The Nigerian landscape has been thrown into a state of flux following the recent announcement made by newly inaugurated President Bola Tinubu, during his inaugural address last Monday, Tinubu revealed that the government would remove the longstanding fuel subsidy. The immediate aftermath saw a nationwide surge in petroleum product prices, setting the stage for a potential faceoff between organised labour and the week-old government.
In his address, President Tinubu did provide some assurance, pledging to revisit the current minimum wage structure for workers to better reflect the realities of the time. Concurrently, marketers of petroleum products announced that consumers should brace themselves for a further escalation in petrol pump prices next week.
This new direction has been met with significant pushback, particularly from the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC). In response to the sudden increase in the price of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), spurred by the subsidy’s withdrawal, the NLC handed the government an ultimatum. They demanded a return to the previous price of N194 per litre by Wednesday of the following week. Failure to comply, they warned, would lead to a nationwide service withdrawal by its members.
The NLC implored President Tinubu to instruct the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) to revert to the old fuel prices. If this call is not heeded, the labour union promises to react with industrial action. The NLC also instructed its affiliate unions and state councils to initiate preparations in anticipation of the NNPCL’s refusal to roll back prices.
During a press conference after the National Executive Council (NEC) meeting held in Abuja, NLC President Joe Ajaero lamented the NNPCL’s abrupt decision to hike PMS prices by over 200 per cent. This unprecedented increase has driven fuel prices up to between N488 and N557 per litre.
Ajaero revealed that, following a unanimous decision of the NLC and its affiliates, all unions have been directed to commence immediate mobilisation in preparation for a planned nationwide protest.
“The NLC decided that if by Wednesday next week the NNPCL, a private limited liability company, that illegally announced a price regime in the oil sector, refuses to revert itself for negotiation to continue, the NLC and all its affiliates, will withdraw their services and commence protests nationwide until this is complied with,” Ajaero stated. He emphasised that the NNPCL, despite being a private company, does not have the monopoly to act illegally.
Ajaero further called for a comprehensive probe into the fuel subsidy regime spanning the last eight years. He requested an investigation into the amount of subsidy paid and the beneficiaries of the payment. The Labour leader urged the NNPCL to provide a detailed account of the daily petroleum product consumption in Nigeria. He criticised the NNPCL for its failure to disclose the subsidy beneficiaries and the landing cost of petroleum products.
Ajaero declared, “The Nigeria Labour Congress is calling for a thorough probe in the process of subsidy to know those involved and the amount involved. Investigate it properly before it is swept under the carpet. The current attempt to sweep the fraudulent practices in the subsidy regime should not be tolerated by all well-meaning Nigerians.”
The recent turn of events has brought the controversial issue of fuel subsidy removal into sharp focus, stoking tensions between the Nigerian government and organised labour. How this narrative will unfold is closely watched by all concerned parties, as the outcome has far-reaching implications for the nation’s economy and the well-being of its people.