In a bid to forestall a planned nationwide protest against the federal government’s proposed increase in the pump price of petrol, Nigerian governors have resolved to dialogue with organised labour.
Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum and Ekiti State governor, Kayode Fayemi, who disclosed this to newsmen on Wednesday night after a meeting of the forum, said the issue of fuel price increase was a joint decision.
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), through the secretary general, Emmanuel Ugbooaja, has however vowed to go ahead with the nationwide protest.
The National Economic Council has recently projected the pump price of petrol will increase from the N162-N165 per litre to N302, which is generating angst among Nigerians.
The governors’ forum has, therefore, decided to engage with labour leaders to find a way around the matter.
Fayemi said: “The Forum also discussed the issue around petroleum subsidy and concluded to engage the leadership of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) on how best to address this issue without causing any disaffection to salvaging the Nigerian economy for the Nigerian people at the end of the day.
“So, we shall be engaging Nigeria Labour Congress as subnational leaders with a view to ensuring that the outcome of our engagement will also be fed into the national discourse.”
Asked if the governors were not part of the planned increase, Fayemi said: “To the best of my knowledge, the report you are talking about is not a report from the governors; it wasn’t the report from the Governors’ Forum.
“The national economic council chaired by the vice president of Nigeria has been dealing with this issue over time. And it is not up to the subnational to decide what happens to PMS (premium motor spirit) prices; it is entirely the exclusive responsibility of the federal government.
“However, we are critical stakeholders and we are members of the National Economic Council (NEC) so we contribute to debate in the National Economic Council but ultimately whatever we contribute to, it is the decision of the National Economic Council; it is not the decision of governors, especially in view of the passage of the Petroleum Industry Act – that’s taken out of our hands completely. It’s a matter for the petroleum sector.”
On the position of the governors on subsidy removal, he said: “Well, for us at the Forum, it is a matter that is a going concern. We don’t have a definitive issue on it because it is left for the petroleum industry. It is not for us; NNPC is now a private company and the company should decide what it wants to do with the price of the product; it shouldn’t be the business of the governors.”
The governors also commended the Senate for the quick passage of the electoral bill, stating that it would enable the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) to prepare speedily for the 2023 elections.
He said: “On the electoral Act, governors commend the Senate of the Federal Republic for accelerating the removal of the contentious clause in the draft electoral bill and hope that the second chamber, the House of Representatives, will also follow suit, so that the revised electoral bill can return to Mr. President for assent, so that, that can then enable various institutions, particularly INEC, to proceed at pace with the responsibility towards the various elections in 2022 and 2023.”
The NGF chair also revealed that the governors also discussed health issues particularly the Omicron variant of COVID-19 and how to drive vaccination as well as more funding for the states.
He said: “We also discussed the health update, particularly the COVID m-19 infection, and expressed happiness that the current omicron variant has been declining progressively.
“However, we also noted that there’s a need for states led by us to ramp up the COVID-19 vaccination exercise.
“On nutrition, it remains a priority of the government. Governors concluded that we need to increase our support for budgetary provisions for our nutrition.”
Governor Fayemi said that the governors received briefings from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other briefings that will aid the states.
Fayemi further stated that the NGF received briefing on the ease of doing business in the states.
“We received a presentation from the Presidential Enabling Environment Council (PEVEC) on the ease of doing business and discussed the next phase of the ease of doing a business survey with the special adviser to Mr. President on ease of doing business, Dr. Oduwole, and the country director of the World Bank.
“The presentation elaborated the need to step up the reform towards increasing the investment climate at the subnational level.
“Governors also reviewed the recently launched National Development Plan, 2021-2025, with a view to ensuring that the national development plan is aligned into an individual state development plan that has been produced, or in the process of being produced, to ensure synergy between the development efforts by the federal as well as state governments.”
On the power asset crisis, Fayemi said: “Well, assets that we discussed relate to assets from the NIPP which belong to federal, state and local governments.
“And our view is that you cannot dispose of the assets without the concurrence of joint owners of the assets. And we are still on that, because the joint owners at the level of states are still making inputs to a committee that was set up to review this matter and further engage the Niger Delta Power Holding Company, host of those assets, and the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE).
Governors Move To Legislate Against Child Marriage
Also, the governors will adopt and implement free and compulsory education for girls to keep adolescent girls in school.
This was one of the decisions reached by the National Economic Council presided over by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo at the Presidential Villa, yesterday.
The council recognised the importance of investing in adolescent girls to accelerate Nigeria’s demographic transition.
In a presentation by the chairman of the National Population Commission, Hon Nasir Isa Kwarra, he said adolescents constitute a population age 10 -19 years and, by estimate, represent 23.4 percent of the total population of Nigeria.
He said addressing adolescent needs and empowering them can quicken the opening of the window of opportunity required to harness a demographic dividend.
Consequently, governors were asked to keep adolescent girls in school through adopt and implementing free and compulsory education for girls to at least a completion of Senior Secondary Education in all the 36 states and the FCT; ensuring availability of appropriate amenities and security in all schools across the country; increased investment in empowering women and girls in and out of school; expanding access to essential primary healthcare services, including reproductive and family planning services and addressing early/child marriage through legislation and advocacy among others.
NEC Takes Position on Fuel Price In June
The National Economic Council (NEC) has dismissed insinuations that it had taken a position on fuel subsidy, saying a decision will be taken in June.
Nasarawa State governor, Abdullahi Sule, disclosed this to State House correspondents yesterday after a meeting of NEC presided over by vice president Yemi Osinbajo at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
He also clarified that the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) had taken care of some of the contending issues.
He said, “I think in addition to what you have to understand, we didn’t make any presentations on this because there has not been a decision.
“But in reality, all of us Nigerians know that there is now the Petroleum Industry Act, and NNPC has now become, you know, a limited liability company. So NNPC will run differently.
“So, if the Minister of Finance, you know, provides for six months, you probably can understand part of the reason for the provision of six months before NNPC fully takes off, and at that moment, that’s when decisions will be made.
“But I want to make the correction that it is not governors who are making recommendations. It is actually a NEC committee, you know, which comprises all the other people that are looking at this, and no decision has been made, and probably by the time, a decision will be made.
“You know, the Petroleum Industry Act has fully taken charge, and it will not require any recommendation from anybody,” he added.
During his briefing, Edo State governor, Godwin Obaseki, further explained that the issue of subsidy has been one matter that NEC has deliberated on, for more than a year now.
According to him, there is an ad-hoc committee set up by NEC and headed by Governor El-Rufai that included members of the executive arm of government which worked on recommendations as to what they should do about the costs of petrol.
He said, “The cost of PMS in Nigeria today is about N162 per litre whereas every other country surrounding Nigeria is selling the same product at more than 100 percent of the cost in Nigeria.
“And the country, as at last year, must have spent almost N2 trillion subsidising petroleum products. That is money that could have gone into building roads, money that could have gone into healthcare and education. So, for NEC, the arguments have been put out: should we continue this regime of spending money we do not have to subsidise the living standards of mostly those who have vehicles.
“And when NEC looked at some of the analyses last year, we then realised that less than one-third of the states of this country consume two-thirds of the subsidy. So, the issue of equity also came up.
“All of these findings were presented to NEC, and the deliberations are still ongoing. So, no, NEC hasn’t come up with any decision yet. I think recommendations have also been made to the president. That is what, I am aware, has transpired so far,” he said.
Abdulsalami, Baba-Ahmed Warn Of Hardship, Inflation
Former Head of State General Abdulsalam Abubakar has warned that the planned increase in petrol price will further push Nigerians into poverty.
General Abdulsalami gave the warning in an address at the Daily Trust Dialogue with the theme 2023: The Politics, Economy and Insecurity.
He said the nation’s insecurity is worsened by the dire economic situation in the country.
He said though the economic growth rates and inflation have improved somewhat, however, there is not much positive impact on the lives and wellbeing of the ordinary Nigerian.
He said unemployment and underemployment remain at record levels, and over 80 million Nigerians are still caught up in needless poverty.
“All of these tend to have negative effects on security. In fact, Nigeria now faces a food security crisis that is compounded by the COVID-19 global pandemic and banditry in many states of northern Nigeria. Both of these have disrupted the fragile value chains across the country and negatively impacted the ability of Nigerians to produce, process, and distribute food.
“The result is a continuing rise in the prices of food items beyond the reach of many Nigerian families.
“On top of all these, fuel prices are expected to rise significantly in the coming months as announced last November by the NNPC. When this happens, as the government has planned, it will push many millions deeper into poverty.
“Young people and women are the demographic groups most affected by the country’s dire economic outlook,” he said.
Speaking on the forthcoming 2023 general elections, he said the worsening economic and security situations in the country during an election year make for a very challenging period for Nigeria that must be carefully managed by all concerned.
“Already, calls for restructuring Nigeria and for reviewing the constitution have reached fever pitch,” he said, adding that there are also calls for how the resources generated in the country are shared by its constituent parts.
General Abdulsalam said while some politicians across all parties are already jostling for power at all levels, some are using inflammatory political rhetoric to achieve their ends, others stoking political fires that will be difficult to put out even after the elections.
“This election year calls for statesmanship and patriotism. It calls for restraint among all politicians in words and deeds. And above all, it calls for serious social and economic programmes that would help pull Nigeria out of the woods.”
As a way forward, he said, “As we enter into this important election year, I will like to use this forum to send a few reminders to us all. Let us all remember that despite all the challenges and threats, Nigeria remains one. For this, we give thanks to Almighty Allah and the resilience of Nigerians.
“Our unity, and our large and youthful population remain are our greatest strength. We must not compromise these. Instead, we must consolidate on them to chart a way out of current challenges.”
The former military ruler urged the political class to realise that the fate of Nigeria lies in its hands and choose to do good in this moment of history.
“As they jostle for power in the coming elections, all politicians must watch their words and deeds carefully and avoid saying or doing things that will further heat up the polity. We must all remember that no one can rule over a nation in ruins. Leadership is a collective responsibility, and we must all play our parts positively,” he said.
On his part, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed called for the suspension of the national population census due to its closeness to the 2023 elections.
He lamented the widespread insecurity in the North, adding that there is need for an institution that will address the scourge.
He said the President Muhammadu Buhari government has not done enough to protect Nigerians, adding that in 2023, Nigeria does not need an ethnic president but a Nigerian president.
He called on the federal government to commit to protecting the people, adding that “what they are doing is not enough to end banditry in the North.
“It is simply not enough: we are not fighting banditry enough; we are not fighting kidnapping enough; we are not paying attention to the kind of issues that we should impact on the way politics will build up leading to 2023. We should pay attention to the constitution amendment, the reforms of the electoral system.”
Speaking on developments in the country, he said: “We must avoid pushing citizenry to desperation; we must stop, there is enough suffering, there is enough desperation. On our part, the Northern Elders Forum is committed to reaching out to those in the South, so that we can talk.”
The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, said politics is too important to be left in the hands of career politicians alone.
And as many speakers blame the widespread insecurity on the leadership failure of governors, the Sultan said the criticism was only a wake-up call to them to act.
He said it was just an expression of what the masses want from the leaders.