Amajor step towards averting an industrial action over petrol subsidy removal was taken last night.
The Federal Government said it would consider a list of demands by the Trade Union Congress (TUC), including a minimum wage increase and tax holiday.
Yesterday’s meeting was a follow-up to Wednesday’s parley between the government and Labour over President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s pronouncement during his inauguration statement that ‘fuel subsidy is gone’.
Following the speech, marketers raised the price of petrol and Labour announced a nationwide strike to begin on Wednesday.
Negotiations would continue tomorrow on the demands, the spokesman of the government team, Mr. Dele Alake, announced after the meeting.
He said Labour’s demands are “not impracticable”.
TUC President Festus Osifo confirmed tomorrow’s meeting.
Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) leadership, which attended Wednesday’s meeting, failed to show up yesterday.
It declared its intention to go ahead with strike on Wednesday.
According to its president Joe Ajaero, the government must reversed the ‘unilateral’ increase of petrol prices before any negotiation.
Former Edo State governor Adams Oshiomhole faulted the NLC for shunning the resumed negotiation between the Federal Government and the organised Labour.
He expressed the hope that the Joe Ajaero-led union will return to the tomorrow when the government team and Labour officials resume talks.
But the government said it would continue to reach out to the NLC leadership.
There were calls on the NLC to shelve the planned action.
The government got more support for the subsidy removal from manufacturers, investors and business concerns, and was urged to introduce palliatives.
The government team at yesterday’s meeting was led by Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) Senator George Akume.
Alake said: “We are very happy to announce that this engagement has been very productive.
“The TUC presented a list of demands, which will be presented to Mr President for consideration.
“A lot of the items on the list are not impracticable. What we need to do is to study the numbers very well.
“We have asked the TUC to also give us a leeway to consult very exhaustively and reconvene on Tuesday (tomorrow) to look at the numbers’ viability and practicability of all the items.
“The most important is the issue of the minimum wage, which the Labour movement has demanded given the consequential impact of this removal of subsidy.
“The government will look at that and Mr President is most likely going to constitute a tripartite committee of Federal Government, states and the organised Labour as well as the private sector.
“The committee will study all the dynamics of a wage increase in percentages, the numbers and the categories that will be affected.
“So, by Tuesday, when we reconvene to meet with the TUC again, we should have very concrete items to present to the world.
“But, the most important thing for today is that we are making appreciable progress with the Labour.”
Alake admitted that the cost of living will rise with subsidy removal.
“Labour argues that there is an immediate impact on the workers, on the purchasing power, because the price of fuel has gone up.
“That will necessarily reduce the purchasing power of the average worker. So, the next thing of immediate consequence is to increase the purchasing power of the worker.
“That to me and all of us on this side is the topmost priority on the list.
“There are other things like the tax holidays in which some categories of workers will be beneficiaries. But the most important is the minimum wage,” Alake said.
On the NLC, he said: “We all agreed that we are going to meet here, but again, in this game there are dynamics.
“Sometimes, they could be meeting with their executives and not able to meet with us, or they could want to postpone or they have not articulated their list of demands as the TUC.
“But we cannot second-guess why they are not here. But efforts are being made to reach them; we are not isolating them at all.”
Osifo said his team attended the meeting as directed by the union’s National Executive Council (NEC).
He said: “Yes, we have presented the list of our demands and they received it in good faith. They will go back to their principal and come back to us on Tuesday.
“So we’re hopeful that the demands that we have presented will be reviewed in the best interest of Nigerian workers and the entire Nigerian masses.”
He confirmed that part of the demands is the review of minimum wage, which he said has been eroded by the subsidy removal.
“Because they are going back to Mr President, we also think that we should also give them that benefit of the doubt,” he said.
Others members of the Federal Government team are Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor Godwin Emefie; Senator-elect Adams Oshiomhole; and Group Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL), Mele Kyari.
Also at the meeting were the Executive Secretary of the National Sugar Development Council (NSDC), Zacch Adedeji; Executive Vice President, Downstream, of the NNPCL, Yemi Adetunji; House of Representatives member James Faleke, among others.
NLC: strike to go on
The NLC yesterday debunked claims that its ranks were divided, saying it was going ahead with its planned industrial action.
The Congress said all the affiliate unions of the NLC stand together.
Head of Information and Public Affairs, Benson Upah, said: “Whereas primordial sentiments such as religion, region or ethnicity may be a refuge for some, at the NLC, they have no place.
“What counts for us are issues such as the mindless and criminal increase in the pump price of PMS whose burden will be borne by the already impoverished communities of the poor across Nigeria.
“The burden of this malevolent policy will not be borne by other segments of the country to the exclusion of the North or Southwest. Thus, there is no reason for these regions to back out of the strike.”
More unions are mobilising for the industrial action.
The National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) directed its members to withdraw their services nationwide on Wednesday.
The NUEE, in a notice signed by its acting general secretary, Dominic Igwebike, urged its members to comply with the directive and stop work from the early hours of Wednesday.
“All national, state and chapter executives are requested to start the mobilisation of our members in total compliance with this directive,” the statement stated.
The Nasarawa chapter of the NLC is also mobilising its members.
Its chairman, Ayuba Oko, after an emergency meeting of the State Executive Council (SEC), said there was no going back unless the subsidy removal is reversed.
Sanwo-Olu, Ndume, urge Labour to shelve plan
But, Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, urged the NLC to shelve the action.
Speaking after a post-inauguration thanksgiving service at the Cathedral Church of Christ, he said: “This is not the time to go on strike. Recall that all presidential candidates said the first thing they will do is remove fuel subsidy. So what has changed?
“What has President Tinubu said or done that is different from what others would have done? The president has not even spent one week in office.
“We need to be very patient and reason together. Let us not make the issue about politics, but let’s support this man. We should allow him to go and reflect.
“Strike will not resolve anything; it won’t address the issue. The point should be how to ensure a sustained turnaround in our economy…
“So, I plead with the NLC to not turn the subsidy issue into a political one. The leadership should know they are leading people and so there is a need to restrain themselves. Let us be patient and work with the president.”
Former Senate Leader, Mohammed Ali Ndume, also urged the NLC to call off the planned strike.
He said: “This fuel subsidy removal is something we must do now or never. We need to open the wounds now and begin to heal them.
“The NLC needs to work with the government and see how the effects can be minimised. If we don’t remove the subsidy now, some people will continue to milk this country.
“NLC should go to the negotiation table with the Federal Government.”
But, Kano State Governor, Abba Kabir Yusuf, asked petroleum marketers to revert to the old price.
In a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Sanusi Bature Dawakin Tofa, the governor said the marketers still had old stock that was supposed to be sold at the previous rate.
“I am disheartened to see our dear people of Kano suffering as a result of an unjustified fuel hike, and the situation must be stopped right away,” Yusuf said.
IPMAN predicts price crash
The Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) believes petrol prices will drop when more companies are licensed to import the product.
Its Chairman Enugu Depot (comprising Anambra, Ebonyi and Enugu), Chinedu Anyaso, said: “The competition that will begin in the coming days will surely ease the pain of high prices of products.”
Director General, Michael Imoudu National Institute for Labour Studies (MINILS), Comrade Isa Aremu, called for continuous dialogue.
He said: “What makes the current reform different is that there is a national consensus among all stakeholders that prohibitive costs of subsidising a single product (PMS) in the wake of declining public revenue and other national needs are unsustainable.”
He added: “Neither policy reversal nor mass protest is an option. Genuine negotiation and social dialogue would make the deregulation policy a reality without compromising the welfare of the citizens concerning welfare and secured jobs.”
National Chairman of Tinubu Support Network and Director-General of Amalgamated All Progressives Congress (APC) Support Groups, Kailani Muhammad, applauded President Tinubu for the prompt announcement of subsidy removal.
Kailani, a former staff of the defunct Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), argued that if Tinubu had not announced the removal of the subsidy at the time he did, the oil cabals would have frustrated the effort as they did past administrations.
At a briefing in Kaduna, he said: “This is the right decision because the immediate past administration shifted it. We have been postponing the evil day. A time has come for this country to measure up with the comity of nations.
“Nigeria as a member of OPEC should enjoy gains that accrue from sales of oil to develop infrastructure, health, education, agriculture, etc.
“I think we are good to go. Subsidy removal will increase competitiveness and prices will fall back. I believed he did it in a good fate.”
Also, Chairman APC USA, Prof. Tai Balofin, urged Nigerians to trust President Tinubu to work out palliatives to cushion the effect of fuel subsidy removal.
“I trust that the president will put some measures in place to cushion the effect of the subsidy removal so it does not go overboard,” he said.
A chieftain of APC U.S.A, Mr Tunde Doherty, said the United Kingdom does not pay subsidies on its petroleum products.
“In the UK today, we have Costco Oil selling for £1.3 and we have Sabre (Oil and Gas) selling for £1.7. So it is a liberalised economy with petrol.
“There is no subsidy in the Diaspora and we enjoy fuel. We have never experienced fuel scarcity. The time for us to enjoy that Renewed Hope is here,” Doherty stressed.
A former Minority Leader, Senator Biodun Olujimi, urged President Tinubu to roll out palliative measures to cushion the effects of subsidy removal on Nigerians.
“Even though we want the subsidy to go, it should have been done in such a way that it won’t cause people unnecessary pain,” he said.
A group, the Community of Advocacy for Positive Behavioural Patterns Initiative (AFPBPI), also called for palliative measures to ameliorate the effects on the masses while welcoming the policy.
Its spokesman, Bamidele Mann, said in a statement: “We want you (President Tinubu) to protect and cushion the effect of the removal especially on the low incomes and youths to enable us to secure the right to an adequate standard of living and to avoid further hardship.”