Almost three months after the federal government attempted withdrawal of subsidy on petrol, jacking up the product price initially to N141 and backing down subsequently to N97, sources told LEADERSHIP SUNDAY that it will go the whole hog and finally deregulate the premium motor spirit (PMS) price next month.
When LEADERSHIP SUNDAY spoke to Peter Esele, the president-general of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) yesterday, he declared the planned hike as unfair and unacceptable.
“We will wait and see how they will do it. That’s probably why they are trying to pass a gag law in the National Assembly that will restrain labour from going on strike.
“To hike the petrol price at this time, without telling us how many litres we consumed daily and without prosecuting those involved in subsidy fraud is unacceptable and unfair to the Nigerian people.”
But the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and the Ministry of Petroleum have denied foreknowledge of such intended hike in separate telephone chats with LEADERSHIP SUNDAY yesterday.
Following a successful protest by the organised labour against and civil society organisations at the attempted fuel subsidy removal, the federal government reduced the cost from the initial N141 per litre to N97 per litre.
LEADERSHIP SUNDAY’s checks revealed that panic buying of petrol has returned and even increased, provoking queues at filling stations in many parts of the country.
The Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, three weeks ago, stated that the government was conniving with the oil marketers to push fuel price to N140 under the guise of scarcity.
The NLC, in the statement, had described the move as unacceptable, adding that the current artificial fuel scarcity in parts of the country was to blackmail Nigerians into accepting higher fuel prices.
“It is unacceptable to the NLC that marketers and the government will contrive to push the price of a litre of petrol (PMS) back to N141 under the guise of fuel scarcity, said the NLC, in a statement signed by its acting general secretary,” Owei Lakemfa.
The NLC also described as ridiculous the claim by the Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN) and the Independent Petroleum Marketers of Nigeria (IPMAN) that the probe into the oil sector by the National Assembly had created “uncertainties” and loss of confidence by the financial institutions, which had translated into fuel scarcity, as ridiculous.
When LEADERSHIP SUNDAY contacted Dr. Livi Ajuonuma, group public relations manager of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, he totally denied knowledge of the development. “I am not at all aware of such speculated development. I am also not aware that such is still in national discourse.”
The head of corporate affairs of the Petroleum Product Pricing and Regulatory Agency, PPPRA, declined to pick our call or respond to texted questions on the impending hike in petrol pump price.
Danladi Pasali, special adviser on media for the Independent Petroleum Marketers of Nigeria (IPMAN), had noted that they had also heard the word that the government may have reached some kind of “arrangement” with labour to increase pump price to N141 by April.
Pasali noted that IPMAN still maintained its position that the country is not yet “ripe” for deregulation, noting that the demands are for the pipelines to be repaired and the refineries put in order before such a venture should be pursued in full.
On his part, Obafemi Olawore, executive secretary, Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN), reportedly declined to comment on the issue. “Until someone tells me, I have no opinion. You know the way our country is,” he stated.
Shortage of petroleum products being experienced in various parts of the country is expected to continue to linger for some time. However, both IPMAN and MOMAN have different reasons why this will be so.
Pasali explained that the number of independent marketers currently importing products has dropped drastically in the last couple of months, from 160 to fewer than 45. He noted that the cause of this was partly the “wrangling” in the oil industry with the National Assembly probe into the fraud in the sector which, it is claimed, has created loss of confidence by the financial institutions, and which has translated into lack of funds to do business.
However, Pasali added that the failure of the government to review profit margins remains a huge problem as well for the group.
“If the government looks into the issue of margins, there would be an increase in importation and all these issues of scarcity would be over. We have written but the PPPRA says the whole thing is beyond them. Government said they have to call all stakeholders on the matter,” he stated.
A reliable source at the ministry of petroleum told LEADERSHIP SUNDAY yesterday, that: “There is absolutely nothing like that to the best of my knowledge. Do you think that government does not think? It will be difficult for government to even contemplate such now with all the queues everywhere and the difficulty faced by marketers to obtain loan from banks at the moment.
“Government is trying to put things right now to reduce the suffering of Nigerians and increasing fuel price now is out. You can call me on April 1 or 2 to prove me wrong, but I can tell you that there is nothing like that going on.”