Planned strike can only bring more hardship for ordinary Nigerians, Minister Lai tells Labour
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed has appealed to organised labour to shelve its planned strike, because it would bring more hardship to ordinary Nigerians.
The minister stated this during a press briefing in Lagos on Saturday, adding that the hike in petrol price, electricity tariff would benefit Nigerians In the long run.
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) have since fixed Monday, September 28, to begin the strike meant to force the government to reverse the hikes.
But Mohammed explained that the government was not insensitive to the plight of Nigerians.
“As a matter of fact, the full deregulation of the petroleum sector and the service-based electricity tariff adjustment will in the long run benefit the ordinary people
“Let’s start with deregulation. Ordinary citizens are not the beneficiaries of the subsidy on petroleum products that has lasted for years. Between 2006 and 2019, a total of N10.4 trillion 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 scarcity of petroleum products. They endured incessant long queues and paid higher to get the products, thus making the subsidy ineffectual.
“Apart from that, the truth is that the government can no longer afford the cost of subsidy, especially under the prevailing economic conditions.
Revenues and foreign exchange earnings by the government have fallen by almost 60%, due to the downturn in the fortunes of the oil sector. And 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.”
On hike in electricity tariff the minister said, “The truth of the matter is that due to the problems with the largely-privatized electricity industry, the government has 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 subsidize generation and distribution, which are both privatized, will be grossly irresponsible.
“But in order to protect the large majority of Nigerians who cannot afford to pay cost-reflective tariffs from increases, the industry regulator, Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), has approved that tariff adjustments had to be made but only on the basis of guaranteed improvement in service.
Under this new arrangement, only customers with guaranteed minimum of 12 hours of electricity can have their tariffs adjusted. Those who get less than 12 hours supply will experience no increase. This is the largest group of customers.
“Government has also noted the complaints about arbitrary estimated billing. Accordingly, a mass metering programme is being undertaken to provide meters for over 5 million Nigerians, largely driven by preferred procurement from local manufacturers, and creating thousands of jobs in the process.
NERC will also strictly enforce the capping regulation to ensure that unmetered customers are not charged beyond the metered customers in their neighbourhood. In other words, there will be no more estimated billings.
“The government is also taking steps to connect those Nigerians who are not even connected to electricity at all. As you are aware, under its Economic Sustainability Plan, the government is providing solar power to 5 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…
“Finally, we wish to appeal to organized labour to shelve its planned strike, which can only bring more hardship to ordinary Nigerians.”