The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, made the appeal at an interactive session with journalists in Abuja on Monday.
Mohammed said the new price was introduced for the country to survive as government could no longer afford the foreign exchange spent by the NNPC to import petrol.
According to him, the nation’s earnings had dropped to about $550 million because of the fall in the price of crude oil, and government needed about that amount to import fuel.
“If we continue along this line, we will get to a point where the country will be completely broke. That is why this policy has become absolutely necessary and we have no option. We are therefore seeking the understanding of all Nigerians and appealing to the organised labour to sheathe their sword. This is not the time for any action that will further worsen the economy. The situation is dire, not just in Nigeria but elsewhere around the world,” he said.
Mohammed gave the instance of United Arab Emirates, which had announced that fuel prices would be deregulated with effect from August 1st 2016.
He added that in response to fiscal pressure caused by the fall in crude oil prices, Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC’s top oil producer – Saudi Arabia – had announced a plan to raise fuel prices.
The minister assured that the suffering brought about by the new price regime would be for a very short time.
“It is only going to be a temporary hardship because with the discipline of this government and political will, things will be put in shape. The moment we liberalise and open the market up, there will be competition and the price will come down and there will be petrol glot,” he said.
The minister noted that government was working hard to ensure that the refineries which are already working, worked to optimum capacity.
In addition, he said government had opened bids inviting people to invest in modular refineries to be located close to existing major ones for access to crude.
He said the modular refineries were expected to refine 650,000 barrels of crude a day while the refinery under construction by the business mogul, Aliko Dangote, would also refine 750,000 barrels of crude daily.
Mohammed said that with all these in place, Nigeria would become a net exporter of fuel and other petroleum products by 2019.
He said in order to cushion the immediate effects of the new price regime, government had put in place a number of palliatives which were captured in the 2016 budget.
“The entire 2016 Budget is packed with palliatives. Some N500 billion has been set aside for social intervention that will touch the lives of millions of Nigerians and lift millions more out of poverty.
“500,000 graduates are to be employed and trained as teachers and 370,000 non-graduates (artisans, technicians) will be trained and employed. Also, 1.6 million people (farmers, market women, etc) to be granted loans to set up small businesses and Conditional Cash Transfer will be made to the most vulnerable people. There is also school feeding targeting 5.5 million school children as well as Bursaries/Scholarships for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) students,” he said.
The minister said government carried along critical stakeholders before announcing the new price regime.
He said the issue was discussed at a meeting a week ago and was attended by representatives of the Nigerian Labour Congress, Trade Union Congress, PENGASSAN, and NUPENG.
Mohammed said the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, Deputy President of Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, Governors and Ministers were also present at the meeting.