For the second time, a meeting by the federal government, labour leaders, the National Assembly leadership and state governors yesterday ended in deadlock, as the labour unions insisted on maintaining the status quo regarding the fuel pump price.
The meeting, which started behind schedule, exactly at about 8:15pm at the First Lady Wing of the Presidential Villa, Abuja followed a similar meeting held on Thursday in which the federal government and the labour unions stated that although the negotiation was inconclusive, they had agreed to shift grounds on their positions on the issue.
But the federal government had in its response, said the meeting continues today.
The President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Abdulwaheed Omar and the labour delegation had at about 11.40pm stormed out of the meeting, insisting that the federal government must revert to status quo.
Speaking to the State House Correspondents, Omar said: “We are going to continue our deliberation at our organisations levels and then maybe we will see the way forward”.
Asked whether the meeting was deadlocked, the NLC boss said: “Not deadlocked, but we have not reached a compromise. We are going to meet with our organs, then we inform Nigerians. Like we said the other time, it means the status quo remains. Let’s go back to N65 then we agree on a new line of action”.
Asked whether labour was insisting on N65, Omar explained further: “For now, yes”, just as he denied that politicians and the Save Nigeria Group (SNG) were influencing the decision of the organised labour.
But at about 12:15am, the federal government delegation came out and told journalists that the discussion was fruitful.
Commenting on what transpired at the meeting, the Senate President, David Mark, said: “We had very fruitful discussion. We are veering on the right path to find amicable solutions that Nigerians will appreciate”.
He assured that very soon, there would be an agreement on a new price to be fixed, adding that, “we are working on it”.
When told that the NLC insisted on N65 or nothing, Mark said: “It is a whole negotiation process; negotiation continues. We have done pretty well. We are consulting; we want to bring this to a logical conclusion at the earliest possible time”.
On what the federal government was offering to resolve the impasse, Mark said: “There is no question of federal government offering a specific pump price. The essence of the negotiation and discussion is that both sides are shifting grounds and we are doing that very well”.
On whether government was worried that the strike continues, he said: “I think it bothers everybody. If it doesn’t, we won’t be here by now. We were here at about 6pm and some people were here 2 hours before then. The mere fact that we have spent this amount of time means that it is an indication of the fact that we are worried about the current situation and we have to sort it out as soon as possible”.
But a labour union source told LEADERSHIP that the labour leaders had in the last meeting, agreed to shift grounds with the federal government, but after consultations with its affiliates including the Save Nigeria Group (SNG) and civil society groups, the NLC and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) came back yesterday with a different tune that it was either fuel price returns to N65 or nothing.
Although yesterday’s meeting was billed for 6pm, the labour union delegation led by Omar, TUC President, Mr Peter Esele and NLC Secretary General, Mr Owei Lakemfa, arrived the venue at exactly 7:20pm.
In attendance at the meeting were Vice -President Namadi Sambo, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim and the National Security Adviser, Gen. Andrew Azazi (rtd).
Apart from the Senate President; his deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu; Senate Leader, Senator Victor Idoma-Egba (SAN): Senator Abdul Ningi; Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, and his Deputy, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, were at the meeting on behalf of the National Assembly.
The governors who attended the meeting included Chairman, Nigeria Governors’ Forum and Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi; Adams Oshiomhole (Edo); Liyel Imoke (Cross River); Muazu Babangida Aliyu (Niger); Peter Obi (Anambra); Gabriel Suswam (Benue); Theodore Orji (Abia); Murtala Nyako (Adamawa); Babatunde Fashola (Lagos), Olusegun Mimiko (Ondo) and Aliyu Wammako (Sokoto)
From the federal government’s camp also were the Ministers of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke; Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; FCT, Bala Muhammad; Attorney-General of the Federation , Muhammad Adoke; Trade and Investment, Dr Olusegun Aganga and Information, Labaran Maku and the NNPC Group Managing Director, Mr. Austin Oniwon.
In its reaction, the ruling Peoples Democtaic Party (PDP) observed last night that the organised Labour insistence on N65 per litre for petrol was not done in good faith.
National Publicity Secretary of the party, Professor Rufai Ahmed Alkali told LEADERSHIP SUNDAY that the leadership of the labour unions should have acted more reasonably by agreeing with the government in the circumstance and call off the strike.
He, however, said: “We are happy the federal government has shown good faith in opening the door of dialogue. We had hoped that the leadership of the organised Labour would have yielded grounds instead of insisting on N65 per litre. The Labour, I feel, must take the interest of the citizens into consideration instead of exposing them to unnecessary hardship”.