Subsidy removal: FG refuses to shift ground

THE PUNCH Newspaper

All is set for a long-drawn battle between the Goodluck Jonathan administration and pro-subsidy protesters as the Federal Government on Wednesday insisted that it would not go back on the removal of subsidy on petrol.

After a Federal Executive Council meeting yesterday, the government said the ongoing mass protests against the removal of subsidy from January 1 were merely adding to the pains of Nigerians and asked the labour unions and civil society groups spearheading the mass action to change tact.

“The fact is that this protest is only adding more pains to the people of Nigeria and in some places we are also beginning to see that elements outside labour are already virtually in the forefront and this is creating a lot of security problems in some states,” the Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku, said while briefing journalists on the outcome of the Federal Executive Council meeting which held on Wednesday in Abuja.

‘FG position ‘unfortunate’’

The Nigeria Labour Congress reacted sharply to the FEC’s decision, describing the government’s stance as “unfortunate.” It vowed to make the Federal Government come to term with the reality that sovereignty belonged to the people.

The NLC through its Acting Secretary General, Mr. Owei Lakemfa, said it was rather tragic that the Federal Government would cling unto a decision that had been widely condemned.

Owei, in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents, said, “It is rather unfortunate and indeed tragic that the government would say there is no going back. It does not show responsibility.

“It shows that the Federal Government does not listen to the popular demand of the people. However, we must make the government to realise that sovereignty lies with the people and not the government.”

‘Labour adding more pains’

Maku said reports had shown that in some places, people outside labour were hijacking the protests because of the security problem currently confronting the country.

Maku said, “You saw the situation in Kaduna and Edo states.

“It is our belief that anything that cannot be achieved through discussion will not really be useful when you call the general population to the streets.

“So, we are appealing to Nigerians, civil society organisations, and labour to understand that we believe that this option that has been taken is adding more pains to our people and we hope that in the days ahead they will see reason and drop the protest and continue the process of dialogue.

“This issue of deregulation is not an option that the government arrived at in comfort or happiness. It is something that has been reviewed over a year and a half.”

Maku added that rather than crucify the President, Nigerians should praise him for taking the bold steps to remove subsidy on petrol.

Despite the government’s posture however, Maku said the Federal Government would continue to engage labour unions in a dialogue.

“From the President’s address to the nation last week, you will see that the Federal Government remains engaged in the process of dialogue with labour.

“We have never dismissed the process of dialogue. Mr. President, even before the full deregulation was announced, discussed with all labour leaders. We discussed with the NLC, TUC, and we discussed with other stakeholders outside labour, knowing that this key economic policy will affect the general population.

“We have never closed our doors to negotiations or discussions with labour or any other social groups that are involved in the current protest. What is very clear to us is that government is taking up its responsibilities, not only at the federal level, but other state governments are engaged in direct discussions with their own trade unions as well as civil society groups.

“In some states, we have noticed quite some progress in the dialogue between the state governments and labour and civil society groups. So, as far as we are concerned, the process of dialogue is continuing.”

He said the FEC also focused on the presentation of the Minister of National Planning, Dr. Shamsudeen Usman, on the implementation of projects and the results expected in 2012. He disclosed that the key performance indicators to be measured by how much impact Ministries, Departments and Agencies have on the people had already been handed over to ministers.

He said the council also debated and resolved that the subsidy re-investment which had already been unveiled would be aggressively implemented.

The minister said the President had directed all the key ministries involved in the implementation of the programme to ensure that they deliver.

He added that the programme would be delivered in such a way that all Nigerians would see that the government meant business.

Govt to crack down on erring protesters’

Meanwhile, the government has threatened to use the full weight of the law on “erring persons or group of persons howsoever called that engage in any act that threatens the peace and stability of the country or its corporate existence.”

The government’s threat was contained in a statement by the Attorney-General of the Federation, and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Adoke (SAN) on Wednesday.

The statement, personally signed by the minister, reads: “It has come to the attention of the government that some persons or group of persons are perpetuating criminal activities under the guise of participating in the on-going demonstration against the subsidy removal policy of the Government.

“Since the demonstration began on Monday, January 9, 2012, these persons have among other things engaged in arson, wanton destruction of lives and property, as well as making unguarded statements bordering on treason with a view to overwhelming the government. As a result, several State Governors have imposed curfew on their respective States in order to prevent further breakdown of law and order.

“While government recognises the right of Nigerians to peaceful demonstration, it will not fold its arms or stand idly by, while the current situation deteriorates into a state of general insecurity.

“Henceforth, government will not hesitate to bring to bear, the full weight of the law on erring persons or group of persons howsoever called that engage in any act that threatens the peace and stability of the country or its corporate existence.”

The number of protesters increased across the country on Wednesday as the mass action called by the NLC, the Trade Union Congress and civil society coalition entered its third day.

Minna protesters go wild

The protest in Minna, Niger State assumed a violent dimension following the state governor’s threat of ‘no-work-no-pay.’ To curtail the people’s anger, the state government on Wednesday imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew on the state.

During the violent protests, hundreds of protesters set fire to government and political party offices and also targeted the homes of local politicians.

An office building said to belong a former military dictator, Ibrahim Babangida, was among those attacked.

Shops were also set on fire.

A statement by the Secretary to the Niger State Government, Mr. Daniel Shashere, said the curfew became necessary following the hijacking of the protests organised by labour and members of the civil societies on the removal of the subsidy on petrol.

The statement reads in part, “The protest organised by labour and civil societies which started peacefully on Monday in Niger State has today been hijacked by miscreants and hoodlums who have decided to take the laws into their hands by creating bonfires on the streets of Minna and torching public and private properties.

“Following this ugly development, Government has a responsibility to protect lives and property and has therefore decided to impose a 24-hour curfew with immediate effect on the Headquarters of the 25 Local Government Areas of the state.

“Only persons on essential services who should carry proper identification are exempted from this order. Other citizens are warned to stay indoors until further notice.”


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