Damilola Oyedele, Paul Obi in Abuja and Sheriff Balogun in Abeokuta
The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) have given the federal government a three-day ultimatum to reverse its decision to remove subsidy on petroleum motor spirit (PMS), which led to the increase in the pump price of the product to N145 per litre from N86.50 per litre, or the workers would shut down the whole country at the expiration of the ultimatum
NLC President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, Trade Union Congress (TUC) President, Comrade Bobboi Kaigama, who spoke yesterday at a press conference that also included Chairman of Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LACSCO), Dr. Dipo Fashina, insisted that the organised labour would make good their threat, should the government fail to reverse the pump price.
According Wabba, “in the event government fails to accede to these demands on or before 12 midnight on Tuesday, May 17, 2016, the Nigeria Labour Congress, the Trade Union Congress and their civil society allies resolve to commence the following actions with effect from Wednesday, May 18, 2016: Mobilise to the streets across the country, ordinary and helpless Nigerians to whom they owe the duty of protection. Shut down all Banks, Sea and Airports, Government and private offices as well as Markets; Commence indefinite nationwide strike action.
“Fight and resist the machinations and cruelties of the neo-liberal forces in the government as part of the process of saving the government from itself and the generality of Nigerians from slavery.”
He said the labour unions further forewarned Nigerians to prepare ahead of the planned strike by stockpiling foodstuffs and other items in order to not be caught unaware.
“Nigerians are therefore advised to stock sufficient food items that will last for a while for the prosecution of the current struggle against neo-liberal agenda in Nigeria.”
Wabba, who presented the position of labour stated that, “the emergency meeting debated extensively the implications of government’s unilateral increase in prices of petroleum products, noting government’s disinclination for consultation on issues of public interest and its obsession with protecting product marketers at the expense of the Nigerian public.
“The meeting expressed concern about government’s neo-liberal policies which it considered a betrayal of its electioneering promises and observed as follows:
During the electioneering campaign last year, the Presidential Candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Muhammadu Buhari, had promised that, if elected president, he would not remove fuel subsidy if there was any at all.”
“After his election, President Muhammadu Buhari had maintained that there was no subsidy in the petroleum product price regime and that even if there was, he did not see how its removal would be beneficial to the ordinary Nigerian, noting that the slightest product price adjustment often leads to inflationary spiral and unimaginable suffering for the people.”
“On January 18, 2016, the government further allayed the fears of the Nigerian people by reducing the pump price of PMS to N86:50, explaining that the reduction was in furtherance of the implementation of the revised component of the Petroleum Products Pricing for PMS and kerosene,” he added.
Wabba was however disappointed that “the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, had been speaking from both sides of his mouth.” According to him, “whereas last year, he had strongly canvassed for the removal of “subsidy” in defiance of President Buhari, about a month ago, he claimed the subsidy had been removed through his ingenuity and that Nigeria was saving $1billion from this process.
He said, “organised labour wondered what has informed government’s sudden and dangerous policy summersault and its desperate attempt to convince the public that labour was part of the decision that led to this price increase.”
“In view of the fact that the board of the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), which is statutorily vested with powers to recommend prices, has not been reconstituted, the price variation announced by any officer of the agency or outside the agency is not only ultra vires and illegal, it is a criminal imposition on the citizenry”.
“The price hike from N86:50 to N145, representing 67.63 per cent increase, is the height of insensitivity and impunity as there was no previous consultation with stakeholders, especially the organised labour, or any justification for this reckless decision other than the fact that government believes it is accountable to no one,” he pointed out.
House Likely to Endorse Subsidy Removal
In what would be a complete turn from its position in the seventh assembly, there are indications that the eighth House of Representatives would endorse the removal of subsidy on petroleum products which has resulted in a price hike.
The lawmakers would debate the matter on Tuesday at resumption of plenary, ahead of the planned strike of the labour movement on Wednesday.
The House during the seventh assembly had been vehement in its opposition to the removal of subsidy by the former President Goodluck Jonathan administration in January 2012. Under the then Speaker Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, the lawmakers had held an emergency session on a Sunday to underscore the seriousness and urgency of the situation.
Several lawmakers who spoke with THISDAY said the opposition to the removal in 2012 might have been induced by the eroding goodwill of then President Goodluck Jonathan.
Others noted that the economic realities on ground have really shown that the country could no longer afford to subsidise petroleum products.
“Yes, we have to stop the subsidy payments even though I think the current government has not put any palliative measure in place. When it comes up for debate I will support it,” a lawmaker from the South-west told THISDAY.
A female lawmaker also expressed support for the removal even though she admitted it would cause more hardship to Nigerians.
She however canvassed for full deregulation to ensure that market forces are allowed to control the price of petroleum products, and eventually force it down.
Speaker Yakubu Dogara at a meeting with the Council of Ulamas last Wednesday had indicated that the House would be ready to play a mediatory role in any conflict that may arise from the removal.
The labour unions and civil society organisations have already commenced mobilisation of their members for a nationwide protest on Wednesday.
Dogara kept mum on his position on the removal, but noted that the government would not deliberately cause hardship to Nigerians.
‘The Poor are Being Emasculated’
Caritas International, an arm of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN) has warned that with the increment of the petroleum pump price by the federal government, the poor in the country are being emasculated.
This came as the President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) and Archbishop of Jos, Ignatius Kaigama in an interview with THISDAY said: “Nobody is happy with it. “Increase means more suffering, so more pain has been added to the already existing pain of Nigerians,” Kaigama stated.
The CBCN president explained that unless the Buhari administration had some ‘goodies’ for Nigerians, just increasing the fuel price will not be in the interest of Nigerians.
“Except the government have some good plans in stock for us, increasing just the price will not help matters,” he said.
Director of Caritas International, an arm of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN) Rev. Fr. Evaristus Bassey speaking on the current price hike informed THISDAY that with the increase by the government, “the poor are being emasculated in Nigeria.
“The increase would further emasculate the poor who already are burdened with high inflation of goods and services. I thought that the administration would manage the subsidy regime and make it corruption free but now that they have decided to deregulate, let us hope that there would be commensurate development of infrastructure and some other social safety nets,” he observed.
‘Buhari, APC Owe Jonathan Apology’
For inciting protests against the removal of fuel subsidy in 2012 on grounds that it was an anti-people policy, and now turning around to remove same subsidy, President Muhammadu Buhari and the members of the All Progressives Congress owe former President Goodluck Jonathan an apology.
This is the position of lawmaker representing Ukwa Federal Constituency of Abia state in the House of Representatives, Hon. Uzoma Nkem-Abonta (PDP) who accused Buhari for having taken a destructive position in 2012 without reasoning and economic analysis.
Abonta however expressed his support for the removal, but called for a total deregulation of the sector, passage and implementation of the Petroleum Industry Bill.
Several members of the opposition party have already berated the Buhari administration for campaigning with promises that he would not increase the price of fuel, and not fulfilling the promise.
Speaking with THISDAY, Abonta also accused the seventh House of Representatives of playing the script of those who wanted Jonathan to fail with the resolution against the removal in 2012.
“They occupied Nigeria in 2012, what changed between 2012 and now causing the increase? That means they were ignorant and lacked political reasoning. The criticised Jonathan out of trying to condemn him. Those who surround him (Buhari) misled Nigerians using the labour movement. Lai Mohammed was one of those who occupied Nigeria. What would he say now,” Abonta said.
“I hope the eighth assembly would do the right thing and let the removal stay, although those at the helm now all canvassed against it, now they should tell Nigerians sorry,” he added.
Abonta, who is also the Chairman of the Committee on Public Petitions, advised that the money saved from the removal of subsidy should be invested through a clear economic agenda, which he noted the current government lacks.
He urged Buhari to consult those who ran the economy under President Jonathan particularly Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala whose polices managed to keep the dollar at N160 for several years.
Increase of Fuel Price Condemned
Methodist Archbishop of Ogun State, Most Reverend (Dr.) Atanda Adewale has condemned federal government over recent increase in the pump price of petrol to N145 per litre.
He said the decision by government to raise the price of fuel from N86 to N145 per litre at a period when Nigerians were still groaning under the harsh economic condition was uncalled for.
Adewale spoke in Ago Iwoye ,Ogun while delivering a sermon at a church service held in honour of late Abigail Efunseeke Adekoya, mother of a member of the House of Representatives for Ijebu North, Segun Adekoya, at the Methodist Cathedral.
Adewale described FG’s decision on the increase as insensitive to the plight of the suffering masses, saying the action was “arrant nonsense!”
He said: “It’s absurd to hear we are going to buy fuel for N145; it’s absurd, it’s unreasonable and illogical!
“I’m saying it, it’s arrant nonsense! Whoever wants to hear, should hear. There’s nothing you want to buy now, dollar has gone up. It’s going to impact on that market woman.”