The Federal Government says contrary to the opinion of some Nigerians, organised labour neither compromised nor betrayed workers in the negotiations that led to the suspension of its planned strike.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said this on Friday when he featured on TV Continental (TVC) call-in programme, ”This Morning.”
The programme, which centred on the achievements of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, was monitored by our reporter in Abuja.
It was recalled that the Nigeria Labour Congress, the Trade Union Congress and their affiliates recently suspended their planned strike to protest fuel price deregulation and electricity tariff adjustment.
Some critics had condemned the action by labour, accusing its leaders of compromise and betrayal.
Mohammed, a member of the Federal Government’s negotiating team, however, argued that labour was patriotic by suspending the strike.
He said after days of negotiations, labour agreed with the government that deregulation of the downstream petroleum sector is a necessity and not an option.
“The moment we lost as much as 60 per cent of our earnings and suffered a kind of shock in crude oil prices, we must deregulate.
“Between 2006 and 2019, we paid N10.413 trillion in fuel subsidies, an average of N743.8 billion per annum.
“The simple truth is that the government can no longer afford to subsidise PMS and the subsidy has never benefitted the common man.
“What the two parties agreed upon are things that must be done to mitigate the effects of the deregulation on the workers, ’’ the minister said.
Mohammed said the government agreed with labour that it would facilitate the setting up of many modular refineries and rehabilitate existing regular refineries to cushion the effects of the deregulation.
He said the Ministry of Petroleum Resources would intensify efforts to ensure that Nigerians could get alternatives such as gas to power their vehicles and machinery.
Mohammed said that the first auto gas station would be inaugurated and opened to the public in Lagos.
He said the money being saved from the deregulation regime would be used to develop critical infrastructure for the benefit of Nigerians.
The minister also said the joint committee set up by the parties was only to address the grey areas in electricity tariff adjustment.
According to him, the joint committee comprising of representatives of labour, government and the National Electricity Regulatory Commission is to investigate the claim that the price increase will not affect vulnerable Nigerians.
Specifically, the committee is to ascertain and ensure that the price increase does not affect Nigerians who get less than 12 hours of electricity per day.
Mohammed said the problem in the power sector was foisted on the nation by previous administrations which privatised its generation and distribution units to incompetent investors.
To sustain investors’ confidence in the country, he said the government decided to let the privatisation process be and had spent over N1.7 trillion to support tariff.
The minister said government opted for a service-based tariff whereby consumers would pay for what they consume because it could no longer subsidise the sector
To mitigate the effects of the new electricity tariff, Mohammed said government would provide five million households with solar power in the next 12 months.
He said the solar energy programme would benefit at least 25 million people and would create about 250,000 jobs.
The minister said government was also working toward providing other palliatives to cushion the effect of tariff adjustment and fuel price deregulation
He commended labour for its understanding and patriotism by suspending the planned strike.