Despite the suspension of fuel subsidy removal by the Buhari administration for the next 18 months, governors of the 36 states of the federation do not appear to be on the same page with President Muhammadu Buhari.
Under their umbrella body, Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF), the governors are still pressing for the removal of subsidies and the deregulation of the downstream sector, claiming that the existence of the subsidy regime is unsustainable.
But, organised labour is kicking against the governors’ stance. Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) is arguing that if Abuja must remove fuel subsidies in the country, it has to ensure that all refineries are functioning effectively, including the modular ones.
NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, said so while addressing newsmen at the union’s secretariat in Jos, Plateau State capital, disclosing that the planned strike action by the union has been suspended because the Federal Government has decided to postpone its February 1, 2022, removal of fuel subsidy.
Wabba was however, represented by President of Amalgamated Union of Public Corporation (AUPCTRE), Benjamin Anthony. He said ‘’over the years especially since the return of democratic structures, $9.5 billion have been spent on the turnaround of our nation’s refineries when you look at it, you are turning around what is not working.
“It is not that the government doesn’t want to do it, but some people are benefitting from the non-functioning of the refineries.
“We will continue to resist that, if the subsidy is going to be removed, the Federal Government must put our four refineries into use, and even the modular refineries that they made a pronouncement that they were going to licence, we haven’t seen any yet.
“Government should see the hardship ordinary Nigerians are going through; everything is so difficult. It is worthy to note that, if the refineries are working, the cost of petrol will not be as high as we are experiencing now.
“If you take a look at member nations of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), it is only Nigeria that is importing petrol, all other member nations have their refineries; for instance, in Libya, there is a refinery that is up to hundred years old, and is still functioning till date.”
However, the Governors’ Forum, in a statement by its Head of Media and Public Affairs, Abdulrazaque Bello-Barkindo, said its position is coming after a meeting with the leadership of NLC, following threat by the Union to embark on strike against subsidy removal.
Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State and NGF Chairman led a team comprising Governor Simon Bako Lalong of Plateau State and Chairman of Northern Governors Forum and Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State, while Wabba and the TUC President, Quadri Olaleye, represented the organised labour.
Fayemi in his opening remarks argued that Nigeria’s economy “is at the precipice and that it has become necessary for the two groups to carefully verify all of NNPC’s estimates to ensure that whatever action is taken on subsidy, it would be the people that get direct benefits and not a few wealthy individuals and their cronies in the country.”
Fayemi noted that subsidy removal has remained an on-gong conversation not just among governors but the country at large and emphasised that governors cannot but be part of the solution providers in the onerous task that is confronting the nation.
He further stated that “there are raging questions of accountability associated with subsidy removal in the country and observed that the NGF and the NLC can jointly work together to proffer solutions that heal the economy and provide succour to the Nigerian people.”
He stressed that governors cannot ignore the economics of petroleum, arguing that all the countries surrounding Nigeria including Niger, Mali, Cameroon and Ghana have their fuel pump price at the equivalent of a US dollar, adding that “Nigeria has a pump price that is far less than a dollar and is uncomfortable with the removal of subsidy until the challenge of what the NNPC is telling the country is confronted frontally.
“We need a partnership with the NLC to confront the challenges of what the NNPC is about,” he said, adding that, “We can only move forward if the NLC engages all those who are knowledgeable in the field like PENGASSAN to conduct a thorough research into the sector before any further action is taken on subsidy”, Fayemi said.
He also pointed out that “only about eight states are benefitting directly from the subsidy while all the others have to contend with the situation on their own.”
The governor insisted that the partnership with the NLC must confront the perennial issue of palliatives for the common man towards cushioning the effects of subsidy removal on the citizenry stating that “not tackling the problem now is tantamount to postponing the evil day.
“Finding succour for the ordinary Nigerian at this time is absolutely imperative and necessary now more than ever”, he said.
Speaking also, Governor Obaseki, warned that “we have a choice of continuing to behave like Father Christmas (Santa Claus) or take concrete actions on a problem that is permanently with us rather than throwing away N3 trillion on subsidy’’, suggesting that the nation can, in the interim, increase productivity to reduce imports and create jobs.
He emphasised that “the country would do well to revamp the power sector, which is virtually comatose because without power, we will continue to throw millions of our people into unemployment and ultimately, poverty.”
Governor Lalong on his part recalled that the NGF had spent three years on fuel subsidy matters because the country cannot continue with subsidies on petroleum products, stating that the country must find options and create opportunities that address the hardship that stares Nigerians in the face.
Lalong added that the painstaking work that led to the solutions that the NGF was highlighting took a year to script together and warned therefore that the fact that “we are sitting here with Labour to resolve this contentious issue does not mean that as we leave the table we should go to sleep.”
Instead, he advised the teams from the two groups to “immediately set out to work to find the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Wabba and TUC president however stressed their lack of appreciation of the trust deficit that characterised previous negotiations and wondered why the subsidy issue had always been shrouded in lack of transparency on the part of the government.
The unionists argued that the conflicting figures that always came from the managers of the petroleum sector had always tended towards inefficiency which have remained, to the people and to Labour, completely objectionable