The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) on Saturday said the planned removal of fuel subsidy was illegal and diversionary, adding that the congress will not take it lightly should the government go ahead with the plan billed to take off in January.
The Congress was reacting to the remarks by the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, who said government had resolved to scrap oil subsidy because of fraud around it.
The minister had said: “So for the first time people will understand that the pricing modulation I was talking about is not a gimmick. It is for real. The objective is that we cannot afford to continue to subsidize.We can’t even understand where those subsidies were going to. There is a lot of fraud elements in it so we need to cut that off. The second is that the earning capacity of the Federal Government is deteriorating by the day with lower prices of crude.”
Kachikwu, who is also the Group Managing Director, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) also said a new fuel price regime that may see fuel sell for as low as N85 per litre would be announced next week to reflect the new market conditions.
But in his reaction to the planned removal of the petroleum subsidy, NLC President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, in an interview with THISDAY, said the organised labour would hold the President accountable on his promise not to tinker with the subsidy arrangement.
He therefore declared the planned removal of fuel subsidy illegal and diversionary.
The NLC president said the decision by President Buhari led All Progressives Congress (APC) government to remove fuel subsidy did not fall within the purview of their campaign promises during the 2015 general elections.
“We will hold him (President Buhari) accountable on his campaign promises. If they were going to remove subsidy, that was not part of their campaign promises during the elections. President Buhari has promised Nigerians that he will not remove fuel subsidy – that is his promise, we will hold him to his words,” Wabba said.
NLC President said though the union had yet to receive the details, government’s decision to tinker with fuel subsidy was wrong-headed and illegal given that the processes required to effect the removal of the subsidy had not been complied with.
“The Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) by law is supposed to regulate petroleum products prices and it is made up of a board of stakeholders. NLC is also part of the board.
“For some time now, that organ has not been constituted. I don’t think anybody can fix the prices of petroleum products. So removing fuel subsidy and fixing petroleum products – that is illegal,” Wabba stated.
The NLC president argued that what should be the focus of government is how to “refine petroleum products in Nigeria,” stressing that, to remove subsidy and at the same time fix petroleum products prices is ‘diversionary’.
Wabba declared that the NLC would not accept fuel subsidy removal as the body was not part of the decision. “They did not even consult on this fuel subsidy removal,” he said.
The NLC president informed THISDAY that the National Executive Council (NEC) of NLC would meet in early January and take a decision on the issue.
He said that the meeting would ensure that all avenues were explored to address the impending crisis on the planned fuel subsidy removal.
On the upcoming reduction in pump price of fuel, the minister of state for petroleum, who disclosed this during a tour of the Port Harcourt refinery on Christmas Day, expressed hope that the new price regime would come on stream January next year.
He said efforts were on to get the refinery to achieve 60 per cent production capacity and to supply about 11 million litres of petrol daily.
“If you look at the new PPPRA template that we developed and which I just signed off two days ago, when it is announced you will find out that for now, and I use the emphatic word of the President ‘for now’, the price of the refined product will actually be lower than 87 naira, It will be 85. We will probably announce that in January if the prices hold.
In a related development, there are indications that the federal government is gradually cutting back on the use of trucks to transport petroleum products from coastal depots and storage facilities to the hinterlands.
Kachikwu gave the hint that government would begin to cut back the country’s huge reliance on trucks to distribute fuel and improve the use of pipelines instead.
Kachikwu explained at a recent tour of the Port Harcourt Refineries in Rivers State that the government had as part of measures to revive pipeline distribution of products, signed up private intelligence firms to augment existing security arrangements on the country’s about 5000 kilometres long stretch of pipeline network.
The efforts, he said, would enable the Pipeline and Products Marketing Company (PPMC), a subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), push more products through the pipelines to hinterlands in the country.
According to him, up to 4000 trucks laden with petroleum products ply the length and breadth of the country’s roads every day to supply petroleum products across board. This he said had continued to impact on Nigeria’s road infrastructure, amongst other impacts.
“We are bringing in private securities to secure the pipelines. The key is to continue to maintain this and I think we are beginning to get the feel that we are getting some sense of what we need to do.
“It is a combination of many factors: communities, contractors and all sorts, it still makes it expensive but it is better than having to truck them through the roads,” said Kachikwu.
Meanwhile, Kachikwu has said that the country’s four refineries: Kaduna; Warri and Port Harcourt would be given external help to keep them active even after repair works on them are completed.
“From the briefing I have gotten today, they are fairly close to reopening and producing. Over the next one week, we expect to see products out from here.
“A lot of these works, we have had to do with intensive manual labour with the staff who are here, largely because lack of funding has not enabled us to do the kind of holistic changes we need to do, that is still going to come to support them.
We have done a great amount of work, been able to self-repair, but that will be solved when we holistically repair the plants beginning from early next year,” he said.