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07.06.2004 General News

Nigerians want Kufuor-type pledge

By Guardian
Nigerians want Kufuor-type pledge
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Labour to all Nigerians: Store up food NIGERIANS should store up enough food items to last them at least 21 days, the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Mr Adams Oshiomhole, advised yesterday. A national workers' strike is due to begin on Wednesday to protest the recent increase in fuel prices which the Federal Government has attributed to soaring international market prices. The Ghanaian government at the weekend however made a declaration that differed markedly from that of Nigeria. President John Agyekum Kufuor made a solemn pledge to his people that his administration would keep fuel prices at the current rate of 20,000 cedis, despite the international prices of the product. Although Nigeria is an oil-producing nation and Ghana is not, both countries depend on importation of the products for domestic needs. On the need to keep oil prices at their current rates in Ghana, Kufuor said: "If we abdicate this responsibility, all our gains of the last three years - a stabilised currency, reduced inflation and lowered interest rates - would be thrown into disarray and disaster will take over."

Oshiomhole, at a meeting with civil society groups yesterday in Lagos, said that the N38.00 per litre pump price is non-negotiable and that NLC is insisting on non-upward review of it in the future.

"Everybody has to stand and do justice to the society," the Labour leader said.

Oshiomhole faulted the response to Labour's letter to President Olusegun Obasanjo by the Chairman of the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi.

"We have resolved to remain and fight until the Federal Government agrees to dialogue with the people," the Labour leader said.

He said that the Labour body and the civil society groups could not solve the country's problems by merely lamenting and shouting but by rejecting bad policies.

He urged the men of the Nigeria Police to know that they are supposed to protect Nigerians and not necessarily be lackeys of any government in power, advising them not to trigger violence during the planned protests.

He particularly advised Nigerians to stock their homes with foodstuffs that can last them for at least 21 days as the strike is going to be total.

"All banks, markets, airports, petrol stations are advised to close shops in their own interests," the labour leader said.

President Kufuor on Friday pledged that Ghana would not increase fuel prices in spite of the increases in world prices of the products.

Instead, the Ghanaian government is taking measures to keep the prices within its budgeted projections of $25 and $33 per barrel.

Kufuor gave the assurance while addressing the fifth Ghana Investors Advisory Council meeting at Akosombo.

The Council, which comprises high-level local and international businessmen and women, met Kufuor to deliberate on the promotion of investment and business in Ghana.

The Ghanaian president said that the government had tasked state institutions such as the Ghana Cocoa Board, Ghana Civil Aviation Authority, Ghana Ports and Harbours and the Divestiture Implementation Committee to turn in surplus resources into a Consolidated Fund to help finance crude oil importation.

He said the government had also reached agreement with development partners and multilateral donors to keep the lid on oil prices for a reasonable while.

He said the government would not acquiesce to an increase in petroleum prices without first preparing the public for it.

"If we abdicate this responsibility, all our gains of the last three years - a stabilised currency, reduced inflation and lowered interest rates - would be thrown into disarray and disaster will take over," he stated.

The Ghanaian president said that over the past few months, the international crude oil market had rapidly degenerated into "a menace to the continued stability and growth of the economy."

But at the weekend, the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mr. Funsho Kupolokun, faulted opposition to the increases in fuel prices.

Kupolokun said that the NLC leaders are aware of the fluctuations in the international oil market and understand that it has an influence on the domestic prices of the products.

The NNPC chief said that Nigerians were in a position to determine what they wanted, noting that the downstream sector of the oil industry had been de-regulated, which therefore allowed market forces to determine pump prices at petrol stations.

He stressed that the corporation had been losing about N400 million daily from subsidising the depot prices for the marketers, who had begun not to import the products again.

Kupolokun said that the NNPC had of recent been involved in the importation of about 80 per cent of the products. He disclosed that the corporation currently has 30 days petrol stock in the Mosimi (Ogun), Maiduguri (Borno), Ibadan (Oyo) and Ejigbo (Lagos) depots.

The NNPC chief allayed fears of a shortage of petrol in any part of the country, pledging that the problem of bridging would soon end.

The Delta State Council of the NLC has also urged residents to stock their homes with food items and other necessities.

Briefing reporters after an emergency meeting of the State Executive Council (SEC), Mr. Mike Okeme said that the battle line had been drawn between the Labour and the Federal Government over the fuel price increases.

According to Okeme, the strike has become necessary because of President Obasanjo's alleged insensitivity to the plight of workers in particular and Nigerians in general.

He said that although the country is operating a democracy, the Presidency has been carrying on as if it is a dictatorial government.

He said that Nigerians are suffering from lack of basic amenities coupled with economic depression and hardship.

"No food for our people, no water, no electricity, no health facilities, no roads and now no kerosene and the government claims that it is eradicating poverty," he stated.

But the leadership of the ruling People's Democratic Party (PDP) has begun a crucial meeting with the Presidency over the fuel price impasse.

Its National Publicity Secretary, Venatius Ikem, who disclosed this yesterday at a press conference in Abuja, said that the party was not insensitive to the yearnings of Nigerians.

He, however, said that there was a contradiction in the whole affair because the nation accepted de-regulation and still insisted on a regulated price system.

"The leadership is meeting with the President, Labour and all stakeholders. The party is talking. We are concerned because any interference by way of strike means a dislocation of the successful run we have had so far."

He continued: "We want to quietly resolve this matter and we are doing a lot. If there is a strike, the production of oil will stop and we will lose so much. So, we can't keep quiet."

Ikem, who spoke on the forthcoming seminar for local government chairmen on the platform of the party, also disclosed that Labour was privy to the recent increase in the prices of petroleum products."