NLC, TUC, 79 others plan protests, strike over fuel price, electricity tariff hikes

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) yesterday called for the immediate reversal of litre price of Premium Motor Spirit popularly known as petrol to the old price of N121, failure which the Federal Government may incur the wrath of workers and other Nigerians.

The NLC President, Ayuba Wabba insisted that the new increase was unacceptable and will be challenged by the organised labour and other allies in the civil society soon. “We demand that the Federal Government reverts to the old price of N121 given during the lockdown associated with COVID-19 pandemic which Nigerians who were mainly confined in their houses hardly enjoyed,” he said.

He lamented that just as Nigerians are dealing with the recent hike in electricity tariff, the Federal Government on Wednesday released a new upwardly reviewed pricing band for the PMS, noting that this is the third increase in a space of about three months.

According to Wabba, the latest increase will be the last straw that would break the camel’s back.

He said, “As we have always maintained, the Nigeria Labour Congress will never accept the transfer of government incompetence on Nigerians through hike in the pump price of petrol. The incompetence of government in this regard is particularly manifest by the rundown of our public refineries and resort to the unscrupulous economics of fuel importation.

“At the risk of shouting ourselves hoarse, we reiterate that the increase in the pump price of  petrol is simply the cost of profits made by countries that have enough sense to maintain refineries that refine our crude oil, the cost of sea freight of refined petrol, the cost of demurrage at our seaports when the refined products arrive, the cost of frequent devaluation of our national currency, and the cost of official corruption by gatekeepers managing the downstream petroleum sub-sector. Nigerians have groaned to pay these unjust costs for years.”

He said Nigerians are shocked and bewildered at this latest increase, adding that it is disheartening that despite the gale of opposition by labour and Nigerians to the previous hike in the price of petrol, government went ahead to add scorpion to the scourges on the back of Nigerians.

He stated, “This is indeed a whole new level of government insincerity and insensitivity. This latest increase in the price of petrol is indeed a crass display of complete apathy to the sufferings Nigerians are going through at this time. “While other countries also going through the blues of the COVID-19 pandemic are reducing taxes, increasing welfare benefits and providing palliatives to their citizens, our own government is reducing interest rates on savings by the poor, increasing taxes and hiking tariffs on essential goods and services. Nigerians have never had it so bad.”

The Trade Union Congress (TUC) and 79 other civil society organisations and labour unions under the aegis of the Alliance on Surviving COVID-19 and Beyond codenamed ASCAB, are set to hold nationwide protests and strike action next week.

Apart from NLC and TUC, some other affiliate members of ASCAB include: United Action for Democracy, Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre, Journalists for Democratic Rights, Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, Amalgamated Union of Public Corporation, Civil Services Technical and Recreational Services Employees, Civil Liberties Organisation (Bayelsa), and COPEAIDS Foundation, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, among many others.

Confirming the development to one of our correspondents on the telephone on Friday, Human Rights Lawyer, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), said it was evil of the government to increase the prices of essential commodities during a pandemic.

He said while other countries were making life easier for their citizens through tax cuts and palliatives, the Nigerian government was doing the exact opposite.

The activist said, “There is going to be a general strike and protest. We will fix a date after a meeting this evening. ASCAB is meeting today (Friday) with TUC leadership and about 79 others have indicated that they will take part in the national day of action against these anti-people developments. It will be next week but the date has not been picked yet.

“Other nations are giving cash to their citizens, cancelling rents but Nigeria is imposing taxes and all other levies on its citizens. We will fight against it.”

Falana said the Pipelines and Product Marketing Company, which announced the fuel price increase, had no power to do so.

He also faulted claims by the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva, that there was nothing the government could do to intervene in the new petrol price

The senior advocate said Section 6 of the Petroleum Act gives the Minister of Petroleum the powers to determine the price of petroleum products and this had been affirmed by the courts.

Falana said, “The PPMC has no powers under the law to fix fuel price. Section 6 of the Petroleum Act makes it clear that it is the minister that can determine the price of petroleum products and the courts have affirmed this.”

Meanwhile, the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) hss ssid the recent hike in fuel price was not caused by the global price of crude oil but a deliberate devaluation of the naira by the Federal Government.

The President of PENGASSAN, Festus Osifo, said this on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily programme which was monitored by one of our correspondents on Friday.

Sylva had stated that the recent rise in fuel price was caused by the increase in global crude oil prices.

However, the PENGASSAN President said the recent hikes were caused by the Federal Government.

He said, “What are the drivers of the pump price? The driver of the pump price is the currency exchange. What has necessitated this today is not actually because of the fact that the product pricing is increasing internationally. The crude oil price relatively in the last six months has been hovering between $40 and $45 per barrel.

“But what has necessitated this is actually the devaluation. Today, we observe that in the last three months, we have had a 25 per cent devaluation of our currency. The government did it deliberately to have more money.

“They now have more money having done the devaluation and are now passing the burden to us because petroleum is not refined in Nigeria but abroad and everything is priced in dollars. The cost of crude oil, labour cost and all other costs that go into it are priced in dollars.

“So, by the time you bring it to Nigeria and ask us to pay in naira which has been devalued, by the time you factor in the 25 per cent devaluation of the naira, you will have to pay more.”

The PENGASSAN boss further stated that the landing cost which had increased was solely determined by the Federal Government and was paid in naira; hence it ought not to have been reviewed upwards.

“For us, this is not the best time. If as a government you have devalued your currency and you are making 25 per cent excess on top of your currency, which is fine, (then) you have more money to pay workers and meet your naira need, it is fine.

“But again, you are telling us that the landing cost has increased in naira. Not necessarily in dollars, and you are also passing that unto the majority of the Nigerian citizens; I think this is double jeopardy and all stakeholders need to engage with the government,” Osifo said.

The PENGASSAN president said the fuel price hike executed by President Muhammadu Buhari was worse than that of former President Goodluck Jonathan.

Jonathan had in January 2012 removed fuel subsidy which caused nationwide protests, especially in Lagos where thousands of people took to the streets to express their displeasure.

Responding to a question on Friday, however, the PENGASSAN President said removing the subsidy in 2012 was actually a better decision because it would have had less effect on the people.

He said increasing fuel price in 2020 in the middle of the global COVID-19 pandemic and a worsening economy would exacerbate the suffering of Nigerians.

Osifo said, “I think the timing today is even more problematic compared to 2012 because we are battling a pandemic. I can tell you that for a lot of households, their income has diminished; a lot of businesses have been shut down since March.

“I can tell you that today, Nigerians are facing hardship. I believe that 2012 was a bit better than it is today because the pandemic has ravaged the average household in Nigeria. You have seen the recent figures from the National Bureau of Statistics. We are actually in negative Gross Domestic Product. By the next quarter, we could be in recession. This is not the right time to have done this.”

Members of Coalition for Civil Societies in Osun State on Friday stormed streets in protest against the hike in electricity tariff and pump price.

They subsequently gave a five-day ultimatum to the Federal Government to reverse the increment or face mass street protests.

The protest, which started from Freedom Park, Osogbo around 8:30am, moved to Oke Fia area, and later terminated at Olaiya Junction, where the conveners spoke with journalists.

Members of the civil society groups, leadership of students’ movements in South-West, and some members of the opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party, were joined by some artisans in the protest that lasted some hours.

As the protesters, accompanied by the men of the Department of State Services in mufti and policemen, moved through major streets in Osun State capital, traffic flow was disrupted, leading to gridlock.

The participants, who carried placards with the inscriptions such as “Buhari, enough is enough,” “PMB, people are hungry,” chanted anti-government slogans as they moved from street to street.

Speaking during the protest, one of the conveners, Waheed Saka, said Nigerians were experiencing untold hardship under the current regime.

He said, “We are here because Nigerians are angry. Buhari has betrayed the trust of Nigerians. We are here because Buhari has failed Nigerians.

“His decision is putting more pressure on the already pauperised Nigerians. We say no to increase in electricity tariff, we say no to incessant increase in pump price. We say no to the illegal Water Resources Bill that is before the National Assembly.”

Also speaking during the protest, Olatunji Ishola, the Public Relations Officer of the National Association of Nigerian Students, South West Zone, said the students rejected the hike in electricity tariff and pump price. – Punch.

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