Labour insists on proceeding with planned protest

The organised labour on Monday said it would continue with plans to protest the removal of petrol subsidy on Wednesday, August 2, 2023.

The decision was reached after the meeting of the Presidential Steering Committee on Palliatives at the Aso Rock Villa, Abuja, on Monday, where labour representatives doubted President Bola Tinubu’s ability to control inflation and gasoline prices due to the unification of the exchange rate.

“We just adjourned to go and listen to Mr. President’s speech and to continue with our conversation tomorrow. Our peaceful rally will go on as scheduled…so this rally has been fixed,” President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Joe Ajaero, told journalists after the meeting.

Ajaero said he feared that the peaceful protest could be hijacked by hoodlums, saying that such had never happened in any of its workers’ protest. However, he said security agencies are responsible for safeguarding workers in such exercises.

The meeting of the Steering Committee adjourned till 12noon on Tuesday was to enable the labour leaders to listen to the President’s national broadcast on Monday, as they had not done so, said the NLC President.

Reacting to Tinubu’s plan to intervene on the exchange rate over inflation and the high cost of petrol, Ajaero said, “By the time you have a single market and you are not having anything that has a comparative advantage, your energy is import-driven, then how are you going to control it?

“How are you going to control somebody that exchanged dollar at about 900 (naira)? Are you going to tell him to sell below the price?

“How are you going to tell even NEPA (Discos) today, with the cost of production not to increase tariff? Even corn in the villages that was sold at N18,000 by February, now it’s about 56,000. How are you going to control it?”

On his part, the President’s Chief of Staff, Femi Gbajabiamila, said that issues were thrashed at the closed-door meeting and that they adjourned to listen to Tinubu’s broadcast before proceeding.

He also said that the government was dealing with the oil cabal that had crippled the economy.

According to him, “We have been locked behind for a couple of hours, we had a good meeting, issues were thrashed out on the situation in Nigeria today in terms of issues centred around government intervention on the situation in the country.

“We agreed to adjourn till tomorrow as you know Mr. President is making a national broadcast today. Based on what we anticipate that Mr. President will be telling Nigerians, we decided to adjourn meeting till 12pm tomorrow before labour can decide whether or not they want to continue with the protest on Wednesday.

“But we believe that after tonight’s broadcast, the President would have spoken to all the issues; he will roll out his interventions, and needless to say we believe any reasonable person will tell you that at that point there will be no need for any protest.”

On why the government did not roll out palliatives before announcing the stoppage of petrol subsidy, Gbajamiabila argued that the previous government did not budget for subsidy and that President Tinubu was rolling out palliatives to cushion its effect on the people.

Asked if the oil cabal were more powerful than the security agencies and government, he said, “Yes they are and that’s what government is dealing with. First of all, remove the subsidy, that’s the first step.”

Also speaking, the National Security Adviser, Nuhu Ribadu, pleaded with the organised labour to give the administration some time to fix the economy.

“The meeting was an opportunity for us to appeal to the labour leaders by extension Nigerians that we are facing difficulties and challenges that are not our making.

“We inherited a very bad situation. Most of the problems people are talking about are not a creation of this government.

“This government is barely two months old and since we have been facing these difficulties and challenges, we have a listening and engaging President, a President who will want to have a conversation and react.”

Present at Monday’s meeting were Ajaero, his counterpart from the TUC, Festus Osifo; the General Secretary of NLC, Emma Ugbaja; the TUC Secretary, Nuhu Toro and other members of the organised labour delegation including Prof. Sam Amadi.

On the Federal Government’s side were the President’s Chief of Staff, Gbajabiamila; Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Dr Folashade Yemi-Esan; Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Labour and Employment, Kachollom Daju; the Group Chief Executive Officer of Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited, Mele Kyari; and the Special Adviser to the President on Energy, Olu Verheijen, among others.

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