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Towards labour strike: Reps in rowdy session over fuel price hike

By The Citizen
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Minister of State for Petroleum Resources and Group Managing Director, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Ibe Kachukwu, was yesterday, quizzed by the House of Representatives over the recent increase in the price of fuel from N86.50 to N145.

The House, which initially had a rowdy session over the decision to admit Kachukwu into the Chamber, also urged the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, to shelve its planned strike,Kachikwu even as it set up an ad-hoc committee to interface with labour and other stakeholders to resolve the crisis.

The emergency session of the House was basically to deliberate and take position on the price hike. But it unexpectedly took another twist as the session became rowdy for over 30 minutes. When the special session was about to start, Majority Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila, had moved to admit the minister into the Chamber, but his motion did not enjoy popular voice vote.

However, it was ruled in his favour by Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, a development that irked the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, lawmakers, who insisted that Kachukwu should not be ushered into the Chamber.

While the protest lasted, the opposition lawmakers, who wielded the national flag, waved them repeatedly, chanting, 'all we are saying, save Nigeria now' and echoing 'APC shame', while their APC counterparts watched and responded with 'APC Change.' In the midst of this, the Speaker conferred with Principal Officers, who had approached him, and emerged to cede the floor to Minority Leader, Leo Ogor, who immediately requested the House to dissolve into executive session, which was granted.

The House thereafter went into executive session and admitted Kachukwu, who took time to convince the lawmakers over the decision to remove subsidy and increase fuel price.

The minister told them that the Federal Government had no other option than to deregulate by removing subsidy because of diminished forex supply situation which had forced marketers to stop product importation and imposed over 90 percent supply burden on NNPC since October 2015.

He cited other reasons to include significant decline in government foreign exchange revenues due to over 60 per cent drop in global oil prices compare to 2014 and the renewed sabotage and pipeline vandalism in the Niger Delta.

According to him, violence in the Niger Delta has drastically reduced crude oil production to 1.4 million barrels per day as against 2.2 million.

He further stated that the commitment of crude oil volumes outside the 445,000bpd to meet national supply requirements has caused diminishing remittances to the federation account, which in effect had made many states to continue having financial challenges in payment of salaries and meeting up with other financial obligations, amongst others.

Comparatively, Kachukwu said average price of crude oil was valued at $110 in January 2012 but dropped to $40 in May 2016, adding too that in 2012, there was availability of fund to cater for the subsidy regime due to booming oil prices, unlike this year, when there is low crude prices and lack of funds.

Further, the minister also explained that importation of crude in 2012 was based on 50 per cent financing from NNPC and 50 per cent from oil marketers, unlike now, when financing for importation is almost hundred per cent handled by NNPC, a model he said was unsustainable.

Reacting to questions about the urgency in the need for fuel hike, he said it was done to libralise the environment for private marketers and other entities, willing to supply Petroleum Motor Spirit, PMS, to source for their forex and import, to ensure availability of products in all locations across the country.

The minister, after making his submission, fielded questions from the lawmakers, who were all supportive of the policy.

Ogor said former President Goodluck Jonathan saw tomorrow by attempting to remove subsidy in 2012. In a motion, Ossai Nicholas Ossai, asked the House to set up a committee to interface with labour and other stakeholders in view of the impending strike. Majority Whip, Addo Doguwa, also prayed the House in a related motion, to prevail on labour to shelve the planned strike, pending the outcome of the committee's actions.

The prayers were granted and the committee chaired by Doguwa was set up and is to report back to the House in five days.  - National Mirror.