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Fuel Price Hike: FG, Labour Meeting Ends In a Deadlock

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Tuesday, May 17th, 2016
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Talks between the Federal Government and organised labour on the increase in the pump price of petrol ended in a deadlock on Monday night.

Briefing journalists at the end of the four-hour meeting on Tuesday morning, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Babachir Lawal, said the two parties had “a fruitful discussion and will continue from where we stopped.”

The meeting, which ended at about 12 midnight, will resume at 3pm on Tuesday (today).

Lawal, however, refused to answer further questions from newsmen.

The Federal Government, however, began another round of meeting with the Joe Ajaero-led faction of the labour movement at about 12.15am on Tuesday after its meeting with the Ayuba Wabba-led Nigeria Labour Congress.

Wabba confirmed that discussions with the Federal Government would continue by 3pm on Tuesday (today).

Sources at the meeting said the labour leaders were not convinced by the figures presented by the government team.

Those who attended the meeting included Wabba;  NLC General Secretary, Peter Ozo-Esun; NUPENG president, Igwe Achese; PENGASSAN President, Olabode Johnson; TUC President, Bobboi Kaigama; Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige; Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang; and the Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole.

Earlier on Monday, the Federal Government said it had no choice but to liberalise the price of petrol.

The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who stated this at a news conference in Abuja, justified the increase in the price of petrol to N145.

He also faulted a claim that the new price regime was about removal of subsidy.

He stated, “We have no choice but to liberalise the price of petrol if we are to end the crippling fuel scarcity that has enveloped the country, ensure the availability of the product and end the suffering of our people over the lingering scarcity.”

Debunking a claim that the new price regime was about removal of subsidy, he said, “There is no subsidy to remove because no provision was made for subsidy in the 2016 budget. Last year, the government paid out N1tn in subsidy, and that’s one sixth of this year’s budget. We can’t afford to pay another N1tn in subsidy.”

Justifying the government’s action, he said the fall in the price of crude oil had led to the reduction of foreign exchange available in the country.

This, he explained, had forced marketers to stop the importation of the product, thus making the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation the supplier of over 90 per cent of petrol.

Mohammed stated, “With the drastic fall in the price of crude oil, which is the nation’s main foreign exchange earner, there has also been a drastic reduction in the amount of foreign exchange available.

“The unavailability of forex and the inability to open letters of credit have forced marketers to stop product importation and imposed over 90 per cent supply on the NNPC since October 2015, in contrast to the past where NNPC supplied 48 per cent of the national requirement.”

He dismissed critics, who were comparing ex-President Goodluck Jonathan’s fuel price increase in 2012 to the recent one by the Buhari administration.

Mohammed added, ‘‘Our answer to that is that there is no basis for comparison. The conditions in 2012 were vastly different from the conditions now.

“Then, oil was selling for over 100 dollars a barrel, compared to just a little over 40 dollars a barrel now. Then, the country was awash in forex, thanks to the high earnings from oil. Then the foreign reserves were high.

“The new price regime is simply inevitable.”

The minister also disclosed that the renewed insurgency and pipeline vandalism in the Niger Delta had drastically reduced national crude oil production to 1.65 million barrels per day, against the 2.2 million barrels per day planned in the 2016 budget.

He noted that the resultant fuel scarcity had created an abnormal increase in price, resulting in Nigerians paying between N150 and N300 per litre because hoarding, smuggling and diversion of products had reduced volumes made available to citizens.

He stated, “The liberalisation of petrol supply and distribution will allow marketers and any Nigerian entity, willing to supply PMS, to source for their forex and import PMS to ensure the availability of the products in all locations of the country.”

In a similar vein, Christians in the 19 northern states and Abuja on Monday backed the deregulation of the petroleum industry and cautioned the Nigeria Labour Congress against the proposed nationwide strike.

Under the aegis of the Northern chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria, the association called on organised labour to shelve its planned nationwide strike over the increase in the price of petrol.

Northern CAN’s Public Relations Officer, Reverend John Hayab, who spoke to our correspondent in Kaduna on Monday, said the deregulation of the downstream oil sector was the best option for now in stimulating the nation’s economy.

Hayab noted that the proposed nationwide strike by organised labour could not be in the interest of Nigerians as according to him, “strike has never and will not be the option to revamping the economy.”

The cleric also proposed dialogue between organised labour and the government in order to find a common ground in solving the current problem.

He noted that the association was, however, not happy with the way the Federal Government removed the fuel subsidy without due consultations with other stakeholders.

The spokesman added, “We understand the pains and difficulties Nigerians are passing through. We share the pains and difficulties with them. This is a period of sacrifice.

“We don’t think going or embarking on strike by the Nigeria Labour Congress is the best option. The best option is a roundtable discussion.”

Meanwhile, the Catholic Archdiocese of Abuja has warned the nation’s organised labour to reflect on its proposed industrial action against the increase in the pump price of petrol.

The church said while it supported the efforts being made by the government, it was optimistic that Nigerians needed to give the government the benefit of the doubt over its intentions and policies.

The Director of Communications, Social Communications Department of the Archdiocese, Rev. Fr. Patrick  Alumuku, said this during a press conference on Monday in Abuja, to mark his 35th anniversary of priesthood and to herald the public presentation of his book, Candle Wax.

According to him, whereas it was necessary to ask the government to be vigilant and have the people at heart in all it does, labour needed to think twice about “whether we are going to throw ourselves into chaos of where salaries are not being paid or make this sacrifice.”

Luckily, we are talking of government that came on board with desire to help Nigerians improve the condition of their lives and I believe this government has some responsibilities in its hands.”

But in Osogbo, the Osun State capital, the Bishop of Sufficient Grace and Truth Ministry, Seun Adeoye, on Monday, staged a solo protest against the increase in the pump price of petrol.

The cleric, a former Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Osun State Council, started the protest in front of the Osun State Government House, Okefia, around 10am and marched to the popular Olaiya Junction, where he addressed journalists.

The bishop was dressed in full regalia of his office, hanging a placard with an inscription “N145 per litre: This is not change but chain.”

The bishop said he would trek from Osogbo to Abuja in protest against the policy if the Federal Government refused to review the policy.

He said, “This is not the change they promised the people. At most, it should be N95 per litre. This price is too much. Things are very bad and this hike would worsen it.”

Civil society organisations in Edo State have, however, vowed to mobilise their members across the 18 local government areas of the state in support of the planned nationwide protest strike.

The groups, under the aegis of the Coalition to Save Nigeria, made this known on Monday in Benin.

Also, on Monday in Benin, Edo Civil Society Organisations staged a peaceful protest in the state capital against the new price regime.

But the Coalition to Save Nigeria, in a statement by Dr. Philip Ugbodaga, condemned the increase in the price of petrol describing it as a move by the Federal Government to ambush Nigerians, whom they said were not consulted before the decision was taken.

It argued that government was “fantastically wrong” in taking the decision like it did in 2012.

It also noted that the government and political leaders were yet to lead by example in its call to Nigerians to sacrifice in the interest of the country.

The spokesperson for EDSON, Omobude Agho, however, said Nigerians would mobilise against organised labour, if it displayed any form of compromise in returning the pump price to N86.50k.

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