A fuel pump (stock photo).

•Say, it‘ll kill businesses, worsen poverty level
•As PPPRA gives reasons for new price regime

By Victor Young, Johnbosco Agbakwuru, Michael Eboh, & Onozure Dania

LAGOS—Organized Labour yesterday rejected the new pump price of fuel announced by the Petroleum Products Price Regulatory Agency, PPPRA, and demanded immediate reversal, contending that the new price amid COVID-19 pandemic, will kill businesses and worsen poverty level across the country.

This came as PPPRA defended the new price, saying it was not as a result of the prices of crude oil alone, but a result of the increase in the price of petroleum products in the international market.

Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC and United Labour Congress of Nigeria, ULC, in separate statements, insisted that the hike in the pump price of petrol from N121 to N143.80 at a time when Nigerians and businesses were struggling to cope with the negative consequences of COVID-19 pandemic, was the height of insensitivity by the government.

NLC in a statement by its President, Ayuba Wabba, among others argued that the “PPPRA contradicted itself when it said that the latest price increase described as an ‘advisory’ was meant to regulate a product that government claims had been de-regulated. That this new hike in the pump price of petrol was announced without the approval of the board of the PPPRA and the oversight ministry speaks volume of the arbitrariness and public contempt in the operations of PPPRA. We find this deeply disturbing.

“It is also very embarrassing that the PPPRA boss while trying to defend the indefensible appeared to be out of sorts and ready to clutch at any available straws to sell his “ice block merchandise to Eskimos.

“Apart from contradicting himself that PPPRA is still trying to regulate a deregulated product through “advisories”, the PPPRA went on to exert more nails on the coffin of his polemics when he argued that PPPRA was just like the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, and the National Insurance Commission, NAICOM, that would always act to protect the public interest. That was how far the niceties went. The rest of the statement by the PPPRA boss, as reproduced in the excerpts below, was about how PPPRA plans to protect investors and increase their profit.

“While the Market-Based Pricing Regime is a policy introduced to free the market of all encumbrances to investment and growth, it should not be misconstrued as to mean a total abdication of government’s responsibility to the sector and citizenry that the new pricing regime would encourage oil marketers to resume the supply of petrol, leading to further value creation in the downstream, foster job creation and ensure reasonable returns to investors.

“It is unfortunate that Mr Saidu Abdulkadir did not even feign pretence that government has abdicated its responsibility to protect Nigerians from the cut-throat tendencies of neo-liberal market forces. Contrary to the provisions of Chapter 2 of the 1999 Constitution, PPPRA claims that the abdication is not ‘total’. When the statement by the PPPRA is juxtaposed with the recent killer electricity charges unveiled by DISCOs, Nigerians cannot help but feel the heat of a potent threat to run millions of Nigerians under. It is even worse than this is coming at a time when our people are living on the precipice of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Nigerians would recall that the last downward review in the price of petrol was at the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdown. The economic benefits of the so-called “downward” review were hardly enjoyed by ordinary Nigerians who were mostly indoors. Just as the lockdown is being eased out and as soon as the inter-state travel ban was lifted, the government decided to hike the petrol price. Nigerian people and workers are forced to interpret this move as grand mischief and deceit.

Nigerian workers say No!

“It is clear even to the blind that the crisis in our downstream petroleum sub-sector is ‘self’ nay “government-inflicted. The refusal by successive governments to fix our national oil refineries is at the root of this problem. The government simply wants to transfer the cost of its inefficiencies to the Nigerian people. Nigerian workers say “No” to such.

“It is grand mischief and deceit to keep comparing apples and mangoes. There is no way Nigerians would accept a situation where we are charged international rates for a product which Nigeria is the sixth-largest producer in the world.

The extra costs that the PPPRA wants Nigerians to pay to promote “growth” and “investment” are the cost of profits made by countries that we ship our crude oil to, the cost of sea freight of the refined products, the cost of demurrage at our seaports when the refined products arrive, the cost of the frequent devaluation of our national currency, and the cost of official corruption by gatekeepers managing the downstream petroleum sub-sector. Nigerians have groaned to pay these unjust costs for years. This latest increase might just be the last straw that would break the camel’s back.

“We demand that the Federal Government reverts to the old price of petroleum especially given the fact that price of crude oil in the international market has only slightly increased from the previous price before the so-called downward review was announced two months ago.

READ ALSO: Why we raised fuel price to N143.80 per litre ― PPPRA

“We also renew our call for a national conversation on the management of our oil assets which we insist must be in tandem with the provisions our country’s constitution which mandates that the commanding heights of our national economy must be held by the government in the interest of the citizens of Nigeria.

“We demand that our four national petroleum refineries must be fixed without any further delay. Nigerian workers want to be appraised of the timeline set by the government to ensure that this is effectively done.  Nigeria belongs to all of us. Workers are major stakeholders in the Nigerian project. Nigerian workers and people must not only be treated fairly but must be seen to have been so treated by their government.”

ULC wants Nigerians to rise against hike

On its part, ULC in a statement by its General Secretary,  Didi Adodo, among others, argued that “the price hike of petroleum products at this pandemic period thereby putting more burden on the working people and the unemployed who are finding it difficult to make ends meet is the height of insensitivity on the part of a Government that pretends to lay claim to being progressive.

“We hereby call on government to reverse it as all relevant stakeholders including labour was not carried along. ULC thereby call on all progressive organisations to reject this provocative increase as it is one hike too many.”

Hike insensitive —NUPENG

Reacting, President of Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, Prince Williams Akporeha, among others, said: “It is important that the government also looks at the period we are. This is a clarion call to the government to be sensitive with the masses especially at this time that we are in COVID-19 pandemic and see how they can also come out with policies that will favour the masses because everybody is going through hard times. Why must it be now? Can’t government make some sacrifices for the citizens and masses of this country? Must everything continue to be subjected to market parameters?”

New price must be resisted —JAF

Similarly, umbrella body of pro-labour civil society organisations, the Joint Action Front, JAF, said the new price regime must be resisted by all well meaning Nigerians.

In a statement by its Chairperson and Secretary, Dr. Dipo Fashina and Abiodun Aremu respectively, JAF lamented that the new price regime came “against the background of serious hardship the working people and oppressed masses are going through, following the failure of the Nigerian State to provide adequate social support and access to mass testing in the face of threats to survival by the Coronavirus pandemic.

“JAF has consistently maintained that the current unjust system of neo-liberal order is incapable of addressing the quest of Nigerians for free education, free healthcare, jobs for all and security of life and properties, hence our call for a sustained struggle for system change to ensure a socio- economic arrangement that can guarantee provision of basic necessities to all.

“JAF calls on organised labour to provide leadership for resistance against the IMF inspired hike in fuel prices and urges Nigerians to prepare for consistent resistance against attacks on jobs, education, healthcare, high cost of living and the urgent necessity to mobilise towards a new political alternative.”

FG can’t tell private operators not to hike price— Odinkalu

Also, reacting, former Chairman, National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, Professor Chidi Odinkalu, blasted the Federal Government for increasing the rate of Value Added Tax, VAT, pump price of petrol, charges on Point of Sales and Automated Teller Machine transactions, while ordering private sector operators not to increase prices on their goods and services.

In a reference to the National Broadcasting Commission’s, NBC, directive to pay television provider, MultiChoice, to revert to its tariffs before June 1, 2020, Odinkalu, in his tweet, accused the Federal Government of raising charges on a variety of services but issuing orders to private operators to do otherwise.

“Increased VAT, increased electricity tariff, increased petrol price, charges on POS, charges on ATM withdrawals, but private operators can’t adjust their prices under the watch of a government that keeps raising charges,” tweeted the former NHRC boss.

FG’ll won’t leave pricing to marketers alone —  PPPRA

Meanwhile,  while explaining reasons for the new price regime, PPPRA General Manager, Corporate Services, Mr. Kimchi Apollo, told Vanguard in a chat that as a result of the gradual opening up of economies worldwide, a surge was recorded in the global demand for Premium Motor Spirit, also known as petrol, which caused the price of the commodity to rise.

He said, “The current price is reflective of the market fundamentals. This is because of activities picking up worldwide. There was an increased demand of petroleum products, so the prices went up. We do not just sit down and fix price; it is based on certain parameters. Also we did not fix prices, we only gave the guiding prices.

“People are only talking about prices of crude oil; that is not the determining factor alone for PMS price. It is the price of the products at the international market. Petroleum products price in the international market is not the same thing as crude oil price. So when some people are complaining, they are only just looking at crude oil price, which is just one component. When it is refined, we are not buying crude oil from them, but the products being purchased and all the things that accompany it.

“On Wednesday, there were reports that South Africa increased their pump price of petrol. It is driven by the same factor, probably, it is because they have seen, when they went to buy, that the price of the commodity had gone up, the same way that we saw that the price of the commodity had increased. Based on that we now advised, because we are not fixing prices, we now advised that based on the market fundamentals, it would be safe for you to sell at between N140.80 and N143.80 per litre.

“The more profit-conscious marketers would naturally remain at N143.80, while others would go with the N141.80 per litre price range.”

Apollo maintained that the PPPRA would not allow petroleum products marketers to be solely responsible for the determination of the price of PMS, because evidence had shown that majority of the marketers do not have the interest of Nigerians at heart, and would not hesitate to exploit consumers if given the opportunity.

According to him, based on observations from the price of diesel, which the marketers had left unchanged, despite the low price of the commodity in the international price, the government would not put Nigerians solely at the mercy of oil marketers.

He said: “That is why we keep talking about the issue of marketers agitating that they want to be the ones to fix their prices. If they sell at N140.80 per litre, they would not make a loss, but why would they choose the highest band, if they are truly concerned about the good of Nigerians? Most of the marketers would not want to pick the lowest band, mainly because they do not have the interest of the people at heart. Yet, they are agitating that the PPPRA should stop advising them on the price to sell; that they should be allowed to advise themselves.

“No sensible government would allow such things. Just like what is happening in diesel; you cannot control the price because the marketers are fixing it themselves. They made it to remain high. When the price of crude oil and other petroleum products crashed, they did not reduce the price of diesel. Now these are the people hiding behind these things to shout that they want to be able to fix their own prices, which are mainly so that they can shortchange Nigerians.”



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