By Emman Ovuakporie, Victor Ahiuma-Young, Johnbosco Agbakwuru & Ehi Eweka
ABUJA—IN a desperate move to avert a nationwide strike by organised labour and its civil society allies over the N145 per litre new pump price of petrol, the Federal Government has invited labour leaders in the country for a meeting today.
House of Representatives will also, today, hold a special plenary and take a position on the recent increase in price of petrol.
However, leaders of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, their counterparts in Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, and civil society allies had on Saturday, given government up till midnight tomorrow to reverse the pump price to the pre-Wednesday, May 11 rate of N86.50 or face a nationwide strike and street protests.
Vanguard gathered that the meeting will take place 10 am today at the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
According to a source, the meeting will involve stakeholders, including leaders of NLC, TUC, Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, and their Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, PENGASSAN counterpart.
This came as NLC faction, led by Joe Ajaero, said it would today and tomorrow meet with civil society groups, market women, informal workers’ groups and other Nigerians to fine-tune strategies on how to shut critical sectors of the economy should government fail to meet its demands.
He called on the Federal Government to reverse the N145 pump price hike and convoke a meeting of all relevant stakeholders before end of the Tuesday deadline to determine appropriate price of petrol or risk nationwide strike and mass action.
Ajaero, contended that what the government had done was simply to hike price to get more money without considering its overall implications on the masses of the country who were already struggling to survive in the midst of high cost of living.
According to him, government is not concerned about how to ensure that 100 per cent of the products were sourced locally, and faulted the blanket approval given to everyone interested in importation of petrol to go ahead and import.
He noted that it was a shame that, Nigeria, as a major producer of crude should be talking of importation and not how to revamp the existing refineries and build new ones to meet not only local demands but also for export.
He said: “The Congress, therefore, decided that we reject this unholy hike in the price of petrol and shall take active steps to ensure that whatsoever philosophy or idea that must have propelled it is erased in the process.
“We shall also ensure that this government removes all bottlenecks that make supply of the product to the citizenry difficult. To this end, we resolve that the federal government reverses its illegal decision to hike the pump price of PMS to N145/litre between now and Tuesday midnight.
“A Joint Action Committee to fine-tune the strategies and actions for this struggle has been set-up for a mass action.”
Meanwhile, leaders of the nation’s oil workers have said a nationwide strike was not the immediate solution to last Wednesday’s hike in the pump price of petrol.
The workers’ position came against the backdrop of plans by the NLC, and TUC, to embark on a nationwide strike from Wednesday.
Both PENGASSAN and NUPENG had at their joint National Executive Council, NEC, meeting in Calabar, Cross River State, last Friday, declared their support for deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry.
Vanguard was informed that though the joint NEC of the two unions had long been fixed before the government announced the new price regime, the NEC provided the leaders of both NUPENG and PENGASSAN the opportunity to deliberate extensively on the matter.
One of the leaders who spoke to Vanguard in confidence, gave several reasons oil workers were in support of deregulation of the sector and advised leaders of NLC and TUC to collapse their positions into the oil workers’ stance in the interest of the Labour movement and the nation at large.
He said: “He who wears the shoe knows where it pinches. This is the first time we are issuing a joint communique or statement on fuel price hike. Before now, we simply fell in line with the decision or decisions of our centres ( NLC and TUC.)
“First, we agree that the sector should have been deregulated long ago and a time frame for ending importation of refined products into the country fixed. We have also agreed that the N145 per litre is very high because at the time the price was announced, the landing cost was N105.
“The price should not have been more than N120 per litre to raise some funds for government. These funds should be channeled into specific areas such as infrastructure and improving the welfare of workers in the area of salary increment. ”
However,a communiqué jointly issued by the two oil sector unions at the end of the joint NEC meeting, they called for stakeholders’ engagement by the government to further discuss issues on how to reinvest the gains from a new price regime that would be agreed.
The communique said: “The NEC-in-session had an extensive discussion on the recent price modulation. The NEC-in-session is of the view that price deregulation has its benefits in the immediate and near future.
“However, the NEC-in-session strongly demands the Federal Government’s engagement with the stakeholders to work out a clear direction on how to reinvest the gains into the economy to cushion the effects of the new price.”
The oil workers also stated that there was an urgent need for a paradigm shift and a new direction in the management of new investment and income in the oil and gas industry, but with critical provisions.
They stated that the government must ensure optimal performance of the existing refineries and also put in place a machinery for the construction of new refineries in the country to ensure adequate production for domestic consumption and possible export.
Leaders of the oil workers insisted on the need for the “engagement of critical stakeholders for the Federal Government to provide a road map with timelines of the infrastructure it intended to embark upon, with the proceeds from this price modulation to cushion the harsh effects of the new direction within seven days from tomorrow or risk a nationwide industrial unrest.
Reps hold special plenary
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives will today hold a special plenary and take a position on the recent removal of subsidy on petrol.
The Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, is expected to be at the session scheduled for noon, though many lawmakers, yesterday, voiced their support for the removal.
Majority Leader of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, APC, Lagos, on his blog, expressed support for the removal, though he had been vehement about subsidy removal in the past.
Gbajabiamila as Minority Leader then, by his own admission, had written a caustic and scathing letter to then President Goodluck Jonathan in 2010, opposing any planned removal.
“So what if it costs the government billions of Naira to subsidize every year? Mr. Acting President, so what? Every year for the past eight years, government has funded different events, costing the tax payers billions of naira, some of which many will consider unnecessary…
“For crying out loud, you have just proposed in your 2010 budget to spend billions on such fancies but no, we do not have billions to subsidize oil for the welfare of Nigerians. Common sense. Mr. Acting President, common sense,” Gbajabiamila had written.
Gbajabiamila on his blog, however, noted that he was convinced of the need for the reversal after a “doomsday prognosis” by the Minister of State for Petroleum at a stakeholders meeting last Wednesday.
He noted that it would, have been necessary to consider a review of the minimum wage to cushion the effects of the fuel price increase for Nigerian workers.
Also, the Minority Leader, Leo Ogor, PDP, Isoko Federal Constituency, explained that the country could not continue to subsidise consumables, especially an import which primary product is exported from here.
He called on the government to urgently engage the labour movement in dialogue on palliative measures.
Ogor, however, disagreed with the price of petroleum being pegged by the government, advising that competition be allowed to determine the price.
PDP Reps demand apology from APC Reps
Meanwhile the Peoples Democratic Party caucus in the House of Representatives has demanded an apology from the All Progressives Congress and its leaders for their roles in the protests which led to the reversal of the removal of fuel subsidy in 2012.
Leader of the caucus, Ogor in an interview with Vanguard, yesterday, recalled that President Buhari, then an opposition leader; APC chieftain, Senator Bola Tinubu, and several others vehemently opposed the removal in 2012.
“El-Rufai, (Kaduna State governor), Tunde Bakare (Buhari’s running mate in 2011 elections) led major protests against the removal and Jonathan was blackmailed into dropping the laudable policy which would have saved us trillions of Naira by now….they have set the country back by several years,” Ogor said.
“They also owe Nigerians apology for not thoroughly investigating the issues surrounding subsidy before opposing it,” Ogor said.
Uzoma Nkem Abonta, Ukwa East/West Federal constituency,PDP, also accused APC members of adopting a destructive position in 2012 and now turning around to adopt same policy.
Abonta said: “They occupied Nigeria in 2012, what changed between 2012 and now, causing the increase?
‘’That means they were ignorant and lacked political reasoning. They criticized 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.
“ I hope the 8th 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.’’
Another lawmaker, Yusuf Ayo Tajudeen, who represents Ijumu/Kabba/Bumu Federal Constituency of Kogi State, described the subsidy removal as the highest act of insensitivity by the present government.
Yusuf, who led the opposition when former President Goodluck Jonathan attempted to remove subsidy in 2012, said the government, before the deregulation, was supposed to put in place all the necessary measures to cushion the effects and the hardship the masses were going to pass through, stressing that the action would have ripple effect.
He said: “It is the height of insensitivity. What you are saying is I don’t care what happens to you, and I make bold to say that the scarcity we have experienced before now was artificial, deliberately created by the government to achieve this result so that people who have been buying black market at N300, N400 before now when you now say N145, they will say at least we will see it to buy.
“Liberalisation, without alternative, is a licence for unending price increase. There is something I want you to understand. One, governance, the position of authority, is not only having the academic, intellectual, and physical wills, you can’t take away the place of God.
“Since this government won election, the moment they were declared winner, the economy began to crash, the rain is even scarce now, oh you don’t know, rain is scarce now.”