BY VICTOR AHIUMA-YOUNG
AS opposition to the World the Bank and International Monetary Fund, IMF, induced planned Petrol subsidy removal by the Federal Government thickens by the day, stakeholders have accused government of unorthodox antics to force its contentiouspolicy through throat of Nigerians.
Nigeria labour Congress, NLC, and Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, the two umbrella bodies for industrial unions and senior staff associations in the country, have been in the vanguard and vehicle to drive the ordinary Nigerians’ feeling on the controversial subsidy removal.
Besides organized labour, at the last count, Conference Nigerian Political Parties, CNPP, Joint Action Forum, the Patriots, Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, PFN, Yoruba Council of Elders, YCE, civil society groups, Pro-National Conference of Nigeria, PRONACO, Muslim Rights Concerns, MRC, Committee for Defence of Human Rights, CDHR, Committee for the Protection of Peoples’ Mandate, CPPM, Civil Liberties Organisation, CLO, Campaign for Democracy, CD, Project Nigeria National Consensus Group, PNNCG, Democrative Alternatives, DA, United Action for Democracy, UAD, Democrative Socialist Movement, DSM, among others, have faulted the planned subsidy removal and described it as anti-people.
The first sign of perceived government unorthodox approach to its planned subsidy removal was its controversial endorsement by 42 business men after a Presidential retreat in the Villa between October 14 and 15, claiming to represent the Organized Private Sector, OPS. But no sooner had the controversial endorsement came, than OPS dissociated itself from the purported endorsement.
According to a major member of the five groups that formed the OPS; Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association, NECA, government should do the needful by engaging in dialogue with acknowledged and authentic representative organizations of the OPS, rather than individual business owners, multinationals and favoured business men in the private sector.
Director-General of NECA, Mr. Segun Osinowo, said “This is the first time that government is getting individual members to sign a policy document on behalf of an institution like OPS. The appropriate thing is for government to engage stakeholders on such key policy issue in a transparent and constructive manner.”
Also reacting to the controversial endorsement by the 42 wise men, organised labour represented by NLC advised the Presidency to cut social spending and jettison its planned fuel subsidy removal to avoid the wrath of Nigerians and save the nation from social uprising, warning that the indices that gave rise to the uprising in North Africa and the Arab world was everywhere in Nigeria.
In a statement by its Acting General Secretary, Comrade Owei Lakemfa, NLC said, “The NLC advises the Presidency to learn from the October 15 Global Day of action against corporate greed and cut social spending, rather than orchestrate endorsement of its fuel subsidy removal gambit. The global protests on Saturday is a red card for the ruinous programme of subsidy removal and cuts social spending and an indication that the North Africa uprising is spreading. The Federal Government should face this reality and address growing poverty, hunger and anger amongst the masses. Hijacking the private sector forum and smuggling a fake endorsement subsidy removal will not make Nigerians accept such a calamity. Save beneficiaries of government largese, no employers utilising petroleum products will endorse subsidy removal.”
Government moves to divide labour: Before the controversy died down, the government came up with another move.
Through the Minister of Labour and Productivity, the government did not only give indication of holding meetings with affiliates of NLC and TUC in Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt before meeting with the two labour centres, against the norms, but it invited 15 unions and employers associations to a meeting in Abuja for “sectorial” discussions and “government transformational agenda” including the contentious removal of subsidy.
When leaders of NLC and TUC got wind of the controversial meeting, they instructed affiliates not to attend. The following day, there were two different media versions about the purported meeting. Most media reports said labour labour leaders boycotted the meeting, but few reported that the meeting held with few individuals in attendance.
While TUC was quick to say none of its affiliates attended the meeting, NLC in a statemente said the level of desperation to “apparent in the expenditure of our collective wealth to sponsor faceless groups like the Campaign Against Waste Management whose full page adverts pollute the environment.”
The statement by NLC Acting General Secretary, Comrade Owei Lakemfa, said “Just on Thursday October 20, 2011 following the boycott of a so-called town hall between the Labour Minister and trade unions, the Ministry resorted to holding an imaginary meeting with “Labour Leaders” rather than call off the meeting in the face of Labour’s total boycott, ministry officials assembled staff from ministries and presented them as the country’s Labour Leaders.
To complete this farcical drama, the Minister of Labour in a rather comical manner, proceeded to read a long address preaching the benefits of fuel subsidy removal. This melodrama ended with the fake Labour Leaders praising government’s steps to remove fuel subsidy and further impoverish the populace. Labour unions are well known in the country and their leaders identifiable. It is therefore a puzzle that the Labour ministry would spend public funds paying imaginary Labour Leaders.”
“The holding of a fake meeting by a whole Ministry is a reminiscence of the General Sani Abacha regime which continuously faked meetings and communiqué and ended up using huge sums of money from the public treasury to pay fictitious participants. The NLC had on September 15, 2011 cautioned the Labour Minister when in the name of an “interactive session” with Labour on “issues of mutual interest” tried to railroad the leadership of the NLC and TUC to a meeting with the Petroleum Minister in a vain attempt to get labour to endorse the fuel subsidy gambit. For the avoidance of doubt, we wish to state that Labour is not averse to any meeting with the Federal Government, its ministers or agents, what we object to is the use of deceit. If we have a proper invitation with a clear agenda even if it be to discuss or debate the anti-people programme of subsidy removal, the Labour movement will attend.”
But we will not attend meetings called in the name of resolving industrial relations disputes or trying to balkanize the Labour Movement.”
The statement added “The NLC commends the Labour Leaders and their members for boycotting the parley just as the NLC and TUC had in September 2011 boycotted the parley with the Petroleum Minister.
The unions boycott shows that the Labour Movement in the country is led by principled and disciplined people who cannot be enticed to betray the populace. We demand that the President Goodluck Jonathan administration puts a stop to this criminal waste of public funds and ask anti-corruption agencies like the EFCC and ICPC to investigate this criminal wastage of public funds.”