SUBSIDY REMOVAL WILL SET NIGERIA ON FIRE, NLC WARNS

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The Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, has warned warned the Federal Government that those pushing for subsidy removal in Nigeria are out to set the country on fire.

The NLC sounds this note of warning against the backdrop of an announcement that the outgoing government of President Muhammadu Buhari had left the decision of petrol subsidy removal to the incoming government.

The NLC opines that, the focus of the government should be on the local refining of petroleum products and not subsidy removal.

In a chat in Lagos yesterday, the General Secretary of NLC, Emma Ugboaja, said nobody should drag Nigerian masses and workers into any increase in fuel price in the name of subsidy removal.

He said: “It will be uncharitable in 2023 for any government to talk about subsidy or no subsidy for a product that is naturally and thoroughly well-endowed in Nigeria. It smacks of wickedness for us to be discussing subsidy as an issue, rather than discussing production.”

The organized labour considered setting obstacles on the path of the in-coming administration as absurd because it will make Nigeria to continue in the rigmarole of vicious, musical chairs and absurd comedy of subsidy or no subsidy.

It noted that the government that was about to leave in 2016 told Nigerians they had removed the subsidy.

The NLC’s queried what subsidy the government now discussing or intending to remove, after telling the whole nation in 2016 that subsidy had been removed?

It emphasized that nothing is more dangerous than the way the elites try to hoodwink Nigerians.

The Labour union charged that the elites are wicked to the country and the people should not tolerate the new wave of wastage of our resources in the name of a media wave to create a capture of the psyche of Nigerians on subsidy removal that is imminent. To them, what should be imminent is the local refining of crude in Nigeria. Nothing else should be imminent.

“Anybody moving Nigerians in the direction of subsidy removal wants to blow up the country. They can go ahead and blow up the country. But the truth is anything less than refining crude in Nigeria; you cannot push us into that argument. We have been down this route before, and it has never paid off. We keep calling it a fraud and that fraud was confirmed in 2016 when they looked us in the face and told us that they have removed the subsidy. They looked us in the face and said they were finally removing subsidiaries to free Nigerians. We protested, and they said we didn’t have any capacity to stop them and went ahead with it. They should not drag us into any increase in fuel price in the name of subsidy removal. Any increase in petrol price from the government in the name of subsidy removal, we will challenge it. We will work against it, it is straightforward.”

Speaking similarly, the Pro-Labour Civil Society Organisations, the Joint Action Front, JAF, through its Secretary, Abiodun Aremu, said: “JAF is opposed to the neo-liberal policies of privatisation and deregulation at all times.

‘’It is such policy regime that is responsible for the hike in fuel prices, sharp corrupt practices in the petroleum sector and the artificial fuel crisis induced by the Buhari regime in the past eight years

‘’The new NLC leadership needs to restore confidence in Nigerians that labour is, indeed, prepared for a total fight against all inimical socio-economic policies at the heart of the underdevelopment of the country.”

Reacting to labour’s warning yesterday, the chairman of the Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria, MOMAN, Olumide Adeosun, said major marketers were not comfortable with the sustenance of petrol subsidy because it had over the years stifled investment and growth in the sector.

He said: “We need full deregulation in line with the provisions of the Petroleum Industry ACT, PIA. The legislation is ultimately the best for the nation.”

Similarly, the National Operations Controller, the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria, IPMAN, Mike Osatuyi, said the Federal Government had continued to subsidise the price of petrol because of continued regulation of the sector.

He said: “We have always been opposed to petrol subsidies. We believe that subsidy will cease to be once the downstream sector is deregulated.

“This is required to conserve funds currently expended on subsidy as well as attract serious investors to invest, thus growing the sector.”

Also speaking, the Chief Executive Officer, the Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise, Dr Muda Yusuf, said: “It is clear that the current petrol subsidy is fiscally unsustainable.

“But there is a need to creatively manage the transition from the current pricing regime to a fully or partially deregulated arrangement. It is a tricky issue which could pose a serious challenge to the government if not tactically managed.

‘’The reality is that the sentiments among the citizenry are not favourable to the deregulation of petroleum product pricing or petrol subsidy removal. Even some elites are curiously not persuaded by the justification for the subsidy removal.

“If the policy transition is not properly managed, there is a risk of a social and political backlash which may be difficult to contain. No doubt, there is a sound economic and business case in favour of fuel subsidy removal.

‘’But the social and political contexts are equally critical. The subsidy is not sustainable, which is why there is a need to accelerate engagement with the relevant stakeholders to come up with a policy transition strategy that is sustainable, realistic and pragmatic. The conversation should not only be economic, but also social and political.”

“We need to expeditiously address the ongoing rehabilitation of our refineries. Domestic refining of petroleum products will ease the currently prohibitive cost of petroleum products which is largely a consequence of our vulnerability to volatilities in global oil prices and currency depreciation. The Dangote Refinery should also be supported to ensure early completion.”

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