Barely three months after the Federal Government turned down the recommendation by the Nigeria Governors’ Forum for an increase in the price of Premium Motor Spirit, popularly called petrol, the Federal Government again on Friday reiterated its stance, insisting that no decision on the adjustment of petrol price would be reached until the ongoing negotiations with the organised labour were concluded.
The Federal Government had first, on May 21, rejected the governors’ recommendation of shooting petrol price up to between N380 and N408.5 per litre and removing fuel subsidy.
The governors’ advice was based on the report of its committee chaired by the Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, seeking the full deregulation of the oil sector.
El-Rufai, while presenting the report of his committee to the NGF, explained that the current subsidy regime was unsustainable because smugglers and illegal markets in neighbouring African countries were the beneficiaries.
But the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva, in a statement, said the current petrol price of between N162 and N165 per litre would stay.
Sylva said the current price would be retained until the ongoing negotiations with the organised labour were concluded.
He said, “Once again, it has become necessary to assure Nigerians that despite the huge burden of under-recovery, the Federal Government is not in a hurry to increase the price of Premium Motor Spirit (petrol) to reflect current market realities.
“The current price of petrol will be retained in the month of June until the ongoing engagement with organised labour is concluded.
“This clarification becomes necessary in the light of recent reports regarding the resolution of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum to increase the pump price of petrol.”
Sylva also asked oil marketers not to engage in any activity that could jeopardise the “seamless” supply and distribution system of the commodity.
Despite the Federal Government’s initial stance, oil marketers under the aegis of Petroleum Products Retail Outlets Owners Association of Nigeria, on Friday, demanded an immediate end to fuel subsidy in line with the state governors’ recommendation of May.
The President of PETROAN, Dr Billy Gillis-Harry, insisted that oil marketers’ position that fuel subsidy should be stopped remained.
“When it (fuel subsidy) is stopped, the prices of petroleum products will be determined by market forces and this will create competition and lead to an increase in product availability,” he argued.
Gillis-Harry asked the Federal Government to listen to the governors’ call, especially now that the country was grappling with funding challenges.
However, the Federal Government reiterated its stance of May, stating that no decision on the adjustment of petrol price would be reached until the ongoing negotiations with the organised labour were concluded.
The Special Assistant on Media to the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Garba-Deen Muhammad, stated that he would re-echo the position of his boss, Sylva, who had earlier stated the position of the Federal Government on the matter.
Muhammad said people were free to make analyses and recommendations but stressed that the government’s position on petrol price had not changed.
He said, “The truth is that the key component for us to make the decision is basically for us to have a consensus with labour. So regardless of what the governors or anybody else is saying, labour is the key partner in this project.
“The negotiations with labour officials are ongoing. A decision will not be reached until the negotiations are over. So anybody can say what they want.”
He added, “The fact is that the labour represents the Nigerian people and the government is working with the Nigerian people. So it is a cardinal objective that the labour is carried along.”
Asked when the negotiations would possibly be concluded, Muhammad stated that the deadline was not completely dependent on the Federal Government.
“People can make their analyses and arrive at whatever proposals, but at the end of the day, a consensus has to be reached and in that consensus, the labour is a major voice and key partner,” he said.
Sylva had also during a recent briefing stated that the government would not discontinue petrol subsidy until its negotiations with the labour were over.
Although Sylva admitted that the burden of petrol subsidy was humongous, he insisted that negotiations with labour were a cardinal factor, stressing that the parties in the talks would soon resolve the concerns.
He said, “Of course, everybody would have their perspective, but from where I sit, I believe that subsidy removal is the best thing for Nigeria, not just for the industry. Discussions with the stakeholders are still ongoing.
“I’ll also bring to your attention that when the President assents to the Petroleum Industry Bill, subsidy issues will become a matter of law because it is already in the PIB that petroleum products will be sold at market-determined prices.”
The Petroleum Industry Bill was passed by the 9th National Assembly on July 1 after over a decade of legislative rigmarole.
The PIB contains five chapters, including governance and institutions, administration, host communities development, petroleum industry fiscal framework and miscellaneous provisions in 319 clauses and 8 schedules.
The National Assembly had in 2018 passed a harmonised version of the bill, but the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), refused assent to it due to “legal and constitutional reasons.”
As of March 2021, fuel subsidy was costing the government up to N120bn per month based on the average daily consumption of around 60 million litres of petrol, according to the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Mele Kyari.
Also, according to an analysis by Reuters in April, subsidy cost around N10tn between 2006-2018 – more than the budget of any of the health, education or defence sector.
When contacted on Friday, the Spokesperson for the NGF, Abdulrazaque Bello-Barkindo, said, “I cannot comment on any issue that has not been collectively discussed and agreed upon by governors.”