The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) on Friday directed its members and affiliates to begin nationwide protest and withdrawal of services from next Wednesday, if the federal government fails to compel the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited (NNPCL) to reverse the increase in the pump price of petrol.
However, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) rejected the strike option and resolved to continue dialogue with government’s negotiation team over the contentious issue of fuel subsidy withdrawal.
President Bola Tinubu had during his inaugural speech on Monday, May 29 announced the removal of fuel subsidy. “Subsidy is gone,” Tinubu said.
The NNPCL followed up on May 31, by announcing new pump prices according to states, with Borno State having the highest price of N540 per litre of petrol. Some representatives of the government also met with the officials of the NLC over the issues but it was deadlocked.
After its three-hour emergency National Executive Council (NEC) meeting in Abuja yesterday, the NLC rejected the petrol price increase and said further that workers are also demanding a comprehensive probe of the entire fuel subsidy regime to unravel the fraudulent activities that have taken place over the years.
Addressing journalists after the NEC meeting, NLC president Joe Ajaero said the Congress had resolved to mobilise workers nationwide to compel NNPCL “to withdraw the N540 per litre illegal fuel price template.”
While reading out the resolution of the NEC meeting, Ajaero said: “whereas the NNPC has refused to tell us the landing cost of imported PMS up to this moment, whereas the NNPC has refused to disclose the beneficiaries of the subsidy payments, the NLC is hereby calling for proper investigation of the process of subsidy to know those who are the beneficiaries and to know the amount that were involved and to investigate it properly before it is swept under the carpet.
“That the current attempt to sweep under the carpet the fraudulent practices of the subsidy regime should not be tolerated by all well-meaning Nigerians.
“That the NEC in session directed that the leadership of the NLC should be cautious of negotiating with people without portfolio, that it should wait until government is properly constituted and the people who will negotiate with labour are such people with mandate and capacity for being in the government of the day.
“Consequently, the NLC decided that if by Wednesday next week, the NNPC, a private limited liability company that illegally announced the new price regime for the oil sector refuses to reverse itself for negotiations to continue, the NLC and all its affiliates will withdraw their services and commence protest nationwide until this is complied with.
“That NNPC doesn’t have the monopoly to act illegally even as a private company. NLC NEC therefore directs all state councils and all industrial unions to commence mobilisation from this moment to make sure that the action is in force.”
President Tinubu said last Monday, while announcing the subsidy removal that the revenue would be channeled to the development of other sectors.
But the organised labour comprising Trade Union Congress and the NLC described the move by Tinubu and the NNPCL as a “joke taken too far.”
Earlier, at the NLC NEC emergency meeting in Abuja, Femi Falana, SAN, made a presentation on the subsidy removal.
He described the fixing of new pump prices for petrol by the NNPCL as illegal.
Falana said he would challenge the unconstitutional action of the NNPCL in court.
Ajaero, who spoke before Falana’s presentation, sought for public inquiry into the operations of the federal government’s contentious fuel subsidy regime.
The NLC president said, “Nigeria has always been faced with the vicious circle of subsidy withdrawal or no subsidy withdrawal without one really taking time to interrogate its meaning and operation.
“For every government that comes to power in Nigeria, subsidy now seems to be a cat with many lives and they will always announce subsidy removal and the meaning of subsidy withdrawal to them is increase fuel price. So, we woke up one morning to hear that the subsidy was gone, on the day of his (Tinubu) inauguration, without a cabinet and without going to the National Assembly.
“But we were told that there were provisions in the budget for it to end by the end of June. We do not know whether there was vehement or adjustment to the budget. All we heard was that NNPCL, a private company, went ahead to announce an increase in fuel price. We are wondering whether it is the function of a public liability company to fix prices of petroleum products.
“And the level of impunity leaves much to be desired in the sense that the issue of subsidy had not been properly probed all these years. And for anybody to close that chapter is like covering fraud.”
Ajaero said the reason for summoning an emergency meeting of NEC was to enable the congress to interrogate some of the fuel subsidy issue and to know how it was disbursed and who and who was collecting this subsidy money and how they have collected.
“It is not enough to say we are paying subsidy because if the report we are getting about the landing cost of the product is correct, it means that NNPCL is making more than 100 percent profit from imported PMS,” he said.
TUC Opts for Further Dialogue
The TUC Friday rejected the strike option over the petrol price increase and resolved to continue with the dialogue with the federal government negotiation team.
At its emergency National Executive Council (NEC) meeting held yesterday in Abuja, TUC said that it had agreed to give the government until Sunday to respond to its demands before the association will decide on the next line of action.
Addressing journalists after the NEC meeting, TUC president Festus Osifoh said the members used the opportunity to consider palliatives planned by the federal government and also outlined their key demands to be submitted to the authorities.
Osifoh said: “First of all, the congress was unhappy with the unilateral decision of the fuel subsidy removal by the government. Our expectation was that they should have engaged the representatives of the people, the organised labour, but it was done unilaterally.
“We told them that the least of the things that we want to put forward won’t be submitted now but that we will discuss with our organs and take mandates from them on the things which we can put forward.
“So, that is one of the things that led to the NEC. We have had a conversation and the NEC has mandated us to go back to that meeting and put our demand before the government.
“It is how the government reacts to our demand that will now necessitate the next line of action. We will tarry till Sunday when we will meet with the representatives of the government. Once we are done with the meeting with the demands that the TUC will put forward, their reaction will determine our next line of action.”
Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja