Jonathan leads Labour, govt talks
Northern leaders urge end to feud
AFTER meeting for about four and a half hours yesterday, President Goodluck Jonathan, Senate President David Mark, state governors and labour were still in search of an amicable solution to the national logjam over the deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry.
The meeting, being held behind closed doors started at about 4 pm yesterday and by 8.15 pm was yet to yield any agreement as all sides were yet to emerge from the negotiation room at the Aso Rock presidential villa.
Assailed by pressures from different quarters on the fuel subsidy removal, the president was apparently in a last ditch effort to end the nationwide strike which has crippled the country in the last four days. Yesterday’s meeting was tripartite.
Senate Presidnt, David Mark led a team that included his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu and Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma Egba.
Governors’ Forum Chairman, Rivers State governor, Rotimi Ameachi led the governors’ delegation to the meeting. The other governors in attendance included, Babatunde Fashiola of Lagos, Liyel Imoke, Cross River, Adams Oshiomhole, Edo, Peter Obi of Anambra, Babaginda Aliyu of Niger and Gabriel Suswam of Benue. The Federal Government team included Vice President, Namadi Sambo, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim, Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Minister for Trade and Investment, Olusegun Aganga, Justice Minister, Adoke Bello, National Security Adviser, Andrew Azazi, amongst others.
The Nigeria Labour Congress President, Abdulwaheed Omar and Peter Esele of Trade Union Congress led the organised labour while Tunde Aremu of ActionAid led the civil societies both comprising a 14 -man delegation to the closed door meeting about two and hours later.
President Jonathan alongside Vice President Namadi Sambo and other members
of his cabinet at the meeting however left the meeting 10 minutes after the arrival of the labour leaders.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senate Leadership and governors were still continuing with the meeting at press time.
There had been growing optimism yesterday that the Federal Government and the Labour movement may resolved their differences over the removal of fuel subsidy, which has brought the country to a standstill since Monday.
The optimism was fuelled by the intervention of some eminent Nigerians, including former Presidents Alhaji Shehu Shagari and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who have asked President Goodluck Jonathan to yield ground and save the country from collapse.
Although the government has allegedly conceded ground by pushing for N100 a litre, Labour is said to have turned down the offer, insisting on the N65 pump price pre-deregulation regime.
Added to the rising hope that the strike may not go beyond the weekend is the willingness of most state governors to work with Jonathan to find an immediate solution to the crisis.
Having seen the resilience of Nigerians to the new fuel price and the violent dimension the protests had assumed in their states, the governors are allegedly supporting a phased deregulation of the downstream sector.
It was learnt that some governors, who rejected any deduction at source from their states’ allocations for fuel subsidy are reviewing their stance.
This positive development reportedly informed the meeting between the governors and Jonathan in Abuja last night.
The confirmation that the governors and the President would meet last night came earlier in the day when some of the state chief executives started arriving in Abuja. Lagos State Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola yesterday came to the Murtala Muhammed Airport where he was flown in a presidential jet to Abuja for the meeting, a source said.
Fashola and his Edo State counterpart, Adams Oshiomhole, are reportedly among the governors the Federal Government believe can positively relate with the civil society groups and Labour on the issues at stake.
But there were fears yesterday that the face-off might be protracted as the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) were adamant on their demand, chiefly that the N100 a litre allegedly being proposed by government was unacceptable to them.
The Guardian learnt that Labour was recalcitrant because it wants to retain the trust of Nigerians and the civil society groups, which have made the strike very successful.
A senior government official told The Guardian in Abuja yesterday that while the Presidency was willing to step down to N100 a litre, Labour wants a reversal to N65 a litre.
According to him, there were fears among Labour leaders that members of the civil society groups might refuse to leave for anything less than N65 a litre.
This was corroborated by a Labour official, who said the fear of mass revolt against any unfavourable agreement with the government was palpable within the NLC and TUC.
He said: “The problem with the new dimension to this protests is the fact that the process is not driven by Labour. You know that the people seized the initiative and began to protest before Labour woke up from its slumber. Labour did not start the protest until last Monday. That was clear eight days after government removed fuel subsidy.
“Why did Labour not declare national rallies and protests immediately the pronouncement was made? Now, Labour is empowered to negotiate with government but the people have taken their destinies into their hands by taking over the protests from the beginning. How can Labour now call off protests it did not initiate? So, we have a historic mandate to negotiate popular expectations because anything contrary to that will be disastrous for the movement.”
Meanwhile, Labour has concluded plans to take the protest to the Eagles Square today as against the “Freedom Square” and Area 1, which have become the muster points for speech making.
Addressing protesters in Area 1, Labour leaders emphasised the peaceful character of the protest, stating that violence as witnessed in some parts of the country would not be condoned.
Making its way to the Area 1 roundabout through the Nnamdi Azikiwe Expressway under the watch of security personnel from the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and Nigeria Police, the protest halted at the roundabout where Labour leaders took turns to mount the mobile podium to address the crowd.
Though residents moved around freely yesterday, commercial activities were still grounded.
The Organised Private Sector (OPS) comprising of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA), Nigerian Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (NASME) and the Nigerian Association of Small Scale Industrialists (NASSI), have advised the government to desist from fixing the prices of petroleum products.
They argued that the government had no business dictating fuel prices in a deregulated market.
The OPS in a statement signed by the leadership of MAN, NACCIMA, NECA, NASSI and NASME yesterday, stated that it was not opposed to the deregulation of the downstream sector, but urged the government not to assume that private capital would flow in as a result of the policy.
After an emergency meeting yesterday, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) urged Jonathan and Labour to reach a compromise on the crisis.
The northern elders said the Forum viewed the current hardship being experienced by Nigerians as a result of the ongoing strike with serious concern, and appealed to all stakeholders to reconsider their positions.
Source: Guardian Newspapers