–We’ll sit down with labour to dialogue–FG
By Johnbosco Agbakwuru, ABUJA
THE Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, yesterday said it has commenced mobilisation against the Federal Government’s proposed increase of the Petroleum pump price of over 200 per cent in 2022.
The Federal Government had announced that it would withdraw subsidy on petroleum products from next year, saying that the burden of the subsidy was heavy to bear.
The NLC disclosure of its mobilisation for a showdown against the government came on the heels of the charge to the organized labour by a former General Secretary of Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Chief Frank Kokori to fight government manipulation and corruption tendencies masquerading as fuel subsidy.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of 17th NLC Harmattan School in Ilorin, Kwara State, the NLC President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba vowed that labour would resist the attempt by the government to increase the fuel price without making adequate arrangements to cushion the effect.
He contended that if the government succeeds in the plan, the impact of the price hike will affect every Nigerian, motorist, household, transporters, and others.
Wanba lamented that out of the OPEC member countries, it was only Nigeria that was following the International Monetary Fund (IMF) policies, which he described as neoliberal.
According to him, “The concept of accepting deregulation hook line and sinker anchored on import driven price model is not something that we can accept. We have said that without mincing words.
“If you say we are pushing through our throat to accept deregulation on the basis of importation, basically there will be no end to price increase even the issue of saying that once you deregulate without having the capacity to refine for domestic use will bring down the price of PMS, is not correct.
“When the price of crude oil was almost at a zero level, the price of two items that were deregulated never came down; that is diesel and the price of kerosene. In fact, they kept going up. The market fundamentals, marketers are out there to make maximum profit and usually, they will collide and that is what will happen to Nigeria if we accept that policy hook line and sinker
“The implication is not also on the working class because whether we like it or not, the minimum wage gain has been eroded completely with the disparate effect of the issue of the falling value of our currency so the major issue under contention is actually how do we stabilise the value of the naira. Once you dont stabilise the value of the naira anything imported will have an effect on the larger economy but also on the cost of goods and services.
“This is the reality. So we are actually calling for reviving of the refineries, making them work, don’t export our jobs let us benefit substantially from what God has given us freely.
“Labour has done a lot of studies out of the OPEC countries. We are the only country trying to adopt this IMF imposed model of deregulation on the basis of import driven price mechanism.
“That will not be good for our economy and that is the idea of our argument that yes you can liberalise but not on this monopoly of making sure that it is only import driven.
“The issue of extending N5, 000 to 40 million Nigerians. The impact of the policy of price hike under the name of deregulation will affect every Nigerian citizen either directly or indirectly.
“Either you have a car, a motorcycle or you use transportation either to move people or bring in farm produce or you are a medium and small enterprise using a small generator, everybody will be impacted and so I dont see the wisdom of saying only 40 million people. We have seen some of these policies where people say they are extending support to Nigerians.
“Remember when the organised labour submitted a list of the working poor N50,000 on request to the ministry of Humanitarian Affairs as I speak to you no single person benefitted yet it is being said that everybody benefitted. We dont have empirical data even on the poor of the poorest and so basically it is going to be the same way those other policies have gone and that is why we said no because there will be a spiral. inflation and we have seen that each time there is a slight increase in the pump price of PMS, because of its centrality to our economy, the impact will be very humongous.”
He said if the government does not reverse the policy, it would adversely affect wage earners and rubbish the minimum wage, adding that it was on that basis that the organised labour decided to engage in the process.
He said, “But engaging the process also has to be open. You don’t have to make a pronouncement before inviting labour to the negotiating table because it is like the deed is done and that is why we are also mobilising our people this time around we are not saying increase N5, you are moving the price from N162 or N163 to N340 or N408.
” If we are to actually go by the recommendations of the governor’s forum, I dont see how that can be pushed down the throat of Nigerians looking at the impact. Not even the political considerations, it is about the economic impact on business, citizens and the fact that it is going to push more Nigerians below the poverty block. These are the concerns labour has had.
“We have made three recommendations. Can we identify refineries around the shores of Africa to do a crude oil swap? When you do that you insulate the Nigerian market and consumers because in one barrel of crude oil you have about 19 derivatives that will be able to take care of freight to and fro and taxes and even at a profit to the Nigerian government.
“This policy option was recommended since the time of Obasanjo. Yar’Adua embraced it but nothing happened and now we are at the same stage again.
“Revive the four refineries. We know why they are not working. It pays those cabals better to import than to refine products and they will do everything possible to ensure the refineries don’t work so it will take a lot of political will by our leadership to try to fix those refineries.
“The third one is the argument of how many litres of oil we consume per day. To date nobody knows, we are just juggling around figures because nobody wants to make the figures known to social partners and Nigerians.
“Can’t we find out how many litres we are consuming per day to enable us to make decisions because if we want to refine for domestic use we need to know how much we are actually consuming?
“We have said it several times that the concept of adopting deregulation anchored in importation would not be supported by us as it would mean no end to the fuel crisis.
“It pays the cabals to import than to refine locally hence it will take a lot of political will to fight them. We’ve told those in government to give us the figure of what our consumption daily is.”
Wabba said labour was ready to engage but should not be based on jacket strait, adding that accepting the increase means more Nigerians would further degenerate into poverty.
He noted that government should be looking at ways of resuscitating the refineries and local refinery of the products as well as stabilising the value of the naira.
In his speech, Frank Kokori said present labour leaders should be up and doing and fight corruption in the land noting that labour is not bread and butter but rather a tribune of the country.
According to him, labour struggle should not only be about fighting for Minimum Wage but challenging bad governance in the country as was the case during the time of old.
“Why should Nigerian workers allow our refinery to die? What’s the meaning of subsidy? I’m not happy with organised labour again, you have to fight corruption perpetrated through subsidy,” he said.
He further said, “The Kokori you see today is not the same Kokori of the 70s or ’80s, age has crept in seriously but I remember in my days in Labour we knew what it is for our country and let me remind you as new and young activists cadres that in labour movement being there is not just for economic, it’s not bread and butter that you must increase your salaries, wages st the end of the day when there is inflation you get nothing.
“Labour is supposed to be the tribune of the people, the whole corruption in the country labour was supposed to take it head-on.
“When the labour movement and everybody failed to rescue Nigeria from the military, NUPENG and PENGASSAN fought a battle to restore Nigeria to democracy and if they did not do it at that time there was nobody to do it.
“Today we are talking of the oil subsidy you are the first organised group in this country and if labour can’t challenge bad governance in a country, that country is gone forever.
“Look at your naira, they talk of removing subsidy do you think they mean well for you but they have a good case because the subsidy is taking all the money in the country but why should Nigerian workers allow the four refineries in Nigeria to die?
“I am not happy with what organised labour is doing. You have to fight corruption because where there is corruption there is no country. “
The Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo however said the government was still disposed to dialogue with the Organised labour on the subsidy removal.
He noted that the government presently pays N200 billion monthly on subsidy which he said is not sustainable and good for the economy.
He said, “The issue of subsidy removal is an economic necessity or the political problem of all governments. It is that political problem we want to address now. NLC sees the economic problem and economic necessity but at the same time, they have a mandate to ensure that workers welfare are well protected and taken care of.
“There will be a convergence somewhere but we are prepared to revive all the clashes we have with the labour unions to ensure that we make amicable resolutions.
“This government nothing is cast in stone government may have made a proposal but we are going to sit with the labour unions for government to make that kind of proposal that means that government knows that this will bring some kind of economic hardship or ripple effect on the masses but by the time we sit with the labour unions and they think that we should tweak it a bit, or to make it in any way to ensure we accommodate the interest if the workers, the government will be prepared to listen to it.
“At any point in time when labour sneezes we catch cold son, there is no time that when they snap their fingers we don’t quickly call them to the table to talk about some of these issues.
“This issue of removal of subsidy may not lead to only increase in petroleum products it may lead to a reduction. For example, if the price of crude falls now I can assure you we can buy petroleum products for as low as N120 per litre depending on how it falls. Remember immediately after COVID the price crashed to N123 per litre. “
He said when the government sits down with labour all the issues will be on the table.
On local production, he said, “About four months ago at one of our FEC meetings we approved the turnaround maintenance of the refinery. This was something that was damaged by previous administrations but we have agreed to fix them now and we have signed a memorandum with world-class bodies to cone in and do this.
“What they did before was they gave it to local people who knew nothing about fixing a refinery and they damaged it the more. We have signed all the agreements, it is a process and it will be fixed and private refineries are coming on board. We have approved the money.”
The Director-General of MINILS, Issa Aremu stated that Nigeria Labour has done so much in the past and could still do more noting that for NLC to have organised the Harmattan School training for workers for 17 years consistently showed that the Congress is keeping faith with educating its members.
“We cannot make progress in the continent if the Nigerian workers cannot stand up to air their voices, we should be more pan African,” he said.