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

The warning came 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.

According to NLC, the focus should be on the local refining of petroleum products and not subsidy removal.

General Secretary of NLC, Emma Ugboaja, in a chat in Lagos yesterday, said nobody should drag Nigerian masses and workers into any increase in fuel price in the name of subsidy removal, insisting that organized labour will not accept it.

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 energy and resources people are putting into discussing subsidy show a lack of focus. It shows a lack of seriousness and a lack of appreciation of what governance should be. If in 2023, rather than getting people that will make proper use of our natural endowment, we are busy discussing the cosmetic challenge of subsidy or no subsidy, it is absurd.

‘Absurd comedy of subsidy’

“One would have thought that people should be setting before the incoming government a genuine challenge on how to move Nigeria forward, not for us to continue in the rigmarole of vicious, musical chairs and absurd comedy of subsidy or no subsidy. We cannot be people that do not respond to records.

“It is an open thing that the government that is about to leave in 2016 told Nigerians they had removed the subsidy. Despite the NLC’s position that there was no subsidy to remove and that what people were harping on was a price hike. They had told us that they removed the subsidy in 2016, so what subsidy are they removing or are we discussing now?

‘What we should be discussing is how to refine crude oil in Nigeria and make the product available for domestic consumption. Anything outside that shows the wickedness of the kind of intellectuals we have. We feel sick each time we see normal people come out on national television giving theories on subsidies and how they can be ploughed into healthcare or education.

Nothing is more dangerous than the way our elites try to hoodwink Nigerians. The truth is Nigerians need to wake up, we cannot continue in this vicious cycle of humiliation and slavery.

‘No subsidy to be removed’

“There is no subsidy for anybody to be removed. The point that has to be made is that we must refine it. Anything outside making our refineries work is wickedness. We need to make our refineries work. It is not rocket science. We hear them on an almost daily basis say Taskforce has demolished or destroyed certain numbers of refineries in Niger Delta creeks. Why can’t you use our universities to process quality control, why will you not use our universities to process cheaper and smaller processes of refining?

“We should stop treating these elites with kid gloves. Our elites are wicked to the country. So, don’t tolerate this 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. 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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