The federal government Sunday met with representatives of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) to dialogue over the controversies generated by the fuel subsidy removal by the Bola Ahmed Tinubu-led administration.
The meeting, which kicked off around 5pm at the State House Abuja, according to our findings, was at the instance of the federal government.
The government had last Wednesday held similar meeting with the Organised Labour(OL) comprising both the TUC and the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC).
The meeting, however, ended in a deadlock as the OL got worked up by the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL)’s decision to announce a new regime of pump price, thus signaling the formal removal of the fuel subsidy.
Blueprint gathered that the newly appointed Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) Senator George Akume is at the head of the federal government’s team which comprises the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor Godwin Emefiele, former Edo state Governor Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole and the NNPCL Group Chief Executive Officer Mele Kyari.
Also on the government’s side were among others, Executive Secretary National Sugar Development Council (NSDC) Zacch Adedeji, Executive Vice President Downstream of the NNPCL Yemi Adetunji, former Lagos state Commissioner for Information and Strategy Dele Alake and Chairman House of Representatives Committee on Finance and Appropriation Hon James Faleke.
TUC President Festus Osifo led a seven-man team to the meeting, which was still on as at the time of this report.
At the meeting, the TUC presented a list of demands to government including an increase in minimum wage to cushion the effects of the increase in prices of fuel, tax holiday for certain categories of people and revert to status quo as negotiations continue.
The government side acknowledged the feasibility of the demands, stressing that the demands would be presented to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu immediately.
Spokesperson for the government delegation, Mr Alake told State House correspondents that most of the demands by the TUC “are not impracticable.”
He said the demands would be presented to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu whose decisions would be reverted to the labour leaders at the next meeting scheduled for Tuesday.
Asked if the demand by labour leaders that the new pump price of petrol be reversed pending conclusion of negotiations, Alake said a decision would likely be taken on Tuesday when the two sides meet again.
“As you all know, we had this reconvened meeting today as we promised you few days ago when we had the initial meeting with the Labour movement.
“We said we were going to reconvene today to keep the engagement on in order to diffuse the tension in the land as a result of the withdrawal of subsidy, which is a reality. Now, we are very happy to announce to Nigerians that this engagement has been very productive.
“The TUC that attended today’s meeting presented a list of demands and those demands we have studied and we are going to present to Mr President, for his consideration.
“But those demands we can announce to Nigerians that a lot of the items on the list, are not impracticable.
“What we need to do is to study the numbers very well. Then, we have asked the TUC to also give us a leeway to consult very exhaustively and reconvene on Tuesday to actually look at the numbers, viability, practicability of all the items that have been presented to us.
“Now, most important and top priority on the list which the government is also looking at very seriously and the president has announced before, is the issue of the minimum wage which the Labour movement has demanded is the consequential impact of this removal of subsidy.
“So, government is look at that and Mr President is most likely going to constitute a tripartite committee that is a committee of federal government, including the state and then the organised labour and the private sector.
“Now, this is a tripartite arrangement, it will be a committee that 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 come back to 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,” he said.
Alake also told journalists that the federal government is yet to engage the NLC, stressing that government was making efforts to reach the congress.
“No. We are not but we are making efforts to reach NLC. 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 own executives and not able to meet with us, or they could want to postpone or they have not actually 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,” he said.
Also speaking, TUC President Osifo said while some progress had been made, the congress would brief its members ahead of Tuesday’s meeting.
He declined to give a full list of the demands presented to government on the grounds that the congress wants to continue negotiating in good faith as the government delegation also did not reveal details of its own side of the meeting.
“As will be recalled that we were all here on Wednesday last week and after the meeting, after the meeting of Wednesday, government gave us their position and told us the reason why they did what they did, but on our part we did not agree with them.
“So, they presented some of the things they considered as palliatives to us, that we should consider them in the meeting, but we told them no, that we cannot consider them in that meeting, that we’re going back to call our respective organs.
“So we went back, called the NEC of the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria on Friday and during the NEC meeting, the NEC of TUC decided that because we already told government as at Wednesday that we’re taking their demands back, we want to go and look at them because they asked us for our demands, we said we didn’t have the mandate to discuss the mandates as at then.
“We went back, we called our meetings on Friday, we had extensive deliberations and our NEC now mandated us with some lists of demands, to come and meet with the government side today. So the meeting we just concluded, we have detailed and marshalled out the list of our demands to them.
“They also in turn told us that when they presented the items to us on Wednesday we told them that we were going back to our principals, so they also need to touch base with Mr President so that we’ll reconvene this meeting again on Tuesday. Topmost in our demands was clearly stated, that for utmost good faith and in the interest of social dialogue, that they should revert to back the pump price while discussion continues.”
SERAP threatens legal action
Meanwhile, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP)has urged President Tinubu to “set up a presidential panel of enquiry to promptly probe the grim allegations that US$2.1 billion and N3.1 trillion, being public funds from oil revenues, which were budgeted as fuel subsidy payments are missing and unaccounted for between 2016 and 2019, as documented by the Auditor-General of the Federation.”
Following this, the body implored the president to “name and shame anyone suspected to be responsible for the alleged widespread and systemic corruption in the use of oil revenues and the management of public funds budgeted as fuel subsidy and to ensure their effective prosecution as well as the full recovery of any proceeds of crime.”
It also asked Tinubu “to promptly, thoroughly, independently, transparently and effectively probe all fuel subsidy payment made by successive governments since the return of democracy in 1999, and to use any recovered proceeds of crime as palliatives to address the impact of any subsidy removal on poor Nigerians.”
The letter dated June 3, 2023, and signed by SERAP’s deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, reads in part: “There is a legitimate public interest in ensuring justice and accountability for these serious allegations. There will be no economic growth or sustainability without accountability for these human rights crimes.
“Your government should urgently act to follow due process of law in any policy to remove fuel subsidy, ensure that suspected perpetrators of these crimes against Nigerians are brought to justice, and full recovery of any missing public funds.”
“Arbitrarily removing fuel subsidy without addressing outstanding accountability issues in the alleged mismanagement of oil revenues and fuel subsidy payments would amount to punishing poverty and further impoverishing the poor while letting high-profile officials and non-state actors get away with their crimes,” the group said.
SERAP further said: “Any removal of fuel subsidy should not be used as a ploy to keep the poor in poverty while those who allegedly stole oil revenues and fuel subsidy payments keep their ill-gotten wealth.
“Allegations of corruption in oil revenues and fuel subsidy payments suggest that the poor have rarely benefited from the use and management of the revenues and payments.
“Poor and socio-economically vulnerable Nigerians should not be made to continue to pay the price for the stealing of the country’s oil wealth while state and non-state actors pocket public funds.
“We would be grateful if the recommended measures are taken within three days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions to compel your government to comply with our request in the public interest.
“The proposed panel should be headed by a retired Justice of the Supreme Court or Court of Appeal, and its members should include people with proven professional records, and of the highest integrity that can act impartially, independently, and transparently.”