Fuel subsidy removal: NLC insists on protest, FG begs Labour, Police caution

In the midst of threat by the Organised Labour to press on with their planned protest Wednesday (today) over the effect of the fuel subsidy removal, the federal government Tuesday begged the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) to shelve the plan and allow for more dialogue.

Briefing State House correspondents at the end of the meeting of the Presidential Steering Committee on Palliatives held in Abuja, the Chief of Staff to the President, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, said government was working hard to address the hardship being experienced by Nigerians.

“We have laid out the plans, the interventions of Mr. President, as you all heard in his broadcast yesterday, we made it clear that this was just Mr. President’s initial rollout and interventions and that conversations will be ongoing as we go along.

“And we appealed to Labour; we did appeal to Labour to call off the protests for tomorrow. We found listening ears here and they did agree that they all accepted that Mr. President’s broadcast was a welcome development and that they will go back home to talk to the other leaders that are not present today. So, we’re hopeful that they will do the right thing and call off the strike tomorrow,” he said.

FG clears air on court injection

Also, the federal government has dismissed as mere speculation rumour making the rounds that the NLC was being threatened; saying pendency of the order of the court cannot be equated with threats.

Permanent Secretary and Solicitor General Federal Ministry of Justice, Mrs Beatrice Jeddy-Agba, made the clarification in a statement made available to newsmen in Abuja last night.

While the government is insisting that the interim order from the court clearly restrained NLC from going ahead with the strike, labour on the other hand had gone ahead by issuing a seven-day ultimatum for government to meet its demands and reverse the alleged anti-worker policies.

In the statement, the FG insisted that the NLC was not planning a peaceful protest but intended to ground the government by endangering public peace, instilling fear in the masses and precipitating further crisis.

Agba in the release further quoted the Assistant General Secretary of NLC, as having said: “Nigerians should be prepared. That’s what we are saying. Being prepared means you have to stock food in your house and be economical with you.”

Labour insists

However, NLC Deputy President, Comrade Titus Amba, said there was nothing new apart from the broadcast of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu that was presented to the committee.

He said the palliatives as rolled out by the president in his broadcast, cannot remedy anything.

“We met today, and we discussed based on what we all left yesterday, with the mind of coming back today. After the president’s speech, we all listened to the president’s speech with an appeal that time should be given to this very government.

“And we sat down and we analysed it very, very well, and we came up with some issues, which I believe you heard it from the TUC President where he said the president of this country did mention that within two months, the government of Nigeria was able to at least save a trillion naira.

“And to the ordinary Nigerian out there, he will conclude that there are a lot of funds kept because of this subsidy issue. So, why can’t these monies be made available so that it can cushion the suffering and yearning of all Nigerians. So, these were some of the things that we discussed.

“We also said that the 3,000 buses proposed to be made available are not sufficient. If you divide by the number of states that we have, it won’t take us anywhere. So, the government came with an appeal of shifting the intended protest tomorrow,” he said.

On the plea for the suspension of the protest, he said: “We said no, it is not something that we can discuss here, because we have other organs of the union that we have to go back to for them to look at it critically, because the truth is that every Nigerian out there is boiling out there and waiting to see what will come out of this very meeting.

“And we had to go back and maybe make a presentation to them that this is what government have said and this is what we’re thinking how we should go about it. So, this is the decision that we have now.”

Also speaking, TUC President Festus Osifo said what was presented to the organised labour by the government was not far-reaching.

“We told Nigerians that we’ll be meeting today by 12 noon, so we came here much later. We had the conversation, and again the government team told us that what the president has put on the table is more or less like a starting point, and it’s a baseline.

“So, we on our path also said yes, that we would have been surprised if that is everything that will be put forward because for us we felt that there are some gaps. For us, we felt that the president has said that 1 trillion Naira has been saved in the last two months that what has been proposed is not far-reaching.

“And for us, you know, as part of the principle of negotiations, when anything is put on the table, you accept, but you push for more. So, on our part, we said that what has been put on the table is not sufficient, it’s not enough, and that they can do more.

“So, part of what we put forward was that, we will look at those things that the president highlighted. We think, for example, that 3000 buses are not sufficient; we think it is not sufficient. By the time you divide 3000 by 37, you can see how many they can come up to so it’s not sufficient, it’s grossly inadequate.

“We also think that some of the measures put on the table are not far-reaching. So, we are also going to demand for what we think will do, so if we think 30,000 buses could do it or 40,000 buses could do it in the immediate, yes, we’ll push it forward. So those were all the conversations that we had. Then on the government part, they also appealed that we should shelve the protests. Our response was that we are going to go back this evening and also have a conversation around that and you will hear from us at the end of that conversation,” he said.

Further threat

Also speaking NLC Head of Information, Comrade Benson Upah, told Blueprint that the Congress was ready to liberate Nigerians from what he called the anti-people policies of the Tinubu-led government.

On the protest, he said: “Nothing has changed on our action billed for tomorrow (Wednesday). The nationwide protest all over the country will hold , our state councils and affiliates have mobilised their members for the action to fight against policies that are anti- people.

“As we speak, even though the leadership is honouring the meeting with the government but we are yet to get something tangible.”

NLC had on July 27, directed her members across Nigeria to begin mobilisation for a nationwide protest if her demands on the fuel subsidy removal were not met.

Among others, they asked for “the immediate reversal of all anti-poor policies of the federal government including the recent hike in PMS price, Increase in Public School fees, the release of the 8 months withheld Salary of University lecturers and Workers and increase in VAT, the immediate inauguration of the Presidential Steering Committee as agreed in the earlier consequential dialogues and to begin the building across the nation of a Coalition of all Nigerians where all will be leaders and all will be followers”.

On the presidential nationwide broadcast, NLC President Joe Ajaero said: “Our review of broadcast by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu leaves us with the impression that the promises and assurances made by President Tinubu is not the silver bullet that Nigerians expected.

“The speech indeed appears to be out of touch with reality and anomalous with the hardship and suffering that most Nigerians are going through now.

“First, the opening statement by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu conveyed a commitment to a better and productive economy. We expected that the next line of statement would be how the present government plans to resuscitate our public refineries which have been lying comatose for so many years and is the major pain point in the whole subsidy narrative.

“Unfortunately, the entire speech by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu was completely silent on the issue of the repair of our national refineries.”

…Labour urges orderliness

Meanwhile, the Kaduna state Council of the NLC Tuesday called on its members to be orderly and ensure public safety during Wednesday’s mass demonstration over the removal of fuel subsidy.

The state secretary of the congress, Comrade Gado Titus, who said this in Kaduna said the council was not oblivious of the volatile situation the country, but would not tolerate violence, vandalism, or illegal activities during the demonstrations.

“The law will be upheld; and those found to be inciting violence or participating in criminal acts will be held accountable for their actions.

“To lawful demonstrators, be rest assured that there will be adequate security cover to maintain a peaceful environment and protect the rights of all participants.

“Let us come together as responsible citizens to express our dissatisfaction without infringing on safety and security of our society.

“Our collective commitment to a peaceful and law-abiding society is crucial to the progress and prosperity of our nation,” Titus stated.

He added that the council believed in workers’ right to peaceful protests and demonstrations, describing that as fundamental aspects and pillars of democracy to express one’s concerns and grievances in a respectful and lawful manner.

About Abdullahi M. Gulloma, John Moses and Chizoba Ogbeche, Kehinde Osasona, Abuja and AbdulRaheem Aodu, Kaduna

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