*Strike would not lastfor more than two days – President’s men
*’We can break the ranks of labour’
By Jide Ajani
But for the misleading counsel and false assurances given to President Goodluck Jonathan by some of his ministers and a few state governors, the president may have done more to avert the commencement of the strike action called by the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and the Trade UnionCongress, TUC, Sunday Vanguard can reveal.
The suggestion that Jonathan may have done more to ensure that the strike did not get off the ground, it was learnt, was sequel to security reports provided at a meeting, held, penultimate Monday, January 2, 2012, inside Aso Rock Presidential Villa.
The meeting, which had a few ministers , security chiefs and a former president, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, in attendance, was called to review the implications of the removal of subsidy on Premium Motor Spirit, PMS, otherwise known as petrol, about 24 hours earlier.
Sunday Vanguard was informed by a source privy to the meeting that the prognosis, according to the security chiefs, was very terrible. Jonathan was said to be have been made to understand that everything that ought to be done to avert the strike should be done. The briefing made it very clear that should the strike go ahead and last beyond a week, “there would be serious implications for this administration”.
Although the source said the language at the meeting was very weighted, “there was no mistaken the fact that the prognosis was very bad”.
Specifically, it was understood that one of those in attendance at the meeting pointedly stated that allowing the strike to go on for “up to 11 days would mean total disaster and eclipse” for the Jonathan administration.
(SEE DETAILSIN ‘TORN BETWEEN THE ROCK AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA’ in Subsidy Series)
At the end of the meeting, thepresident’s body language reportedly suggested that something would be done earnestly to avoid the mass action.
However, information reportedly suggests that one of Jonathan’s cabinet members from the North Central Zone, Information Minister, Labaran Maku, along with another minister from the South South geo-political zone, Elder Orubebe, prevailed on the president not to shift or accede to labour’s demand.
The Information Minister was said to have impressed it on Jonathan that reverting to N65 would be seen as a sign of weakness and unseriousness. He may have been right!
Secondly, according to SundayVanguard’s source, the president was made “to believe that the strike action would normally kick off on the first day as threatened by labour but would quickly lose steam by the second day.
It was gathered that the impression conveyed to Jonathan was that the strike action would not go beyond “just two days before it loses steam”.
The president, the source further revealed, was misled into believing that, like past strike actions, the involvement of security agencies would contain its spread.
Lagos and the Federal CapitalTerritory, FCT, Abuja, were the main focus of attention.
“It was this advice that President Jonathan took hook, line and sinker”, the source said.
Finance Minister and Head of Jonathan’s Economic Management Team, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and Petroleum Resources Minister, Diezani Allison-Madueke, were also of the opinion that the president did not need to back down.
And whereas Jonathan was said to have made private moves, one of which was to prevail on some state governors to assist in persuading members of the House of Representatives not to sit last Sunday and the telephone calls he made to some state governors to assisting in ensuring that the strike action was not allowed to go ahead “and if it did, must be drawn back,” the president could not achieve his heart’s desire: To pile what was thought to be maximum pressure on the NLC. It did not amount to anything because the leadership of NLC still went ahead.
A few governors reportedly misled the president.
Jonathan, believing what he heard during private conversations “with some state governors, went away with the impression that state governments could tame the monster of the strike.
The governors reportedly assured the president that “they were in talks with the leadership of labour in their states and that moves to break their ranks were almost completed”, a source close to The President disclosed.
“Some of these governors, just as they did during the crisis over zoning and the contest for the presidential ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, deliberately set President Jonathan up so that he would stick to the N65 and be made to look like an unpopular president on the one hand and on the other hand the fact that he had bargained with them late last year to ensure the removal of the subsidy so that they can have more money,”the source said.
“If some of them had told him the truth, he would have known better that what he was going to confront from last Monday would be so massive that the international community would focus more on other issues of corruption in government, a matter that is at the root of the subsidy issue”.
Some of the governors gave assurance to the president on the basis of the need not to allow “hoodlums to hijack the protest in some states of the federation and go ahead to engage in reprisal attacks as a consequence of the Christmas Day church bombing in Madalla, Suleja and some kept their words”.
That was why, for instance, the Enugu State governor, Sullivan Chime, acted fast by ensuring that there were no rallies or street marches in his state.
It was for the same reason that Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State also swung into action to prevent Muslims from being attacked in his state.
Plateau State, where the strike is als obeing observed, saw a situation whereby workers merely stayed at home without marching on the streets.
Sunday Vanguard was further told that when the strike commenced on Monday, it was a stunned Jonathan who saw first-hand how Nigerians reacted.