BY: REUBEN ABATI
I was very skeptical when the current leadership of Organized Labour in Nigeria objected to the decision of the Federal Government to withdraw fuel subsidy and hand over the pump price of petrol to the forces of demand and supply, also known as market forces. Labour, represented by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), and their affiliates and privies in civil society, further threatened that they were opposed to the hike in electricity tariffs. They issued a statement in which they railed against neo-liberal policies, bad timing, and the insensitivity of government. They made heavy weather out of the hardship that COVID-19 has imposed on the people and why any form of additional taxation that could pressurize the people would be utterly unacceptable. Deregulation of the downstream sector is not a new subject in Nigeria. Removal of fuel subsidy is an old subject. Only the dumb and the deaf would deny being aware of the persistent argument that a functioning electricity sector in Nigeria would unleash the country’s energy and potentials, through the values derivable therefrom: saving of costs, creation of jobs, a value-added SME, an improved manufacturing sector and a happier, more productive citizenry.
In 2012, when the Jonathan administration announced full deregulation of the downstream sector and removal of fuel subsidy, Organized Labour aligned with opposition politicians and turned the argument on its head. They called out their troops and a thoroughly hypnotized political class, and workers’ community, fostered tension and instability in the system. In 2016, the party that succeeded the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), that is the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its leaders who had lied to Nigerians that there was no fuel subsidy in the country, but unconscionable theft, and that the Jonathan government was wrong, promptly increased fuel prices. They argued that a fuel subsidy regime was not sustainable: the same argument that they opposed in 2012.