BY BEN AGANDE,VICTOR AHIUMA-YOUNG  & Evelyn Usman

ABUJA- Rising from an extraordinary emergency session yesterday, members of the House of Representatives asked the executive arm of government to suspend the removal of subsidy on petroleum products in appreciation of the mood of the nation and to allow for more consultations.

The House which witnessed a very high attendance with 294 members at the session  also implored the organized labour and other stakeholders to suspend the strike slated to commence nationwide today in response to the government policy and submit to further dialogue while also appealing to Nigerians to exercise restraint in expressing their displeasure over the removal of the fuel subsidy.

It also invited the representatives of the Executive Arm of government including the Secretary to the government of the Federation and the Minister of Labour as well as labour leaders to meet with the ad hoc committee of the House which was set up to interface with representatives of the executive and organized labour with a view to finding a common ground on the subsidy matter.

Other decisions arrived at by the House yesterday were the setting up of the two ad hoc committees, one to mediate between the executive and organized labour and the other to verify and determine the actual subsidy requirements and monitor the subsidy regime. Yesterday’s decisions were arrived at following the adoption of a Motion on the Removal of Fuel Subsidy by the executive Arm of government, sponsored by Hon. Yusuf Tajudeen and 60 others.

It would be recalled that following the removal of the subsidy on fuel and the spontaneous protests that greeted the decision from across the country, the House of Representatives which had earlier scheduled to resume on the 10th of January had to cut short its recess by two days to attend to the emerging national challenge.

Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal who it was learnt did not have prior knowledge of the removal of the subsidy, however set the tone for yesterday’s deliberation when he called on his colleagues to be guided by the mood of the nation in view of recent bombings targeted against Christians and the culture of fear engendered by these attacks.

The speaker who had earlier read a letter from the president seeking the support of parliament for the declaration of a state of emergency in 15 local governments in four states of the federation where there are serious security challenges called for a minute silence for those who lost their lives at the Madalla Christmas day bombing and those killed in Mubi and other parts of the north.

Hon. Tambuwal commended his Christian colleagues at the House for their restraint and understanding in connection with the Christmas day bombing in Madalla, pointing out that ‘by this act of restraint the objective of these enemies of Nigeria to falsely give religious coloration to their senseless terrorist escapades has been defeated’.

Fuel Subsidy Removal: Cross-Section of members of House of the Representatives debating removal of fuel subsidy during Special Session at National Assembly Abuja, yesterday. Photo: Gbemiga Olamikan.

THE MOTION

Moving the motion yesterday, Hon. Yusuf Tajudeen (PDP Kogi) noted that though deregulation as a policy may not be altogether ‘objectionable, the alternative to proper procedure and good timing of such policy is not only equally important but imperative in a democratic dispensation’.
According to him, the removal of fuel subsidy has not only increased the price of petrol, it came at a time when Nigerians are mourning the loss of loved ones resulting from acts of terrorism and grappling with the serious challenges resulting from the extreme measures of the declaration of a state of emergency in parts of the country. He argued that a policy that affects the people in such a profound way as the fuel subsidy requires in-depth consultation, proper timing and deep introspection. In his contribution, Hon. Yakubu Dogara noted that the executive arm of government appears to be doing the bidding of western powers through the instrumentality of the International Monetary Funds and the World Bank, adding that these countries subsidize agriculture for their farmers.

Hon. Makinde Olarotimi in his contribution noted that the removal of fuel subsidy is already causing tension in the country and the House of Representatives cannot afford to stay aloof in this matter.

In his contribution, the Minority leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila noted that the importation of fuel contravenes the constitution which provides that the state must strive towards self reliance adding that the continued importation of fuel cannot guarantee the attainment of this goal. While Hon. Ali Madaki observed  that the removal of fuel subsidy ‘is not only bad politics but also bad economy as there can be no economic growth in an environment of rioting’ Hon. Khadijat Abba Ibrahim described the fuel subsidy removal as a very ‘harsh and rash decision that should not have been taken in the first place. But opponents rose in strong defense of the subsidy removal.

The Peoples Democratic Candidate for this year’s governorship election in Bayelsa state, Hon. Seriake Dickson noted that while associating himself with the general background that precipitated the motion, ‘I disagree with the call for the suspension of the removal of subsidy. Leadership is not about taking popular decisions.

It is about taking decisions that have long term beneficial consequences’ he said. Hon. Yakubu Barde in his contribution noted that there would be no time that would be appropriate for the removal of subsidy, pointing out that what is required is the political will which the president has demonstrated. The house also called on the security services to adhere to the provisions of the constitution while handling any eventuality that might arise from the disagreement over the removal of fuel subsidy.

NLC insists strike must go on

The Nigerian Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, have commended members of the House of Representatives resolution demanding that President Goodluck Jonathan administration immediately suspends the astronomical increase in the price of PMS (petrol) and called on the Senate to take a cue from the House.

In a joint statement by its Acting General Secretary of NLC and Secretary General of TUC, Comrade Owei Lakemfa and Chief John Kolawole respectively, the two labour bodies said they hoped President Jonathan would listen to the voice of the Nigerian people which the motion further ventilated by immediately suspending the fuel price hikes and allowing dialogue and consultation on the issue of fuel subsidy removal. They however declared that the strike must go on as scheduled until President Jonathan reverts to pre-January 1, 2012 Price of Petrol.

The strike and protests must go on

On today’s industrial action, the statement said:  “The Labour Movement reiterates that the indefinite strikes, rallies and mass protests will commence across the country tomorrow Monday 9th January 2012.  We ask Nigerians to disregard the disinformation by the Jonathan administration and its surrogates claiming that Labour has had a rethink on the strike. We reiterate that the right to peaceful protest is a fundamental one which no institution or force can abridge.

“The Labour Movement commends Nigerians in the diaspora for their support and continued protests. We also commend Nigerians in the United States who plan to protest tomorrow morning against the fuel price hikes in front of the World Bank headquarters in Washington.”

Earlier at a briefing in Lagos, organised labour and its civil society allies yesterday insisted that the nationwide strike and mass protest to force President Goodluck Jonathan revert the price of Petrol to the old price of N65 per litre must go on today as scheduled, saying the President had declared war on Nigerian people and Nigerians must fight back.

Banks to be closed

Reaffirming that the banks and other financial sector would be shut, General Secretary of the National Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions Employees, NUBIFIE, Comrade Deji Onaniyan Adedeji, insisted all members had been directed to shut down all banking activities from today to protest the hike in pump price of petrol.

Council workers ask members to comply

Similarly, National President of National Union of Local Government Employees, NULGE, Comrade Ibrahim Khalil has directed all members of the union to join the nation-wide strike.

SSANU, NCSU, ASCN direct members to stay at home

SENIOR Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, SSANU, Nigerian Civil Service Union, NCSU and the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria, ASCSN, have also directed members to ignore a purported restraining order by National Industrial Court, NIC, stopping the strike, saying they were not aware of such order.

A letter signed by SSANU President, Comrade Samson Ugwoke’ Titled; “Letter of authorisation to join the general strike declared by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC)” said all members of the union should join the  general strike in their respective jurisdictions.”

Police deploys 23,238 men

The Lagos State Police Command has deployed a total of 23,238 policemen  to strategic places in the state to monitor today’s planed strike called by the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria , with a warning to the policemen to be civil with peaceful protesters. This is just as the Nigerian Army has  disclosed that it had its troop on standby to checkmate excesses of hoodlums who may wish  to hijack today’s strike. Policemen monitoring the strike as gathered, have been briefed by their respective Divisional Police Officers ,with a warning to desist from the use of force except when necessary.

The command according to its spokesman, Mr Samuel Jinadu would not allow hoodlums to hijack the protest, informing that the policemen had been properly briefed on what to do.
Aside the five gathering points by protesting Nigerians, areas prone to violence in Lagos as gathered, would witness more presence of policemen both on foot and vehicular patrols. Vanguard gathered that .such areas included Mushin, Orile, Ikorodu, Ajegunle, Ojota among other places.

On the part of the Nigerian Army, men of OP Messa which formed part of the internal security in Lagos, will carry on with  their usual patrol of the state. However, a  troop according to the Commander 9 Brigade, Brigadier General Nasiru Muazu, was on standby should they be called upon to assist the police. Although Muazu expressed hope that the  strike would be peaceful, he however added, “ we are always available whenever we are called upon. We are high alert ready to support the Police whenever we are called upon”.

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