Nigerians have started stockpiling food ahead of the ultimatum issued by the Nigeria Labour Congress and the coalition of the civil society organisations that petrol price be reverted to N86.50 or all workers would embark on a strike.
On Saturday, the organised labour again repeated that the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government had till Tuesday night to reverse the increase in the price of fuel from N145 to N86.50 or face a total shutdown of the country.
The three-day ultimatum was first announced on Friday.
Following this warning, a cross section of Nigerians in different parts of the country told SUNDAY PUNCH that they were getting prepared for the strike by buying enough food in their homes.
A businesswoman based in Osogbo, Osun State, Mrs. Mayowa Bamisaiye, said she was ready for the strike because she had expected it after the Federal Government announced the new fuel price.
She said, ‘‘I do not agree with the new increment and I expected the labour unions to resist it. I have bought some food and I will buy more that will be enough to cater for my family during the strike. I also intend to withdraw some money to cater for some domestic needs as the strike lasts.’’
Also, a human resources officer in a non-governmental organisation in Ibadan, Oyo State, Mr. Paul Sodeinde, said he was prepared for the strike.
Sodeinde stated, ‘‘I have enough fuel for my generator. There is food in the house and water. I am ready to endure the strike for as long as it lasts.’’
The story was the same as most of the people that spoke to our correspondents in Lagos said they had started making preparations for a long stay at home.
A customer service officer, Bolade Osagie, said, “We expect the NLC to go through the whole hog like they did in 2012. In order to prepare for next week, I have started to get as much foodstuffs at home as possible. Even though I do not expect this strike to drag on before the Federal Government yields to the demands of the labour unions, I won’t be so unwise as not to get some food from the market. I will also try to get some more fuel for the generator too.”
A civil engineer, Shade Oguntuase, said she was going to do all her shopping on Sunday (today).
She said, “I’ll visit the market on Sunday to get some foodstuffs with the NLC threatening to shut down the country. I have kids at home to feed. I don’t think I want to be caught in a tight corner of not having enough food for the family, should the strike go on for days.”
Similarly, a lecturer in the Fine and Applied Arts Department, Federal College of Education (Technical), Akoka, Lagos, Mr. Ebenezer Oje, said, “I am going to ensure I stock my home with enough food items and other necessary goods for my family and me for the duration of the strike. It is a necessary move because the fuel price increase is not needed at this time when there is no salary increase.”
An engineer, Mr. Oladele Tayo, also noted, “I don’t know what will happen when the strike commences; probably the prices of foodstuff will also go up. So buying more foodstuffs this weekend is crucial.”
A Lagos-based IT worker, Isaiah Adebisi, said he had not considered buying household items in bulk until he ran into a friend at a popular shopping mall in Lagos.
According to Adebisi, the encounter made him realise the reality of the impending strike when his friend told him that there would be scarcity of basic consumer products.
He said, “I had always felt that panic buying was a bad idea. I didn’t think much of the strike at first, especially because of my belief in this government. But seeing the way things are going, I am going to use this weekend to stock up on many items.
“Hopefully, the NLC will reconsider the strike before things get too bad. Until then, however, better safe than sorry.”
An advertising agency employee, who also lives in Lagos with two family members, Uju-Amaka Ofili, said she would take the initiative and restock her home with household items.
She said, “I can only imagine how bad things will get if I don’t act fast. I think it would be wise to buy as much foodstuffs in bulk as I can. To make matters worse, things are really expensive in the market.
“But the truth of the matter is that if I don’t buy what I need soon, I may not like the outcome. I am heading to the market immediately.”
Lately, there has been an increase in the prices of foodstuffs nationwide.
A businesswoman at Alade Market, Lagos, Mrs. Atinuke Joda, said she knew that labour was going to fight the new petrol price.
“Immediately the price of fuel was increased, I knew labour would resist. After church on Sunday, I will buy enough foodstuffs,” she said.
In Kaduna, a nurse, Mrs. Grace Dikwa, said apart from foodstuff, she would ensure she doesn’t run out of cooking gas. “I have to buy cooking gas this weekend. I will also buy enough foodstuffs like tomatoes and others on Sunday because I don’t know how long the strike will last.”
An Abuja-based businessman, Mr. Ayo Dimeji, said, “I always stock my kitchen with foodstuffs and other necessary household items one or two weeks ahead in case of an emergency, and the proposed NLC strike is an emergency. I don’t want to take chances.”
A civil servant in Port Harcourt, Mrs. Sandra Dumebi, said she was glad the NLC gave sufficient warning.
“I always do my shopping at weekends. Thankfully, the NLC has warned us ahead of time. So I will be buying more foodstuffs this time around,” she said.
Similarly, a school administrator in Magboro, Ogun State, Ms Evelyn Okorodudu, said, “I am moving fast on Sunday to get a few things to add to the ones I already have at home.
“How I wish the government would hear the voices of the masses and revert the price of fuel to what we had before. They should do whatever is in their capacity to make the product available. We are tired of this suffering.”
Meanwhile, the Federal Government on Saturday insisted that it would not compromise on the new pump price of N145 per litre.
The Minister for Information, Culture and Tourism, Lai Mohammed, said this during an interview with our correspondent, while reacting to the ultimatum issued by the NLC and allied organisations that the price be reverted to N86.50 or all workers would embark on strike.
He said, “It is not about compromise. It is about saying what is practicable and obtainable. You cannot compromise when you don’t have foreign exchange. What I can say is that the price will remain like this.”
The minister, however, promised that with more marketers in Nigeria, there would be competition and, ultimately, prices would fall.
Mohammed said the slump in the global price of crude oil had affected all oil-producing nations as even the United Arab Emirates had removed subsidy completely, while the world’s largest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, had increased pump price of fuel by 40 per cent.
He said it would therefore be unrealistic for Nigeria to continue to sell petrol at N86.50.
The minister said, “The truth of the matter is that as of today, it is not possible for either the NNPC or independent marketers to bring in fuel and sell at N86.50 per litre. The simple reason is that the foreign exchange needed is not available.
“Saudi Arabia has increased pump price by 40 per cent, while the UAE has removed oil subsidy. All oil-producing states are facing the same challenges.”
He also hit back at critics who called the All Progressives Congress hypocrites for rejecting former President Goodluck Jonathan’s attempt to remove oil subsidy in 2012 but also doing the same thing in 2016.’
Mohammed said, “In 2012, the CBN (Central Bank of Nigeria) had a surplus of about $1.3bn a month. Today, the CBN has just about $800m to pay for trade and everything. If we were in this situation in 2012, we would not have opposed a new price regime. That is the reality.
“In 2012, the FAAC was dividing N800bn every month. Today, FAAC is sharing less than N400bn a month. So, the reality is not the same.
“We didn’t remove subsidy because it was not even in the budget. Crude oil which accounted for 80 per cent of our foreign exchange earning has crashed from over $100 to about $40. In fact, we have sold (foreign exchange) for $30 this year. It is not possible to tell a person to go and source for dollars on the parallel market and tell them to sell fuel at N86.50.”
The labour unions, in a joint communiqué on Saturday, urged Nigerians to prepare for the effects of a long-drawn battle with the government over the contentious price hike.
The President of the NLC, Mr. Ayuba Wabba, who read the communiqué of the labour centres and their civil society allies, said they would mobilise Nigerians to protest the increase in all the cities of the federation starting from midnight on Tuesday.
He stated also that the action would involve the shutdown of all operations of banks, sea and airports, government and private offices, including markets.
Ayuba insisted that the decision of the government to remove the fuel subsidy was an act of betrayal to the suffering people of Nigeria.
The communiqué also demanded a reversal of the recent 45 per cent increase in electricity tariff.
The civil society movement also demanded the reconstitution of the board of the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation to enable them to function alongside the Department of Petroleum Resources “in order to deepen the process of consultation, checks and balances in the downstream sector of the petroleum industry.”
The communiqué read in part, “During the electioneering last year, the Presidential Candidate of the APC, Muhammadu Buhari, had promised that, if elected president, he would not remove fuel subsidy if there was any at all;
“After his election, President Buhari had maintained that there was no subsidy in the petroleum product price regime and that even if there was, he did not see how its removal would be beneficial to the ordinary Nigerian, noting that the slightest product price adjustment often leads to inflationary spiral and unimaginable suffering for the people.
“On January 18, 2016, the government further allayed the fears of the Nigerian people by reducing the pump price of PMS to N86.50, explaining that the reduction was in furtherance of the implementation of the revised component of the Petroleum Products Pricing for PMS and kerosene.
“The Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, had been speaking from both sides of his mouth. Whereas last year, he had strongly canvassed the removal of ‘subsidy’ in defiance of President Buhari, about a month ago; he claimed the subsidy had been removed through his ingenuity and that Nigeria was saving $1bn from this process;
“Organised labour wonders what informed government’s sudden and dangerous policy summersault and its desperate attempt to convince the public that labour was part of the decision that led to this price increase.”
When our correspondent contacted the Special Assistant, Media to the Minister of Labour and Employment, Mr. Nwachukwu Ngige, he said he could not reach his boss, who was in Benue State for the burial of the mother of the Agriculture Minister, Chief Audu Ogbe.
NNPC warns labour against hostility
The NNPC on Saturday, warned the NLC to desist from any act of hostility as it planned to protest against the increase in the pump price of petrol.
It also called on the labour movement to emulate the two major unions in the oil and gas sector, stressing that the NLC should desist from its “archaic” tradition of treating every government policy.
The NNPC Group General Manager, Group Public Affairs Division, Garba-Deen Mohammed, in a message sent to our correspondent in Abuja, said, “We are calling on labour to be patriotic and put the country and its citizens before any other consideration. Labour must move away from the archaic tradition of treating government policy with hostility.
“This decision was carefully and painstakingly considered; the immediate and long-term relief for Nigerians was placed above everything else. The NLC should emulate the patriotism of PENGASSAN, NUPENG, the Association of Pilots and Engineers, and support the Federal Government.”
Similarly, the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association has warned workers in the private sector not to participate in the planned industrial action by the NLC and the TUC.