Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the coalition of civil society groups yesterday in Lagos held the first in the series ">

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Lagosians Rally Against Fuel Price Hike

Posted by By Chris Nwachuku, Eugene Agha, Gboyega Akinsanni in Lagos, Josephine Lohor and Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja on 2005/09/16 | Views: 596 |

Lagosians Rally Against Fuel Price Hike

Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the coalition of civil society groups yesterday in Lagos held the first in the series of the rallies to protest the recent hike in prices of petroleum products. The rally drew out a large crowd of protesters from all works of life.

* FG commends NLC, may crash price

Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the coalition of civil society groups yesterday in Lagos held the first in the series of the rallies to protest the recent hike in prices of petroleum products. The rally drew out a large crowd of protesters from all works of life.

The Federal Government has however, commended the NLC and other organisers for holding a peaceful rally to drive home their point rather than the strike option. It also gave indications of a possible downward review in the pump prices of petroleum products following noticeable drop in the cost of refined crude in the international market.

Yesterday's rally led by NLC President Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, although peaceful, was marked by an unprecedented police presence. Apart from occupying strategic locations in the metropolis as well as assigning troops to monitor the event,  two police helicopters hovered around the protesters to aviod a possible break down of law and order.

Other notable Nigerians in the vanguard of the protest rally included Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, the Chairman, Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LACSCO), Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti and Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) leader, Dr. Frederick Fasheun.

Others were  President, Academic Staff Union of Universities, (ASSU), Dr Sule Kano, President, Congress of Free Trade Unions, (CFTU), Princewill Ojeh, Trade Union Congress (TCU), Peace Obiajulu, Hon. Wale Osun, Chuma Ubani and Mr. Femi Falana.

Lagos rally led by NLC President Comrade Adams Oshiomhole

The rally which began at about 7 a.m. caused an unprecedented traffic stretching from Yaba to Ikeja, and saw a convergence of workers, traders, students, artisans, the unemployed, all carrying  different placards seeking justice, improvement in the living condition of the citizenry, an end to incessant fuel prices and bad government.

The protesters marched several kilometers from the National Stadium through Yaba to Alausa, seat of the Lagos State government. Addressing the crowd, Governor Bola Tinubu expressed his maximum support for the mass protest and said the level of poverty at a period of oil boom, "constitutes the greatest threat to democratic sustainability and national security in Nigeria."

In a letter presented to Tinubu  for onward transfer to President Olusegun Obasanjo, the prostesters said the rallies and protest marches which will move to Benin, Edo State tommorrow would go on until the Federal Government reversed the new fuel prices.

"The Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO) wishes to once again strongly urge Mr. President to reverse the recent increases in the prices of petroleum products and to set in motion the machinery for implementing the price stabilization component of the Senator Ibrahim Mantu report," LASCO said in the letter.

The coalition stated that the responses of Nigerians across all  divides have demonstrated that the recent increases in fuel prices has made life more unbearable for individual citizens, households, businesses, and communities across the country.  They noted that even both chambers of the National Assembly had also alluded to the intolerable hardships caused by the fuel price increase and have rightly resolved that the Executive should revert to the old prices.

"While Nigerians were still groaning under the inflationary effects of previous fuel price hikes, the latest round has predictably unleashed even more astronomical increases. Prices of every commodity and service have risen outrageously in both urban and rural areas. But wages have remained largely static meaning that for average wage earners, life is impossible.

"Private industry and other sections of the Nigerian business community have also been unanimous in lamenting the negative impact of these and previous increases on the costs of doing business. With the rise in the cost of black oil and other fuel products, the energy cost components have made Nigerian industries  and businesses uncompetitive, increasing the rate of factory and business closures across the sectors. The resulting worsening of the business and investment climate is the kernel of the recent outcry of important groups like Manufacturers Association of  Nigeria (MAN), Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA) and National Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA)", said the activists.

Oshiomhole charged Nigerians to be ready for a prolonged struggle towards ensuring that they are not enslaved by the spoils of what is supposed to be the nation’s wealth.

He added that the continued pauperization of the people by the present regime is a prelude to the intention of the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to have a safe place to return to after the completion of her ministerial term when he could serve as a consultant to the IMF.

Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Adewole Ajakaiye  accompained by his Deputy in charge of operations,  Mr. John Haruna, said police were present to ensure that the rally was not hijacked by hoodlums on the streets.

And speaking in Abuja on the rally, Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr. Mohammed Hassan Lawal, said he was “happy that the gospel of dialogue that he has been preaching is reaping fruits”. He added that Government has and will continue to take steps that would alleviate the suffering of the people.

“ I must say here that we need to commend them because for the first time the labour movement has decided not to go on strike right away.

While reacting to attempts being made by governments across Europe and even in nearby Ghana to reduce fuel prices to cushion the effect  of rising price of crude oil in the international market on their citizens, he said “this is the fundamental error we always make."

"Please compare apple with apple. Don’t compare apple with an orange. The quantum of money we saved from some of these increases. This is not money meant for anybody to go on Christmas spree. This is money meant for the provision of basic infrastructure. You are now talking of European countries.

For God sake is water or borehole an issue in England or Italy or France? Is electricity an issue in Germany or England? The issue is that we are a developing society," said the minister.

Meanwhile, the Executive Secretary of the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), Dr. Oluwole Oluleye, yesterday hinted of a possible downward review in fuel prices following what he described as a noticeable drop in the cost of refined crude in the international market.

Oluleye said the agency was in no way contemplating any further increase beyond the N65 per litre of petrol, rather "with the downward movement of the prices of refined products in the international market, Nigerians could expect a reduction of pump price if the trend continues."

Oluleye who spoke to newsmen shortly after addressing participants at the 2005 annual meeting of product marketers and the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) in Abuja, said the cost of refined products has started a downward trend from an all time high of $854 per metric ton recorded last two weeks to about $654 as at yesterday.

The PPPRA scribe described the prevailing situation in the US where gasoline prices have been on astronomical increase up to $6 per gallon of fuel as an aberration which will not be allowed to affect the Nigerian market.

The pump price of petrol price was raised to N65 a litre last month to reflect the high cost of crude oil which peaked then at $70 per barrel.

"What we are having in the oil market seems to me as an aberration, prices do not usually go up continuously for a prolonged period. I only hope we do not get to a stage where crude oil price have to crash down", he said.
He said the reason for the approval of the price adjustments was to encourage price recovery in the industry and to break the monopoly of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) as the sole importer and supplier of petroleum products in the domestic market.

He expressed regret that PPPRA has failed to realize one of its cardinal objectives, which is to bring other private marketers to compete with NNPC in product import business more than one year after the introduction of deregulation.

Oluleye also noted that the effort to open up the downstream sector and to enforce transparency has been having a set back due to insufficient local refining capacity in the country.

"We have not been able to break the monopoly of NNPC, which is one of the cardinal objectives of establishing PPPRA. For us to be able to do so, the existing market environment must be made to guarantee cost recovery by operators", he said.

The PPPRA executive secretary stated that in as much as the agency is creating an atmosphere for cost recovery in the fuel supply business, it is not going to allow marketers engage in 'price grudging', that is taking advantage of the situation to exploit consumers in the local market.

Government appears to be in a difficult position defending the recent increase in fuel price in the face of formidable opposition by the organized labour.

Governments of most European countries had been chunning  out measures to reduce fuel prices even in the face of the galloping world crude oil prices.

THISDAY gathered that the presidency in an effort to stave off labour crisis has been holding consultations with the various segments of the public.

President Olusegun Obasanjo was said to have approved the setting up a stabilization fund which is one of the recommendations made by the Senator Ibrahim Mantu-led Committee on fuel price increase palliative measures.

Oluleye said the Federal Government has provided its own part of the stabilisation funding, it is left for the states and the local governments to come up with their counterpart funds to make the scheme a reality".

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