Lagos, Nigeria (PANA) - Nigerian newspapers this week feasted on the continuing debate on government's plan to remove oil subsidy, the latest oil spill in the restive Niger Delta and the lingering university teachers' strike.
Also reported during the week was President Goodluck Jonathan's warning that the nation's oil could dry up soon, the nation's debt profile and the successful launching of yet another Nigerian satellite.
"Fuel subsidy to go in April" was the headline of one of the three stories carried by the Sun during the week. The other headlines were "Fuel subsidy: NUPENG threatens total strike", and "Retain subsidy and perish – Sanusi".
The Sun, quoting National Assembly sources, reported on Tuesday that "Owing to the high political temperature generated from the decision to remove oil subsidy, the Federal Government may have pushed the planned removal from January to April 2012."
It said the decision to shift the new take-off date to April was based on “inconclusive consultations” across all the sectors of the economy and politicians.
But Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala later said the government had yet to decide on when the fuel subsidy removal would take effect.
The Sun had reported a day earlier that the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) had threatened a full blown strike if the Federal Government does not implement the recommendations made by the inter-ministerial/stakeholders’ committee on the inspection and verification of Depot Facilities of Members of Jetty and Petroleum Tank Farm Owners of Nigeria (JEPTFON) before 31 December, 2011.
Its National president, Benneth Korie, disclosed in Abuja that the report contained recommendations on deregulation that government must look into before removing fuel subsidy or it will destabilize the nation
And on Friday, the Sun said: "From the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, came a warning that Nigeria was heading for serious economic crisis. His warning followed his disclosure that the country lost US$16 billion to subsidies this year.''
Sanusi said as a result, Nigeria’s foreign reserves had been depleted such that serious economic crisis would befall the nation if the oil prices crash continues in the international market. He said that withdrawal of subsidy on fuel would stave off the crisis.
“Our shock absorber is gone. If the oil prices crash again, then Nigeria will now face a serious economic crisis,” he said at a Town Hall meeting on the controversial subject.
The Trust, with the headline "Obasanjo to Jonathan: Don’t remove subsidy", reported on Monday that former President Olusegun Obasanjo had told President Jonathan to forget the idea of ending fuel subsidy for now so as to allow stability to reign in the country.
Obasanjo met Jonathan at the Presidential Villa in Abuja on Saturday at the instance of the president, apparently in continuation of his series of consultations over the plan to remove fuel subsidy.
A source privy to the meeting told the Trust that the former president cautioned Jonathan that removing fuel subsidies could ignite chaos in the country.
Jonathan last week announced the federal budget for 2012, making no provision for fuel subsidy, apparently in line with his plan to scrap the support regime.
Labour unions and civil society groups have been warming up for confrontation with the government in the event the subsidy is cut.
The paper's other headlines on the story were "Labour to Jonathan: You can’t be trusted" and "Okonjo-Iweala begs Nigerians".
On the oil spill that occurred Tuesday at the Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company (SNEPCo), which led to the closure of the 200,000 barrels-per-day Bonga Field, the Tribune headlined its story "Senate orders Shell to halt oil spill", reporting that "Worried by the oil spillage, the Senate on Thursday directed the oil firm to ensure that the spillage did not get to the shoreline."
Senate committee chairman on Environment and Ecology Bukola Saraki told newsmen that members of the committee would soon undertake an on-the-spot assessment of the affected areas to know the extent of damage and the effect on those living within the area and the impact it had had on their livelihood.
The spill, which has released over 30,000 barrels of oil off the Nigerian coast, is the worst since the 1997 spillage from a Mobil Producing facility.
The Nation's headlines on the spill were "Senate summons Shell MD, others over 30,000 barrels oil spill" and "Environmentalists urge independent verification".
On the lingering strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), the Sun, under the headline "ASUU gives FG conditions to suspend strike", reported that the univserty teachers had given conditions to be met by the Federal Government before its two-week-old strike will be suspended.
The union also stressed that the current strike had nothing to do with demand for new salary, but for government to invest funds to provide facilities to enhance learning and research in the universities.
The papers also reported President Jonathan's concerns over the nation's depleting oil reserve, with Thisday on Wednesday headlining its story "Jonathan: Nigeria's Oil Reserve May Dry up in 35 Years".
Thisday reported that Jonathan had said that Nigeria must aim at diversifying its economy from a mono-product economy to a multii-product economy in order to survive the current trend of economic crisis around the world.
Jonathan, who spoke at the inauguration of Lafarge Cement WAPCO Nigeria Plc Ewekoro II Cement Plant in Ewekoro, in South-west Ogun State, said Nigeria must find other means to sustain its economy, stressing the need to encourage the private sector to set up manufacturing industries for non-oil products and also create employment opportunities for the country's teeming population.
"We must move away from crude oil because experts have predicted that in 35 years from now, our oil reserves will dry up. If that is true, it spells economic doom for our future generation,” he said.
The Sun ran the same story under the headline "FG’ ll diversify economy before oil well dries up, says Jonathan".
In the same vein, the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Ms Christine Lagarde, has warned Nigerian leaders to immediately commence the process of rebuilding the nation’s depleting reserves or face an impending economic disaster that would possibly arise from another global financial crisis.
She said: “A sustained slowdown in advanced countries will dampen demand for Africa’s exports and, together with continued financial market uncertainty, this will likely inhibit private financing flows, remittances, and concessional financing.
Lagarde's comment came on the heels of mounting debt pressure in Europe, declining economic growth and unemployment in the United States of America, China and Asia generally.”
During the week, the papers were also awash with reports on the multiple explosions and gunfire which rocked three northern Nigerian cities of Maiduguri, Damaturu and Potiskum Thursday, leaving unconfirmed number of people dead.
According to the reports, most of which blame the Islamic sect Boko Haram for the attacks, at least five explosions were heard in Maiduguri while no less than 10 blasts and sporadic gun fire were reported in Damaturu, Yobe State.
The nation's debt profile also came under scrutiny during the week, with the papers quoting the Debt Management Office (DMO) as putting Nigeria’s total debt (external and domestic debts) as at the end of September at US$40 billion.
The DMO Director-General, Dr. Abraham Nwankwo, who disclosed this in an interactive session with journalists in Lagos, however, allayed fears that the country’s debt profile had risen astronomically, arguing that the total debt figure at 19.6 per cent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was sustainable.
The Tribune, Thisday and the Nation newspapers all ran stories on the successful launch, Monday, of the new Nigerian replacement communications satellite in Xichang, China -- a development President Jonathan hailed as another great step forward for the country towards the development of a modern, knowledge-driven society.
While the Tribune captioned its story on the satellite as "Jonathan hails launch of NigComSat in China", Thisday's headline was "Mission Fulfilled as Nigeria Returns to Space Two Years After" and the Nation -- "Nigeria to save N158b from new satellite, says Jonathan".
There was also the report of a pregnant woman, from whom doctors expected a set of quadruplets but ended up being delivered of five babies.
"Woman gives birth to five babies at LUTH", was the headline of the story in the Nation on Tuesday.
According to the paper, the scan had picked four of the babies during the pregnancy, but doctors were shocked to find the fifth during the Caesarean operation.
"Traffic, high fares, others hurt preparations for Christmas" - the headline of the story from the Guardian on preparations for Christmas celebrations, aptly described the "excruciating pain" on the average Nigerian with just 48 hours to Christmas.
-0- PANA VAO/SEG 24Dec2011