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Fuel Subsidy Parley With Jonathan: Labour adamant, insists on subsidy

*Removal ‘ll be injurious to Nigerians — Labour

BY OKEY NDIRIBE, DANIEL IDONOR & VICTOR AHIUMA-YOUNG

ABUJA – The meeting between the nation’s labour movement and President Goodluck Jonathan over the Government’s proposed removal of fuel subsidy  ended in a deadlock yesterday in Abuja, as labour maintained that the removal will be injurious to the citizens and the country.

The Federal Government delegation at the meeting led by President Goodluck Jonathan had claimed that the actual cost of petrol supply is N139 per litre and admitted that all Nigerians benefit from fuel subsidy but claimed that the rich benefit more.  He also claimed that the current N65 per litre price is so cheap that it encourages smuggling of PMS across the country’s borders.

According to a statement  jointly  issued by the Acting General Secretary of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Owei Lakemfa and General Secretary of  the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Comrade John Kolawole, the Federal Government delegation also presented a document entitled  Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE)  which listed projects that would be executed with savings realized from removal of fuel subsidy.

Amongst the  projects listed were  the construction or completion of eight major roads and two bridges,  provision of healthcare for three million pregnant women, six railway projects,  youth employment,  provision of mass transit, 19 irrigation projects, as well as rural and urban water supply.

The meeting  was addressed by President Jonathan, Vice President Namadi Sambo, Finance Minister Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala who doubles as the Coordinating Minister for the Economy, and Petroleum Minister, Mrs. Dieziani Allison-Madueke.

However, the labour movement was not convinced with the explanation given by the Government over its planned removal of fuel subsidy.

According to the statement, the Labour Movement noted that out of the projected N1.134 trillion to be saved from the subsidy removal, the Local Government allocation is N202.23 billion, States N411.03 billion and the Federal Government N478.49 billion and concluded that “even if the Federal Government alone were to spend the entire N1.134 trillion, it cannot execute even a fifth of the projects it had listed. It noted that the Presidency’s presentation was simply a repetition of the presentations made by the Babangida and Abacha regimes and the Obasanjo administration, and that none of those promises were kept.”

The Labour Movement also insisted that “if non oil producing nations could refine petroleum products, a big oil producing country like Nigeria has no excuse to be import-dependent”.

Labour said Government has basic responsibilities to the populace and not make externally driven prescriptions like the IMF did on SAP under the Babangida regime and that its opposition to fuel subsidy removal is driven by its belief that the people must be considered first in all Government policies.

It pointed out that none of the presentations by the Presidency contained facts on the impact of oil subsidy removal on the populace particularly the informal economy where most Nigerians earn a living.

Labour further pointed out that some of the statistics presented by the Minister of Finance were joggled to reach false conclusions. President Jonathan in rounding up the session explained that the idea of inviting Labour was not to make it take a decision either in favour or against fuel subsidy removal but to present the government’s position and encourage mutually beneficial discussions. He invited Labour to present its counter statistics and analysis of the Government documents for discussions on a future date which was acceptable to Labour.

The Labour Movement also complained about the Federal Government’s tendency to breach agreements citing the non-implementation of the agreement on 2011 Minimum Wage as an example.

According to the statement: “While government elaborated on how the savings from subsidy removal will be spent on social infrastructure, Labour responded to say that government has shown consistently that it cannot be trusted considering how agreements and promises have been reneged upon in recent years.

“Specifically, labour complained that the Federal Government despite signing an agreement with it and issuing an enabling circular that the N18,000 minimum Wage will be implemented for Federal Public Servants from August 2011, implementation was yet to commence. It concluded that failure or refusal of Government to implement agreements reached is one of the reasons Nigerians do not fully trust government.

“President Jonathan in his response said he was shocked to find out two weeks ago that the new wage had not been implemented by the Federal Government. He blamed it on bureaucracy and that he was not informed about any difficulties in paying the new wage. He said he had since directed his ministers and officials to commence immediate payment of the new wage.

“In conclusion, the NLC and TUC expect that the Presidency will not remove fuel subsidy until it concludes the consultations with all stakeholders including Labour. Also, Labour is of the firm opinion that given the high level of insecurity in the country, the hardship Nigerians are facing and deepening poverty the removal of fuel subsidy will be injurious to the citizens and the country.

Jonathan woos PDP

Meanwhile, President Jonathan yesterday met with the caucus of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to brief them on the planned removal of the petroleum subsidy, beginning from the first quarter of 2012. Earlier on Tuesday, the Federal Government committee on the subsidy met at the Presidential Villa, with Vice President Namadi Sambo presiding and the issue of the modalities for managing the entire subsidy were extensively discussed.

The president’s meeting with the PDP stalwarts which took place at the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja, it was gathered, offered the president the opportunity to brief the party leaders the details of the planned removal of the subsidy and the safety nets the government plans to put in place to ameliorate the harsh effect of the removal.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance with her economic team were on hand to explain the nitty gritty of the subsidy issue to the party leaders that included acting PDP chairman, the VP,  Senate President David Mark; Speaker of the House of Representatives Aminu Tambulwa; their deputies, principal officers of the national assembly, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, ministers, as well as other key political leaders.

A source at the meeting told our correspondents that the finance minister took time to explain the implications of government’s continuous retention of the petrol subsidy.

The meeting it was learnt was also used to appeal to the party leaders to prevail on their elected officers at the national assembly to support the president’s subsidy removal initiatives.

Inside sources said that the meeting discussed extensively on how to prevail on the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and members of the civil society in the country that are determined to frustrate government’s move to enforce the subsidy removal.

FG yet to fix take-off date for subsidy removal—Maku

THE Federal Government however said yesterday it was yet to fix a definite take-off date for the implementation of the removal of petroleum subsidy. Briefing State House correspondents, after the last Federal Executive Council, FEC, meeting for 2011, at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, the Minister of Information, Mr Labaran Maku, who was joined by Minister of State for Finance, Alhaji Yerima Ngama, said the government was still engaging different groups in dialogue for proper understanding of the subsidy issue.

He said: “No take-off date has been announced. The truth of the matter is our country is in a very difficult economic situation to continue to run Nigeria with one third of the budget to subsidise one product which is absolutely a path to a greater difficulty for the economy. We have continued to talk about this because every sector we opened up has produced results”.

According to Maku “people who are emotionally talking about it, are not actually addressing what we are saying. Let’s take the media, before now it was only NTA, until government deregulated broadcasting in the country. Before you could not set up a private radio station in this country or a  television station, when government deregulated what do we have today? We have private television stations that are now competing with NTA and FRCN. If government decided to control broadcasting in the country all of you would have been out of job.

“I know we all feel emotional about subsidy. If you look at the movement of economy all over the world, unless we don’t want to develop this country and move forward, in broadcasting we have seen results. So also is the case in cement production, banking, aviation, and telecommunication,” the minister stated.

The minister argued that the increasing nation’s domestic debt put at over N500bn has made the removal of petroleum subsidy inevitable.


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