Monday, 4th December 2023

Tinubu’s reforms face stress test amid Labour threats, FX scarcity

By Collins Olayinka, Terhemba Daka, Kingsley Jeremiah (Abuja) and Waliat Musa (Lagos)
15 August 2023   |   3:56 am
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and its civil society allies have threatened to embark on immediate industrial action if the pump price of petrol is increased from its current N617 per litre

Torn between Niger Republic political deadlock and Nigeria lingering fuel crisis, the road ahead of President Tinubu is bumpy.

• Marketers insist on hike as FX crisis, FIRS compound situation
• NOGASA worried over state of local refineries, roads
• Local modular refineries lack crude, unreliable, marketers say 

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and its civil society allies have threatened to embark on immediate industrial action if the pump price of petrol is increased from its current N617 per litre.

This is just as another threat comes from marketers of premium motor spirit (PMS) who have insisted that the shutdown of fuel stations, as well as a significant increase in the pump price of petrol remains almost unavoidable considering the current market reality.

Labour is also frustrated by what it described as the lack of commitment on the part of the government to discuss new minimum wage and fuel subsidy removal palliative. The negotiation has stalled with committees set up on the issue almost redundant.

NLC argued that a fresh price hike while negotiations on palliatives for the citizens on the last two increases are still ongoing will be against the spirit of collective bargaining.

NLC President, Comrade Joe Ajaero, said this at the ongoing African Alliance of Trade Unions meeting in Abuja.

Reacting to the advice of the Registrar of Trade Unions on how labour should conduct themselves as they carry out their responsibilities of protecting the interest of workers and Nigerians by extension, Ajaero urged the Federal government to change bad economic policies that have rendered wages worthless.

His words: “As we are here now, the government is contemplating increasing the pump price of petroleum products. Very soon, the Ministry of Labour will go to the Ministry of Justice to come up with an injunction to tie the hands of labour not to respond. They have started floating ideas of a likely increase in the price of petroleum products.

“But let me say this, Nigeria workers will not give any strike notice if we have not addressed the consequences of the last two increases in fuel pump price, and we wake up from asleep to hear that they have tampered with the fuel pump price again. ”

Ajaero. PIX:Twitter

Ajaero, therefore, urged the government to resist introducing bad economic policies that render wages worthless, saying, “If you check those policies that lead to inflation, and devaluation of the currency, we will be comfortable even where we are. If the naira is at par with the dollar today, we will ask you to leave the minimum wage at 30,000.

“If inflation is checked to zero, we will ask you to leave things the way they are. But inflation is flying, and by the admittance of the National Bureau of Statistics, we have over 133 million multi-dimensionally poor Nigerians. I think these are the issues the government should address. If we go for a wage increase tomorrow, the inflation that will follow suit will destroy it.”

He berated the Police for performing the duties of the Ministry of Labour.

He added: “The duty of the Ministry of Labour includes addressing the issue of both inter- and intra-union disputes. It is not within the purview of the Inspector General of Police to go into that area. And I think there is a need for the Ministry of Labour to educate the police to tell them that they don’t have the right to usurp its functions. If they do that, the Ministry of Labour will go into extinction and there will be no basis for a Minister of Labour to be appointed.”

Ajaero submitted that labour deserves an apology from the Inspector General of Police for arresting or even contemplating the arrest of the president of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, for whatever reason on the eve of an election.

He said: “It is unheard of in the history of this country. And never again should not be entertained. Nigerian police against Nigerian workers, we will not waste time too much in their offices. Let them use the same gun that was bought with the workers’ tax tonight to engage us.

Marketers of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) yesterday, in Abuja, insisted that the shutdown of fuel stations as well as a drastic increase in the pump price of petrol is unavoidable.

The Natural Oil and Gas Suppliers Association of Nigeria (NOGASA), at a press conference, corroborated the concerns of other marketers, stressing that the challenges associated with the subsidy removal are becoming chaotic.

The National President, NOGASA, Benneth Korie disclosed that the current pump price of PMS is not only sustainable but that the crisis, coming from foreign exchange is running down most marketers.

Korie also decried the state of the local refineries in the country to counter the argument by the NNPC that the local refineries would reduce pump prices and lessen the economic hardship that trailed the removal of subsidy.

Petrol pump

About 78 days ago, President Bola Tinubu government, on assumption of office, removed subsidy on PMS and days after floated the foreign exchange market.

The multiplier effects have sent energy costs for homes and Industries above the roof and created a foreign exchange crisis, where importers of PMS alone would need over $15 billion to import PMS from the Netherlands and another part of the world.

Korie said most marketers, who needed about N10 million to operate in the retailing of white products are already folding up as the cost of operation for a single truck has moved above N35 million.

The state of roads across the country is worsening the development, Korie noted, adding that about five of his workers have been kidnapped lately from the locations where their vehicles get stocked.

According to him, some of his members spend over 10 days on the road trucking their products from the Southern region to the northern part due to the state of the road.

Korie disclosed that a new tax on diesel by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) has made matters worse, as he called on the government to immediately reverse the tax and give operators some leeway.

He disclosed that although the marketers were at some point sourcing products from local modular refineries, the supply remained unreliable.

According to him, most of the refineries have no guaranteed crude oil supply and only work when they manage to get products.

Amidst the rising tension, experts have said the increase in the price of the commodity is inevitable due to the marginal increase in the cost of crude oil and OPEC’s decision to cut supply.

An executive of Power and New Energy, Damilare Olayiwola said with the exchange rate, it is predictable that the PMS price would be adjusted every month.

Chief Executive Officer, Diary Hills Limited, Kelvin Emmanuel, said the shortage of FX and depreciation of naira are responsible for PMS price hike.

He charged the government to work on stopping crude oil theft and raising Nigeria’s crude oil receipts to improve supply.

“Government needs to work on the supply side for FX, by using collateralised intra-Central Bank lending with Nigeria’s Special Drawing Rights at the IMF as collateral for short-term liquidity required to bring the rates back to fair value at 720-750 naira,” he said

He stressed that the new rate proposal framework given by independent marketers reflects the reality that comes with deregulation.

Also, Founder, Enermics Consulting, Emmanuel Afimia, said there should be no reversal of the subsidy but that the government should find ways to mitigate the effect of the PMS pump price on Nigerians.