The Nigerian Labour Congress on Thursday insisted that petrol subsidy must not be removed and that it would not shift grounds on this position until Nigeria’s refineries were fixed.
NLC’s position came as a support to the earlier declaration of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas workers where NUPENG kicked against the advice of the Presidential Economic Advisory Committee on subsidy removal.
The General Secretary, NUPENG, Olawale Afolabi, had told newsmen recently that it was going to be highly suicidal to remove petrol subsidy now and that the advice by the PEAC that government should remove subsidy was wrong.
“Within the current context of hardship in the country, it is suicidal to remove subsidy now. It is highly suicidal within the current situation,” Afolabi had stated.
When contacted on Thursday to know if the NLC would support the advice of the PEAC following complaints by the government on the huge financial burden of petrol subsidy, the Deputy President, NLC, Joe Ajaero, replied in the negative.
He said, “The way they put some of these things makes it to look as if it is now rocket science. Is it subsidy on the crude produced here or subsidy on what? Those are some of the concepts you want to understand.
“Subsidy on garri, yam or all those things we produce here? I say this because the crude oil we are talking about is produced here and we now say let there be refineries to process it here.”
He added, “And when that is done nobody will tell you about subsidy. It is to make things easier for the same person who says he is paying subsidy. If you produce refined petroleum products, at least the one we need for domestic consumption, you won’t tell us about subsidy again.
“But by the time you carry our crude oil and refine it abroad and you bring it back, you will start to tell us that you have spent money on shipping, landing cost and all other costs and then you need to add money to make it real and you call it subsidy.”
The labour leader said members of the union did not believe that the government was incurring any cost on petrol subsidy because it was possible to trade crude oil with refined products without having to incur additional costs.
Ajaero said, “To continue to remove what they call subsidy, which some of us don’t believe, has been an issue. Even at that, you can sell your crude and use part of it as barter. Meaning I give you crude, you give me refined products of this nature.
“But what we see in Nigeria is that they go there, give them (refiners) crude and it is refined and we buy it at higher price. I really don’t understand. For us in labour, we are not seeing it that way.”
He said the NLC insists that the government must refine crude oil in Nigeria, as this would create jobs while other bye-products from the crude oil would be used for the benefit of Nigerians.
“That is our position. It doesn’t call for shifting of grounds because that is the right thing to be done,” Ajaero said.
He argued that nations across the world made use of products for which they had both competition and comparative advantage.
“That is what we are asking our country to do,” h said.
The NLC deputy president said, “This issue of producing a product and buying it from another country is unacceptable. It is not flying.”
When told that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation recently said it would not be able to make remittances to the Federation Account if petrol subsidy persisted, Ajaero insisted that petrol price must not be adjusted upwards until refineries were fixed.