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Labour unions strategise ahead of proposed fuel subsidy removal

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Trade union opposition to the government’s planned removal of petrol subsidy will be stepped up this week as two of Nigeria’s most powerful private and public sector unions prepare to deepen their alliance.

The Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN) said it has already begun to mobilise its members to resist the removal of subsidies.

National President of the association, Dr Tommy Okon, said in Abuja: “We are engaging in advocacy and enlightening our members to let them know that where this government is taking us to must be resisted. Why is the government still pumping money into the electricity sector it claimed to have deregulated and commercialised? As I sit here, my grandchildren are owing because this government has over-borrowed to the point that we do not even know what we borrowed again.

“Any attempt at removing petrol subsidy is akin to living on ‘fantasy island’. The government is suffering from what I will call ‘policy abortion’. In this case, the government is foot-dragging on the payment of N30,000 minimum wage; epileptic electricity supply, no pipe-borne water supply and no efficient public transportation are social drawbacks that are affecting the quality of life of Nigerians.

“Yes, it may be a matter of law since the PIA is now a reality, but laws must come with human face and sympathy. These things are not solely about legality but also about morality. Laws are made for man and not man for the law.
“Labour has the justification to go on strike of interest and strike of right. We can go on strike to force the hands of government on this matter if we are pushed to the wall,” he said.

Okon alleged that the removal of petrol subsidy is an attempt to mobilise resources for the 2023 elections and not about the wellbeing of the people.

THE Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) had earlier insisted that workers and masses would not accept any further increase in the pump price of fuel in the name of subsidy removal, urging workers and the citizens to prepare for total war against the fuel price hike.

NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, in his New Year message to workers, also named Zamfara, Taraba, Benue, Kogi, Cross Rivers, Abia and Imo states as seven states yet to implement the N30,000 minimum wage that took effect on April 18, 2019. NLC directed the affected states to commence indefinite strikes to force the respective state governments to implement the new wage.

In a nine-page statement, NLC said the government is still not relenting in its determination to push through further increases in the pump price of petrol and which, as usual, had been dubbed as “removal of petrol subsidy.

“Organised Labour has made its position clear on this matter. We have told the government in very clear terms that Nigerians have suffered enough and will not endure more punishment by way of further petrol and electricity price increases.

“Our position in this regard is predicated on four major grounds. First is our concern on the deceit and duplicity associated with the politics of petrol price increase by successive governments. The truth is that the perennial increase by the government of the pump price of petrol is actually a transfer of government failure and inability to effectively govern to the satisfaction of the poor masses of our country.

“We are talking of the failure of government to manage Nigeria’s four oil refineries and inability to build new ones more than 30 years after the last petrochemical refinery in Port Harcourt was commissioned; the failure to rein in smuggling; and the failure to determine empirically the quantity of petrol consumed in Nigeria. The shame takes a gory dimension with the fact that Nigeria is the only OPEC country that cannot refine its own crude oil.”

ALSO, the People’s Alternative Political Movement (TPAP-M), a coalition of individuals and organisations committed to the emergence and building of a mass workers party, and the Socialist Transformation of Nigeria, has rejected the recent hike in the price of gas and the impending hikes in the price of fuel and electricity tariff, among other things.

The coalition stated in a communiqué signed by Comrade Jaye Gaskia and Comrade Omotoye Olorode of the TRAP-M secretariat, that it would organise another Occupy Nigeria Protests on the 10th anniversary of the first one this January.

The NLC, late last year, also announced plans to embark on nationwide protests on January 27, 2022, to protest against moves by the Nigerian government to increase fuel prices.

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New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern cancels her wedding amid new Omicron restrictions

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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden has cancelled her wedding as the nation imposes new restrictions to slow the community spread of the Covid-19 Omicron variant, she told reporters on Sunday.

New Zealand will impose mask rules and limit gathering from midnight on Sunday after a cluster of nine Covid-19 Omicron cases showed community spread from the North to South islands after a wedding.

A family returned to Nelson in the South Island by plane after attending a wedding and other events in Auckland in the North Island. The family and a flight attendant tested positive.

New Zealand will move to a red setting under its Covid-19 protection framework, with more mask wearing. Indoor hospitality settings such as bars and restaurants and events like weddings will be capped at 100 people. The limit is lowered to 25 people if venues are not using vaccine passes, Arden said.

“My wedding will not be going ahead,” she told reporters, adding she was sorry for anyone caught up in a similar scenario. Ardern had not disclosed her wedding date, but it was rumored to be imminent.

Asked by reporters how she felt about the cancellation of her wedding to longtime partner and fishing-show host Clarke Gayford, Ardern replied: “Such is life.”

She added, “I am no different to, dare I say it, thousands of other New Zealanders who have had much more devastating impacts felt by the pandemic, the most gutting of which is the inability to be with a loved one sometimes when they are gravely ill. That will far, far outstrip any sadness I experience.”

New Zealand’s borders have been shut to foreigners since March 2020. The government pushed back plans for a phased reopening from mid-January to the end of February out of concern about a potential Omicron outbreak as in neighboring Australia.

People able to travel to New Zealand under narrow exceptions must apply to stay at state-managed quarantine facilities. The government last week stopped issuing any new slots amid a surge in the number of people arriving with Omicron.

About 94% of New Zealand’s population over the age of 12 is fully vaccinated and about 56% of those eligible have had booster shots.

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SERAP drags Nigerian government to ECOWAS Court over undisclosed loans spending

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The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project has filed a lawsuit against the government of President Muhammadu Buhari before an ECOWAS Court over “secrecy in the spending of loans so far obtained, the unsustainable level of borrowing by the government and the 36 states, and the crippling debt burden”.

Last week, SERAP lawyers, Kolawole Oluwadare and Opeyemi Owolabi filed a suit before ECOWAS Court of Justice in Abuja, in which the organisation sought, “An order directing and compelling the Federal Government to issue an immediate moratorium on borrowing by itself, and the 36 states, in conformity with the country’s international human rights obligations.”

SERAP is also seeking, “An order directing and compelling the Federal Government to publish details of spending of the loans obtained by governments since 1999 including the list of projects and locations of any such projects on which these loans have been spent.”

The organisation maintained that, “Persistent and unsustainable borrowing by the federal and state governments and the crippling debt burden undermine the rights of Nigerians to economic and social development, and are antithetical to the public interest.

“There is lack of transparency and accountability in the spending of the loans so far obtained, and opacity around the terms and conditions in loan agreements, including repayment details for these loans. The details of the projects on which the loans are spent are shrouded in secrecy.

“Without a moratorium on borrowing, the Federal Government and many of the 36 states may be caught in a process driven mostly by creditors’ needs. 

“This will result in an exorbitant social cost for the marginalised and vulnerable sectors of the population.

“The Federal Government and many of the 36 states would seem to be in debt distress or at high risk of debt distress.

“The Senate and House of Representatives recently approved the loans of $5,803,364,553.50 and a grant component of $10million under the 2018-2020 External Borrowing (Rolling) Plan of the Federal Government.

“This followed previous approvals by the National Assembly of $16.2 (16,230,077,718) billion loan; €1 (1,020,000,000) million and a grant component of $125 million loan; $36.8 billion, €910 million loans, and a grant component of $10 million; $8.3 billion and €490 million loans; $6.1 billion, $1.5 billion and 995 million loans; and $4(4,054,476,863), €710 million and grant component of $125million.

“Several of the 36 states are also facing a debt crisis, and vicious debt cycles. According to the Debt Management Office, the foreign debt stock of the Federal Government, 36 state governments and the Federal Capital Territory presently stands at $37.9billion.

“The loans from China alone amount to $3.59billion. According to the UN Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights, Nigeria faces debt service relative to tax revenues that exceed 20 per cent, with escalating social tensions linked to poverty and inequality.

“According to the World Bank’s IDA FY21 Report, with debt exposure of $11.7billion US Dollars, Nigeria ranked fifth among the top 10 countries with highest debt risk exposure. The top four countries are India with $22billion, Bangladesh ($18.1billion), Pakistan ($16.4billion), and Vietnam ($14.1billion).”

Meanwhile, no date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.

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COVID-19: Nigeria records 29 fresh infections, lowest in two months

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The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control has said that 29 people tested positive for Coronavirus on Saturday.

The figure is the country’s lowest single-day count since November 19, 2021 when 23 cases were reported.

In its latest update, NCDC said the positive cases of Coronavirus came from three states.

A breakdown of new cases showed that Lagos — Nigeria’s pandemic epicentre — recorded the highest number of new infections with 27 new positive samples, followed by Kano and Rivers with one each.

According to the agency, 40 persons recovered from the infection while 225,946 people have now been discharged.

No death figure was recorded from COVID-19 complications, leaving the death toll at 3,124.

Since the index case in February 2020, a total of 251,959 Coronavirus infections have been confirmed across Nigeria — out of which 22,889 are active cases. 

On Saturday, the Lagos government said the consistent decrease in COVID-19 cases indicates the end of the pandemic’s fourth wave in the state.

Giving a situation update via Twitter, Akin Abayomi, the state’s Commissioner for Health, said there was a reduction in positivity rates — from 29.3 percent recorded on December 21, 2021, to 1.9 percent as of January 20, 2022.

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