Unlike in 2012 when the House of Representatives under Speaker Aminu Waziri Tambuwal took a clear position on the removal of subsidy and sided with the people, the current House chose to play safe. Although it convened a special session, like the seventh House, the eighth House on Monday, set up a committee to interface with the labour unions and stakeholders in the oil sector. It said this was based on the need to properly discuss with stakeholders to allow the lawmakers take an informed decision on the removal.
The House chose this route after a closed-door session, apparently, in order not to be regarded as anti-people and not to be seen to be opposing a policy that is critical to development of the sector. Most of the lawmakers were in support of subsidy removal. Some of them publicly declared their support for the removal including majority leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, who in 2012 had opposed the removal of fuel subsidy. Minority Leader, Hon. Leo Ogor and several members of the Peoples Democratic Party caucus also supported the removal.
Before the closed-door session, however, the PDP caucus staged a protest, delaying the admittance of the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr Ibe Kachikwu, into the chambers. Kachikwu had been summoned over the deregulation policy.
Waving flags, the caucus members sang “all we are saying, save Nigeria,” disrupting proceedings for about 20 minutes. Some of the members told THISDAY that the protest was not staged against deregulation, but to point out that the subsidy removal policy was the idea of the Goodluck Jonathan government, which was resisted by the same people now at the helm of affairs of in the country.
“When the PDP removed it in 2012, they kicked and it was reversed. They said there was no subsidy, that it did not exist. So are they removing what does not exist or they simply criticised for the sake of criticism,” a PDP member said.
The 18-man adhoc committee headed by the Chief Whip, Hon Alhassan Ado Doguwa, met with the labour leaders on Tuesday.
In the interim report laid on Wednesday, the committee expressed support for the removal of fuel subsidy.
The committee, Doguwa said, sought to extract a commitment from organised labour to shelve the strike action, but they could do not provide a dedicated response, until they meet with their state chapters.
“They categorically reiterated the massive hardship inflicted on the Nigerian worker by the recent developments in the petroleum downstream sector, which included sky-rocketing prices in markets, both within and outside the oil and gas sector. They insisted on an assurance of reliable palliative measures to assuage the sufferings of the Nigerian workers,” Doguwa said. “The committee unequivocally stressed the support of the House in the present efforts of government in sanitising the petroleum sector, and noted that the palliatives already contained in the Appropriations Act 2016, would allay the fears of the general masses of our country, cushion the effect of the deregulation initiatives and create the necessary peaceful environment conducive for a more rapid growth and development.”
The Speaker, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, also met with the labour leaders on Thursday evening. Briefing newsmen after the closed-door meeting, Dogara said a living wage would reduce the harsh effects of the hike in pump price of petrol. He again appealed to labour to suspend the on-going strike.
“Workers should be paid a living wage. We appealed to labour to look into this issue again and do the right thing. We have to look at the national interest in all our actions in order to suspend this strike or call it off entirely”, Dogara stated.