By Richard Elesho/ Lokoja
Since the Federal Government announced a hike in the pump price of petrol and electricity tariff, there have been a gathering storm hovering over the nation’s firmament. Not a few persons and groups have condemned the policy and have been warming up for showdown with government over the matter.
On Wednesday, 2 September, 2020, while Nigerians were still relishing in the joy of a new month, they woke up to the news of increase of pump price of Premium Motor Spirit, PMS. The new month gift was disclosed in a terse statement by D. O Abalaka of the Petroleum and Product Marketing Company, PPMC.
According to the statement; “Please be informed that a new product price adjustment has been effected on our payment platform.
“To this end, the price of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) is now one hundred and fifty-one naira, fifty-six kobo (N151.56k) per litre. This takes effect from September 2, 2020.” The same day, the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria, IPMAN directed it’s members to sell the product at N162.00.
Some twenty four hours earlier, the burden on the people had been increased by another government policy. It became public knowledge that electricity Distribution Companies, DISCOS began the implementation of a Service Reflective Tariff, SRT plan. The plan implies more than 100 percent increase in the cost of electricity in the country.
Under the new regime, according to the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC, consumers will now pay N66 per kilowatt unit of energy consumed in an hour, kwh. Until the recent increase, consumers were paying N30.23 kwh.
The current fuel price review is the third the Buhari administration has enforced in a couple of months. In May it first experimented with a downward review from N141 to N123. People hailed the relief. Then from N123 it went to N143. From there it moved to N148 last month and stayed there briefly before its current spiral.
The new price regime in the midst of Covid-19 pandemic has been described as ‘Rehoboamic.’ In scripture, Rehoboam was a Jewish King who took counsel from his mates and added to the yoke on the people. “My father chastised you with whips but I will chastise you with scorpions.” He scornfully told his challengers in Shechem.
As news about the increases broke, many Nigerians began to condemn it as an unsavoury development, while President Muhammodu Buhari’s supporters hailed it as good economic wizardry. Both groups have been firing all salvos on the matter.
Human Rights lawyer, Femi Falana SAN, Second Republic Lawmaker Junaid Muhammed, among others condemned it as insensitive. The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and Coalition of Northern Groups, CNG, including others have also raised their respective voices against the policy calling for its reversal.
Some of the aggrieved parties are preparing for a mass protest over the matter. An umbrella body, the Alliance on Surviving Covid-19 and Beyond, ASCAB with more than 50 affiliate groups is said to be driving the protests. Although the actual date has not been fixed, an informed source told PM NEWS it will commence this week and “continue until the policy is reversed.”
Among those warming up for the mass action are the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Trade Unions Congress, TUC, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights CDHR, Centre for Free Speech CFS, Civil Liberties Organization, CLO, United Action for Democracy, Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre, Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, PENGASSAN, Journalists for Democratic Rights JDR, CNG, Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, Amalgamated Union of Public Corporation, Civil Services Technical and Recreational Services Employees.
Both NLC and TUC accused the FG of being insensitive to to the plight of Nigerians. Ayuba Wabba, President of ANLC noted that government is taking Nigerians for granted. “Clearly, the action of the Federal Government is most insensitive and an affront to the Nigerian people who are bearing heavy burden of the COVID-19 pandemic. Everywhere in the world, governments are granting various types of palliative but ours is interested in piling more miseries on its citizens. We will resist this latest move to impoverish the mass of the working people.”
The TUC President, Quadri Olaleye, in a statement, stated that increasing petroleum prices and electricity bills at a time people were losing jobs, when businesses were adversely affected by COVID-19, was a wicked step.
“They have developed a thick skin that our pleas and cries no longer mean anything to them. No government has raped this country like the present one; ironically it has enjoyed our understanding the most. They beat us and when we cry, they send security operatives after us or force us to pay a fine of N5m for ‘’hate speech’’. Our patience has run out,” he said.
Mass protests over increase in the cost of social services are not unusual in Nigeria. In 2012 it was deployed against Buhari’s predecessor, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. Early that year, the administration had approved an increase of fuel price from N65.00 to N120.00. The Save Nigeria Group carried out mass actions that lasted many days across the country. At the end, the price crashed to N97.00. It crashed further to N87.00 in February 2015 where Buhari eventually met it.