Across the country, transport fares have gone up by over 100 per cent with the attendant multi-plier effects on cost of goods and services as fuel sell for between N138 to N250 per litre.
The imminent war can be averted by any of these two improbable moves: the Federal Government reverts to the Pre-January 1 fuel price of N65 per litre or Labour, on its own, shelves the strike and continues negotiations with the authorities as requested by the government.
Since none of these options is likely, as of now, the question is: who blinks first in the show of strength between Government and Organised Labour in the next 48 hours?
Currently, both sides have refused to shift ground. Government is insisting that retention of subsidy is tantamount to digging the country's economic grave while Labour counters that removing subsidy now without fixing the nation's refineries and building new ones among other conditions is equivalent to burying the citizenry, 70 per cent of whom live below the poverty line, alive.
Interestingly, ahead of the showdown, horse-trading, intrigues, claims and counter-claims are in the upswing between both camps, who ironically are claiming to be fighting for the Nigerian people. The government said subsidy removal would save N1.13 trillion that would be invested in critical areas of need such as healthcare, education, transportation, infrastructure, etc, which will within six months begin to impact positively on the lives of the citizenry, who would endure 'short-term' pains.
It has raised a committee to be headed by Boardroom guru, Dr Christopher Kolade to manage the fuel subsidy savings. Government also contended that the policy would stop fat cats or a cabal that had been reaping bountifully from the subsidy from feeding fat on the nation's patrimony.
However, Labour countered that such a policy could not be in the interest of the downtrodden, who it said could not afford the over 120 per cent hike in fuel prices or more amid poor infrastructure, epileptic power supply necessitating continuous use of fuel to power generators.
Besides, Labour wondered why the government did not want to go after the oil cabal said to form the bulk of financiers of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or cut the rising cost of governance at a time the Presidency was budgeting about one billion Naira for feeding in 2012 budget and lawmakers are still primed to get jumbo allowances.
While the tirades last, the government has added a twist to the issue. Security agents were reported to have moved against six oil marketers accused of working in concert with some trade union leaders to make the country ungovernable and funding the fuel subsidy protests to the tune of one billion Naira.
Labour leaders have dismissed allegations of funding from any oil marketer recalling that they had always embarked on industrial actions against recurring fuel price hikes in the last 30 years.
This is coming amid reports that President Goodluck Jonathan' s cabinet had been divided over the issue. Some ministers were said to have blamed te Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo_Iweala and Petroleum Minister, Deziani Allison_Madueke, for the wrong timing of the move as government had earlier said that the policy would not begin in January but in April because it was still consulting with stakeholders.
Some cabinet members were said to be unhappy that the consultations were lean and that the unilateral action of the PPPRA violated Section 7 of the agency's Act, which required the agency to consult with NUPENG, NLC, and the Media, etc before reaching a decision..
Although, sporadic protests have been on since Tuesday across the country, Labour said there would be a mother of all strikes on Monday unless the government reverted fuel price to N65 per litre. So far, there have been protests in over 15 cities including Lagos, Ibadan, Kano, Kaduna, Ilorin, Abuja, and Benin.
Rising from a joint National Executive Council (NEC) meeting in Abuja, on Wednesday, leaders of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC), said the strikes and mass protests would be total.
In a joint statement by Comrades Abdulwaheed Omar (NLC president) and Peter Esele (TUC president-general), entitled: "In Defence of the Nigerian People on Fuel Price Increases," Organised Labour said by removing subsidy without fixing the refineries among other things, the government breached a 2009 agreement.
'There is a subsisting understanding between Congress and the Federal Government in 2009 that removal of subsidy will not commence until certain conditions have been met. These include the fixing of all the refineries and building new ones, regular power supply, and provision of other social infrastructure such as railways and repair of roads as well as eliminating the corruption associated with supply and distribution of petroleum products in the downstream sector of the oil industry.
"After exhaustive deliberations and consultations with all sections of the populace, the NLC, TUC and their pro-people allies demand that the Presidency immediately reverses fuel prices to N65. If the Government fails to do so, they direct that indefinite general strikes, mass rallies and street protests be held across the country with effect from Monday, January 9, 2012. From that Monday, January 9, 2012, all offices, oil production centres, air and sea ports, fuel stations, markets, banks, amongst others will be shut down," they said
Urging the citizenry to stockpile food and water because the protests might be protracted, Comrade Esele said the strike would be total because all sectors of the economy such as Power, Aviation, Petroleum, Banking and Maritime would be shut down throughout the duration of the strike.
If government failed to revert to old price before Monday, Esele said that labour would not discuss with government or its committee before the strike. "There will be no negotiation. We have to fight first before any discussion because the government removed the subsidy before talking about negotiation and setting up of committee."
Commenting on the crisis, Chief Cliff Mbagwu, a chieftain of the PDP, management consultant and chairman of Simeon and Rose Associates, said the government was right on the removal of fuel subsidy but faulted the current price. According to him, the right price minus subsidy would be in the region of N100 per litre, adding that anything above that would be traced to inefficiency and corruption.
He urged the citizenry to buy into the subsidy removal policy in the long-term interest of the country. He also advised the government to prune down the rising cost of governance by reducing the number of ministers, aides as well as jumbo allowances.
As of now, none of these has been done and the nation seems certainly headed for the road to economic shut down with dire consequences for all concerned. It is to be seen if Labour succeed in getting the government to eat the humble pie or whether a compromise would be reached as observed in similar protests in the past.
History of fuel price increases in Nigeria
October: 1, 1978: 8.45k to 15.3k per litre
April 20 1982: 15.3k to 20k
March 31 1986: 20k to 39.5k
April 10 1988: 39.5k to 42k
January 1, 1989: 42k to 42k commercial vehicles,60k private.
December 19, 1989: moved to uniform price of 60k
March 6, 1991: 60k to 70k
November 8, 1993: 70k to N5
November 22,1993: petrol price drops from N5 to N3.25k
October 2,1994: N3.25k to N15
October 4,1994: price drops from N15 to N11
January 6,1999: N25 to N20
June1, 2000: N20 to N30
June 8, 2000: Petrol price reduced to N25
June13, 2000: N25 to N22
January 1, 2002: N22 to N26
June to October, 2003: N26 to N42
May 29, 2004: N50
August 25, 2004: N65
May 27, 2007: N75
June 2007: N65
January 1, 2012: between N138 to N250