Federal Government to abdicate its responsibility to fix the price of fuel is the height of official impunity, which should not be tolerated in any democratic society. Indeed, it is a reckless violation of section 6 (1) of the Petroleum Act, which provides that "The minister may by order published in the federal gazette fix the prices at which petroleum products or any particular class or classes thereof may be sold in Nigeria or in any particular part or parts thereof."
In the case of Bamidele Aturu versus Attorney-General of the Federation (unreported suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/591/2009), the Federal High Court declared illegal and unconstitutional the policy decision of the federal government to deregulate the downstream sector of the petroleum industry contrary to the combined effect of the provisions of the Price Control Act and the Petroleum Act. According to the learned trial judge, Adamu Bello J. (as he then was): "It seems to me that a combined reading of the provisions of sections 4 and 6 of the Police Control Act and the Petroleum Act leaves one in no doubt that the control of and regulation of prices of petroleum products among others, is a legal duty imposed on the government of the Federation acting through its relevant functionaries i.e Minister of Petroleum Resources and the minister in charge of commerce by the two acts of the National Assembly referred to, so any decision by the government to deregulate the downstream sector as it affects the fixing of price of petroleum products must contend with those enactments. In other words, any decision to deregulate the downstream sector of the petroleum industry by not fixing the prices of products while these extant laws remain in force and has not been amended or abrogated, will be in conflict with those enactments an therefore be illegal."
Since the judgments and orders of the Federal High Court are binding on the Federal Government as well as all authorities and persons in Nigeria pursuant to section 287 (3) of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 the decision of the PPMC to increase the price of petrol is contemptuous, illegal, null and void. Therefore, the Federal Government should cancel the illegal fuel hike and call the management of the PPMC to order for usurping the power which is exclusively vested in the Minister of Petroleum Resources. ASCAB is compelled to call on President Buhari to exercise his statutory power as the Honourable Minister of Petroleum Resources to protect the interests of the Nigerian people by fixing "the prices at which petroleum products or any particular class or classes thereof may be sold in Nigeria or in any particular part or parts thereof".
FALANA (SAN), is
Chairman, Alliance on Surviving COVID-19 and Beyond