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Labour unions strategise ahead of proposed fuel subsidy removal

By Collins Olayinka, Abuja 
04 January 2022   |   3:45 am
The year 2022 is loaded with a lot of expectations, especially the Federal Government’s planned removal of petrol subsidy. With the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) becoming law...

[FILES] Fuel pump. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES<br />

ASCSN begins mobilisation against the move
• Coalition plans another Occupy Nigeria Protests on 10th anniversary
• Ozo-Eson advocates phased removal
• Govt must create enabling environs for youths to excel, Esele

The year 2022 is loaded with a lot of expectations, especially the Federal Government’s planned removal of petrol subsidy. With the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) becoming law, necessitating full deregulation of the downstream sector amid other sweeping changes envisaged in the oil and gas sector, the woes of Nigerian workers may come in torrents amid stagnated wage regime.

This comes as the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN) said it has already begun to mobilise its members to resist the removal of subsidies. 
National President of the association, Dr Tommy Okon, said in Abuja: “We are engaging in advocacy and enlightening our members to let them know that where this government is taking us to must be resisted. Why is the government still pumping money into the electricity sector it claimed to have deregulated and commercialised? As I sit here, my grandchildren are owing because this government has over-borrowed to the point that we do not even know what we borrowed again.
“Any attempt at removing petrol subsidy is akin to living on ‘fantasy island’. The government is suffering from what I will call ‘policy abortion’. In this case, the government is foot-dragging on the payment of N30,000 minimum wage; epileptic electricity supply, no pipe-borne water supply and no efficient public transportation are social drawbacks that are affecting the quality of life of Nigerians. 
“Yes, it may be a matter of law since the PIA is now a reality, but laws must come with human face and sympathy. These things are not solely about legality but also about morality. Laws are made for man and not man for the law.

“Labour has the justification to go on strike of interest and strike of right. We can go on strike to force the hands of government on this matter if we are pushed to the wall,” he said.
Okon alleged that the removal of petrol subsidy is an attempt to mobilise resources for the 2023 elections and not about the wellbeing of the people.

THE Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) had earlier insisted that workers and masses would not accept any further increase in the pump price of fuel in the name of subsidy removal, urging workers and the citizens to prepare for total war against the fuel price hike.

NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, in his New Year message to workers, also named Zamfara, Taraba, Benue, Kogi, Cross Rivers, Abia and Imo states as seven states yet to implement the N30,000 minimum wage that took effect on April 18, 2019. NLC directed the affected states to commence indefinite strikes to force the respective state governments to implement the new wage.

In a nine-page statement, NLC said the government is still not relenting in its determination to push through further increases in the pump price of petrol and which, as usual, had been dubbed as “removal of petrol subsidy.

“Organised Labour has made its position clear on this matter. We have told the government in very clear terms that Nigerians have suffered enough and will not endure more punishment by way of further petrol and electricity price increases.
“Our position in this regard is predicated on four major grounds. First is our concern on the deceit and duplicity associated with the politics of petrol price increase by successive governments. The truth is that the perennial increase by the government of the pump price of petrol is actually a transfer of government failure and inability to effectively govern to the satisfaction of the poor masses of our country.

“We are talking of the failure of government to manage Nigeria’s four oil refineries and inability to build new ones more than 30 years after the last petrochemical refinery in Port Harcourt was commissioned; the failure to rein in smuggling; and the failure to determine empirically the quantity of petrol consumed in Nigeria. The shame takes a gory dimension with the fact that Nigeria is the only OPEC country that cannot refine its own crude oil.”

ALSO, the People’s Alternative Political Movement (TPAP-M), a coalition of individuals and organisations committed to the emergence and building of a mass workers party, and the Socialist Transformation of Nigeria, has rejected the recent hike in the price of gas and the impending hikes in the price of fuel and electricity tariff, among other things.
The coalition stated in a communiqué signed by Comrade Jaye Gaskia and Comrade Omotoye Olorode of the TRAP-M secretariat, that it would organise another Occupy Nigeria Protests on the 10th anniversary of the first one this January.

The NLC, late last year, also announced plans to embark on nationwide protests on January 27, 2022, to protest against moves by the Nigerian government to increase fuel prices. 

The first Occupy Nigeria Protests were held between January 2 and 14, 2012 across Nigeria to kick against the removal of fuel subsidy by the Goodluck Jonathan administration.
The meeting, which was held on Sunday, was focused on the deteriorating state of the nation in general, evolving developments with regards to rising energy costs, and the impending hikes in fuel price and electricity tariff being proposed by the Buhari administration.
“Towards this end, TPAP-M shall reach out to other like-minded organisations, and link up with similar-minded individuals to build a mass base for a massive popular resistance beginning in January 2022.
“TPAP-M and her allies will organise a week of mobilisations and awareness-raising at the beginning of January 2022 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Occupy Nigeria – the January Uprising of 2012, and as well to build up momentum towards generalised mass protests across the country to resist the impending hikes in fuel price and electricity tariff and the unfolding hike of the price of gas.

ON his part, the immediate past General Secretary of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Dr Peter Ozo-Eson, who admonished Nigerians to keep hope alive, as they begin another year, said he has fears that are rooted in the insecurity challenges confronting the country.
His words: “The greatest thing I have going into the New Year is the survival of the country as an entity given the security challenges we are confronting. It is difficult for people to travel for holiday by road. The economy is held hostage by fear of insecurity. So, going into the New Year, my fear is about how far we can bring these to an end because if we do not, it will continue to threaten the very existence of our nation as a modern entity.”

He held that the sufferings that an average Nigerian is going through are almost unprecedented. 
On the planned removal of petrol subsidy, Ozo-Eson said the route is a familiar one. He explained: “Given the overall situation of the condition of things and the suffering people are going through, this is probably the worst time for any government to carry out such a policy.

“Labour has indicated a programme of resisting the move over the years. I think what is important is that beyond protests, the organised labour should find a way to get the government to come to the negotiation table either by using a threat of general strike or other means so that the conditions that have to be fulfilled for the removal of subsidy to happen will be negotiated and agreed upon.

“For me, such conditions must include the realisation of domestic refining. If we do this removal while the regime of importation is firmly in place, it is going to wreck the economy. It is important whether the government has spoken or not, that they are forced to rethink the timing and ensure that the refineries are working so that domestic capacity for producing refined products is at least close to 60 per cent of domestic consumption. To do otherwise will damage the economy beyond what it is now and impoverish the people, which the government is supposed to protect.”
Commenting on the possibility of phasing out subsidies gradually, Ozo-Eson said: “If we must remove the subsidy in phases, it must be tied to the improvement in the domestic refining of products. That is what it should be tied to because if it is not tied to it, Nigeria will continue to import. The instability that importation of products has brought about is the huge demand for foreign exchange, which is responsible for the weakening of the Naira.

“Weakening of the Naira will continue to increase the price of imported products and it will become a vicious circle. The removal can then be tied to the number of products we are able to refine locally. That will make some sense if it is properly planned.”

While he admitted that the Dangote refinery would lessen the pressure on the foreign exchange, Ozo-Eson cautioned against encouraging a private monopoly in a sector that is a crucial national security concern. 
“When the Dangote refinery comes on stream, it will remove the pressure on importation. To that extent, it will give some relief not necessarily in price but in the demand for foreign exchange. However, to hand over such a crucial aspect of national security to a monopoly has its own danger. Therefore, while I think it is a positive development, I think that there is an urgent need for other refineries and government-owned ones to be able to refine as well to foster price competition. It will be too dangerous to have one person determine the price of petrol, sugar and cement. In the case of petroleum products, a private monopoly will be devastating in the long run,” he stated. 
A former President of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Peter Esele, said currency devaluation and removal of petrol subsidy have become the cheapest way for the government to raise funds when it is broke. He added that the two areas impact negatively the welfare of workers more than anyone in the country. 
He identified 2022 as the year of politicking, which could slow down the implementation of the PIA, as there is no provision for petrol subsidy, insisting that subsidy removal may not happen if the Federal Government is desirous of retaining power at the centre.
He urged workers to create avenues for making passive income apart from their regular salaries to survive the year, which promises to be tough and challenging as well. 
Esele paid glowing tributes to Nigerian youths who are braving the odds to make it onto the global stage through the dint of intelligent work and innovation, saying, “my hope is that the government will put policies in place to harness all of this massive potential. There is the need to have a structured growth that will impact the living standard of the people.”