FUEL PRICE HiKE
• NLC insists on going ahead, TUC, electricity, oil workers back out • No work, no pay, FG warns workers, as panel is set up on minimum wage
• Osinbajo: Buhari resisted fuel price increase but had no choice
• NNPC orders its stations in cities to sell petrol at N143/lt
•FG pays N48.2bn subsidy arrears to marketers
Tobi Soniyi, Ndubuisi Francis, Omololu Ogunmade, Damilola Oyedele, Chineme Okafor, Paul Obi and Wale Ajimotokan in Abuja
Despite the resolve by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to go ahead with the nationwide strike over the removal of subsidy on petrol and the hike in the price of the commodity, there was uncertainty last night if the attempt by the union to shut down the country today would go ahead, owing to a division within the NLC and the decision by the NLC faction and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) to back out of the planned strike.
The division was quite glaring yesterday when a faction of the NLC led by a former Deputy President of the NLC and General Secretary of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE), Mr. Joe Ajaero, first met with the federal government team led by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Babachir Lawal.
The faction subsequently said it would not embark on the planned strike and announced instead that a committee would be set up with the government to review the current price of petrol, address demands for a review of the national minimum wage, and the palliatives to cushion the effects of the economic hardship in the country.
However, at another meeting held last night between government and the NLC led by Ayuba Wabba, both sides failed to reach a last minute compromise.
Following the disagreement, the leaders of the NLC walked out of the meeting with the government, saying they would mobilise their members nationwide for an indefinite strike starting from today to protest the fuel price hike.
He said: “As of today, this is our position as NLC: we have to discontinue with the meeting, so this is a walkout and dead end, because the demand cannot be made within the mandate.”
He also said that the NLC had not received any court process stopping the strike, adding: “We have not been served, we are not aware, we have not been put on notice.”
However, the TUC, which had threatened to mobilise its members to go on strike, said it would no longer do so and would tell its members to report to work today.
TUC President Bobboi Kaigama said: “The issue of minimum wage should be on the front burner, while the template for the petrol price should be monitored.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Nigerian workers across the 36 states of federation. Consequently upon this agreement, we hereby suspend the planned industrial action that was supposed to take place effective midnight today. We urge our members to report to work today and go about their normal duties.”
Also briefing the press after the meeting, the SGF confirmed that the TUC had decided not to proceed with the strike.
He said, however, that in the case of the NLC, which is factionalised, one faction agreed to shelve the strike, while the other insisted on going ahead.
“Aside from the NLC, a number of individual affiliate unions had long indicated that they would not participate in the planned strike. So government is fully assured that tomorrow (today), there would be no strike,” he explained.
Lawal also said that the government and unions that decided to shelve the strike had frank and honest discussions, during which they reached an agreement on the broad issues of the price of petrol, the minimum wage and the palliatives to cushion the effects of the economic slowdown.
“So we agreed to set up a 15-man technical committee to work out a framework on the minimum wage. This technical committee will report to the committee of the whole within six months.
“Government also agreed to set up a committee to study the components and make recommendations on the composition of the board of PPPRA within a period of two weeks,” he said.
‘No Work, No Pay’
The SGF, in a statement last night, also said he had directed all ministers, permanent secretaries and heads of government agencies to invoke the provision of “no work no pay” in respect of workers who participate in the planned strike by a faction of the NLC.
Advising workers to shun the exercise in their own interest, Lawal also called on security agencies to beef up security and ensure that protesters do not prevent workers from gaining access to their offices.
“The attention of all public officers is drawn to the notice issued by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) to embark on an indefinite strike from Wednesday, 18th May, 2016,” he said in a statement.
“This notice is regrettably given in spite of an order by the industrial court against the strike action. Government therefore calls upon and advises all workers to respect the laws of the land and to desist from participating in an illegal strike action.
“Government undertakes to guarantee the safety of workers and their work places, and expects that normal work will continue in the interest of the nation. Accordingly, security agencies have been directed to ensure unimpeded access to offices, work places and markets.
“Acts of intimidation, harassment, including barricading of gates, locking up of offices, blocking of roads and preventing workers from carrying out their lawful duties will be met with appropriate response by the law enforcement agencies.
“All workers, whether in public or private sector are further reminded of the Trade Dispute Act, 2004, which provides that ‘where any worker takes part in a strike, he shall not be entitled to any wages or remuneration for the period of the strike and any such period shall not count for the purpose of reckoning with the period of continuous employment and all rights dependent on continuity of employment shall be prejudicially affected accordingly’.
“Accordingly, all ministers, permanent secretaries and heads of government agencies are hereby directed to invoke the provision of ‘no work no pay’ in respect of any staff who absents him or herself from work to join the strike action.
“Attendance registers are required to be opened in all ministries, departments and agencies,” the SGF said in the statement.
Court Stops Strike
Earlier yesterday, the National Industrial Court (NIC) had issued a restraining order stopping the unions from embarking on the strike.
Justice Babatunde Adejumo of the NIC granted the restraining order after the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami sought an ex parte application stopping the strike.
In his ruling, Justice Adejumo held that “the defendants are hereby restrained from carrying out the threat contained in their communique issued on May 14th pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice filed on May 16”.
He ordered that the status quo be maintained and that the processes in the case be served on the respondents within 24 hours, and the proof of service be filed in the court.
“It is the order of this court that none of the parties shall engage in any act, conduct, overtly, covertly on this matter pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice,” Justice Adejumo further held.
The judge transferred the case to another judge of the court, saying that he would be engaged at the National Judicial Council and would not be able to take further proceedings on the matter.
He stated that his preference was for the dispute to be resolved amicably, but that he was constrained to issue the order ex parte because the respondents were not before him.
He also said he granted the order to make sure that Nigerians were not subjected to avoidable hardship.
“I decided to take this case this morning because it is on an issue that will affect everybody. I don’t want people to be subjected to hardship. There will be scarcity of food, people may die, students will engage in all sorts of activities. This is why I have to grant this order,” he decreed.
His order will lapse in seven days except it is renewed.
The plaintiffs in the case are the federal government and the AGF, while the defendants are the NLC and the TUC.
In the ex parte application, the government asked for an order of interlocutory injunction restraining the respondents from embarking on the industrial action pending the determination of the originating summons.
It also asked for an order of interlocutory injunction retraining the respondents from demonstration or engaging in any act that may disrupt the economic activities of the nation pending the determination of the originating summons.
NLC Faction Shelves Strike
The court order came just as a faction of the NLC led by Ajaero, and the NUPENG President, Igwe Achese, had a separate meeting with the federal government team, following which both sides reached an agreement to review the pump price of petrol, address the demands for a review of the national minimum wage, and hold discussions on the palliatives expected to cushion the effects of the economic hardship in the country.
The NLC became factionalised in March last year at the 11th Delegates’ Conference of the union, when Ajaero rejected the results of the election, which produced Wabba as the current NLC president.
However, Ajaero insisted that he had won the election, subsequently broke away from the union, and declared himself president of the faction that was to emerge, while Achese became his deputy.
According to observers who spoke to THISDAY last night, they did not consider it surprising that the Ajaero-led faction had come back to haunt the Wabba-led NLC, effectively rendering the attempt at a nationwide strike ineffectual.
Emerging from the meeting with the government team, Ajaero, who led electricity and oil and gas workers to the meeting, said a committee would be set up to look at labour’s demands.
He added that it would be chaired by a nominee of the federal government and has a two-week timeframe to submit its findings.
He said that the committee would look at the issue of the N500 billion social intervention fund included in the 2016 budget and the reconstitution of the board of the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA).
The committee was also mandated to review the new pump price of petrol announced by the government last week, he explained.
Ajaero disclosed that his faction was against the nationwide strike declared by the NLC faction led by Wabba.
“We insisted that there was no way we could mobilise, sensitise and even start an action tomorrow (today). We would rather negotiate and it is when that collapses that we take the option of going into any action,” Ajaero said.
Members of the government team that met with Ajaero and his team included Edo State Governor Adams Oshiomhole, the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Chris Ngige, Minister of State for Petroleum Ibe Kachikwu, Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udo Udoma, and the Minister of State for Solid Minerals, Karu Bawa Bwari.
Oshiomhole said the report of the committee would be submitted to the committee of the whole, with labour being part of the body to fashion it out.
Senate Backs Subsidy Removal
However, as the federal government held extensive discussions with the unions to avert the nationwide strike, the Senate yesterday threw its weight behind the new policy on petrol and advised the labour unions to continue to dialogue with the federal government with a view to resolving the crisis caused by the increase in the price of petrol.
The Senate, which made its position known after a closed-door-session, also advised the government to immediately commence the implementation of the palliative measures provided in the 2016 budget.
Announcing the resolutions after the session, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over yesterday’s session, said the Senate sympathised with Nigerians over the pains inflicted on them by the fuel price hike.
He said: “The Senate in a closed session deliberated on the increase in the pump price of petrol by the federal government and the threats by the organised labour to embark on a nationwide strike over the matter and resolved as follows:
“That we sympathise with ordinary people of Nigeria on the hardships they are going through. The Senate will engage the federal government to find sustainable ways of improving the welfare of the people of Nigeria.
“That we call on the government to continue to engage organised labour and other stakeholders to resolve issues in order not to ground the system and impose more hardships on our people.
“That government should immediately start implementing palliatives or palliative measures contained in the 2016 Appropriation Act passed by the National Assembly.”
After plenary, Senator Ben Murray Bruce (Bayelsa East), while briefing the press, said whereas he was not unaware of the argument by the federal government on the hike in fuel price, his main concern was the failure of the government to put any measure in place to cushion the effects on ordinary citizens.
House C’ttee Meets with Labour
The position of the Senate was followed by a meeting between the ad hoc committee set up by the House of Representatives to look into the fuel price hike and the leadership of the NLC over the planned strike.
The meeting, which started at 6.05 pm and was held behind closed-doors, had in attendance Wabba, NLC Deputy Presidents Peter Adeyemi and Najeem Yasin, General Secretary, Dr. Peter Ozo Esan, and other executive members.
The House committee is chaired by the Chief Whip, Hon. Alhassan Ado Doguwa, and has 18 members including Hon. Nnenna Ukeje, Hon. Peter Akpatason, and Hon. Daniel Reyeneiju.
Before sending out journalists, Doguwa in his opening remarks, appealed that the interaction should be as genuine as possible and thanked the NLC for honouring the invitation of the committee.
Wabba, in his remarks, explained that labour’s position was informed by the social impact of the removal of subsidy on petrol on the populace.
“The increase in the price of this commodity which has a direct bearing on the people would greatly affect the working class especially at a time when the economy is not doing well,” he said.
Wabba added that the purchasing power of Nigerians had already been impacted negatively, even before the fuel price hike.
A House member later informed THISDAY that the committee pleaded with the union to shelve the strike and continue to dialogue with government.
He said: “The committee also pledged to urgently provide the legislation to back whatever palliative measures are agreed on with government, including the minimum wage.
“But labour said it would deliver the message to its members, as it is only their National Executive Committee that can decide to suspend the strike.”
Osinbajo: Buhari Resisted Subsidy Removal
In a related development, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo yesterday rose in defence of President Muhammadu Buhari over last week’s increase in fuel price, saying the president had no choice but to approve it.
A statement issued by his media aide, Mr. Laolu Akande, said Osinbajo spoke at the public presentation of a collection of essays edited by Mr. Yusuf O. Ali (SAN).
The vice-president said even though the president did not want the fuel price to go up, he added that: “He was left with no choice; what can we do if we don’t have foreign currency? We have to import fuel.
“If there is one person in Nigeria that believes that the petrol price should not go up by one naira, it is President Buhari.”
Osinbajo said that even if all the refineries were working, the country would only be able to produce 40 per cent of domestic demand and would still have to import.
“In the absence of foreign exchange and you have to import your refined petroleum products, what are you left with?” he asked.
He said that a lot of the problems associated with the refineries were corruption-related, and also blamed corruption for the non-payment of salaries by many states in the country.
“When we look at corruption and its deleterious consequences, we must relate it directly to what we are experiencing at this time,” he added.
He noted that the nation’s foreign reserves stand at $27 billion at a time the country has to investigate the alleged diversion of $15 billion from one sector (defence sector) of the country alone.
According to him: “That is over half of the entire reserves of the country. We are investigating cases, which show that over $15 billion was lost in one type of contract alone. We are not talking of oil contracts costing billions; we are only talking of security-related contracts alone.
“This is not just stealing the resources of the country, it is stealing the future as well.”
He warned that corruption poses an existential threat to the country, adding: “Corruption has no label, it is not just a social evil, it is an existential threat to our country. There is no doubt at all that what we have is unlike other countries, (where) people say that there is corruption everywhere, which is true.
“But I think the one distinguishing feature for Nigeria and for many other countries like ours is that it is a threat that directly affects the lives and livelihoods of everyone.
“It is not just an evil, it is not just an immorality, it is an existential threat because it could truly destroy lives and it has destroyed many lives and has continued to destroy the Nigerian economy.”
NNPC Drops Petrol Price to N143/lt
Osinbajo’s remarks coincided with the directive by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to its retail stations located in city centres across the country to sell petrol at N143 per litre, N2 below the maximum price approved by PPPRA.
THISDAY learnt that N143 pump price would apply to NNPC stations in city centres across the country, while a lower price would apply at its stations in semi-urban and rural parts of the country.
However, other stations owned by independent and major oil marketers would still dispense petrol at N145 per litre.
When contacted to clarify this development, the Group General Manager, Public Affairs of the NNPC, Mallam Garba Deen Muhammad, confirmed the revised price for NNPC stations and price disparity.
Muhammad explained that the N143 price would apply to the corporation’s retail stations in towns and cities in the country, while a lower price would be used by its stations located in semi-urban and rural centres.
Giving reasons for the disparity, he said the corporation wants to keep the price gap with other marketers very slim in the cities, but significantly different in the hinterland where demand is much lower.
He said: “If the gap is too wide in the cities, then you will find that all NNPC retail stations will be jam-packed and in most cases they will cause traffic build-ups.
“But outside the cities, the price will be much lower. If the gap in the city is not too wide between other marketers and NNPC, you will find that the situation will be better managed.”
N48.2bn Subsidy Arrears Paid to Marketers
Meanwhile, the federal government announced yesterday that it had paid N48.2 billion as outstanding subsidy claims from 2015 to oil marketers last week, to enable them import petroleum products and meet their financial obligations.
A statement issued by the Director (Information) in the Ministry of Finance, Mr. Salisu Na’inna Dambatta, quoted the Finance Minister, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, as saying that the federal government authorised the Debt Management Office (DMO) to pay the claims, less tax liabilities of N5.171 billion as computed by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS).
“The gross total outstanding subsidy claims accruable to the oil marketers for 2015 stood at N48,207,176,262.44, while deductable tax liabilities payable to the Federal Inland Revenue Service stood at N5,171,186,373.05 only.
“Giving details of the payments, Mrs. Adeosun stated that oil marketers without tax liabilities were paid in full, while oil marketers with net subsidy claims and FIRS liabilities were paid net claims after deduction of tax liabilities.
“She further stated that all oil marketers that are indebted to the Federal Inland Revenue Service and seven oil marketers that are indebted to the Asset Management Company (AMCON) were not paid until they settle their debts with the two agencies,” the statement concluded.