Saturday, 30th September 2023

Labour unmoved, says FG wants to cash in on $800m palliatives

By Gloria Nwafor (Lagos) and Saxone Akhaine (Kaduna)
07 April 2023   |   4:20 am
Organised labour, yesterday, said it was not moved by the $800 million World Bank fund secured by the Federal Government as palliatives targeted at 50 million Nigerians ahead of fuel subsidy removal.

Organised labour, yesterday, said it was not moved by the $800 million World Bank fund secured by the Federal Government as palliatives targeted at 50 million Nigerians ahead of fuel subsidy removal.

Labour said while it was watching the government keenly, as it doesn’t want to be drawn into the argument, “the problem of Nigeria is deeper than sharing money or talking about palliatives.”
President of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), Dr. Tommy Okon, said until the government engages labour on subsidy concerns, it would not respond.

He said the poverty situation in Nigeria could not be wished away by mere palliatives, adding that as far as labour is concerned, government is paying lip service to the poverty situation in the country. 
He wondered why because they have a window of palliatives, they are celebrating. “What are palliatives compared to inflation, socio-economic challenges, and lack of welfare for Nigerian workers?
“Until they engage us, we will not respond. We are used to hearing about palliatives, it is not a new thing. At the appropriate time, we will respond when we are involved. For now, we are not involved. We are not moved by the palliatives. This is not the first time government is talking about palliatives, because most of them collect palliatives to settle their people. As far as the issue of subsidy is concerned, when the government is ready to talk to us we will respond accordingly. The main issue is to let government talk to us,” Okon said.
A top official of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), who doesn’t want his name mentioned, said the official position of the Congress is that subsidy or not, it would not be drawn into the argument. He alleged that government wants the World Bank’s fund to cash in heavily as a means for their retirement benefits on the 10 million households that they claimed to have identified, arguing that petroleum prices cannot be hiked by any government without discussions and inputs from critical stakeholders.

According to him, issues with an increase in petroleum products or subsidy removal were dead on arrival. “We will use our last breath to kick against it. It won’t happen. Government has to repair the refineries, from there, we can know the real price of petroleum products and can talk if there will be subsidy or not,” he said.
Additionally, Director-General of the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA), Adewale-Smatt Oyerinde, in a statement, yesterday, said government must stop using scarce resources to fix policy problems. 
He said it was both unrealistic and unsustainable, alleging that the subsidy regime is a scam and has not in any way benefitted the so-called “vulnerable” citizens.   He said it makes no economic sense to inject cash in the form of palliatives into an economy that is already beset with unending inflationary pressures. 
Breaking down the World Bank’s $800 million fund, Oyerinde said: “The $800 million, at best, is equivalent to about N360 billion. When you divide this by the targeted 10 million households, that amounts to approximately N36,000. What significant or tangible effect would this have on anyone, irrespective of status? We will only end up adding more woes to our shrinking economy.

“What we request is a more all-encompassing institutional structure to manage the gradual removal of the subsidy after fixing the refineries and not the proposed palliatives. It is worthy of note that previous palliatives had proved not to palliate the economic woes of the citizens. In reality and within the context of our current economic situation, the majority of Nigerians are vulnerable, especially organised businesses.”
While commending the World Bank for the gesture, he called on the government to fix all the refineries and ensure accountability is prioritised.
“If the government is truly interested in doing this, which appears to be the most important palliative it can provide to the citizenry, then all those who have continued to sabotage every effort at fixing and having them function at optimal capacity must be held culpable. That is the first bit of it.

“As a matter of urgency, as the subsidy regime gradually comes to an end, accountability must be prioritised. All those who had any involvement in the subsidy regime directly or indirectly should be investigated. Our anti-graft agencies should brace up for the occasion and apprehend the situation with the view of recovering stolen funds,” he said.

MEANWHILE, Northern Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN) has opposed the proposed removal of fuel subsidy, threatening to embark on a nationwide protest if the policy succeeds.
The body, which represents interest of youths in the Northern region, raised concerns about potential impact on the economy and Nigerians. In a statement issued by the president, Isah Abubakar, the group feared that any palliative measure would be circumverted by corrupt individuals, as played out during  the COVID-19 era.
NYCN, therefore, charged the Nigerian government to reconsider its decision, noting that the implementation will only lead to increase in cost of living. It advised government to create jobs and stimulate economic growth.
The group warned of severe political consequence in the quest of going against Nigerians. They should know and understand that power now rests on the thumbs of Nigerians. Nigerians won’t forget,” Abubakar warned.

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