Sunday, 3rd December 2023

Eight Weeks After: FG has held no discussions on palliatives, says Labour

By Gloria Nwafor and Saxone Akhaine, Kaduna
20 August 2023   |   4:13 am
Eight weeks after a commitment to an immediate restructuring of the framework for engagement with organised Labour on palliatives for Nigerians to cushion the effect of subsidy removal, the President Bola Ahmed Tinubu-administration is yet to begin the process.

Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) team led by its President, Joe Ajaero (right); General Secretary, Emmanuel Ugboaja and others during a meeting with the Federal Government on fuel subsidy removal at Presidential Villa, Abuja…recently. PHOTO: PHILIP OJISUA

• Kicks Against N5b Palliative Grants To States, Says It’s No Result Of Social Dialogue
• They’re Embarking On Unilateral Actions, Programmes — Ajaero
• ‘We’ll Take Action, Can’t Wait Endlessly’
• NECA: Nigeria Needs Structure To Drive Palliative Implementation
• Show Engagement Commitment With Labour, Muda Tells FG
• N5B Palliative: Govt Implementing Shambolic Policy ACF Spokesman

Eight weeks after a commitment to an immediate restructuring of the framework for engagement with organised Labour on palliatives for Nigerians to cushion the effect of subsidy removal, the President Bola Ahmed Tinubu-administration is yet to begin the process. And yesterday, the eight-week time-frame set for conclusion of the process expired with no action whatsoever.

Labour sources told The Guardian that since June 19 when the President set up committees for the purpose, neither the Presidential Steering Committee nor its sub-committees had met to conclude talks on the framework to be adopted.

Following the President’s intervention, sub-committees had been created with a view to working out how to implement FG’s palliative drive in areas such as Cash Transfers, Social Investment Programme (SIP), Cost of Governance, Energy, and Mass Transit and Housing. The committees were given eight weeks to conclude their assignment to hasten the implementation of the framework in cushioning the effect of petrol subsidy removal on Nigerians.

This was a fall-out of President Tinubu’s closed-door session with the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) during a nationwide protest by the organised labour.

WHILE a more representative course of action on palliatives for Nigerians was put in limbo, the National Economic Council (NEC), on Thursday, approved N5billion for each state as palliative to cushion the effect of fuel subsidy removal. The decision was taken at a meeting of the Council presided over by Vice President Kashim Shettima and attended by state governors and other statutory members of NEC at the State House, Abuja.

The grant is to, among other things, be used in procurement of grains as well as five trucks of rice to each state as palliatives. The NEC also approved the distribution of 40,000 bags of maize to be distributed to states.

In a swift reaction, organised labour kicked against the Federal Government doling of N5 billion palliative grant to states to cushion the impact of the subsidy removal.

NLC President, Joe Ajaero, said government going ahead to give governors N5 billion as palliative to their states speaks against its proposal that governors should not be allowed to drive the process at the state level because they lacked the credibility to do so.

He said the decision by the Governors’ Forum was not a product of social dialogue and not a negotiated outcome, alleging that the government was contemptuous of the committees it set up.

“I have said in unmistakable terms that the governors, from our experiences in the past, should not be allowed in any way to drive the process in the states due to trust deficits.

“Perhaps, the government has decided to dash N5 billion to the boys in the states. For them to have done that, it means they do not have the regard for negotiated outcomes with the necessary bargaining institutions in Nigeria.

“Very soon, we will review our engagement with the government based on what it has done, which shows that it does not have regard for the committees it set up and also shows that it does not have regard for its promises.

“We expect that the government should show more commitment to its promises. If this is done, it will build trust and confidence, which will in turn drive social dialogue and we will get better results both for workers, citizens and the nation at large.

“So while governors have gotten their own, Nigerians are also waiting to get their share. If they refuse, Nigerian workers will have no other option than to fight for themselves. We are sovereign, we are the owners of Nigeria and as the sovereign, we will mobilise ourselves to do the needful to ensure that those we have elected into office obey us because it is in our desire and interest that they are supposed to serve and protect. We will hold them accountable,” he said.

The National Economic Council (NEC) last week, said that the Federal Government had approved N5 billion grant to be given to each of the 36 states of the federation.

SPEAKING with a member of the presidential steering committee (PSC), Chris Onyeka, said the committees have not met.

Noting that labour agreed with Tinubu to restructure the committee, he said government should have allowed social dialogue in the palliative talks, which remained a democratic platform to guide its actions and policies.

“When we met him on the nationwide protest day, he alluded that the committee was not delivering on his objectives, and that was why he promised that the committee should be restructured. But even as we speak, the committee has not been restructured and properly activated.”

Onyeka, who is an Assistant General Secretary of the NLC, said: “While we are still waiting for the government, we will not wait endlessly. As soon as we feel that time has been abused, we will take necessary action to ensure sanity is brought back to bear on our engagement with government on this issue.”

Another member of the committee on cost of governance and deputy president of Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC), Dr. Tommy Okon, told The Guardian that since the last meeting with President Tinubu and organised labour, which led to the suspension of protests and withdrawal of contempt charges by Office of the Attorney General of the Federation, nothing had happened.

He said: “We are still waiting. Nothing has been heard from the government. The protest was suspended because Mr. President intervened, and the planned nationwide strike was also called off since the Ministry of Justice withdrew the contempt charges.

“To date, the effect of the removal of fuel subsidy is still lingering. The masses are suffering, salaries of workers have remained static, and the government has not done anything to that effect. Organised labour gave the government an ultimatum, which expired yesterday, August 19, and nothing seems to be done.”

He added: “It shows that the government was not prepared. Any government that is prepared to take care of responsibilities, which also has it in mind that there is going to be removal of fuel subsidy, is supposed to put machinery in motion to cushion effects.”

Ajaero accused the Federal Government of refusing to put in place safeguards to protect Nigerians from harsh economic situations inflicted by its policies.

He alleged that the government frustrated and abandoned its committee, which was a product of social dialogue between government and workers’ bodies.

He said while the committee had not met, the government embarked on unilateral actions and programmes, which destabilised the peace of mind of Nigerians.

It would be recalled that the NLC chief had assured earlier when negotiations started that if the solutions and recommendations thrown up are adopted and implemented faithfully by the government, they would go a long way to cushion the fuel subsidy removal.

“There is a promising note that something may happen if we all sit down and look at the committees very well, and come up with solutions and recommendations to be adopted and worked on by the government.

“But along this stretch between working on the committee, making submissions and adopting them, the implementation becomes an issue because we know that committees have been set up before that came up with recommendations, but which were not followed. If they were followed, we would not be where we are today.

“For instance, we agreed before in the last administration on the issue of Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) and what to do. If they had implemented the CNG programme, we wouldn’t be here; Nigerians won’t be bothered because we have a substitute. It is the implementation of what has been suggested that is the issue,” he said.

Similarly, TUC Secretary General, Nuhu Toro, had also expressed optimism that the presidential steering committee set up to look into the demands put forth by TUC would come up with ideas that would lead to fruition.

IN his submission, Director-General of the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA), Adewale-Smatt Oyerinde, canvassed that there must be structure in place to drive and fast-track the implementation of palliative to the citizens.

Noting that within the context of negotiations, a lot of discussions must have been made, he said that while labour must have expressed their concerns, the Federal Government also must have expressed their constraints.

Lamenting the challenges organised businesses were faced with, he urged government to deal with the constraints and talk to Nigerians about the outcome of palliative discussions, rather than keeping mum.

He said: “We cannot deny the fact that everything, including businesses, is choking but that notwithstanding, we still have to put pressure on government to deal with those constraints, because it is their responsibility to inform Nigerians rather than keep silent.

“Organised businesses have continued to engage and make policy recommendations, as well as share with government challenges Nigerians are facing. Shutting down the country will not make it correct. Our strategy is to continue to engage, dialogue and put pressure on government from all angles that actions must be taken immediately.”

Similarly, the Chief Executive Officer, Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise (CPPE), Dr. Muda Yusuf, said government needed to show more commitment to engagement with labour because that is the only way labour could have confidence in the whole negotiation process.

“We don’t want such a situation when there is a threat on strike that government will wake up. It is good to preempt threats of strikes or actual strikes by engaging productively and timely, as well as keeping to agreed timelines for purposes of negotiations. Labour have made demands, they should sit down and agree on them cordially,” he said.

Also, a former President of  Human Capital Providers Association of Nigeria (HuCaPAN), licensed recruiter of informal sector workers, Aderemi Adegboyega, recommended that government should buy buses and make them available at relatively cheaper prices.

He said government should make infrastructure available to reduce costs for citizens, even as he kicked against distributing money to households for palliative.

According to him, “Government should review wages across sectors, provide and fuel buses at government’s expense, provide railway transportation and make sure the roads are motorable.”

MEANWHILE, an Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) chieftain, Professor Tukur Muhammad-Baba has criticised the blanket distribution of N5billion to each of the 36 states, without considering the peculiar socio-economic problems facing them.

Muhammad-Baba, who is the spokesman of ACF and a Professor of Sociology, said that there is no basis for giving the same amount to Lagos, Oyo, Kano and Bayelsa states, as their populations and statistics of people differ.

He said: “I am not happy about such blanket distribution of N5 billion to each state. In the first place, there is no basis for the distribution. I mean, if you are looking for poor people, are you allocating the same amount to Bayelsa, Lagos, Oyo, and Kano states, and you expect it to make an impact?

According to him, “this shows that we are doing things like what grammar people call ‘hunter’s pack’. You don’t plan, you don’t strategise, you just came out blanketly and made an announcement on that. There is no basis for sharing money to states on an equal basis.

“We are talking of poor people and poor people is a question of proportion, we know there are over 140 million multi-dimensionally poor people in Nigeria. The number of people suffering from poverty in Lagos, Oyo, and Kano will not be the same with those living in poverty in Bayelsa, Taraba, or Jigawa. So, what is the basis? What impact is it going to make?

“You are accompanying it with 30,000 bags of rice. How many people is that going to reach? Take a state like Sokoto, for example, they have over seven million people by the latest National Population Commission estimate. So, how many people are 30,000 bags of rice going to feed?

“The government is not working on a definite plan. I am sorry to say that the government is implementing a shambolic policy. You need to come to the aid of the poor people, there is no doubt about it, but you need to do it in such a way that your intervention will not be a drop in the ocean”, the ACF spokesman added.