The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) has enunciated six reasons why it is calling an indefinite nationwide strike from Wednesday, in concert with the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and civil society organisations, to protest the increase in pump price of petrol from N86.50 to N145 per litre and force a reversal.
General Secretary of the NLC, Dr. Peter Ozo-Eson, identified these six reasons while answering questions in an interview with The Punch, as published in the online version of the newspaper on Sunday.
Daily Times has extracted the six reasons enunciated by Dr. Peter Ozo-Eson in the interview. In the words of the NLC General Secretary, these are:
1. Given the harsh economic times in which Nigerians are living, which have been further compounded initially by the hike in electricity tariff, this is not the time to visit another hardship on Nigerians.
The economic crisis that the nation is facing already has major negative impact on workers. An average worker on current wage cannot survive because the real wage has been so badly eroded. If we compound it (the problem) through this, we are going to find a situation where there would be conditions that would completely destabilise the workers and their families.
2. We are having a government now directing importers of petroleum products to go into the black market to source for foreign exchange. We think this is a recipe for economic crisis because what will happen is that when the volume of the demand for foreign exchange needed to fund importation of products is moved into the black market, the value of the naira is going to crash. And if that were to happen, it has implications on the overall economy itself.
3. A situation where the domestic price of PMS (Premium Motor Spirit) will now be determined by forces in the black market exchange rate is something that is not good for the economy and we are opposed to it.
4. It is going to create a circle because what will happen is that once demand forces further depreciation of the value of the naira, then the template that has been used to arrive at the N145 now will have to be taken into consideration (reviewed). And so, it is a vicious circle that will never end.
5. The minister used deceit to market whatever policy they had brought forward. For the avoidance of doubt, I will just state clearly what happened: On Tuesday, at about 4:30pm, we received a letter from the Vice President’s Office addressed to the President of Congress (NLC), inviting him to a meeting at 12 noon yesterday (Wednesday) for what was termed in that letter as consultative meeting. No subject matter was mentioned. Because the NLC President was not officially available – he is on official assignment outside the country – we discussed the invitation and it was agreed that I would go to represent the congress. And I was there to represent the congress. It was at that table yesterday (Wednesday) that we saw the agenda, where it was stated that the minister would make a presentation. And he made a presentation. Having made it, the Vice President (Prof. Yemi Osinbajo) then asked people to discuss or comment or ask questions. In that meeting, we discovered there were a number of senators led by the Deputy Senate President (Sen. Ike Ekweremadu); there were a number of members of the House, led by the Speaker of the House (Mr. Yakubu Dogara); there were a number of state governors led by the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum. And there were three of us representing Labour. I represented the NLC; the President of the Trade Union Congress represented the TUC, while the President of NUPENG represented NUPENG.
There were comments mainly from the members of the House and the Senate. Some asked questions and the others advised as to the sensitivity of the matter and all that. Because we were confronting the matter for the first time, we were quiet until the Vice President now chose to call us individually by name. He called on me and asked what the position of the NLC was. I responded that as far as we were concerned, we had heard the presentation, we were a democratic organisation, we would take the substance of the presentation to our organ’s meeting and when our organ’s meeting had deliberated on it, we would get back to them. The TUC President said virtually the same. He (Osinbajo) asked the NUPENG President, who also said virtually the same thing. Thus, we ended that meeting, at least from our side, with the position that we needed to take the presentation and discuss it within our organs before we get back to them.
I was completely taken aback when I was just returning to the office when a journalist called me and said government was increasing the price of PMS (petrol) to N145 per litre. I also heard later in the news that the decision was taken in the meeting that we attended. That is a lie! I make bold to say it today that that is a lie. And government shouldn’t use lies to market whatever policies they have taken. We were no party to that decision. We need to be very clear.
6. Yes, it is illegal. There is a law; the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency Act stipulates the legal framework for the management of prices of petroleum products. That power is vested in the PPPRA board and the law carefully puts in place the membership of that board. Stakeholders’ representation is what makes up that board. We are by law a member of that board; National Union of Road Transport Workers by law is a member of that board; NUPENG by law is a member of that board; PENGASSAN is a member of that board, and various others, including the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria, the major marketers and others. It is actually the board that should review the template. When we heard that the PPPRA had reviewed the template and had come out with a recommended price; that was illegal because the PPPRA, with the way it is functioning now, is an extension of the Office of the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources. The minister has become a sole administrator in the sector. There is no board for the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, there is no board for the PPPRA, hence, for anyone to perform their function is therefore illegal. Even before now, we have written formally to the government — to Mr. President — demanding that the legal line be followed and that the board be constituted. So, it is illegal.