Electricity, fuel price hikes: Between Labour and FG

FOLLOWING the recent hike in electricity tariff and fuel price, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) is in final preparations for a strike slated for Monday, September 28. It hinged its action on the failure of the Federal Government to reverse the recent hikes which have caused its members excruciating pain. This, according to the NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, was sequel to a decision arrived at by the National Executive Council (NEC) meeting of the labour union in Abuja. Dialogue between the government and the union ended in a stalemate.

However, the Federal Government is reported to be making frantic moves to avert the strike. Also, Nigerian governors, under the aegis of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, are wading into the dispute. The government’s explanation for the hikes, especially the increment in the fuel pump price, was that they came as a result of the interplay of market forces in the deregulation policy of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry. This, it said, had to happen following the removal of fuel subsidy from the pricing regime spelt out by the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA). Government and its agents have been arguing in support of the deregulation policy, as well as the hike in electricity tariff, citing dwindling resources.

While these arguments sound inviting, the government is yet to demonstrate concern about the standard of living of Nigerians. In countries where the government cares about the welfare of the people, stopgap measures are put in place before such hikes. This is to ensure that while the people prepare for the new regime of prices, they would have some economic means that would ameliorate the effects on their lives. There is no denying the fact that the recent twin actions of the government have made life very difficult for Nigerians, including members of the labour union. Before the hikes, Nigerians were grappling with the after-effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has caused job losses and negative economic indices. The cost of living increases daily, and the situation has apparently raised the ante of criminal activities in the country. It is quite unfeeling for the government to have chosen this inclement economic climate to further tighten the noose on the people’s necks.

The prices of foodstuff are hitting the roof and imported products, many of which have scarce local substitutes, have become unreachable for the common people. This is due mostly to the exchange rate that has reached an unprecedented high in the last few months. Indeed, the prices of drugs have escalated abysmally, with deleterious effects on Nigerians who suffer one ailment or the other. It was in the throes of these woes that the government further jacked up the prices of electricity and fuel. No matter the explanation that the Federal Government is giving for unleashing these two hikes almost simultaneously on the people, the timing is patently inauspicious. This has escalated social tension in the country. Hunger is provoking the anger of the masses.

The union could not have stood by and allowed its members to wallow in misery at the hands of the government. Indeed, it is glaring, judging by the quantum of dissent against these hikes, that its dissent is representative of the angst of the people. Quite simply, the NLC is speaking on behalf of millions of Nigerians. However, we are of the opinion that this strike can still be averted. The government should listen to the NLC. It should not see its agitation as being restricted to the workforce alone. The government must be seen to be doing everything at its disposal to ensure the greatest good of the greatest number of Nigerians. The impression that people have on the streets is that it is aloof and indifferent to their plight, and does not mind if hunger kills them.

The government must show that this is not the case. It must put itself in the people’s shoes. Resentment against the recent hikes cannot be suppressed by trying to muzzle the union.

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