By Okey Ndiribe & Henry Umoru
ABUJA—The nation’s labour movement yesterday embarked on street march within Abuja to protest against the Federal Government’s privatization programme. Leaders of the two umbrella labour unions in the country later urged the National Assembly to ensure that those found to defrauded the nation during the privatization programme should be punished.
In his speech at the rally, the President of the NLC Comrade Abdulwahed Omar who initially faulted security officials who refused to allow them to enter the premises of the National Assembly urged the lawmakers to ensure that those found guilty in the BPE probe should be brought to book just as he called on the Federal Government to immediately halt the entire privatisation exercise.
He said “we must encourage the National Assembly to do the a very good job; to tell them that the probe must not end like the power probe which discovered $16bn was squandered without any result and was swept under the carpet.
“On privatisation of the ongoing probe revealed $70 million was spent to upgrade a government company only for that same company to be sold for $7 million. For the minimum wage, it must continue to remain on the exclusive list and it is a law that every arm of government must respect.”
The protest march which was led by the NLC President and his TUC counterpart began from Berger Junction at approximately 8: 50 am. The protesters passed through Wuse Zones Five, Four and Two and the Federal Secretariat Complex before arriving at the National Assembly.
The protest caused traffic chaos along the access roads to the National Assembly. Traffic was brought to a total standstill for the period the rally lasted.
There was tension at the link road to the National Assembly as the protesters were denied entry into the main premises of the Parliament.
The protesters were first stopped at the Three-Arms Junction and had to stage a sit-in for close to 20 minutes before they were allowed to proceed to the main gate where they were also stopped.
A second round of negotiations took place between the protesters and Deputy Speaker Hon. Emeka Ihedioha who led some members of the parliament to address them by the main gate. However, the protesters booed him and Senator Oluremi Tinubu, the Deputy Committee Chairman on Labour. The protesters insisted they must enter the main premises of the National Assembly.
It was gathered that the lawmakers refused the protesters entry due to fear of infiltration by members of the Boko Haram sect.
The labour leaders finally agreed to address the lawmakers by the last gate of the National Assembly. Deputy Senate Leader Abdul Ningi who was also there stated that the report of the Senate Committee on the Privatisation conducted by the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) will be ready by October.
Speaking at the rally, President General of the TUC Comrade Peter Esele said workers will not allow the privatisation probe to be swept under the carpet just as he echoed the demand for the halting of the privatisation exercise.
On his part, Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives Emeka Ihedioha assured the workers that the National Assembly will take up the matter seriously and will ensure that the demands of Nigerians will always come first.
On her part, Senate Deputy Chairman, Labour Committee Senator Remi Tinubu said “we are here to do the work and I assure you that we will continue to live up to expectation and will not disappoint Nigerians on this matter.”
However, Deputy Senate Leader Abdul Ningi, who said the report of the probe will be available by late October, blamed the Federal government for not implementing the recommendations of the various investigations conducted by the National Assembly.
He said “this is not a personal fight between you and us. But it is a collective fight. It is an
institutional fight. You have made mention of that which took place in the house. It was in the house that the power probe held, but, however, what we are trying to understand is that the process of bringing people to justice does not start and end in the house.
“One must understand that the National Assembly’s duty is to expose corruption and for some
people to implement it. The power probe that you have seen a lot of people say it is buried. It may be buried for now, but it may not be buried forever because the investigation, the documents are within the public glare. Tomorrow, by God’s grace; tomorrow somebody powerful who understands people power will come and open up that particular power project.”
“Back to the issue of privatization, I want you to appreciate one thing. It is easy to criticize. But let me tell you one thing that the Senate was unanimous in adopting the issue of the privatization. Some of us are personally committed.
We have personal reservation about the privatization since its inception by the former president. We had our fears and we said it. Not once, not twice. What you have seen is a tip of the iceberg. Let me assure you we are all Nigerians. This probe has started. Investigation has commenced. Therefore, if you allow us to push this thing under carpet, it your fault.”
“By the grace of God this particular report in God’s name will never be thrown under the carpet.