The House of Representatives on Monday urged the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress to suspend the union’s planned strike to protest the removal of subsidy on petrol by the Federal Government.
This was, however, after there was confusion in the House for about 20 minutes as some Peoples Democratic Party lawmakers attempted to stop the appearance of the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu.
Petrol now sells for N145 per litre, up from the N86.50k it was sold in the country before it was increased last Wednesday.
Labour is set to begin a strike by midnight of Tuesday (today).
The House, which was presided over by the Speaker, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, reached the decision at a special session it convened in Abuja to seek explanations from Kachikwu on why the government removed subsidy.
In passing the resolution, the House set up a 10-member ad hoc committee to meet with labour leaders, civil society and other stakeholders within five days to discuss the issue.
The committee, which is chaired by the Chief Whip of the House, Mr. Alhassan Ado-Dogoa, was directed to submit a report within five days.
The House noted that having heard the government’s position, as defended by Kachikwu, it was fair to also engage organised labour before taking a stance on the removal of subsidy.
However, in order to engage labour, the House urged the union to put on hold its planned strike, pending the outcome of the discussions.
Speaking on the resolution of the House, Dogara said, “We will take a position based on what we have heard; we will have to hear from labour as well.”
The House had, on Sunday, summoned Kachikwu to appear before it on Monday (yesterday) to explain why government increased the pump price of petrol.
A rowdy session on Monday, however, almost marred Kachikwu’s chance to defend the government as many lawmakers protested his invitation.
As soon as Dogara asked that the minister be ushered into the chambers, the members started protesting, chanting songs.
The PDP members started shouting “no”, “no”, “noo!!!”
They broke into a song and waved the Nigerian national flag as they chorused, “All we are saying, save Nigeria”; “PDP, power.”
They danced in the chambers, poking the flag in the faces of the All Progressives Congress lawmakers. They successfully halted proceedings from 12.25pm to 12.45pm.
In a bid to prevent the situation from degenerating, Dogara immediately called for an executive session at 12.44pm. The session lasted from 12.44pm to 2.08pm.
Investigations showed that at the closed-door session, many members spoke out their minds on the subsidy removal.
It was learnt that the PDP lawmakers were angry on the ground that when former President Goodluck Jonathan wanted to remove fuel subsidy six years ago, the move was vehemently resisted.
Findings showed that some members, however, observed that the situation was not as bad in 2010-2012 as it could become in another three months for the country, if subsidy was not removed.
A source said, “The point was made that the earnings today were not the same during Jonathan’s when oil sold for over $100 per barrel.
“Besides, the money was abused in the name of payments of subsidy. You could understand the annoyance of Nigerians then if they opposed subsidy removal.
“Many people became portfolio importers overnight to a point that government was paying subsidy claims in trillions of naira.”
Investigations indicated that the decision to invite labour to hear its own side was also taken at the executive session.
When Kachikwu was eventually ushered into the chambers after the closed-door session, he told the session that dwindling resources and the fact that subsidised petrol was regularly transported out of Nigeria to neighbouring countries made retaining subsidy a major economic setback.
Kachikwu stated that none of the three tiers of government would be able to pay salaries in another three months.
The minister added that President Muhammadu Buhari was a “solution-seeking President”, who took the decision to remove subsidy in the best interest of Nigerians.
When asked whether it was true that at a meeting he held with labour leaders before he announced the price hike, it was agreed that the price should be N120, he replied, “No, it’s not true. What we agreed on was N145.” (Punch)