Subsidy Protest: Inside story of why labour backed down

SUN Newspaper

The battle over the removal of fuel subsidy, which raged for almost a week all over the nation may, have come and gone, but the last is definitely yet to be heard on the intrigues and the behind-the-scene manoeuvres that caused the organised labour into beating a retreat and acquiescing to the Federal Government’s position.

Saturday Sun exclusively gathered that it was largely a case of emotional blackmail and outright threat of labour leaders by the government.

“At some point in time, the sword of treason hung delicately over the head of the labour negotiators, and being human, the self-preservation instinct made them buckle,” said a dependable source, who attended many of the meetings between both parties.

Another competent source, who attended the meeting, told Saturday Sun how President Goodluck Jonathan, at one of the sessions, pointedly accused labour of teeming with disgruntled politicians and vocal civil society groups to bring down the government. He also sought to appeal to emotions. The president reportedly queried the labour team: “What have I done that you want to subvert my government? Am I the only president that has increased the price of fuel? So, why is my own case different? What is so different about my own case that you insist that I must return to N65 a litre? I believe you are not being fair to me?”

The president was not done. He also told labour that they were all out to embarrass him because of his perceived weakness. He reportedly said: “When (General Ibrahim) Babangida increased fuel price, he didn’t revert to the price before increase; (Chief Olusegun) Obasanjo didn’t revert his price. Every Nigerian head of state has increased fuel price and labour didn’t say revert to the price it was or they would ground the nation; so why are you saying I must revert to N65? Is it because I am simple and you are taking my simplicity for weakness?”
The labour leaders were reportedly dumbfounded by the president’s outburst. According to the source, when Jonathan offered N97 and went further to make a veiled reference to treasonable offences, labour leaders knew they had lost the steam to soldier on.

“Security agencies had obviously bugged the lines of the top hierarchy of labour and were monitoring interaction between the leadership of labour and people. Government provided security report, which showed that the agenda of some of the organisers of the protest went beyond the fight over removal of fuel subsidy to an outright call for regime change. That was the last straw that broke labour’s back,” the source told Saturday Sun.
Seeing they had lost in their original demand for a reversion to the pre-January 1, 2012, old pump price, labour leaders then turned round to making specific demands of the president: The complete cleaning of the petroleum sector, including the octopus NNPC and drastic cut in the cost of governance, among others. It is believed that labour’s input actually dictated the contents of the president’s broadcast offering N97.

The Senate pressure
The Senate and its leadership also put enormous pressures on the labour leadership. Senate President, David Mark, was the arrowhead of the pressure group. As an experienced power player, he glided smoothly from government to labour, trying to ensure a delicate balance. Mark didn’t want government to lose face or for labour to be humiliated. The compromise N97 new fuel price was largely due to Mark and Senate’s interventionist role.

Governors Forum and others
The Nigeria Governors’ Forum and two of its prominent leaders, Govs. Chibuike Amaechi and Adams Oshiomhole, also worked assiduously in brokering a truce in the FG/Labour spat. As a former labour leader, Oshiomhole is said to have worn two caps and tried to balance both. While appealing to his colleagues to ‘cool temper,’ he also sought to convince government why it should concede a reduction from the increase of over 120 per cent.

Labour’s reaction
After the unveiling of new price regime of N97 a litre, labour appeared to be torn apart, into two groups. One group thought it was victory for organised labour in that they had secured a reduction, while forcing presidential commitment to good and responsible governance.
“What Nigerians should do at this point in time is to demand accountability and transparency in the governance process,” an arrowhead of the group said.
The second group in labour saw the acquiescence to a new pump price as tantamount to “betrayal of the Nigerian people.” This group appeared to have had the upper hand in the subsidy battle before the dramatic capitulation.

Commendation, not condemnation
However, labour leaders, who spoke with Saturday Sun on condition of anonymity, believed labour should be commended rather than being condemned in the negotiation process. Said one of the labour leaders: “We did the best we could. We are not politicians fighting political causes. We always know when to stop.”


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