…Tasks FG on palliatives
From Iheanacho Nwosu and Fred Itua, Abuja, Desmond Mgboh, Kano and Tony Osauzo, Benin
The Senate, yesterday, rose from a closed-door meeting and resolved to back Federal Government’s decision to raise fuel price but appealled to labour to shelve its planned industrial action.
However, it said government must begin the full implementation of palliatives to cushion the biting effects of the subsidy removal.
“We sympathize with ordinary people of Nigeria on the hardships they are going through. The Senate will engage the Federal Government to find sustainable ways of improving the welfare of the people of Nigeria,” Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over plenary said.
On the planned strike by the organised labour to compel government to dump the N145 new price and revert to the former N86.50, the Senate called on government to continue to engage the organized labour and other stakeholders to resolve issues in order not to ground the system and impose more hardships on the people.
“The government should immediately start implementing palliatives or palliative measures contained in the 2016 Appropriation Act passed by the National Assembly.”
About N500 billion is earmarked for social intervention in the 2016 budget which was signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari a fortnight ago.
The House of Representatives had on Monday, met with the Minister of Petroleum Resources (State), Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, to explain the rationale behind the subsidy removal. After a tensed exchange, the House urged the organized labour to halt its planned strike.
But the Edo State chapter of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) spurned the injunction of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN), and directed its members to embark on industrial action pending when government reverted to the old pump prices.
Addressing journalists in Benin City, state chairman, Comrade Emmanuel Ademokun, who was accompanied by leaders of the civil societies, said the national body of the NLC directed state chapters not to honour the ruling.
“We are moving ahead with the strike. We are going to seal off petrol stations across the state and any filling station that flouts the order, we will mobilize and dispense their fuel at N86,” Ademokun said.
However, the Kano State chapter of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) has disowned the planned industrial action saying there was no reason for it. Its chairman, Sanusi Mallam’s who briefed journalists yesterday advised the citizenry to seek divine intervention towards cushioning the hardship occasioned by the removal of the fuel subsidy.
Also, chairman of the Kurmi Market Traders Association, Kano State, Mallam Yau Idris, said traders in the state were yet to recover from the fire incident that gutted the Sabon-Gari Market recently, noting that there was no viable justification to embark in the nationwide industrial action.
Meanwhile, Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed shrugged off claims that the All Progressives Congress (APC) government deceived Nigerians with the fuel price increase, insisting that there was no time President Buhari made a promise to Nigerians during the 2015 campaign that he would not liberalise the oil sector.
He said the country cannot sustain the old pump price regime stressing that doing so would hurt the economy irredeemably.
The minister who was accompanied by the spokesman of NNPC, Garba Muhammad, implored Nigerians to reason with the Federal Government that the price hike was to end the hoarding and smuggling of fuel by operators.
Giving insight into the decision to raise the pump price, Mohammed disclosed that whereas the Nigerian National Petroleum Cooperation (NNPC), was making $550 million monthly, it was expending $600 million to import fuel within the same duration. This he said was not sustainable stressing that the nation would go broke if it continued with such a policy.
He argued that the liberalization of the downstream sector was a realistic approach to addressing the lingering fuel scarcity.
Decrying the resurgence of militancy in the Niger Delta region, Mohammed disclosed that vandalism, destruction of oil pipelines and other activities of militants led to Nigeria losing 800,000 bpd and 100 megawatts.
“Also, the renewed insurgency and pipeline vandalism in the Niger Delta have drastically reduced national crude oil production to 1.65 million barrels per day, against 2.2 million barrels per day planned in the 2016 budget, further reducing income to Federation account and also affecting crude volumes for PMS conversion and impacting Federal Government’s forex (foreign exchange) earnings.”
He pleaded with the militants to approach their grievances and agitations with decency even as he warned that the government would not fold its hands and watch the new situation continue.
In another development, the Senate yesterday bowed to pressure and jettisoned the controversial Frivolous Petition Bill, known as Anti-social Media Bill, yesterday at plenary after David Umar, chairman of the Senate Committee on Human Rights and Legal Matters presented the committee’s report.
Umar, an All Progressives Congress (APC) senator from Niger State, said his committee recommended the withdrawal of the bill based on the strong opposition to it across the country.
The bill was sponsored by Bala Ibn Na’Allah, an APC lawmaker from Kebbi state.
The anti-social media bill imposed harsh penalties for tweets or text messages that conveyed statements considered untrue from a group of persons to an institution of government.
The bill had been thoroughly criticised by an active social media community that described it as attempting to gag free speech and abuse the rights of Nigerians as enshrined in the constitution.
The bill was described as vague with the intent to repress dissent against the government.