The Nigeria Labour Congress again on Friday berated the Federal Government over the fuel scarcity in the country, saying government’s energy policy was defective.
Also on Friday, the NLC and civil society organisations were divided over Dangote Refinery, which will begin operations at the end of 2018.
The NLC, which spoke through its Secretary-General, Dr. Peter Ozo-Eson, warned the Federal Government against allowing the Dangote Group to monopolise the oil refinery sector.
According to Ozo-Eson, the Dangote Group currently monopolises the cement sector. He said that such must not be allowed to happen in the oil refinery sector.
The NLC secretary-general blamed the Federal Government for the current fuel scarcity in the country.
He said the Federal Government failed to pursue a comprehensive policy that could improve local crude oil refining capacity.
It stated that the government was pursuing a wrong policy in the energy sector.
The congress, which said it had warned the Federal Government earlier about its policy, stated that the government failed to listen because it was only interested in increasing the fuel pump price without putting in place the necessary measures that would keep the price stable.
Ozo-Eson stated that the Federal Government did not think its energy policy through, noting that the country would continue to have energy crisis anytime there was a rise in the international prices of crude oil and fluctuations in the exchange rate.
He said, “The government did not think its policies through. We pointed out this danger. If you say you have removed subsidy and you now allow the market to determine the price, when the underlying parameters change, whether it is the international prices of crude oil or the exchange rate of the naira, when you run all these through the template, you are going to face a situation like this.
“What they did was only half-policy, they did not a have a comprehensive policy. If you have a comprehensive policy and you want to maintain a price at a level and you don’t want to pay subsidy, what you should have is price modulation scheme that would build up the funds initially or create funds which would provide a support window to allow you to mediate in the parameters.”
The NLC secretary said the government of President Muhammadu Buhari had broken the trust Nigerians had in it, citing the current fuel scarcity which ruined the Christmas holidays for the citizens.
He warned the government against allowing the country to depend on Dangote refinery, which would become functional in 2018, stressing that the firm would exploit Nigerians.
Ozo-Eson explained that every member of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries had refineries.
He noted that the government would be failing in its responsibility if it allowed multi-billionaire businessman, Aliko Dangote, to have monopoly in the downstream sector.
He said, “A monopoly in the oil refinery sector will kill Nigerians; a recent survey showed that prices of cement in Nigeria are the most expensive anywhere in the world.”
He also said the NLC did not see any sense in increasing fuel price after what Nigerians had gone through.
He stated, “As to what we would do, we have our members to guide us. So it is not for me to say at this point in time, but definitely we believe it is unacceptable for any price increase to be contemplated. We are a democratic organisation and we would summon our members and take a position.”
SERAP, CACOL oppose NLC, say more Nigerians can acquire licences
Two civil societies – the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project and the Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership – however criticised the NLC for its warning about impending monopoly in the oil refinery sector.
They said that more Nigerians, who have the wherewithal, could approach the government and acquire the licence.
The SERAP Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, said, “I don’t think the NLC is serious. About 18 licences were issued to people to construct refineries more than two years ago and those who were given the licences failed to commence any work. So, it is not a question of Dangote monopolising the sector, it is a question of who has the wherewithal and commitment to commence work?
“Let the NLC suggest other people that have shown their wherewithal to also construct refineries. The Goodluck Jonathan-led administration issued licences to 18 companies but no one has yet to build. Let the NLC do its work properly and stop giving Nigerians the wrong information. This is the way I see it.”
Also, the CACOL Director, Debo Adeniran, said, “The way the NLC is going about this issue is reactionary. Being labour bureaucrats, they were there when the licences to build refineries were being auctioned and how much agitation did they put forward? Did the labour confront the Federal Government? Will the NLC be fair to now stop those investors, who have paid so much money to purchase the licences, from operating? It is unfortunate that it is this time that the labour is asking the government to stop the operation.”
Private refineries will end fuel scarcity – Industrialist
On his part, an industrialist and President, Azikel Group of Companies, Dr. Azibapu Eruani, said recurring fuel scarcity and acute unemployment would be reduced to the barest minimum when privately-owned refineries commenced operations.
Eruani made this known in an interaction with journalists in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State capital, on Thursday.
The industrialist, who decried the yearly scarcity of petroleum products across the country, particularly during festivities, said the phenomenon had become embarrassing as it had crippled virtually all economic activities in the country.
Eruani noted that the scarcity of the products persisted because of the low production capacity of existing refineries and the country’s penchant for totally depending on fuel imports for local consumption.
He, however, lauded the Buhari-led Federal Government for taking pragmatic steps to address low supply, importation of fuel and price hike by issuing licences to private refineries.
He noted that Azikel Petroleum had achieved 65 per cent completion, stressing that it would soon begin operation.
He expressed confidence that when all licensed privately-owned refineries began to dispense fuel, the development would shore up production capacity and fuel scarcity and inadequate supplies would be a thing of the past.
Executive Director of the Civil Society Legislative and Advocacy Centre, Auwual Musa (Rafsanjani), said the Federal Government should ensure proper regulation of the petroleum sector.
Musa, who made the call in a telephone interview with Saturday PUNCH, in Abuja, on Saturday, explained that with proper regulation, Nigerians would enjoy better services at competitive rates as it is currently done in the telecommunications sub-sector.
He said, “The government has a duty to ensure strict adherence to policies that will be beneficial to the majority of the suffering masses of this country. It is because government has failed to perform its statutory duties that we are even having this issue.”
“I believe that if government does the needful in terms of policies and adherence to the rule of law, the issue of a monopoly will not even arise.”