THE imperative of a united and prosperous Nigeria has underlined appeals to President Goodluck Jonathan who has come under increasing pressure from eminent citizens including some former heads of state to rethink the issue of the removal of the fuel subsidy.
Former Presidents Shehu Shagari and Olusegun Obasanjo are said by sources to have weighed in, urging President Jonathan to disregard contrary counsel and “revert to the situation pre-January 1, 2012”.
Protests organised by Labur and civil society groups since last Monday have paralysed the national economy and are threatening the nation’s stability.
The eminent Nigerians, including former Presidents, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Alhaji Shehu Shagari, all agree that the removal of subsidy was inevitable and a courageous and patriotic decision for economic survival but needed to be handled with utmost caution at the moment in order to preserve the nation’s unity and peace.
And as the protests over the removal of fuel subsidy rages, the federal government yesterday insisted that it is open to more dialogue as all sides to the dispute try to find a way out of the national economic and social logjam.
Briefing state house correspondents at the end of the weekly meeting of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, information minister Labaran Maku said: “The federal government remains engaged in the process of dialogue with labour, we have never dismissed the process of dialogue. Even before the full deregulation was announced, Mr. President discussed with all labour leaders, we discussed with the NLC, TUC, and we discussed with other stakeholders outside labour knowing that this key economic policy will affect the general population”
He said this week’s meeting focused essentially on the presentation by the minister of National Planning relating to the “implementation of our projects and the results expected for 2012. Projects implementation strategy and the transformation programme and what we must do from this year to ensure we begin to mark down goals and get the results as planned. This is the year that we expect every minister, every MDA to give account of themselves in terms of what our various MDAs intends to put out”
Fielding questions on government’s seeming rigidity on its stand over the deregulation of the downstream petroleum sector despite not doing enough for the citizenry in preparing them for the attendant hard times, he said “We have never closed our doors to negotiations or discussions with Labour or any other social group that are involved in the current protest, what is very clear to us is that government is taking up its responsibilities, not only at the federal level, but other state governments are engaged in direct discussions with their own trade union as well as civil society groups. In some states we have noticed quiet some progress in the dialogues between the state governments and labour and civil society groups. So the federal government as far as we are concerned the process of dialogue is continuous”
On the outbreak of violence as a result of the protests, he noted that government will “continue to appeal in the fact that this protest is only adding more pain to the people of Nigeria and in some places we are also beginning to see that elements outside labour are already virtually in the forefront and this is creating a lot of security problems in some states. You saw the situation in Kaduna, Edo State etc.
“We are appealing to labour up to this time to drop this option of protest which are increasing the pains out there for the people of Nigeria and it is our believe that anything that cannot be achieved through discussion will not really be useful when you call the general population to the streets. So we are appealing to Nigerians, civil society organisation, and Labour to understand that we believe that this option that has been taken is adding more pains to our people and we hope that in the days ahead they will see reason and drop the protest and continue the process of dialogue ”The minister added.
He further stressed that “this issue of deregulation is not an option that the government arrived at in comfort or happiness. It is something that has been reviewed over a year and a half.”
Also, he Federal Government said yesterday that it would not enter into any dialogue with the organised labour until the street protests which had led to the destruction of lives and property across the country were stopped.
Secretary to Government of the Federation, Senator Anyim Pius Ayim, who made this disclosure at the National Assembly yesterday stated that the destruction of lives and property had become a more urgent matter that needed to be addressed before any other matter. .
The House of Representatives ad-hoc committee set up to interface between the Federal Government and Labour, which convened the meeting had called on all parties to respect the decision the House took last Sunday. .
Reading a text message from his phone to the hearing of members of the committee and Labour leaders present, Anyim said: “I think the agenda of this meeting has changed. The mayhem carried out in Niger State and other parts of the country suggested that although labour provided the platform for the protests and violence, the whole issue had gone beyond labour. We should respect the sanctity of lives. The socio-political environment must be calm before any meaningful dialogue can take place.”
Corroborating Anyim’s statement, Labour and Productivity minister, Emeka Wogu, said:
“It is clear that other people have taken over the process to cause mayhem and labour is now helpless”
And the chairman of Federal Government negotiating team, and retired for Justice of the Federation, Justice Alpha Belgore, drew attention to the fact that the crisis was capable of disintegrating the country.
According to him, the country’s enemies have seen an opportunity to destroy this country just to give credence to their earlier evil predictions. If this country disintegrates, there will be many years of bloodshed; it is better to negotiate and come to agreement now”
But Labour leaders were swift in countering government’s position as the President General of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Peter Esele, said that comments of high-ranking government officials were capable of causing tension.
He said Labour leaders never encouraged violence in the protest but insisted that the position of labour still remained that government must revert to N65 or nothing else.
Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) president, Abdul Waheed Omar, who led the labour team, told the committee that immediately he got information about the crisis in Niger State, he directed that the protest be stopped.
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives’ committee on Labour has assured Nigerians that the ongoing impasse between the federal government and the organised labour over the removal of fuel subsidy would be resolved in the next 24 hours.
Briefing newsmen the chairman of the House committee on Labour, Essien Ekpenyong Ayi said this was based on positive responses from the representatives of the organised labour and those of the federal government at the ongoing parley with the two parties on the matter.
According to him, “we are making progress, and sincerely believe that in the next 24 hours or so, the effort of the House to resolve this matter shall be acheived”.
He continued: “Today is the third day of the ongoing strike and you will agree with me that government has lost a lot of resources running into billions of naira as a result of the ongoing strike. I am made to understand that Nigeria has lost as much as N158.9 billion on daily basis from the ongoing strike. What is accrued to the federal government from her own share of the deregulation for 2012 is about N500billion from the N1.3trillion. then if the strike is sustained for about 5 days, the government shall lose more than expected income and it shall thereafter become a wasted venture”.
Also, in a statement, Mohammed Bello Adoke, the attorney General of the Federation an Minister of Justice, said:
• It has come to the attention of the government that some persons or group of persons are perpetuating criminal activities under the guise of participating in the on-going demonstration against the subsidy removal policy of the Government;
• since the demonstration began on Monday, 9th January 2012, these persons have among other things engaged in arson, wanton destruction of lives and property, as well as making unguarded statements bordering on treason with a view to overwhelming the government. As a result, several State Governors have imposed curfew in their respective States in order to prevent further breakdown of law and order;
• while government recognizes the right of Nigerians to peaceful demonstration, it will not fold its arms or stand idly by, while the current situation deteriorates into a state of general insecurity. Henceforth, government will not hesitate to bring to bear, the full weight of the law on erring persons or group of persons howsoever called that engage in any act that threatens the peace and stability of the country or its corporate existence; and
• government reiterates its earlier position that those who have genuine grievances as a result of the implementation of the fuel subsidy removal should express such grievances within the confines of the law and dispute resolution mechanisms as established by law.