Protess reign all over amid desperate search for truce

2012-01-11
THE GUARDIAN Newspaper

THE face-off between organised Labour and the Federal Government over the latter’s removal of subsidy on petrol entered the second day yesterday with both parties holding on to their own. Labour even went ahead to mobilise more protesters to the streets of Abuja, the seat of power.

But hope of an early end to the indefinite strike, rally and protest declared by the workers was raised by the Senate, which resolved to meet with Labour and the Presidency on the impasse.

After a plenary session yesterday, the chamber mandated Senate President David Mark to lead the principal officers of the Senate to meet with the Presidency and Labour to consider national interest and the plight of Nigerians in whatever decisions they make.

But Labour declared yesterday that it would not meet President Goodluck Jonathan because it would not serve any useful purpose.

Mark, who spoke on the row, which has paralysed socio-economic activities across the Federation, pledged that the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly would ensure that any ‘cabal’ found culpable by its panel’s investigation into the rot in the oil sector and the fuel subsidy management would be prosecuted.

At a rally in Abuja yesterday, the President of Trade Union Congress (TUC), Peter Esele, told the crowd at the “Freedom Square” in Wuse Zone Four that Labour would mobilise 100,000 protesters for today’s demonstration.

There was an upsurge in human and vehicular movements in Abuja, which enabled more Nigerians to join the rally. At Monday’s rally, there were about 20,000 demonstrators but the number rose to about 40,000, according to data released by Labour.

Addressing the senators at its first plenary session after the Christmas and New Year break, Mark expressed the concern of the chamber over the lingering crisis in the country, noting that some incendiary comments by some highly placed Nigerians had not helped matters.

“The current security challenge has reinforced the need to aggressively pursue economic development and simultaneously implement the war on terrorism. In this regard, let me caution against reckless utterances by some Nigerians that endanger our national unity. Statements that encourage people to move from one region to another on the basis of faith and ethnicity are unpatriotic. It portends danger to our corporate existence and a clear invitation to anarchy,” he said.

Mark said some recent events such as the bombing of some places of worship had further heightened tension and constituted a serious threat to the unity of the country.

“We have reconvened at a trying period in our nation’s history. We are confronted by security challenges in different parts of the country, which are testing our collective resolve to live together as an indivisible nation.”

On the subsidy removal, Mark called for honesty of purpose among stakeholders and assured that the Senate would confront the problems and bring sanity into the system.

The Senate President said although the economic argument in support of petrol subsidy removal is compelling, the political and social imperatives must also be considered.

Mark called for understanding among the stakeholders in order to overcome the impasse and directed the Senate Committee on Labour, Employment and Productivity to interface with Labour groups. “I also urged senators to engage with Labour and civil society organisations on the way forward.”

Also, yesterday, the chamber resolved to debate the issue of insecurity in the country at plenary today. This followed a motion moved by the Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, who expressed fear that the insecurity in the country had led to mass movement of Nigerians on ethnic and religious grounds.

He assured that the Senate would get both sides to shift ground on the matter. “The current position is that Labour is insisting on reversal to N65 a litre while government is insisting that subsidy should be removed. The good news is that we have seen some movement on both sides,” he disclosed.

The Senate also officially received a communication from the President in respect of the state of emergency declared by President Jonathan in 15 local councils in Niger, Plateau, Yobe and Borno states.

On the ongoing rallies, Esele also said both the NLC and TUC have internal mechanisms to deal with alleged sabotage of the protest by members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW).

“Some of you are agitating about the National Union of Road Transport Workers. We are a democratic organisation. We have a way of taking care of people who go out of the line. Leave that to the organs of the congress to take care off,” he said.

Esele also discountenanced any planned meeting with the President, saying “some people say we should meet Jonathan but what difference would that make?”

NLC President, Abdulwaheed Omar, submitted that Nigeria is owned by the people, who should take over the land.

He said the protest is to force government to reverse to N65 a litre.

More security barricades seen in Abuja yesterday emerged unlike on Monday when the major roads to strategic public buildings and the main arteries in the Central Business Districts-Ahmadu Bello and Shehu Shagari ways – had partial barricades.

By 1.30 p.m. yesterday, the crowd had been dispersed leaving behind a mesh of rumpled and sun-beaten green leaves, leaflets, fluffing sheets of paper, polythene bags, plastic bottles and all kinds of fibrous wastes as would be expected of scenes where angry citizens had massed riotously.

A police patrol team, which stood by while the defiance march heated up, remained behind. The security personnel were still watching happenings at about 2.00 p.m. yesterday.

At the popular Banex Plaza in Wuse 2, 10 litres of fuel sold for between N2,500 and N3,000 as against N1,410 at the new benchmark rate of Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory agency of N141 a litre.

Members of the civil society groups, who protested in Lagos yesterday, asked Jonathan to resign.

At the Gani Fawehinme Park, Ojota where they converged, their leader and convener of the Save Nigeria Group (SNG), Pastor Tunde Bakare, said sovereignty belongs to the people, and whoever they wish, they give it to.

Bakare said Jonathan had not shown the capacity to govern Nigerians and should leave Aso Rock.

President of the Campaign for Democracy (CD) and Founder of Women Arise, Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, asked Nigerians to prepare for tough times in their struggle to remove corrupt leaders from office.

 

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