Indications emerged yesterday that the week-long strike and massive protests that paralysed activities across the country will soon come to an end, as the Federal Government and the labour unions hinted that they both agreed to shift ground on their positions over the fuel subsidy removal.
This was the outcome of yesterday’s meeting between President Goodluck Jonathan, the labour leaders, the leadership of the Senate and some state governors in Abuja.
LEADERSHIP gathered that at the meeting, a serious debate ensued between the two parties on how to reach a compromise that would make government slash fuel price from N141 to N100.
Another option, it was also learnt, was that the subsidy removal should be reversed and only be totally removed in April.
Briefing State House correspondents after the meeting that ended at about 10:15pm, president, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Abdulwaheed Omar, said while labour union had agreed to shift ground on the matter, the strike would continue tomorrow until both parties concluded negotiations in a meeting scheduled for 10:00am.
“The outcome is that we have not concluded discussions yet, but we have had fruitful discussions and we are to continue on Saturday. Of course, all of us are trying to shift ground and that is why I told you that we have had fruitful discussions. Unless and until we get a conclusive conclusion from the discussion, then that means we will maintain status quo,” Omar stated.
On the side of government, Senate President, David Mark noted that his responsibility was to get government and labour to talk, and added that the two parties were on the right track.
“The light at the end of the tunnel is even much brighter now.
The meeting is very fruitful. Everybody shifted grounds to the level that we will take a decision that will be in the best interest of Nigerians. That will be any moment from now. Nigerians should expect the best decision.”
Before the meeting which bordered mainly on negotiation between government and the organised labour, the president had earlier held a closed door meeting with seven state governors led by the Chairman of the Governors’ Forum and Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi.
The other governors present at the meeting were Babatunde Fashola (Lagos), Adams Oshiomhole (Edo), Liyel Imoke (Cross River), Peter Obi (Anambra), Babangida Aliyu (Niger) and Gabriel Suswan (Benue).
Those who attended the meeting from the side of the government were: Vice President Mohammed Namadi Sambo; Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Anyim Pius Anyim; Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke; Minister of Finance and Coordinating minister of the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; Minister of Information, Labaran Maku as well as Ministers of State for Health, Alhaji Ibrahim Pate and that of Finance, Dr. Yerima Lawal Ngama
Aside David Mark, his deputy, Ike Eweremadu and Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba were also at the meeting to represent the National Assembly leadership.
After what appeared to be a preliminary consultation with the governors and the National Assembly leadership, President Jonathan and Vice-President Sambo came out of the meeting, 10 minutes after the 17 representatives of the labour unions arrived and were ushered into the meeting at about 6.35pm for proper talks.
The raging civil disobedience embarked upon by labour in partnership with civil society groups over the zero-subsidy policy is in its fifth day and has paralysed socio-economic activities in the country.
No Plans To Impeach President – Reps
The House of Representatives, meanwhile, has debunked rumours that it had begun procedures to impeach President Jonathan over his refusal to reverse his decision on the fuel subsidy.
The House explained this position through the deputy chairman, House Committee on Media, Hon. Victor Ogene, during a press briefing with newsmen in Abuja, yesterday.
Ogene at the briefing which also had in attendance Hon. Opeyemi Bamidele, said that the primary focus of the House was to find lasting solutions to the nationwide strike and fathom ways to salvage the security situation in the country.
“There are no intentions to impeach the president. The rumours being circulated that some House members are collecting signatures to initiate the impeachment process of President Jonathan is false and unfounded,” Ogene stated.
The House also described the statement credited to the media assistant to President Jonathan, Dr. Reuben Abati, that the emergency sitting of the House this Sunday 8 as “merely an expression of opinion” as uninformed.
But as business and socio-economic activities continue to grind to a halt, the governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, has declared that Nigeria is not broke.
He, however, added a caveat: unless subsidy is removed on petrol, in two to three years to come, Nigeria will end up like Greece and other countries.
The CBN governor also yesterday at an interactive session on Channels Television, said no responsible government would wait until it gets broke before putting in place strong economic policies.
“The days of Father Christmas are gone. Nigerians and government should reach a compromise in 24 to 48 hours to avert violence and bloodshed. But the removal of subsidy is for the betterment of Nigerians,” Sanusi said.
He added that no sensible government would make deliberate and unpopular policies, except if it was an economic and financial decision. Continuing, Sanusi noted that “some decisions are morally and religiously good but have economic and financial implications, while some unpopular decisions are economically and financially right”.
On the timing of the removal of the subsidy, the CBN governor said that the decision was for political officeholders to take.
Sanusi, who also tasked the political class to do away with the presidential system of government borrowed from the Americans, said it would help to reduce the recurrent profile that has become a burden.
He cited the huge amount of fund that goes with the wind in the name of wages and remunerations of political officeholders as a good reason why the system must be done away with.
“Out of the N1.8 trillion voted for the recurrent expenditure in the budget, about N1.6 trillion goes for salaries, and most of this is used to pay the political officeholders, such as the president, his vice, 360 members of the House of Representatives, 109 senators, 42 ministers, 36 governors and the political officeholders in all the 774 local government councils.”
Labour Calls For Unity
But even as the FG labour imbroglio lingers, organised labour has appealed to Nigerians to shun sentiments in the common struggle for the reversal of the price of petroleum to N65 per litre.
Esele, who stated this during the ongoing mass protests in Abuja, said Nigerians must not allow politicians to divide their ranks in the name of religion.
The labour leader noted that labour was not against President Goodluck Jonathan but against his bad policies, and thus called for cooperation and understanding among the people to sustain the fight against corruption and bad governance in the country.
“We must not allow anyone in the guise of religion to deceive you to fight your brother, whether you are Christians or Muslims. We must unite in this common struggle for the reversal of petrol to N65 per litre,” he said. “Jonathan must understand that we don’t have anything against him but about a policy the people consider as anti-people, and we will not rest until the price is reversed to the old price.”
The TUC president noted that there was no basis for blackmailing the movement as being done by some groups because every Nigerian is tired of government’s bad policies that do not better their lives.
Reiterating labour’s earlier resolve, Omar said the aim of the protest was for government to reverse the zero-subsidy policy on fuel.
“Everybody is calling on us to call off the strike and we say no, the only condition is for government to first reverse to N65 per litre. If it (government) reverses, we will also reverse and call off the strike and mass protests.
“No government can stay the way they are staying right now for a long time; it is only a matter of time.”
Former member of the House of Representatives Dino Melaye described as untrue, the overshooting of the subsidy money from N500 billion to N1.4 trilion.
According to Melaye, the federal government, through the Federal Ministry of Finance, commissioned a body called the KPMG, professional services firm, to carry out the audit of the NNPC, and that audit was carried out and recommendations made to the government.
He said the report, which revealed the massive corruption and wrongdoing in the oil and gas industry, was however swept under carpet by the government.
Both the NLC and TUC in Rivers State have expressed deep worries over the security challenges, reports of deaths and hijack of the street protests in some parts of the country over the ongoing nationwide strike and protests against the removal of subsidy from petrol.
The two unions, therefore, said they were putting all further plans for street protests on hold, pending when they would have been able to articulate better action plans for the protests.
Chairman of TUC in the state Comrade Hyginus Chika Onuegbu told LEADERSHIP in Port Harcourt, the state capital, that the plan would enable the unions mitigate the risks associated with street protests.
In Niger and Kogi states, three protesters were reportedly shot dead by policemen yesterday.
Police Kill 3 In Niger, Kogi
While two young men, Yahaya Adamu and Rabiu Abubakar, were felled by police bullets around 7am in Gawu Babangida, Gurara local government area of Niger State, a 25-year-old man, Anas Gambo Ba’Sambo, was also shot dead by an armed policeman in Lokoja, Kogi State. This followed an earlier threat to deal decisively with anyone that further engaged in violence in the course of protesting against fuel subsidy removal in Kogi State.
The father of Yahaya, Adamu Ciroma, who spoke with LEADERSHIP in Niger State said he was shocked that the police followed the boys to their houses where they shot them. He noted that the boys embarked on the protest like their counterparts from all over the country.
2 Million Women, Youth Join Kano Protests
In Kano, about two million women and youth yesterday defied the harsh cold and hazy weather to join in the strike.
As early as 8am, the protesters gathered at the old campus of Bayero University (BUK) Kano and marched from there through Kofar Kabuga, Kofar Famfo to the Kofar Na’isa open space ground where speeches were delivered by the state labour leaders.
Students, traders and motorcycle riders also joined in the protest rally, while shops and remained closed.
Addressing the crowd, chairman of the state NLC Comrade Isa Yunusa Danguguwa explained that the rally was meant to continue with the struggle for the wellbeing of Nigerians, adding that the strike and protests would continue until the federal government acceded to their request.
Comrade Danguguwa declared that “no threat or intimidation would stop the protest…
We can only call off the strike if government’s action on fuel subsidy removal is reversed.”