•NLC canvasses alternative policy to subsidy
Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja and Peter Uzoho, Oluchi Chibuzo in Lagos
Organised Labour and some petroleum products marketers, analysts and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) yesterday expressed divergent views over the removal of Nigeria’s controversial petrol subsidy.
While the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) in separate events, insisted that the government should ramp up gas penetration in the form of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) to take off the fixation on petrol, the oil marketers and CSOs stressed that wholesale removal was inevitable.
The marketers, civil society groups and others, again appealed to the incoming administration to abolish the controversial fuel subsidy and save the nation’s economy from further hurting.
They also advised the incoming administration to rally the relevant stakeholders in the subsidy discourse to ensure a hitch-free removal, urging the government to try to hit the ground running once inaugurated on May 29.
They made the assertions yesterday in Lagos at a Stakeholders Roundtable Discourse, themed: “Impact of Deregulation on the Nigerian Downstream Petroleum Sector: Analysing Perceptions and Realities of Gains and Expectation of Full PMS Subsidy Removal.”
The session jointly organised by Technowell, and IT form, Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA) and Centre for Sustainable Mobility and Access Development (CensMAD) was aimed at fostering discussions and sustainable solutions for the challenges facing the sector.
Participants at the forum were drawn from representatives of the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN); National Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO), Trade Union Congress (TUC); Publish What You Pay (PWYP) as well as Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise (CPPE) amongst others.
Speaking at the forum, a former President of the TUC, Peter Esele, said that for the past 24 years, Nigeria’s democratically elected governments missed the opportunity to remove subsidy when the country was at its best economic shape.
He said the unbundling of the downstream oil sector has immense benefits for Nigeria, pointing out that it would lead to rapid inflow of investments, guarantee easy entry and easy exit and generate more revenue for the country.
“But what is of interest to me is that more jobs will be created and we expect that whatever that will accrue from subsidy removal will be actually used for what it meant and not that politicians will unbutton their trousers while the rest of us tighten our trousers.
“So I think the union is not the problem and I think subsidy removal should have been removed 24 years ago; and this outgoing government had a huge opportunity by removing the subsidy in 2015,” Esele said.
He expressed the hope that Dangote Refinery would compel the government to make a decision on the controversial subsidy policy.
“Dangote Refinery will go a long way in pushing the government whether to take the subsidy away or not. What is the reason for that? Dangote refinery has a debt to pay because people funded the refinery and he has profit he is looking forward to. So in view of this, we’re going to settle him in naira or dollars?”Esele added.
In his intervention, Chief Executive Officer of CPPE, Dr. Muda Yusuf, lamented that the country does not have a consensus about the strategy to exit the subsidy regime, adding that the incoming government must understand the level of hunger and anger in the country.
Yusuf argued that there were some powerful vested interests in the subsidy policy that had made it impossible to be stopped.
Yusuf stated: “I have a strong feeling that the beneficiaries of this subsidy don’t want to let go and they are stoking the fire about protest.”
On his part, the National Operations Controller of IPMAN, Mike Osatuyi, said the country needed patriotic leaders who will use the subsidy resources to ensure that average Nigerians have a good quality of life in terms of education, healthcare and housing.
Also, Executive Secretary of HEDA, Sulaimon Arigbabu, said the government should as a matter of urgency consider subsidising social programmes, provide access to electricity, and also provide fleets of transportation alternatives to alleviate the suffering of the citizens.
A guest lecturer and Professor of Transport and Environment, Lagos State University, Odewumi Samuel, opined that the government must facilitate logistics and have a good working relationship with every stakeholder in the downstream industry.
Samuel said: “The Tinubu administration should immediately set up a committee of competent team to drive the process of the removal which may be headed by the minister. The team is to identify and develop engagement procedures with relevant stakeholders especially labour, media, students, civil society organisations.
“The unworkable practice of a very president holding a very critical ministry down as a side portfolio should be jettisoned. The president can still retain close marking supervision of the ministry, but there must be a full time minister that will be on the job at the ministry as a senior minister.”
Scientific, Social and human rights activist and co-convener of the forum, Mr. Kayode Opeifa, said the purpose of the roundtable was to facilitate an inclusive platform to share their experiences, insights, and concerns regarding the impact of deregulation in the Nigerian downstream petroleum sector.
“We recognise that deregulation is a topic of immense importance and it has generated diverse perspectives and expectations among stakeholders. This is why we have gathered here today, to analyse the perceptions and realities of gains and expectations associated with this policy,” he noted.
But the NLC has suggested the full implementation of the federal government’s plan on conversion of fuel engine vehicles to natural gas, saying that there was no need for the outgoing administration to embark on the borrowing of $800 million for the sake of implementing fuel subsidy withdrawal.
Also the labour movement advised that due to many unresolved labour disputes still pending, the incoming administration should assemble a good team that can proactively and systematically address the issues at stake.
The NLC President, Joe Ajaero, who spoke in an interview monitored on Channels Television on Tuesday said that the federal government should discountenance the issue of removal of fuel subsidy and look at other options that are less expensive and environmentally friendly.
“I don’t really understand this whole story about the removal of oil subsidy unless somebody wants to make a fuss out of it.
“Reports available to us is that federal government has gone far in rehabilitating the Port Harcourt and Warri refineries and they have also invested 20 per cent in the just commissioned Dangote Refinery.
“If this is what is on ground how much do we need to stop imports. Secondly the federal government took a decision two years to consider other options that had to do with the conversion to CNG which is bio- friendly and cheaper.
“Also the federal government said they have converted over 10,000 cars in the Benin area of the country and that the Central Bank of Nigeria(CBN) has provided over N250 billion for this conversion to gas usage,” he argued.
On the crisis in the Labour Party (LP), Ajaero said that there was no crisis in the party, except that some individuals who were pursuing their selfish interest had been laying claims to what they are not in the party.
He said that NLC and its sister Labour centre, the TUC both recognise Julius Abure as Labour Party National Chairman.
He explained that as part of efforts to resolve the crisis, stakeholders of LP were working to implement the terms of a consent judgement and MoU earlier brokered by the court to try to hold a national convention in June where new national officers will emerge.
Ajaero said that under the MoU, the party is to organise an elective national convention latest by June 27, this year toe elect new national officers.
In another development, Ajaero has accused the Salaries, Income and Wages Commission of promoting discriminatory wage policy in the country.
Speaking on a working visit to the headquarters of the Senior Staff Union of Colleges of Education in Nigeria (SSUCOEN) Ajaero said the high inflationary trend in the country has rendered the N30,000 national minimum wage almost useless.
He said he was aware of the challenges the College of education sector is facing and he will ensure that NLC adds a voice to get the relevant authorities to address them.
Regarding the issue of wage disparity between civil servants and political office holders, Ajaero lamented the widening gap as approved for political office holders and that of civil servants.