The organised labour has insisted on going ahead with its planned protests over the removal of petroleum subsidy from tomorrow, August 2, 2023.
Rising from another round of meeting of the Presidential Steering Committee on palliatives at the State House, Abuja, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) also expressed reservations about President Bola Tinubu’s ability to control inflation and gasoline prices due to the unification of the exchange rate.
Addressing newsmen after the committee’s meeting yesterday, NLC President, Joe Ajaero, said the plan for workers to proceed on a peaceful protest from tomorrow, has not changed.
He dismissed fears that the peaceful protest could be hijacked by hoodlums, saying such had never happened in the history of workers’ protest.
He said it was the responsibility of security agencies to provide security for the protest to protect the workers.
According to him, the meeting of the Steering Committee adjourned till 12pm today, to enable the labour leaders to listen to the president’s national broadcast on Monday evening.
His words: “We just adjourned to listen to Mr. President speech and to continue with our conversation tomorrow.
“Our peaceful rally will go on as scheduled. Even if we didn’t have this problem and decide to hold the rally, we still go on, so this rally has been fixed.”
Reacting to Tinubu’s plan to intervene in the foreign exchange market over inflation and high cost of gasoline prices, Ajaero said: “By the time you have a single market and you are not having anything that has a comparative advantage, your energy is import-driven, then how are you going to control it?
“How are you going to control somebody that exchanged dollar at about N900? Are you going to tell him to sell below the price?
“How are you going to tell even the Discos today, with the cost of production not to increase tariff? Even bag of corn in the villages that was sold at N18,000 by February, now it’s about N56,000. How are you going to control it?”
Also speaking, Chief of Staff to the President, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila said issues were discussed at the closed door meeting and that they adjourned to listen to the president’s broadcast.
According to him, the government was dealing with the oil cabals that had brought the economy to its knees.
His words: “We have been locked behind closed doors for a couple of hours, we had a good meeting, issues were thrashed out on the situation in Nigeria today in terms of issues centred around government intervention on the situation in the country.
“We agreed to adjourn till tomorrow (today), as you know Mr. President is making a national broadcast today. Based on what we anticipate that Mr. President will be telling Nigerians we decided to adjourn meeting till 12pm tomorrow before labour can decide whether or not they want to continue with the protest on Wednesday.
“But we believe that after tonight broadcast, President will speak to all the issues, he will roll out his interventions and needless to say we believe any reasonable person will tell you that at that point there will be no need for any protest.”
Commenting on why government did not roll out palliatives before announcing the stoppage of petrol subsidy, he said the previous government did not budget for subsidy, adding that Tinubu would roll out palliatives to cushion its effect on the people.
Asked whether the oil cabals were more powerful than the security agencies and government, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives said, “Yes, they are and that’s what government is dealing with. The first step is to remove the subsidy, which we have done.”
On his part, the National Security Adviser, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, pleaded with the organised Labour to give the administration little more time to fix the battered economy.
He said Tinubu inherited a bad economy and was working hard to fix.
“The meeting was an opportunity for us to appeal to the Labour leaders by extension Nigerians that we are facing difficulties and challenges that are not our making.
“We inherited a very bad situation. Most of the problems people are talking about are not a creation of this government.
“This government is barely two months old and since we have been facing these difficulties and challenges, we have a listening and engaging President, a president who will want to have a conversation and react.
“He is truly, genuinely, honestly doing it. Our appeal is please Nigerians give us the support that is needed and required, we are working, we are trying to change things. We inherited a very bad situation, we are trying to stop all those things we witnessed in the past, we are trying to stop the killings, stop the attacks on trains, stop attacks on prisons, stop what IPOB are doing, stop bandits, stop Boko Haran,” he said.
The organised Labour had last Friday stormed out of the meeting, claiming that there was no top government officials to negotiate with them.
Present at yesterday’s meeting were Ajaero, his counterpart from TUC, Festus Osifo; the General Secretary of NLC, Emma Ugbaja; the TUC Secretary, Nuhu Toro and other members of the organised Labour delegation, including Prof. Sam Amadi.
On the side of government were the Gbajabiamila; Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Labour and Employment, Kachollom Daju; the Group Chief Executive Officer of Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL), Mele Kyari and the Special Adviser to the President on Energy, Olu Verheijen, among others.
Earlier yesterday, the NLC had accused the federal government of not showing enough commitment to address issues captured in its seven-point Memorandum of Understanding it’s entered into with organised Labour.
On the fuel subsidy talks, the congress said it was becoming apparent that the federal government was adopting time wasting strategy rather than addressing the sufferings of the masses.
Head of Information and Publicity at the NLC, Comrade Benson Upah, who spoke in an interview with THISDAY, said as at last Friday, when the representatives of the organised Labour turned up for the scheduled meeting with the government team, nothing was achieved due to the absence of the government team.
He spoke of the treatment meted out to the Labour team by security men at the Presidential Villa gate.
“Our representatives were kept waiting for two hours to be cleared by the security men before entering the Presidential Villa and when they got in, there was nobody to attend to us,” Upah said.
“For a matter as serious as this, that affects the well-being of the generality of Nigerians, we had expected a more robust initiative and response from the federal government but that has not been forthcoming.
“Our honest conclusion is that government was playing with time,” he added.
The NLC scribe said the federal government clearly did not carry out any consultation with stakeholders before announcing removal of fuel subsidy.
“They appear not to have any intent at doing something to cushion the effects of the fuel price hike, that is why two months after removing the subsidy, there has been no intervention,” he added.
On the contrary, Upah said the government found it necessary to quickly intervene on behalf of those who were already over-subsidized by approving N70 billion for the members of National Assembly who were already over pampered by the state.
Meanwhile, the United Action Front of Civil Society has declared total support for the call for nationwide protest by the organised Labour.
In a statement by Olawale Okunniyi, the Head, National Coordinating Centre, United Action Front of Civil Society, said the decision of the NLC which was conveyed in a communique at the end of its Central Working Committee (CWC) meeting subsequently reinforced by its National Executive Council, (NEC) was indeed a clarion call to salvage the country from the consuming miseries unleashed by the new regime in Nigeria and possibly to prevent military intervention in Nigeria as currently being witnessed in other West African Countries
According to the statement, “The United Action Front of Civil Society therefore unreservedly endorses and aligns itself with the nationwide protests scheduled to commence from Wednesday, August 2, 2023, as the federal government continues to watch Nigerians go through needless anguish as a result of unabated corruption and reckless impunity of the political elite and their cronies.”
The leadership of United Action Front of Civil Society therefore urged all Nigerians to urgently rally support for the Labour Movement and the broad coalition of the organised Civil Society under the United Action Front of Civil Society of Nigeria in making a massive statement against the new anti-poor government of the APC that Nigeria truly belongs to the citizens and that the poor truly deserves to breathe and not subjected to asphyxiation under the guise of fuel subsidy removal or any imposed economic agenda of their allied international finance cartel.
Accordingly, “The organised platform of the Nigerian civil society notes with grave concerns attempts by government through its agent provocateurs to paint the planned nationwide protests as threat to national security as well as contempt to their arm twisting court restraining order.
“We make bold to say that the call to action by Labour and its Civil Society allies is borne out of patriotic concern for the survival of the downtrodden, who have been trampled and frustrated into submission by the anti-people policies that are currently being mindlessly implemented without sensitivity and human face.
“Part of the plot to frustrate the national protests is the false claim relating to a supposed court order stopping the NLC from organising strike action over subsidy removal. We wish to assert that the call for a national citizens’ action is within the ambit of the democratic rights of citizens to organise and engage in peaceful and orderly manner to demonstrate their rejection of anti-people’s policies.”, the statement added.
“The United Action Front of Civil Society hereby declare Wednesday, 2nd August, 2023 as our long awaited Day of National Action for the commencement of a series of citizens protest actions to peacefully demonstrate the people’s rejection of government foisted economic policies and therefore call on Nigerians to enthusiastically participate in the national protests to demonstrate dissatisfaction with the hardship to which they have been subjected by an insensitive leadership that lacks the courage to deal with corruption,” it stated further.