The Federal Government has appealed to workers’ unions to shelve their proposed strike over the new petrol price of N145 per litre. The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, made the appeal at an interactive session with journalists in Abuja on Monday. Mohammed said the new price was introduced for the country to survive as government could no longer afford the foreign exchange spent by the NNPC to import petrol.
The issue of new petrol price also threw the House of Representatives in a rowdy session on Monday following disagreement amongst lawmakers as to whether or not to allow the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, into the House chamber to commence his interface with them following the adoption of a motion moved by House Leader, Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila Trouble started when the Speaker ruled in favour of Gbajabiamila’s motion to grant the Minister access into the House chamber as against the position of majority of lawmakers who voted against the motion.
Angered by the Speaker’s ruling, House members protested against the action by waving the national flag and chanting “all we are saying, save Nigeria”. The chants led to the disruption of proceedings for nearly 25 minutes, until when The Minority Leader, Rep. Leo Ogor moved a counter motion that the House dissolve into an executive session in a bid to douse the mounting tension. Also on Monday, Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) said it supported the petrol price increase because of President Muhammadu Buhari’s sincerity towards infrastructure development and oil and gas policies.
Chairman of the union in South-West, Alhaji Tokunbo Korodo, told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lagos that his union and Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) endorsed the price hike. He said that though the Federal Government consulted the unions on its contemplation on the price increase, they had not taken the message to their members before the announcement was made. Korodo, however, said “it was a big shock but as shocking as it was, we cannot throw away the baby with the bath water’’. He said that the country was at the verge of economic stagnation, and that the only way to move economy forward was to support the government’s move.
“We met and x-rayed the problem confronting the oil industry at large. “We considered the sincerity of the government as it relates to infrastructure and some policies in oil and gas industry. ‘We also put into consideration the plight of Nigerians. After putting all these forward, the two unions, after a strong deliberation, arrived at a conclusion. “We came to support the government and the policy of price modulation. “We believe that if the market is opened a little, it will create more room for investment,’’ he said. At his interactive session with journalists, Alhaji Mohammed equally declared, categorically, that the lnew price regime did not amount to removal of subsidy, stressing that there was no subsidy to remove as no provision was made for it (subsidy) in the 2016 budget.
The Federal government, the Minister pointed out, paid N1 trillion in subsidy last year, which amounts to one sixth of this year’s (2016) budget. He stated therefore that the federal government could not afford to pay another 1 trillion Naira in subsidy this year. Alhaji Mohammed revealed that the entire 2016 Budget is packed with palliatives in the wake of the new price regime. The Minister said, “We are therefore seeking the understanding of all Nigerians and appealing to the organized labour to sheathe their sword. “This is not the time for any action that will further worsen the economy. The situation is dire, not just in Nigeria but elsewhere around the world.
“For instance, the United Arab Emirates, the thirdbiggest oil producer in OPEC, has become the first country in the oil-rich Persian Gulf to remove transport fuel subsidies. In addition, the country has announced that with effect from 1 Aug. 2016, fuel prices will be deregulated. “Also, in response to fiscal pressure caused by the fall in crude oil prices, OPEC’s top oil producer Saudi Arabia has announced a plan to raise fuel prices. You can now see that this is indeed a global problem. “We have no choice than to liberalize the price of petrol, if we are to end the crippling fuel scarcity that has enveloped the country, ensure the availability of the products and end the suffering of our people over the lingering scarcity.
“Before going into the details, let me debunk the notion that this new price regime amounts to removal of subsidy. No. There is no subsidy to remove because no provision was made for subsidy in the 2016 budget. “Last year, the government paid out 1 trillion Naira in subsidy, and that’s one sixth of this year’s budget. We can’t afford to pay another 1 trillion Naira in subsidy “Secondly, many people have asked if the government is planning any palliatives in the wake of the new price regime. Our answer is that the entire 2016 Budget is packed with palliatives.
“Some 500,000 billion Naira has been set aside for social intervention that will touch the lives of millions of Nigerians and lift millions more out of poverty,” he said. At the House of Representatives, after the executive session, the House invited the minister to begin his briefing after which he answered questions from lawmakers as to the necessity or otherwise of ending the fuel subsidy regime. Kachikwu in his presentation said Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr Ibe Kachikwu, on Monday said Nigeria’s crude oil production had declined from 2.2 million barrels per day to 1.4 million barrels per day due to pipeline vandalism.
This, he said, translated to loss of 800,000 barrels of oil by the country daily. The minister made this known at a special session of the House of Representatives convened over the recent petrol price hike. He condemned the incessant attacks on oil installations in the country, saying “we declined from 2.2 million barrels which was the focus of the 2016 budget to 1.4 million barrels as of today’’. He, however, expressed the ministry’s commitment to ensuring that destroyed facilities were repaired and effectively protected. “We are going to work hard to see how we will get these issues resolved and get our production back,’’ the minister said.
Kachikwu restated the need to develop infrastructure, which he described as “key’’ to promoting increased and efficient crude oil production. “There are still a whole lot of things we need to pay attention to; infrastructure is key, but we have not as a country over the last 20 years invested in infrastructure in the oil sector. “Our pipelines are 35 years old and none has been replaced; we have not been able to put gas infrastructure in place, our refineries are next to comatose and old and we are working hard on them. “Our critical facilities are at a breakdown stage, so no serious infrastructure has taken place.
“No country in the world will expect that the price system in the country will benefit its citizens if it doesn’t invest in infrastructure. “So, the energy we put on PMS we need to begin to focus on building massive infrastructure all over the country. I know how much efforts it has taken to pump products from the south to the north, to the east and to the west. “It has been one battle after another, but the time has come to invest in proper pipelines, proper tracking, proper buried levels and begin to move with the world,’’ Kachikwu said. Afterwards, a 17-man ad hoc committee was set up to mediate with organized labour and other aggrieved parties to avert the impending nationwide strike and protest by workers. Speaker Yakubu Dogara announced the constitution of the ad hoc committee to be headed by the Chief Whip, Rep. Ado Doguwa.