The organised labour has said it will hold its planned nationwide protest on Wednesday despite the Monday rollout of subsidy removal palliative plans by President Bola Tinubu.
Tinubu had in a national broadcast unveiled N500bn palliative for manufacturers, small businesses and farmers. He also released plans to increase salaries and acquire 3,000 mass transit buses.
Notwithstanding the President’s last-minute moves to avert the protest, the Nigeria Labour Congress President, Joe Ajaero, said the rally would hold in line with its schedule.
Ajaero spoke shortly after talks between the organised labour and the Federal Government on Monday became inconclusive. The talk is expected to resume on Tuesday (today).
The Presidential Steering Committee on Palliatives meeting between the government and labour was held at the Aso Rock Villa, Abuja.
“We just adjourned to go and listen to Mr. President’s speech and to continue with our conversation tomorrow (Tuesday). Our peaceful rally will go on as scheduled…this rally has been fixed,” Ajaero told journalists after the meeting.
Ajaero allayed the fears that the peaceful protest could be taken over by hoodlums, saying that such had never happened in any of its workers’ protest.
However, he said security agencies were responsible for safeguarding workers in such exercises.
The meeting of the steering committee was adjourned till 12noon on Tuesday.
Reacting to Tinubu’s economic reforms especially on the exchange rate and others, Ajaero said “By the time you have a single market (exchange rate) 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 N900? Are you going to tell him to sell below the price?
“How are you going to tell even the Discos not to increase their tariff with the high cost of production today? Even corn in the villages that was sold at N18,000 in 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 issues around the subsidy removal were discussed at the closed-door meeting, after which it was later adjourned.
He also said the government was dealing with the oil cabals that have crippled the economy.
He said, “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 on 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 the meeting till 12pm tomorrow (Tuesday) before labour can decide whether or not they want to continue with the protest on Wednesday.”
He added, “But we believe that after tonight broadcast, President will speak 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 ending the subsidy regime, he 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.
Also speaking, the National Security Adviser, Nuhu Ribadu, pleaded with the organised labour to give the administration some time to fix the economy.
He said, “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 FG’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.
Also, the NLC National Assistant Secretary, Chris Onyeka, said, “Our protest is irreversible, and it is a mass protest. Remember that we did not issue the notice based on the other increases. Ours is based on the N617 price increase in Premium Motor Spirit. The Federal Government has to deal with that first.”
Written by: Kevin Nwabueze