The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) on Sunday insisted that there is no going back on the indefinite nationwide strike scheduled to commence on Wednesday to protest the hike of pump price of petrol from N86.50 to N145 per litre by the federal government. The Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu, had last Wednesday announced the Federal government’s decision to remove petrol subsidy and throw the field open to all Nigerians interested in importing the commodity, subject to guidelines, but setting a price band of N35 to N145 per litre. Such importers are also to independently source their foreign exchange.
Leaders of organised labour, which had just demanded an increase in minimum wage from N18,000 to N56,000, immediately kicked against the fuel price increase, held an emergency meeting on Friday with their civil society allies and gave the federal government till Tuesday to revert the price to N86.50 or face an indefinite nationwide strike from Wednesday. However, since the strike was declared on Friday there had been calls on labour leaders to shelf the strike. Speaking on Sunday on an early morning television programme , the Deputy National President of the NLC, Mr Amechi Asugwuni, warned that the labour unions and their civil society allies were ready to commence the indefinite strike on Wednesday unless the federal government reverses the pump price of petrol to N86.50k. When asked if they have established talks with the government, he replied; “Not at all, there is no change of gear, our strike will begin on Wednesday.”
Meanwhile, indications emerged on Sunday that the House of Representatives is to reconvene today at noon to drum support for the removal of fuel subsidy, with the Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu expected to brief members, just as it emerged that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) House caucus may also support the policy. Also on Sunday, the Presidency said the various social safety nets for which N500bn has been provided for in the 2016 Budget recently signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari were capable of assuaging the pains arising from the new fuel pricing regime.
The Senior Special Assistant to the Vice-President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Laolu Akande, said this in a statement he made available to journalists in Abuja. Akande said over eight million only out of over 140 million Nigerians would benefit from the programmes this year. He, however, said the figure of the beneficiaries was apart from the jobs that would be created by the infrastructural projects that would be restored and the new ones that would soon be taking off.
“Long before now the Presidency has made adequate arrangements in the 2016 budget to ensure that Nigerians are lifted from poverty and hardship,” he said. Answering questions on a television programme on Sunday night, Senator Dino Melaye, who represents a district in Kogi State in the 8th National Assembly reaffirmed that he will lead Nigerians to protest against the decision of the Federal Government if it fails to yield to the seven days ultimatum issued last week. It would be recalled that Senator Melaye, through his Facebook page Thursday night called on President Muhammadu Buhari to ‘immediately reverse’ the new policy measure which he said will have “unbearable” effects on Nigerians. He had also called on the leadership of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to intervene in the matter, else he would mobilise Nigerians for mass protests. The Senator who was a guest on a Television programme on Sunday night warned the leadership of APC and President Buhari, not to see themselves as belonging to the party but to Nigerians.
When asked if leading protest against his political party is the solution, Mr. Dino Melaye, said he was not for the party but the voiceless Nigerians who are at the receiving end of the hash policies of the government. “My sincere advise is for the National Chairman of our party to suggest that the federal government immediately reverse the announced increase in the pump price of PMS,” Melaye had written on his Facebook page last Thursday. “If after 7 days from Monday there is no reversal, I will mobilize Nigerians from all walks of life for the motherof-all-protest. This is not what we promised Nigerians. The time is not right and the negative effects will be unbearable.
A word is enough for the wise.” Speaking in an interview with journalists in Abuja, the House Minority Leader, Rep. Leo Ogor disclosed that the PDP House caucus will meet by 9.00am today to adopt a common position before the commencement of plenary. Ogor said it’s unheard of for any nation to support the subsidy of imported products as Nigeria was doing with refined fuel imports. He argued that subsidy removal will result in the establishment of modular refineries in the country, generate employment opportunities, enhance capacity, promote competition that will lead to the fall in prices and protect the nation’s foreign exchange earnings.
While appealing to labour and Nigerians to understand the situation which the Buhari administration finds itself in terms of the huge resources expended on fuel imports, Rep. Ogor however, noted that while former President Goodluck Jonathan decided in 2012 that subsidy regime was no longer feasible, “those in power today spoke vehemently against subsidy removal and condemned Jonathan for considering such an option. “The former president was blackmailed into dropping the initiative which would’ve saved us millions of Naira. The Buhari administration owes Jonathan and Nigerians an apology for their lack of understanding of the economic dynamics of removing subsidy in 2012.
“The APC and the Buhari administration have set us backwards by eight years because the savings that would’ve been recorded from the removal of subsidy would’ve been for development and provision of the much needed infrastructure. “My appeal to Nigerians is for them to accept the bitter pill for a better tomorrow.” The Minority Leader added that the government made a grave mistake by not engaging in consultations with all relevant stakeholders before fixing the pump price of petrol at N145 per litre. According to him, the government must sit with organized labour to avert the shutting down of the entire country, insisting that the administration must discuss with labour on issues of palliatives such as the increase in minimum wage.
“Labour should give a listening ear to the arguments of government because we don’t have the capacity nor the resources to fund the subsidy regime. “The PDP is not against the removal of subsidy because we know and believe subsidy is not sustainable. The APC prepared the 2016 budget and made no provision for subsidy, so they can’t deny removing it”, he stated. House Majority Leader, Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila on his blog expressed support for the removal of subsidy, even though he had been vehement against its removal in the past. As Minority Leader in the seventh assembly, Gbajabiamila had written a caustic and scathing letter to then President Jonathan in 2010, opposing any planned removal of subsidy.
“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. But in an apparent U-turn, Gbajabiamila on his blog posted that he was convinced of the need for a reversal after a “doomsday prognosis” by the Minister of State for Petroleum at a stakeholders meeting last Wednesday