Vanguard (Lagos)

18 June 2007

Nigeria: Fuel Shortage, Long Queues as NLC Strike Looms

Lagos — AN acute fuel shortage has hit Lagos and environs ahead of the national strike called by Labour. The strike is due to commence on Wednesday.

However, the present fuel shortage is essentially caused by the withdrawal of service by independent oil marketers and oil tanker owners over the recent hike in fuel price and the Value Added Tax (VAT) among others.

The Federal Government and the unions have failed to reach a last minute compromise, although President Umaru Yar'Adua "will follow consultations and has called for a meeting on Monday (today)," according to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and chief government negotiator, Alhaji Baba Gana Kingibe.

The Senate leadership is also wading in and has scheduled a meeting with President Yar'Adua tomorrow to take a decision on staving off the proposed strike.

The blue-collar Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the white-collar Trade Union Congress (TUC) have called out their members to go on an indefinite strike from midnight Tuesday unless government meets their demands.

The unions want the state to reverse the recent 15 per cent hike in fuel prices at the pump, implement a 15 per cent pay rise announced by the last government, and investigate the sale of two refineries by former President Olusegun Obasanjo. They also called on government to reverse a Value Added Tax (VAT) increase from five to 10 per cent.

"The government has not met our demands. On Monday, we will get out national executive committee to meet to take a definitive decision on the strike if between now and then the government takes no steps," NLC chief Omar Abdulwaheed said.

Senate meets Yar'Adua over strike

Earlier plans to reconvene the Senate this week for the purpose of involving all Senators in the dialogue with Labour have been called off. The Senate, according to sources, is yet to overcome constraints facing it in resolving the accommodation problems facing the new set of Senators.

The Deputy President of the Senate, Mr Ike Ekweremadu, confirmed the meeting with the President tomorrow, saying it was indicative of the Senate's interest in the quick resolution of the crisis.

"Like all Nigerians, we are concerned with the development and we feel it appropriate to join hands with the administration in resolving the issue," Ekweremadu said.

According to him, the Senate leadership has decided to take on the duty of articulating the opinion of the Senate on the crisis following the cancellation of the earlier plan to reconvene the Senate.

The President of the Senate, General David Mark, had last week, during a courtesy call on him by Governor Babangida Aliyu of Niger State, expressed the Senate's decision to intervene in the crisis. He had then also called on the NLC to cancel the strike notice pending when the new administration would have settled down.

Meanwhile, the leadership of Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) has directed all its branches in the upstream and downstream of the oil and gas sector to shut down operations by midnight Tuesday.

Similarly, the National Executive Council (NEC) of NLC is meeting this morning in Abuja to put finishing touches to their strategy to ensure effectiveness of the strike, even as leaders of its National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) affiliates said over seven million members nationwide including Abuja, have been mobilised for the strike.

Nigerians are already groaning under the hardship occasioned by the on-going strike by the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) and the National Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO), owners of petroleum tankers, over the same issues.

TUC asks Nigerians to join strike

TUC in a statement yesterday by its Secretary-General, Chief John Kolawole, asked Nigerians to fully support the strike to send a lasting message to government to halt its anti-people policies allegedly propelled by the World Bank.

It said: "The Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) is to commence a nationwide strike from midnight on Tuesday, June 19, 2007 to protest the non-reversal by the Federal Government of the pump price of petrol from N75 to N65 old rate. The congress is also protesting the increase in VAT from five per cent to10 per cent, non-implementation of the 15 per cent salary increase and sale of Port Harcourt and Kaduna refineries. As a result of the deadlock in the meeting between the Federal Government and Labour on Friday last week, TUC is calling on all its affiliates and states councils to embark on an indefinite strike from Tuesday mid-night to protest the arbitrary increase until a return to status quo was made. The TUC calls on all its members nationwide to stay-off from work and down tools until a reversal was made by the Federal Government.

"The Congress calls on all its affiliates and state councils to ensure compliance with the order and contact the national secretariat for further directives. The National Secretariat has also set up monitoring and compliance committees to effect the strike order in the states councils and establishments where its members are working. The congress calls on the masses of the nation to support its cause and stay at home during the period of the strike to show solidarity with the struggle to end their long suffering. The TUC has effectively mobilised its rank and file for the action and there is no going back," it said.

PENGASSAN orders shutdown in upstream, downstream sector

Similarly, PENGASSAN in a circular to all branches on Saturday, June 16 directed branches in both upstream and downstream sector of the petroleum industry to fully comply and shut down operations.

It said: "In line with the resolution reached at our NEC meeting of June 8, 2007 in Abuja on the above subject, all branches are hereby informed that indefinite strike action shall commence by midnight of Tuesday, June 19, 2007."

NLC President, Comrade Abulwaheed Omar, had on Friday given indication of today's NEC meeting after the deadlocked meeting between government and Labour when he said "the NEC will be meeting on Monday (today) to determine further action."

President of NURTW, Alhaji Haman Gidado, on his part said: "With over 3,000 branches of our union nationwide and about seven million members, we constitute a sizeable percentage of the workforce of the nation, and we are all up against the fuel price increase, VAT increase and other unilateral decisions that were taken by former President Olusegun Obasanjo. How can Nigeria, an oil producing state which is supposed to build more refineries is rather selling the few existing ones preferring to export the crude to other countries to refine and sell back to them? How can one justify that?"

Meanwhile, Nigerians are now bearing the brunt of the four days strike by IPMAN and NARTO over same issues as fuel scarcity now approaches a crisis situation with filling stations selling products at prices far above the official prices and transport fares have risen.

An official of the PPPRA who spoke on condition of anonymity said the agency had not increased the price of petroleum products, hence it was an offence for anyone to increase pump price by a kobo.

At the same time, black market operators now sell a 10-litre keg of petrol for N1,200 as against the government approved price of N750.00, while a 25-litre keg goes for about N3,500 as against the approved N1,875.00.

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