Labour's claim on price hike

Date: 2001-03-21

The Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Committee (PPRRC) denied yesterday Labour's claim that new fuel prices would be introduced by April 1.

Its denial came on the heels of reports that Kwara State Governor, Mohammed Lawal, joined workers in Ilorin, carrying aloft a placard, to denounce the planned deregulation of the downstream sector of the oil industry.

It also came on a day that Labour leader, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole said the widespread opposition to the planned move had vindicated the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) posture against increases in the price of petroleum products.

In a statement issued in Abuja, PPRRC chairman, Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi, said it was too early for a date to be picked for the introduction of higher prices for fuel, adding that his committee had just taken off to determine the magnitude of the problems.

His words: "We therefore do not know the origin of the pronouncement to the effect that prices of petroleum products would be increased by April 1,2001 or any date for that matter."

Gbadamosi dismissed the pronouncement as a false alarm, and urged Nigerians to ignore it.

He said that the committee, which was inaugurated last week, had just held its inaugural sitting to appreciate the magnitude of the problem.

In Ilorin, Mohammed Lawal expressed strong support for the anti-deregulation campaign of the organised labour, saying the protest spearheaded by the NLC was a right step.

Lawal, who addressed a mammoth crowd of protesters in front of the Government House at 11.13 a.m, said sovereignty resides with the Nigerian people.

He said: "I am happy to receive you all and I commend you for the peaceful way in which you have been carrying out your protest. The sovereignty of our nation is with you people. You have taken the right step.

"Your protest is right.. I love your position and share your fears and aspirations. I will deliver your message to the President."

The governor stunned the protesters when he took one of the placards and held it high for all to see in apparent solidarity with the workers.

However, civil servants in the state were conspicuously assent from yesterday's rally which saw students from tertiary institutions taking over the protest along with the NLC. They danced and sang anti-government tunes, blaming the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for the proposed deregulation.

NLC National Vice-President, Mr. Daniel Adekola had pledged at the rally that labour would not shift his position beyond the N22 per litre mark just as NLC Kwara State secretary, Mr. Emmanuel Ayeoribe said Nigerian workers were ready to confront the government over the issue.

In Abuja, Oshiomhole who spoke at an unscheduled press briefing at the lobby of the NICON Hilton Hotel, said the widespread opposition to the planned deregulation and peaceful nature of the rallies across the country had vindicated Labour's posture that Nigerians were unfavourably disposed to higher fuel prices.

His words: "After going through the states of Nigeria, North, South, East, West, they hailed us, they were unanimous that they don't want it. And that explains the peaceful nature. In fact, in Lagos, somebody asked me: "Where are the Obasanjo's people. We expect at least one person to say ‘no' you people allow this thing, not even one. Even the Area Boys behaved like Area statesmen. Nobody wanted to cause any confusion that would give the opponent a chance to dismiss the project."

He indicted African politicians of being guilty of double standard in their dealings with the people, saying,: "they only pay lip-service to dialogue. The only language they understand is fight. They love it when their views are forced down the throat of the common man with a cup of tea. Any attempt at making them see another view point always leads to the common man being characterised as confrontational and combative.

Oshiomhole insisted that the government must give practical effect to the vision of cooperation and integration in Africa by allowing the idle refineries in the West African sub region to refine petroleum products.

He described Ghana's willingness to refine 30,000 barrels per day as re-assuring.

He also said that the breaking of the monopoly of NNPC must start with the management which he noted had served notice that it was not capable of running the sector.

He suggested four management agencies to run the refineries.

"Afterall that is what we are doing in the upstream sector. This is not an option, I would prefer, but since we don't have what it takes to make NNPC purge itself of its own celebrated inefficiency, one has to fall on this option. So you can get rid of NNPC or its chain entirely," he said.

To him, the media had not been telling Nigerians that the NNPC pays $200,000 per ship including the cost of demurrage, wondering why every tanker that brought oil to the country incurred demurrage.

Oshiomhole said labour was not only against higher fuel prices but thought the idea of deregulation was insensitive and ill-advised, given the poverty level in the country.

Despite warnings by the police that labour give it at least 48 hours notice for tomorrow's rally in Abuja, the NLC vowed to go ahead with its "Mother of all rallies" in which a faction of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) had signified intention to participate.


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