President Muhammadu Buhari declared on Thursday that the decisions to increase both the fuel pump price and the electricity tariff have been taken in the utmost interest of all Nigerians and the working class.
The President also added that there is no decision taken by his government that is intended to cause any pain or harm to Nigerians.
President Buhari told the Organised Labour at the opening of negotiation between the Federal Government and the leadership of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), held at the Banquet Hall of Presidential Villa.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Boss Mustapha, who delivered President Buhari’s message also made it known, emphatically to the Organised Labour that deregulation, removal of subsidy with its attendance fuel and electricity price increases have become imperative, adding that the decision cannot be escaped.
“It is a decision that must have been painfully considered,” he added.
Speaking, Mr Mustapha said: “The President has said that no government decision taken is intended to cause any pain or harm. The decisions that have been taken, are in the utmost interest of all people and the working class.
“I have the privilege of working in the Presidential Transition Committee set up by President Buhari and I remember the decisions that were presented to him. One of the decisions by the team considered as low hanging fruit in 2015 was deregulation, and I think President Buhari objected to it.
“Thereafter the issue was reflected in the final report. There was the need to consider seriously the issues relating to deregulation of the petroleum sector, and the need to look at energy sufficiency and efficiency, within the power on what needed to be done. When the report was submitted to Buhari, his reaction was that the Nigerian people elected him not to inflict pain on them. He said though he considers that economically as a low hanging fruit, he felt that the time was not yet ripe for it. That the important thing is to manage before such decision will ever be taken.
“Five years down the line, that decision has become imperative and cannot be escaped, it is a decision that must have been painfully considered. I am just sharing this reflection in order to put in perceptive the fact that the decision was never intended to cause great pain and erode the wellbeing of our people.
“But little did we know that we will be confronted in one or two years, that was after the implementation of the minimum, with a pandemic which hit the entire world and has completely disrupted even the strongest of the economy to the extent of each and every country of the world today are trying to find a solution to the economic disruption COVID-19 has brought to the entire world.
“Nigeria does not survive in isolation. We as a government and as a people and those of you that on the other side of the divide are part of the government because you are leaders in your own right in the places you operate and in the spheres that you exercise influence.”
The Minister of Labour, Dr Chris Ngige, said the government had received the communique from the NLC, that they would be embarking on industrial strike and a nationwide peaceful protest from Monday 28 September.
He, however, assured labour that the government was already addressing the specific items listed in the communique so that the issue of strike and mass protest would not come up.
Dr Ngige said: “It is incumbent on us as the ministry that has the responsibility to manage trade disputes so that they can dialogue and discussed. So today’s meeting, even though it is a bilateral meeting, has a new colouration, in that some specific items have been listed in the communiqué and we will like to assure the labour centres that we have gotten that communiqué and we are addressing the issue.
“With that, we think that we can resolve issues and nobody will be in the mood to go on strike or go on demonstrations in the street because I want to reiterate that this country belongs to all of us, it is not President Buhari’s country. Boss Mustapha doesn’t own this country and Chris Ngige does not own this country. The country belongs to all of us even the Ayubas, the Ajaeros and the Quadri Olaleyes, we all owned here.”
In his comment, the TUC President, Comrade Quadri Olaleye, said the are ready to engage with the government but he regretted that if the government had engaged and negotiated with Nigerians, including labour before the increase, it would not have ended like that and degenerated.
He stated that the TUC position, like that of Organised Labour, remains the same and insisted on a total reversal of the fuel and electricity prices.
“As I mentioned in the last meeting we had here that if we have been having constructive engagement in the past, maybe we would have been able to solve some of these problems. But the government turned a deaf ear to us even before,” he said.
The TUC President added: “Let us continue the meeting then we listen to the government, let us know what solution you are bringing on board. But I have to reiterate that the submission of TUC as at last week still remains, that you reverse all those increases then you can come up with economic recovery solutions that you have.
“I know that many times we have advised you to diversify the economy and we even mentioned the introduction of modular refineries and we have never had any feedback from the government. So we are here to listen to the feedback.
“This hardship is getting too much, so whatever solution we are bringing, must be holistic, something that everybody will feel that the country belongs to all of us.”
The NLC President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba also blamed the government for its failure to negotiate with Nigerians and workers before unilaterally taken the decision.
He said: “We have always said the best way to address challenges, whether social economy or labour issues is to try to proactively engage Labour and have the perspective of labour. We are here to continue with the dialogue that started last week. As you are aware, after the dialogue, we were able to update all our members.
“We are here to find a lasting solution to the perennial issue of the twin challenges of the increase in pump price in the name of deregulation and also the issue electricity tariff increase, which we have explained the impact on Nigerian workers, but importantly the larger Nigerian society.
“The last time we were here, we also had a lot of discussion about what we expect that should have been done. We have been on the same issue for over 30 years.”
Wabba added: “Clearly, part of the challenges is that this new increase has also reduced our purchasing power and eroded the gains that we have been able to make with the minimum wage, where, as we speak, many states are yet to implement.”
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