• Sat. Sep 30th, 2023

Fuel price crisis: Labour gives govt. seven days to revert to old prices

ByBassey Udo

Jun 2, 2023

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the umbrella group of all Nigerian workers, has formally rejected the new pump price regime for petrol in the country until local refining of petroleum products begins with the country’s refineries.

Consequently, the Central Labour movement has issued a seven days ultimatum to the government to rescind its decision and reinstate the oil pump price of petrol or face a nationwide workers’ strike action. 

Following the announcement by new President, Bola Tinubu, in his inaugural speech last Monday in Abuja about the removal of subsidy on petrol, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) announced a 194.7 percent hike in petrol prices from N195 per litre to N557 per litre in all its filling stations across the country. 

The NNPC’s new prices provided a benchmark for other fuel marketers in the country to fix their prices ranging from an average of N557 and N600 per litre, depending on location. 

Following the new fuel price regime, prices of goods and essential services immediately skyrocketed across the country, resulting in an unprecedented crisis, as food prices, transportation fares and cost of essential services went beyond the common man. 

Worse hit were the low income workers across the country who could barely afford the high cost of transportation and food prices with their meagre pay packages. 

A meeting convened by the new government with representatives of the NLC leadership could not reach an agreement, as each party agreed to break off and return to their constituencies for further consultations. 

But at the end of the an emergency National Executive Council meeting of the NLC on Friday in Abuja, the Central Labour body resolved not to continue any further negotiations with the government on the issue until the government was properly constituted. 

Rather a communique issued at the end of the meeting jointly signed by the NLC President, Joe Ajaero, and General Secretary, Emma Ugboajah, announced the decision of the NLC and its affiliate unions and associations to commence immediate mobilisation towards a nationwide strike action from Wednesday next week if the government refuses to rescind its decision on the new fuel prices. 

The NLC noted that since the pronouncement by Tinubu on Monday “the price of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), popularly called petrol, which is central to transportation and power in the country, has escalated across the country, throwing the nation into turmoil and confusion, as citizens are left stranded, thus increasing suffering and angst among the populace.”

The NLC said during the NEC meeting, these issues that arose from the decision by the federal government to unilaterally hike the price of petrol were fully discussed.

In condemning the government for taking the decision without due consultation with key stakeholders in the economy, the NLC said NEC took into consideration the huge suffering throughout the country, the outrage expressed by the majority and the increased attendant fears of the consequences of the high petrol price on the people, particularly the workers.

The NLC described as unlawful the decision by the federal government to announce the withdrawal of subsidy on petrol when the 2023 Appropriation Act made provisions for the funding of the subsidy regime on PMS till the end of June, 2023. 

Also, the NLC described as unfair the decision by the government to knowingly take an action that would inflict pains on the populace and workers without putting adequate safeguards in place in the form of palliatives to cushion the negative impact of the policy. 

The Labour movement noted that discussions on the issue of removal of fuel subsidy were already on and an understanding reached with the government on the conditions precedent before the withdrawal of subsidy on PMS.

It would be recalled that part of the agreement between the government and Labour during previous attempts to remove subsidy on petrol was the repairs of the country’s four refineries in Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna to allow for local refining and domestic supply of petroleum products. 

However, the NLC said NEC noted that the country’s four local refineries have remained comatose as a result of the government’s inability to complete their turnaround maintenance to ensure their functionality.

Consequently, the NLC said NEC resolved not to accept any petroleum product price increase in the until products were refined locally. 

NEC condemned the federal government’s decision on the issue as unilateral, as it ran contrary to the spirit of national consensus and social dialogue.

Besides, the NLC drew attention to a subsisting judgment of the Court that voided the powers of the Federal Government to deregulate the downstream sector of the petroleum industry and fix prices of petroleum products in the country based on imports.

NEC recalled that between 1993 and 2023, the country spent about $6 billion on turnaround maintenance of the four refineries without any results, adding that another $7 billion was given to 14 banks owned by the elite from the public treasury to keep them afloat.

Again, NEC said between 2016 and 2023, about N26 trillion was granted to the rich businessmen as import waivers, while the NNPC was still unable to tell Nigerians the pricing templates used to arrive at the latest fuel prices. 

The demands of NEC at the end of the meeting included the immediate withdrawal of the new fuel prices announced by the NNPCL and revert to the old price in keeping with the 2023 Appropriation Act; carry out proper investigations into the process of fuel subsidies to know those who were the beneficiaries, the total amount involved and halt the current fraudulent pricing mechanism in the subsidy regime.

While NEC directed the NLC leadership to be cautious with negotiating with people sent by the government who do not have official portfolios, mandate and capacity to commit the government to agreements, it agreed that it would not be involved in any further negotiations until the government was properly constituted. 

The NLC said NEC resolved that if by Wednesday next week the NNPC did not rescind its decision and reverse the new fuel price regime in the country, to allow negotiations to continue, the Central Labour movement and all its affiliates would withdraw its services and commence nationwide protest till its demands were met.

NEC therefore directed its affiliates to immediately commence effective mobilisation of all workers and Nigerians in conjunction with the civil society to resist the imposition of higher fuel prices by the government. 

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