Kachikwu: it was inevitable
Govt, Labour meet in Abuja
LABOUR yesterday got more pleas to pull the brakes on its plan for a strike over the fuel price hike.
Petrol price went up last Wednesday from N86.50 per litre to N145 – a decision, which the Federal Government said will save it from picking a N1trillion subsidy bill, ensure availability of petrol and create jobs.
The House of Representatives urged the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) to suspend the planned strike.
The House urged the Labour unions to allow its ad hoc committee consult with other stakeholders over the issue after being briefed by Minister of State (Petroleum Resources) Dr. Ibe Kachikwu.
The decision followed the adoption of a motion by Nicholas Ossai ( PDP, Delta ), who argued that the sudden fuel price hike had led to some dislocations in many households.
According to him, the hike has also led to protests by individuals, labour unions and civil society organisations (CSOs), and a planned industrial action by labour unions.
Ossai requested that an ad hoc committee be set up to interface with all stakeholders and report back within five days.
The House resolved that Labour should suspend its planned strike pending the outcome of the interface by the Hassan Doguwa-led committee and the resolution of the House on its report.
Last night, a government team led by Secretary to the Government of the Federation Babachir David Lawal was meeting with Labour leaders at the SGF’s office in Abuja.
The meeting was ongoing as at 11.30p.m.
Briefing the House, Kachikwu said with the new framework for petrol supply and distribution, the Federal Government had no other option than to adopt the current position.
He said: “There is no provision for subsidy in the 2016 appropriation. As at today, the current PMS price of N86.50 gives an estimated subsidy claim of N13.7 per litre, which translates to N16.4 billion monthly.
“Our best intelligence reveals to us that in the next 30 days, the following consequences are imminent if the situation was not addressed: inability of the three tiers of government to pay salaries or meet their financial obligations; increased scarcity of the product, leading to longer queues; continuous upward surge in the price of petroleum products across the nation as hoarding and smuggling continue.”
According to the minister, the upstream sector that provides 80 per cent of the country’s revenue has been neglected over the years and is coming to a grinding halt. “We needed to go into a liberalised situation. We would have been spending more than we earned.”
He said one of the strategies of the government is to eventually eliminate cash calls for joint venture projects by getting banks to invest in the projects.
On the effect of the new price band, Kachikwu said: “The price band has gone into effect and the market has stabilised in a matter of days, in terms of product availability. The queues have virtually disappeared.
“It is expected that smuggling and diversion will diminish substantially and we’ll continue to rely on security agencies for support on this development.
“NNPC will no longer resort to federation barrels and will endeavour to meet its obligation to pay FAAC 100% of its entitlement from the 445,000 barrels per day timely in the coming months.
“Initial indication revealed that marketers were returning to their supply obligations due to access to foreign exchange.”
Members applauded the minister after his presentation and, thereafter, the Speaker allowed questions on a zonal basis.
The lawmakers wanted to know why fuel was selling at N145 when the minister had said subsidy payment is N13.7 for every litre of N86.50 sold, which would have added up to just over a N100.
Other lawmakers wanted to know why the increase was not channelled through the National Assembly, and why the government went outside the agreed amount of N120 with the NLC representatives at the stakeholders’ meeting held at the Villa.
House Leader Femi Gbajabiamila said he expected the minister to put the problem in a global perspective to show that the situation was not peculiar to Nigeria.
Before he was eventually allowed to brief the lawmakers, members of the opposition in the House of Representatives vehemently opposed the admittance of Kachikwu into the chamber.
The minister had been invited to address the emergency meeting called by Speaker Yakubu Dogara to deliberate on the petrol price raise.
There was uproar when plenary resumed and Majority Leader Femi Gbajabiamila moved a motion for the admittance of the minister into the Chamber.
After the motion was seconded, the Speaker put the question to voice vote; the “nays” were more than the “ayes”.
The Speaker ruled in favour of the “ayes” before banging the gavel, but shouts of “No, no; All we are saying, save Nigeria” and “APC shame” rent the air.
After about three minutes, Gbajabiamila and Chief Whip Ado Doguwa consulted the Speaker.
Deputy Speaker Yussuff Lasun, who was placating his colleagues and Minority Leader Leo Ogor later joined the consultation.
The chanting and flag waving went on for about 20 minutes before the Speaker brought the House to order.
“This is the beauty of democracy; we disagree to agree,” Dogara said before recognising Ogor who moved that the House should dissolve into an Executive session.
The House went into the session without the minister being admitted.