By Bassey Udo
Amid plans by the Federal Government to finally remove fuel subsidy, which is expected to culminate in the hike in the retail price for petrol in 2022, organized labour has announced plans for a national protest on February 1 next year.
The President of the NLC, Ayuba Wabba, and General Secretary, Emmanuel Ugboaja, who announced the plan for the protest on Friday in Abuja said the protest would be preceded by a nationwide protest rally on January 27 next year to enable protest letters to be submitted to all the 36 State Governors.
The rallies scheduled to take place simultaneously across the 36 States of the Federation was announced in a communique issued at the end of the meeting National Executive Council (NEC) of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) on Friday in Abuja.
The meeting was attended by all Presidents, General Secretaries and Treasurers of NLC’s affiliate unions; Chairpersons and Secretaries of State Councils and the FCT, and members of the National Administrative Council who are members of the NEC.
The NLC however warned that in case the government pre-empts the plan with an announcement of new petrol prices, the protest would kick off immediately across all states and the Federal Capital Territory without any further notice.
Government hints at impending hike
The government has already hinted that a litre of Petroleum Motor Spirit (PMS), popularly called petrol, may be increased by over 107.3 percent in 2022, from the current average price of N164 per litre to about N340.
The Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) Limited, Mele Kyari, gave the hint in his presentation at the World Bank Nigeria Development Update, November 2021 edition titled “Time for Business Unusual” in Abuja.
Kyari said considering that the new Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) regulating operations of the petroleum industry does not provide for subsidy in the pricing template of petroleum products in the country, a hike in petrol price next year would be inevitable.
The GMD said the PIA provides that by the end of February 2022, the current subsidy regime in the pricing template of petroleum products would cease to exist. “There will be no provision for subsidy legally in our system,” he said.
But, Labour in its review noted that an increase in the pump price of petrol in 2022 would “expose Nigerian workers and the generality of the citizenry to acute deprivation, hardship, and suffering as it would worsen the already established trend of hyperinflation in the country.”
The NEC traced the crisis in Nigeria’s downstream petroleum sub-sector, especially as it relates to the petrol pump price regime, to a policy of importation-based pricing template for refined petroleum products against local production-based pricing template.
“As long as the pricing of refined petroleum products is based on importation pricing template, which is heavily dependent on a volatile foreign exchange rate heavily skewed against the Naira, the price of petrol and other refined petroleum products will continue to rise beyond the reach of average Nigerian workers and citizens,” Labour argued.
Consequently, Labour insists on its resolve to reject any increase in the pump price of petrol, which it says is usually disguised as deregulation or removal of fuel subsidy.
While condemning plans by the Federal Government to increase the pump price of petrol, Labour said it has resolved to continue to reject and resist any plan to increase the pump price of petrol.
Describing such plans as extremely insensitive to the acute hardship being experienced by Nigerian workers and the people, Labour said the government should rather promote the country’s capacity to refine petroleum products locally for domestic consumption.
On soaring inflation of basic commodities and services, Labour expressed concern on the trend of hyper-inflation in the prices of basic goods and services, especially essential commodities, including cooking gas and building materials, such as cement.
It resolved to urge the government to adopt effective economic policies to halt the inflationary trend, as this presents additional pressure on the lean income of Nigerian workers and other citizens, making life terribly unbearable for the poor masses.
On deteriorating insecurity situation in the country, Labour said apart from scaring away potential local and foreign investors from the Nigerian economy, it has also “unleashed an unquantifiable social dislocation and crisis in the country including food insecurity, widespread hunger, and mass destitution.”
Labour urged the government to consider the recommendations and policy initiatives from the NLC National Summit on Peace and Security and National Roundtable on Social Protection Cover in developing a National Plan of Action against insecurity in the country.
“The Federal Government should adopt a multi-stakeholder approach and innovative non-kinetic intervention model towards achieving a sustainable solution to the crises of insecurity in Nigeria,” the NEC said.
On industrial concerns, Labour criticized the proposal by the National Assembly and Nigeria Customs Service to introduce excise duties on carbonated drinks manufactured in Nigeria.
Such a proposal, it noted, would exacerbate the prevailing hyper-inflation of essential goods, especially food consumables, leading to a decline in sales, job losses in the food sub-sector, and increased hardship for ordinary Nigerians.
Also, Labour urged the executive arm of government at the federal level and the National Assembly to work together with organized Labour and manufacturers in the sub-sector for a win-win solution over the planned privatization of the country’s railways, public healthcare facilities, and concession of Nigeria’s major international airports.
“Plans to privatize and concession prime national assets would be tantamount to ‘State Capture’ of the commonwealth,” NEC said, urging the government and promoters of the privatization and concession plans to learn from the misadventure of the power sector privatization, which, instead of improving the lives of the ordinary Nigerian, have increased the level of suffering and hardship faced by the Nigerian masses.
Labour said it has rejected the concession of Nigeria’s four major airports and the privatization of Nigeria’s prime national assets, including the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) and other assets billed through legislative actions for privatization.
Workers’ charter of demands
On other charters of demands by Nigerian workers, Labour said, include the demands for basic social, economic, and political rights that fulfill the ideals of citizenship; improving the lot of the working class, and actualizing the dream of nationhood.
“Actualizing the thrusts of the Charter would facilitate the conferring of decency and dignity to the average Nigerian worker and citizen in line with the provisions of Chapter 2 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution.
“Guarantee of quality and affordable healthcare as a fundamental right of every Nigerian and a core justiciable responsibility of the State. Provisions to be made for the attainment of Universal Health Coverage for every Nigerian.
“Free and quality primary-junior secondary education. Well-rounded and affordable public senior secondary and tertiary education. Free technical and vocational training for Nigerian youths desirous for a career in artisanal trade.
“Efficient, responsible and sustainable, extraction, refining, processing and marketing of all of Nigeria’s natural resources in ways that maximize value chain potentials, enhance technological development and fosters inclusive growth.
“Government should ensure the creation of an enabling environment for the development of a robust local economy, stable Naira, and industrialization for creation of mass jobs.
“Guarantee of the right to life, physical safety and welfare of every Nigerian must be undertaken as the primary responsibility of government. must be protected at all times.
“Promotion of effective social protection cover for Nigerian workers and vulnerable segments of the population especially the poorest of the poor, the youth, the disabled, women and other vulnerable groups in our country,” NEC.