•Moves to avert strike
•Labour asks Nigerians to stockpile food, threatens to shut down economy
•Let’s endure – Ngige
15 May 2016, Lagos — ORGANISED labour, yesterday, insisted it would shut down the economy from Wednesday, May 18, should the Federal Government fail to revert the pump price of petrol to the pre-May 11 price of N86.50, among other demands, by midnight of Tuesday, May 17.
The declaration was made on a day indications emerged that government was disposed to an amicable settlement of the price hike impasse with labour.
In the meantime, the umbrella body for private sector employers in the country, Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association, NECA, has faulted the plan by labour to go on strike, urging the private sector employees to ignore the strike directive and go about their normal businesses.
Also, the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, faction, led by Mr Joe Ajaero, said it would be meeting with market women and other informal sector workers and civil society groups on how to force the Federal Government to meet its demands.
At a joint National Executive Council, NEC, meeting in Abuja, Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, and the NLC faction, led by Ayuba Wabba, threatened that once the strike commenced, all financial institutions, airports, seaports and private schools, companies and others would be shut. They urged Nigerians to stockpile food and other essential needs to last them during the duration of the strike.
In a communique at the end of the NEC meeting, the Wabba-led faction of the NLC and the TUC leader, Bobboi Kaigama, argued that the price hike from N86:50 to N145, representing 67.63% increase, was the height of insensitivity and impunity as there were no consultations with stakeholders, especially the organised labour, “or any justification for this reckless decision other than the fact that government believes it is accountable to no one.”
The two labour leaders said the meeting debated extensively the implications of government’s unilateral increase in the prices of petroleum products, noting government’s disinclination for consultation on issues of public interest and its obsession with protecting product marketers at the expense of the public.
“During the electioneering campaign last year, the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Muhammadu Buhari, had promised that, if elected, he would not remove fuel subsidy if there was any at all.
After his election, President Muhammadu Buhari had maintained that there was no subsidy in the petroleum product price regime and that, even if there was, he did not see how its removal would be beneficial to the ordinary Nigerian, noting that the slightest product price adjustment often leads to inflationary spiral and unimaginable suffering for the people,”they said.
The labour leaders went on: January 18, 2016, the government further allayed the fears of the Nigerian people by reducing the pump price of PMS to N86:50, explaining that the reduction was in furtherance of the implementation of the revised component of the Petroleum Products Pricing for PMS and kerosene.
The Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr Ibe Kachikwu, had been speaking from both sides of his mouth. Whereas last year, he had strongly canvassed for the removal of ‘subsidy’ in defiance of President Buhari, about a month ago, he claimed the subsidy had been removed through his ingenuity and that Nigeria was saving $1billion from this process.
Organised labour wonders what has informed government’s sudden and dangerous policy summersault and its desperate attempt to convince the public that labour was part of the decision that led to this price increase.
“In view of the fact that the board of the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), which is statutorily vested with powers to recommend prices, has not been reconstituted, the price variation announced by any officer of the agency or outside the agency is not only ultra vires and illegal, it is a criminal imposition on the citizenry. The price hike from N86:50 to N145, representing 67.63% increase, is the height of insensitivity and impunity as there was no previous consultation with stakeholders, especially the organised labour, or any justification for this reckless decision other than the fact that government believes it is accountable to no one.
“The Minister of State for Petroleum Resources declared that marketers will have to source their dollars from the secondary market. The attendant pressure on the dollar will lead to an unimaginable rise in prices of commodities and other services, thus creating further hardship for the people. Due to the volatility of the black market, organised labour doubts that government would be able to maintain PMS pump price at N145 per litre were the hike acceptable or justifiable. At the time the PMS pump price was fixed at N145, the exchange rate at the black market was N320 to the Naira.
“Between Wednesday and today (Saturday) when the new pump price was announced, the Naira has further crashed against the dollar, first to N340 on Thursday, then N365 on Friday morning and N385 by close of business on Friday, all in 48 hours. At this rate, we believe it will not take long before the Naira becomes entirely useless against the dollar. It is thus morally and economically suicidal to have tied the importation of products to the secondary market exchange rate.
“In view of the fact that in the past five years, there has been no increase in salaries or wages or pensions in the face of devaluations, spiralling inflation and other vagaries of the economy, this product price increase is unrealistic, unaffordable, unacceptable and is thus rejected. The government is unable to justify this price increase other than the puerile explanation that marketers need to recover their costs, without a thought for the aggregate or larger national interest including the need for local refining and creation of jobs. To avert anything that could paralyse the economy, the organised labour advised the government to “revert to the old price regime in order to reduce the suffering of the people and to consider this singular act of mindless pump price increase as a betrayal of trust. Revert to the pre-45 percent electricity tariff increase, make the metres available to consumers and stop estimated billing. Reconstitute the boards of PPPRA and NNPC without further delay and give them their statutory right to function alongside DPR in order to deepen the process of consultation, checks and balances in the downstream sector of the petroleum industry.
“Intensify the prosecution of all those involved in subsidy scams with a view to recovery and sanctioning of the culpable. Put in place enhanced local refining capacity within a specified period in place of endless importation as an enduring solution to the perennial problem of scarcity. Reverse the entire deregulation and privatization process which foists on the nation, private individuals as drivers of the economy in contravention of the constitutional provision that says government shall be the driver of the economy and engage the organised labour in the process of negotiation on key policy issues; uphold its electioneering promises to Nigerians instead of subjecting them to the vagaries of slavish policies such as full devaluation of the naira and total removal of subsidy as enunciated by the IMF and its agents in the system.”
They, however, warned that if the government became adamant to adhere to this advice before 12 midnight on Tuesday, May17, 2016, the Nigeria Labour Congress, the Trade Union Congress and their civil society allies would mobilize to the streets across the country, ordinary and helpless Nigerians to whom they owe the duty of protection. Other actions that would be taken by the labour they enumerated include the shut down of all banks, sea and airports, government and private offices as well as markets and indefinite nationwide strike action.
NECA faults strike: Plea for understanding
There were indications, yesterday, that government was disposed to engaging the organised labour to avert the labour strike. Multiple sources in Abuja told Sunday Vanguard that the Federal Government was counting on the understanding of labour to resolve all issues relating to the fuel price hike. “We have been meeting with the labour unions in our bid to carry them along on this matter. But the government is ready to engage them further to ensure that we are on the same page in the interest of the nation”, one of the sources said. “The Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr Ike Kachikwu, had been meeting with the labour unions. NLC, TUC, PENGASSAN and NUPENG were all involved in the meeting that had in attendance the Minister and the National Assembly leadership. You will notice that NUPENG and PENGASSAN have supported the move by the government to hike the price of petrol. “The only objection I believed NLC raised was on the composition of the Board of the PPPRA. And government told them that work would be done on that. I have not yet checked the status of that. Beyond that, that was no other issue. “Now, the more important part is that the petroleum minister has been meeting with them even before last Wednesday meeting. “The minister is confident because he has been talking with them. The government had an understanding of the NUPENG and PENGASSAN. It is now NLC and TUC that have refused to do so.
Let’s endure– Ngige
Also, yesterday, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, told Nigerians to endure the hike in the price of petrol, saying it would help to revive the economy. The Minister explained that the government action was influenced by the need to reposition the economy into a productive one. Speaking when he paid a visit to the South East regional office of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund, NSITF, in Enugu, he explained that Nigeria was passing through painful structural reforms necessary for rebirth.
“The Federal Government is not unaware of the hard times Nigerians are passing through as a result of the re-structuring of the economy. The President is genuinely concerned and personally feels the pains too. But this is a necessary phase we must all endure for the restoration of better days,” Ngige said.
Also speaking, yesterday, a member of House of Representatives representing Mangu/Bokkos Federal Constituency, Plateau State, described the petrol price hike as ill-timed. He said, “We are all aware that the APC government promised that if elected, it will make N1 equal to one dollar. But today, what do we have? It is N340 to N350 to a dollar and you are removing subsidy.
Meanwhile, NECA has expressed support for government’s deregulation of the downstream sector of the oil and gas industry, saying “the policy is a crucial first step in the resolution of the perennial dependence of Nigeria on imported petroleum products.” Speaking in Lagos, the Director General, Mr Olusegun Oshinowo, praised the Federal Government for the courage it had demonstrated, which past administrations had unwittingly shied away from by embracing a policy option that would jump start significant reform in the downstream sector and impact positively on the economy both in the short and long terms.
Pro-democracy group mobilises
The leadership of the United Action for Democracy, UAD, yesterday, told the Federal Government to reverse its decision to remove petrol subsidy or face the wrath of the people. In a five-point demand, the National Convener of UAD, Comrade Baba Aye, called for “immediate and unconditional reversal of PMS (petrol) to N86.50; a public audit of the NNPC’s cash flow, involving trade unions, professional associations and civic organisations.” Other demands by the group included, “nationalisation of the petroleum industry and its democratic management and control by, and for working class-people; an end to the wave of anti-poor people neoliberal policies of privatisation and deregulation as well as putting people before profit; Enactment of N56,000 national minimum wage Act.” Meantime, Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, PENGASSAN, has said it did not support fuel hike but deregulation. The leadership of the association, the press briefing by the NLC and TUC, in Abuja, debunked the claim that it had supported the hike, saying no decision had been taken on it.
*Victor Ahiuma-Young & Johnbosco Agbakwuru – Vanguard