The Trade Union Congress and 79 other civil society organisations and labour unions under the aegis of the Alliance on Surviving COVID-19 and Beyond codenamed ASCAB, are set to hold nationwide protests and strike action next week over the increment of the fuel price and electricity tariff.
It was learnt that the Nigeria Labour Congress, which is part of ASCAB, was still holding a meeting as of Friday evening to determine its next line of action.
Apart from NLC and TUC, some other affiliate members of ASCAB include: United Action for Democracy, Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre, Journalists for Democratic Rights, Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, Amalgamated Union of Public Corporation, Civil Services Technical and Recreational Services Employees, Civil Liberties Organisation (Bayelsa), and COPEAIDS Foundation, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, among many others.
Confirming the development to one of our correspondents on the telephone on Friday, Human Rights Lawyer, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), said it was evil of the government to increase the prices of essential commodities during a pandemic.
He said while other countries were making life easier for their citizens through tax cuts and palliatives, the Nigerian government was doing the exact opposite.
The activist said, “There is going to be a general strike and protest. We will fix a date after a meeting this evening. ASCAB is meeting today (Friday) with TUC leadership and about 79 others have indicated that they will take part in the national day of action against these anti-people developments. It will be next week but the date has not been picked yet.
“Other nations are giving cash to their citizens, cancelling rents but Nigeria is imposing taxes and all other levies on its citizens. We will fight against it.”
Falana said the Pipelines and Product Marketing Company, which announced the fuel price increase, had no power to do so.
He also faulted claims by the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva, that there was nothing the government could do to intervene in the new petrol price
The senior advocate said Section 6 of the Petroleum Act gives the Minister of Petroleum the powers to determine the price of petroleum products and this had been affirmed by the courts.
Falana said, “The PPMC has no powers under the law to fix fuel price. Section 6 of the Petroleum Act makes it clear that it is the minister that can determine the price of petroleum products and the courts have affirmed this.”
Meanwhile, the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria says the recent hike in fuel price was not caused by the global price of crude oil but a deliberate devaluation of the naira by the Federal Government.
The President of PENGASSAN, Festus Osifo, said this on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily programme which was monitored by one of our correspondents on Friday.
Sylva had stated that the recent rise in fuel price was caused by the increase in global crude oil prices.
However, the PENGASSAN President said the recent hikes were caused by the Federal Government.
He said, “What are the drivers of the pump price? The driver of the pump price is the currency exchange. What has necessitated this today is not actually because of the fact that the product pricing is increasing internationally. The crude oil price relatively in the last six months has been hovering between $40 and $45 per barrel.
“But what has necessitated this is actually the devaluation. Today, we observe that in the last three months, we have had a 25 per cent devaluation of our currency. The government did it deliberately to have more money.
“They now have more money having done the devaluation and are now passing the burden to us because petroleum is not refined in Nigeria but abroad and everything is priced in dollars. The cost of crude oil, labour cost and all other costs that go into it are priced in dollars.
“So, by the time you bring it to Nigeria and ask us to pay in naira which has been devalued, by the time you factor in the 25 per cent devaluation of the naira, you will have to pay more.”
The PENGASSAN boss further stated that the landing cost which had increased was solely determined by the Federal Government and was paid in naira; hence it ought not to have been reviewed upwards.
“For us, this is not the best time. If as a government you have devalued your currency and you are making 25 per cent excess on top of your currency, which is fine, (then) you have more money to pay workers and meet your naira need, it is fine.
“But again, you are telling us that the landing cost has increased in naira. Not necessarily in dollars, and you are also passing that unto the majority of the Nigerian citizens; I think this is double jeopardy and all stakeholders need to engage with the government,” Osifo said.
The PENGASSAN president said the fuel price hike executed by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), was worse than that of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Jonathan had in January 2012 removed fuel subsidy which caused nationwide protests, especially in Lagos where thousands of people took to the streets to express their displeasure.
Responding to a question on Friday, however, the PENGASSAN President said removing the subsidy in 2012 was actually a better decision because it would have had less effect on the people.
He said increasing fuel price in 2020 in the middle of the global COVID-19 pandemic and a worsening economy would exacerbate the suffering of Nigerians.
Osifo said, “I think the timing today is even more problematic compared to 2012 because we are battling a pandemic. I can tell you that for a lot of households, their income has diminished; a lot of businesses have been shut down since March.
“I can tell you that today, Nigerians are facing hardship. I believe that 2012 was a bit better than it is today because the pandemic has ravaged the average household in Nigeria. You have seen the recent figures from the National Bureau of Statistics. We are actually in negative Gross Domestic Product. By the next quarter, we could be in recession. This is not the right time to have done this.”
Members of Coalition for Civil Societies in Osun State on Friday stormed streets in protest against the hike in electricity tariff and pump price.
They subsequently gave a five-day ultimatum to the Federal Government to reverse the increment or face mass street protests.
The protest, which started from Freedom Park, Osogbo around 8:30am, moved to Oke Fia area, and later terminated at Olaiya Junction, where the conveners spoke with journalists.
Members of the civil society groups, leadership of students’ movements in South-West, and some members of the opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party, were joined by some artisans in the protest that lasted some hours.
As the protesters, accompanied by the men of the Department of State Services in mufti and policemen, moved through major streets in Osun State capital, traffic flow was disrupted, leading to gridlock.
The participants, who carried placards with the inscriptions such as “Buhari, enough is enough,” “PMB, people are hungry,” chanted anti-government slogans as they moved from street to street.
Correspondents during the protest, one of the conveners, Waheed Saka, said Nigerians were experiencing untold hardship under the current regime.
He said, “We are here because Nigerians are angry. Buhari has betrayed the trust of Nigerians. We are here because Buhari has failed Nigerians.
“His decision is putting more pressure on the already pauperised Nigerians. We say no to increase in electricity tariff, we say no to incessant increase in pump price. We say no to the illegal Water Resources Bill that is before the National Assembly.”
Also speaking during the protest, Olatunji Ishola, the Public Relations Officer of the National Association of Nigerian Students, South West Zone, said the students rejected the hike in electricity tariff and pump price.
Ten members of #RevolutionNow Movement were on Friday reportedly arrested in Iree, Osun State for distributing awareness fliers in the community.
One of those arrested, Omolola Pedro, gave the names of others as Owoeye Olaoluwa, Osungbaro Adeoti, Oguntola Sunday, Abraham Omowunmi, Akande Michael, Sunmbade Tunde, Akinbobola Jumoke Vivian, Luke Tega and Emmanuel Samuel.
Omolola also accused the police of brutalising one of those arrested, saying they were apprehended around 2:00pm in Iree but were later moved to the State Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department at Osun State Command headquarters, Osogbo.
According to her, the group of ten member of #RevolutionNow Movement was in the town to sensitise the people to the need to speak against some policies of government.
Omolola said, “We addressed people in the market, telling them they needed to speak up against misgovernance. We also distributed fliers.”
“Divisional Police Officer, Iree Division ordered our arrest and we were later moved to Osogbo where we were made to write statements at SCIID. Two of our members were assaulted for not wearing face masks but we were later released on bail around 7:00pm.
“Three people stood sureties for us. Olawale Bakare, Agbogunlori Michael, who is NANS Chairman, Osun Axis, and Akinyemi Morakinyo were our sureties. Our lawyer, Mr. Alfred Adegoke, later secured our release on bail. We were told to come back next Tuesday. Our banner was confiscated.”
Also confirming the development, Adegoke said all the 10 persons arrested had been released.
When contacted, Police Public Relations Officer for Osun Command, Yemisi Opalola, said she had not be briefed.
The Coalition of Northern Groups has warned Buhari against taking Nigerians for granted following the government’s announcement of the recent hikes in electricity tariff and fuel price.
The CNGs demanded the immediate and unconditional reversal of the multiple increments or risk mass resistance.
The group said it was in touch with other regional groups such as Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, and PANDEF to ground activities in the country.
They described the government’s action as insensitive and unjustifiable in the face of sundry challenges in the country, warning that its demand must not be taken lightly.
They called on Nigerians to brace for mass resistance against the Buhari-led government, saying that Buhari had yet to learn lessons after being booted out as head of state for something similar in 1985 by the military.
The mass resistance, the group said, was the first phase of its planned protest against the Buhari- led government. The second phase, according to the CNGs, was to force Buhari to resign from office.
These were the positions of the northern group at a press conference in Kaduna on Friday.
CNG’s spokesperson, Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, anchored the press conference titled: ‘Our stand on the rise on cost of essential services and survival in Nigeria’.
While directing all its branches across the region to brace in case the government failed to heed their calls, Suleiman said the hikes in electricity tariff and pump price of fuel were a recipe for anarchy.
“We have reached out to all segments of society. We have liaised with Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, PANDEF, except the Indigenous People of Biafra for necessary action,” he said.
Suleiman added, “Despite the administration’s claims of fighting a war against corruption, the entrenchment of mediocrity has left the country worse than it was five years ago in the global corruption perception index.
“The present administration had been tolerated for too long even with its level of impunity in the dispatch of goods and services which gravely endanger the peace, unity and development of the country.”
Meanwhile, Benue State Chairman of the NLC, Godwin Anya, who condemned the hikes in both fuel pump price and electricity tariff, said that the present administration was inflicting pains on the masses.
He said, “The hikes in electricity tariff and fuel pump price are to make the masses suffer; this government has consistently inflicted pains on the ordinary citizens.”
The Executive Director, Community Outreach for Development and Welfare Advocacy, Mr Taiwo Otitolaye, has urged the Federal Government to reverse the current increment in the price of petrol and electricity.
Otitolaye said the hikes were condemnable, adding that the Federal Government was dancing to the dictate of the International Monetary Fund to deregulate the economy of Nigeria.
He said, “The price increase in fuel and electricity is meant to cause hardship for ordinary Nigerians who are already impoverished. The price increase will affect everyone including those in the rural areas.”
Kwara State Chairman of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, Alhaji Abdulrazaq Ariwoola, while condemning the increase in fuel price, said it would cause hardship for the people.
Ariwoola lamented that those in the transportation business had yet to get out of the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, before the government added “insult to injury of transport workers by increasing the pump price of fuel.”
He said that the government had previously assured the transport workers that it would reduce the fuel price, adding that the reverse is now the case.
“Government should immediately reverse the price of fuel if it does not want the transport workers to jerk up the transport fare. If the government insists on going with this policy, we in the transport business will have no alternative but to increase the transport fare for the passengers,” he said. ,,