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Labour perfects ‘war plan’

Posted by By PATRICK ASONYE, et al on 2005/08/28 | Views: 442 |

Labour perfects ‘war plan’


There is palpable tension in the country, with no one certain of what would happen in the days ahead as labour at the weekend was perfecting "appropriate response" to the latest hike in the pump prices of petroleum products.

There is palpable tension in the country, with no one certain of what would happen in the days ahead as labour at the weekend was perfecting "appropriate response" to the latest hike in the pump prices of petroleum products.

From a price regime of between N50 to N55 per litre of petrol, for instance, the Federal Government Wednesday approved a hike, leaving the marketers and the Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) to fix prices for the products.
The hike defied all entreaties by organised Labour, the National Assembly and indeed well-meaning Nigerians on the inappropriateness of petroleum price hike at this time.
Labour has since drawn the battle line, promising a showdown with the government, even as the marketers promptly shut their outlets Friday, to adjust the pump prices upwards, in compliance with PPPRA’s directive.

There was however no harmony in the dispensing prices, as marketers did what they pleased in the circumstance. Some sold petrol as much as N80 per litre.
In Lagos areas, for instance, their action raised long queues Friday thus causing severe traffic jam on the routes with filling stations.
As usual, the ubiquitous black market dealers had a field day selling hoarded products at cut-throat prices.
In Port Harcourt, Rivers State, the Co-ordinator of Niger Delta Project for Environment, Human Rights and Development (NDPEHRD), Mr. Patrick Naagbanton, berated the government for "taking Nigerians for granted.

"I think the increase (in pump prices) is inhuman and a clear demonstration of Obasanjo’s insensitivity to the suffering of the Nigerian masses. Anytime there is increase in the price of crude oil at the international market, Nigerians should have been jubilating because that would have automatically meant an increase in the funds for national development. But what we see are sadness and agony for the masses."
He rejected the hike, vowing that Nigerians would be mobilized "to non-violently resist this act of undemocracy."
A legal practitioner, Mr. David Nwosu, saw it differently. Said he: "The fuel price hike is very good for the economy but the problem is that money that would accrue from the hike will eventually be siphoned by the people in authority.

"Why the NLC is against it is that they will not utilize the gains properly and already, Nigerians are suffering. The hike is ill-timed. If Obasanjo had improved the standard of living with the past proceeds, it would have been a welcome development. But people are suffering."
The Port Harcourt Refining Company Chairman of PENGASSAN, Comrade Ishmael Atorudibo, spoke in the same vein, saying that the Union would align with the NLC to protest.
A London-based Agro-economist, Mr. Ikechukwu Muo, noted that fuel price hike had been a recurring decimal over the years: "It seems to me that Mr. President does not take into consideration the poor masses before certain decisions are made."
He described as ominous the fact that President Obasanjo ignored the resolution of the National Assembly to stay action on the price hike.

Also reacting, an Enugu based attorney, Mr. Agu Gab Agu, said that "The government could have taken advantage of our excess crude oil reserve, accruing from hike in global prices, to invest massively in the refineries," insisting that the present price increases would have adverse effect on the masses.
Mr. Sam Ogbodo, President of the Pentecostal Fellowship, Bauchi branch said: "I am not happy with the increase. The government should revert to the old prices. The former price is even too expensive. Obasanjo should know that it is God that gave us the resources. They are sucking the masses and the increase will increase robbery, prices of foodstuff. It is not in the interest of the people at all."

Speaker of the Bauchi State House of Assembly, Alhaji Tanko Ibrahim Jallam, said it is unfortunate, as the atmosphere, according to him, was not conducive for price hike: "The people are suffering under abject poverty and it is wrong for the Federal Government to take this decision at this time."
Alhaji Lamaran Nanu, Chairman All Nigerian Peoples Party ANPP in Bauchi rejected the hike saying it is an unwelcome development as inflation had imposed heavy burden on the people: "By increasing the price of petroleum," he said, "the Federal Government has increased virtually everything. It is unfortunate that they don’t listen."

Similarly, Comrade Illiyasu Ibrahim Zwal, Chairman NLC, Bauchi described the hike as an unfortunate policy. Nigerians, he said, are at the peak of suffering and they cannot afford three square meals: "It is a disturbing situation when the price of crude oil is 70 US dollars per barrel and the budget is based on 25 dollars; triple the amount of the budget. The Federal Government still increased the pump price contrary to earlier agreements between labour and government. Where are the palliative measures that the government promised? I am happy that the National Assembly condemned it."

Speaking in Warri, Delta State, the National Executive Chairman of the Oil Mineral Producing Communities of Nigeria (TROMPCON), His Highness Pere Charles Ayemi Botu, said that fuel was gradually making the people lazy: "People just sit down and take decisions on how to hike fuel prices, even when they have a lot of other jobs to do."

He described as unnecessary the increase in petroleum products saying that ideally, as the price of crude goes up, Nigeria as an oil producing country should benefit from it. Instead, he said, "the people suffer in our own case." The monarch of Seimbiri kingdom queried the huge expenditure on the Turn Around Maintenance (TAM) of the four refineries as well as the worrisome gas flare, "Yet, we are still importing petroleum products."

In Kano, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav, retired Commissioner of Police, rejected and condemned the hike in fuel price, saying "It is inconsiderate, heartless and uncalled for."
According to Tsav, "There is so much poverty and hunger in the land and instead of the government to start thinking of how to improve the lot of the people it has so heartlessly impoverished through its inhuman policies, it has instead, chosen to punish afresh, the hapless people of this hapless country. For those of them who make huge sums of money through illegal avenues even if the pump price is increased to N1, 000 per litre, they will not bother because they have corruptly enriched themselves and wouldn’t care a hoot about the common people who could hardly feed themselves, let alone buy fuel at that exorbitant price."

Hon. Nasiru Garba Dantiye, member representing Garki/Babura Federal Constituency in Jigawa State: "The National Assembly appears to be helpless in this matter because the law establishing the PPPRA is an act of the National Assembly. Before we could tinker with the issue, the law has to be amended. Already, we have directed the house committees on Labour, Petroleum and Budget to furnish the house with a report on the matter within two weeks to enable us tackle the threat being posed to the ordinary people of this country... We budgeted at 30 dollars per barrel and today, oil is sold at 60 dollars per barrel and even at that, the budget is not implemented 100 per cent. It is being implemented at 70 per cent but the executive is happy to increase prices so that the people could continue to suffer."

In Abuja, a cross section of resident who spoke to Sunday Sun
on the latest hike in fuel prices wondered why despite being the sixth largest producer of oil in the world, Nigeria lacks the capacity to refine adequate crude for local consumption but depends on imports.
Tony Agboola, a commercial bus driver, placed the problem within the context of the general hardships which he said the Obasanjo government has visited on the populace: "The situation is terrible and unbearable, there is hardship in the land, there is demolition in Abuja where did Obasanjo want the poor man to go to. How many times does he want to increase
the prices of fuel? I’m a family man with children, I know how much I spend on school fees, feeding and the rest. In fact, Obasanjo should know that we, the poor people are dying and God will judge him. The suffering
is too much."

To Mr. Hassan Ibrahim, a businessman: "President Obasanjo is keeping us in a state of permanent slavery, can’t he rule this country without increasing the prices of petroleum products? If he cannot then he
should quietly resign. Honestly, we are suffering from all fronts in this country, Nigerians must rise up and resist further increase."
However, the hardest knock came from Mr.James Agbebaku, also a businessman who called on the National Assembly to rise up to the occasion by calling President Olusegun Obasanjo to order. His words:

"Obasanjo has failed the people, he has nothing to offer except fuel increase. His Government has thrown over $800m dollars down the drain in the name of Turn Around Maintenance [TAM] of our refineries with

nothing to show for it. This in itself is corruption and this is a president who says he is fighting corruption. As I’m talking to you, no contractor
has been arrested in connection with the failed contract, yet we are fighting corruption, he should be impeached and there is no better time than now."

Also speaking on the fuel increase, Mr. Goldwin Eze, a motorcyclist attributed the increase to bad government. "In fact, I have nothing to say, it is bad government. It is a setback. The debt relief has no positive effect on the citizens. Now there is increase without corresponding increase in workers salary. This is embarrassing to democracy."

Meanwhile, long queues of vehicles were seen at different petrol stations in Abuja as motorist engaged in panic buying. Although no increase in transport fare, commuters were stranded because of few number of commercial buses on the road.

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