The Federal Government on Saturday appealed to organised Labour to shelve its planned strike, saying it will only bring more hardship to ordinary Nigerians.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, made the appeal in Lagos at a meeting with the Online Publishers Association of Nigeria
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN reports that the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC), and its affiliate unions had called on workers to embark on an indefinite industrial action on Monday over the price of petrol and electricity tariff.
Mohammed, however, said the two necessary price adjustments in the petroleum and power sectors were inevitable because of dwindling resources as the country had lost 60 per cent of its revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He disclosed that the Federal Government spent N10.4 trillion on fuel subsidy from 2006 to 2009 and N1.7 trillion to supplement electricity tariff in less than five years
The minister reiterated that the government can no longer afford the cost of the subsidies, especially under the prevailing economic conditions.
“Revenues and foreign exchange earnings by the government have fallen by almost 60 percent due to the downturn in the fortunes of the oil sector.
“There is no provision for subsidy in the revised 2020 budget. So where will the subsidy money come from?
“Remember that despite the massive fall in revenues, the government still has to sustain expenditures, especially on salaries and capital projects,” he said.
According to the minister, citizens are not the beneficiaries of the subsidy on petroleum products that have lasted for years.
“Between 2006 and 2019, a total of 10.4 trillion naira was spent on fuel subsidy, most of which went to fat cats who either collected subsidy for products they didn’t import or diverted the products to neighbouring countries where prices are much higher.
“Instead of subsidy, ordinary Nigerians were subjected to the scarcity of petroleum products.
“They endured incessant long queues and paid higher to get the products, thus making the subsidy ineffectual,” he said.
The minister added that due to the problems with the largely-privatised electricity industry, the government had been supporting the industry.
“To keep the industry going, the government has so far spent almost N1.7 trillion especially by way of supplementing tariff shortfalls.
“The government does not have the resources to continue along this path.
“To borrow just to subsidise generation and distribution, which are both privatised, will be grossly irresponsible,” he said.
Mohammed added that in order to protect the large majority of Nigerians who cannot afford to pay cost-reflective tariffs from increases, only customers with a guaranteed minimum of 12 hours of electricity would have their tariffs adjusted.
He said the industry regulator, Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), would ensure that those who get less than 12 hours supply experience no increase.
In addressing the complaints about arbitrary estimated billing, the minister said that a mass metering programme is being undertaken to provide meters for no fewer than five million Nigerians.
According to him, the government is also taking steps to connect those Nigerians who are not connected to electricity at all.
“As you are aware, under its Economic Sustainability Plan, the government is providing solar power to five million Nigerian households in the next 12 months.
“This alone will produce 250,000 jobs and impact up to 25 million beneficiaries through the installation, thus ensuring that more Nigerians will have access to electricity via a reliable and sustainable solar system,” he said.
Reacting to the complaints on the timing of the two adjustments, Mohammed said the government is not insensitive to the plight of the citizens.
He explained that the adjustments were just a mere coincidence.
“ First, the deregulation of PMS prices was announced on March 18, 2020, and the price modulation that took place at the beginning of this month was just part of the on-going monthly adjustments to global crude oil prices.
“Also, the review of service-based electricity tariffs was scheduled to start at the beginning of July 2020 but was put on hold so that further studies and proper arrangements can be made.
“Like Mr President said at the opening of the last ministerial retreat, this government is not insensitive to the current economic difficulties our people are going through and the very tough economic situation we face as a nation.
“We certainly will not inflict hardship on our people. But we are convinced that if we stay focused on our plans, brighter and more prosperous days will come soon,” he said
He said the deregulation of the petroleum sector would save the country trillions of Naira which could be used to provide modern infrastructure for the benefit of the people.
Mohammed added that the deregulation would spur investments in the petroleum industry, especially in the building of local refineries which would result in lower fuel prices.
He also noted that the service-based electricity tariff adjustment and the ongoing work by a German company, Siemens, to boost power supply in Nigeria would help end the perennial power problem in the country.
The minister thanked Nigerians for their understanding and appealed to them to bear with the government.