The organised labour has cautioned the federal government against petrol subsidy removal, vowing to resist the move if it is not carried along.
The President and the Secretary-General of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Festus Osifo and Abba Toro, respectively, gave the caution in separate chats with Daily Trust on Thursday.
The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, had, a fortnight ago during a courtesy visit to the headquarters of the Voice of Nigerian in Abuja, disclosed that petrol subsidy would be removed before the end of President Muhammadu Buhari’s tenure on May 29.
She had attributed the delay in the subsidy removal, as provided for in the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) 2021, to the 2023 general elections and the national population census.
The Minister of State, Budget and National Planning, Clement Agba, had, after the Federal Executive Council meeting held on March 15, said no conclusion had been reached on how to lessen the likely impacts of the proposed petrol subsidy removal on citizens.
He said though a committee headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had been working for about a year, nothing definite had been agreed upon.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, had on Tuesday said the government would hand over the implementation of petrol subsidy removal’s palliative measures to the incoming administration of Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
But labour officials described the plan by the Buhari-led administration to remove the subsidy before it leaves on May 29, and leave the chaos that will follow to the in-coming administration as not fair. They said citing the PIA as basis for removing the subsidy does not hold water because there is no law made by man that is cast in stone.
Discussion necessary to avert crisis – TUC
The TUC president, Osifo, said there must be discussions between the organised labour and the government (whether outgoing or incoming) before removal of subsidy.
“Well, anybody can make pronouncements on removal of subsidies in his or her kitchen, what I know is that we can’t even talk about palliatives now when we have not sat on a round table to discuss the main issue.
“As of now, no discussion is ongoing regarding that. Whatever the government wants to do on that, labour is a critical stakeholder that must be carried along.
“We will sit together, discuss, solve grey areas and find a common ground,” Osifo told one of our correspondents in his Abuja office.
On his part, Toro noted that it is necessary to carry the labour movement along before removing petrol subsidy.
He said, “That is what we call social dialogue. Everything will be back to square one if the government removes subsidies without carrying labour along.”
When reminded that the PIA law signed by President Buhari stated that subsidy removal must not exceed June, Toro said “laws were not cast in the iron”.
“Like the president alluded to, it is a function of social dialogue, and they cannot push out a policy through our throats without consultation, if they don’t consult, we will automatically confront them if it affects us directly. There is no way we will allow that.
“Laws are written by human beings, and it is to govern human beings, so, those laws are not cast in the irons. Because they are laws, and they are not favourable to the survival of the people, should we keep quiet? No! That’s why we have the parliament.”
Nigerians worried over unclear palliative plan
Meanwhile, Nigerians have expressed concern over the government’s decision to shift the implantation of fuel subsidy removal palliatives to the incoming administration.
The citizens see petrol subsidy as one benefit they receive from the government, which they believe has failed to deliver other basic services such as electricity and security despite receiving billions of dollars every year from oil exports.
Speaking to Daily Trust, Barrister Ken Ukaoha said: “Nigerians are currently contending with so much hardship as a result of inflation. Prices of foodstuffs have hit the roof. Fuel scarcity is still there. The prices of cooking gas and diesel are at an all-time high. There is very little room to carry an extra inch of hardship.”
Petrol price may hit N750 per litre
Stakeholders in the sector have told Nigerians to be ready to pay as much as N750 per litre of petrol at filling stations.
This was the high point of stakeholders’ interventions during an online workshop, with the theme ‘Deregulation of the Nigerian Downstream Sector: The Day After’.
Speaking at the session, the National President of IPMAN, Chinedu Okoronkwo, represented by the association’s National Operations Controller, Mike Osatuyi, stated that the marketers were in full support of the government’s plan to embark on full deregulation of the downstream sector.
Okoronkwo warned Nigerians to prepare to pay up to N750 for every litre of petrol after the full implementation of the subsidy removal.
‘Incoming administration must make refineries, rail system work’
Senior partner at SPM Professionals, Paul Alaje has advised the incoming administration to make Nigeria’s refineries and rail system work towards reducing the impact of fuel subsidy when it is eventually removed.
He said the new administration would have to take difficult decisions in the area of subsidy as a significant amount is taken from the national purse to pay subsidy.
Speaking to Daily Trust, he said; “For us at SPM Professionals, the truth is we haven’t seen any president, whether Muhammadu Buhari or Senator Tinubu, that has the willpower to remove subsidy under the current conditions we are facing.
“First, we have over 130 million people living in multidimensional poverty, when you remove the subsidy, it means that their cost of living will increase by over 200 per cent, which means we may be pushing more people into poverty.
“Like what government thinks is that removing subsidy will affect the rich more than the poor, however, economic investigation has found that not to be correct because the rich can afford multiple cars and can sell one and buy fuel but the poor who can’t afford multiple income are the ones that will be affected,” he explained.
On the way forward, he said making refineries work and the rail sector will go a long way in cushioning the effect of subsidy removal when the incoming administration eventually removed it.
“The best palliative is to make refineries work; whether we call it a palliative or not it will be a permanent solution and it should not just be a single refinery in the name of Dangote refinery but the four refineries we have in Kaduna, Warri, Port Harcourt and Edo so that we can channel distributions across the country.”
‘Proceeds of subsidy removal may be hijacked by corrupt leaders’
The Executive Director, Centre for Transparency and Integrity Watch (CefTIW), Umar Yakubu, says even as the current administration is planning to remove subsidy, ordinary citizens may not feel the impact as the proceeds may be hijacked by corrupt leaders.
He said going by history, anytime government increased the prices of petrol and introduced palliatives like buses or other material things, nobody accounted for them.
“They have already made up their minds and have refused to control the corruption in government and that’s why they want to remove subsidy. But the problem we should be more concerned with instead of palliative is revenue distribution and allocations.
“Nigeria does not really have a problem with raising revenue but in all the revenue raised, how much have the government done, especially in the implementation of projects in the area of healthcare, agriculture, security and so many others.
“That is the major problem. We need to critically look at how they will spend revenue if they eventually remove it.
“This is because the same scenario played out with our taxes; in the last eight years we have broadened our tax base but yet we are paying more debt than ever before. So we have to be wary. Subsidy removal has come, but how will they use the money?” he queried.
When contacted, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, said he did not have any brief on such development but advised that the finance minister should be contacted again for more information.