Reps ask Jonathan to halt action on subsidy removal

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reps 200 160NLC, TUC, ACN hail House, say President’s gesture not enough

AFTER a marathon debate on the removal of fuel subsidy and the consequent declaration of a nationwide strike by organised Labour, the House of Representatives yesterday urged President Goodluck Jonathan to suspend the implementation of the policy.

Adopting a motion sponsored by Tajudeen Yusuf (PDP, Kogi State) and 60 other lawmakers, the House set up a committee to mediate between the Executive arm of government and labour unions on the matter.

It also raised another panel to verify and determine the actual subsidy requirements and monitor the policy.

The emergency session, which lasted for over three hours, was attended by 294 members of the Lower House. At the stormy, the lawmakers took passionate positions in favour and against removal of subsidy.

But the Majority Leader, Mulikat Adeola-Akande, advised her colleagues to play the role of mediators and not the role of opposition.

The specific prayers of the motion as adopted by the House read:

• we urged the Executive arm of government to suspend its decision on the removal of fuel subsidy in appreciation of the mood of the nation and allow more room for consultation;

• organised Labour and other stakeholders should suspend the intended strike and submit to further dialogue on the matter; and

• we appeal to Nigerians to exercise restraint in expressing their displeasure over the removal of fuel subsidy in order to allow more room for dialogue and consultation to resolve the situation.

Defending his motion, Tajudeen noted that “although deregulation as a policy may not be altogether objectionable, proper procedure and good timing of such policy is important in a democratic dispensation.

He noted that adequate distinction was not made between the Federal Government’s contribution to the subsidy and the contribution of the State Government and Local Councils.

Akande-Adeola, who supported the removal of fuel subsidy, said that the President did the right thing to save the economy from imminent collapse. She cautioned her colleagues against playing the roles of opposition to a government in which they were part, stressing that only constructive engagement could take Nigeria out of the present situation. In a swift reaction to the House resolution, the Trade union Congress (TUC) and the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), said if the Executive heeded the House position, it could douse the explosive tension in the country and restore it to its pre-January 1, 2012 normalcy.

“We commend the House and its exemplary leadership for rising to the demands of the times, and in a bipartisan manner, seeking to steer the country away from a path that may have disastrous consequences.

“The House displayed exemplary leadership in not just cutting short its break, but also meeting on a Sunday.  If other arms of governance work with the exemplary speed, seriousness, sensitivity and patriotic zeal as the Lower House did today; our country would be a far better place to live, TUC’s Secretary-General John Kolawole and NLC’s Acting General Secretary Owei Lakemfa, said in the joint statement, they issued in Abuja.

The workers urged the Senate to rise up to the expectations of Nigerians by concurring with the House motion.

“We hope and pray that President Goodluck Jonathan will listen to the loud voice of the Nigerian people, which this motion has further ventilated by immediately suspending the fuel price hikes and allowing dialogue and consultation on the issue of fuel subsidy removal.”

Labour, however, insisted that the indefinite strikes, rallies and mass protests would begin across the country today as planned.

There were indications yesterday that officials of the Federal Government fawned out seeking yesterday with olive branches on their hands in a bid to ensure that the nationwide strike called by organised Labour does not go beyond tomorrow.

With the TUC and the NLC supported by professional bodies and human rights groups insisting last night that the strike would still hold today, government officials The Guardian learnt, took the new measures announced by Jonathan to refuel the economy and lessen the burden of the petrol subsidy removal to the doorsteps of some labour leaders.

It was learnt that government is prevailing on Labour not to let the strike go beyond today. But sources said Labour has refused to yield to the government’s pressure as its officials allegedly gave the return to N65 a litre of petrol as the minimum condition for shelving the strike and dialoguing with the government.

A competent source said: “I can tell you that contacts have been made and are continued to be made. Talks are on with Labour leaders. The action could have been called off since Friday night if not that the unions want to use this threat as a volt face because of the bashing they received from Nigerians last time they suspended strike in the midnight. Even one of the governors who is in the middle of the negotiations told government to allow them (Labour) go on this strike first and then call it off after a few days.”

In their reaction to Jonathan’s national broadcast on Saturday, where he announced steps to cut cost of governance and other palliatives, TUC and NLC said they fell short of their expectations from the President.

Kolawole and Lakemfa on Saturday night, said the President did not address the issues at stake.

The workers said that the speech though “very long, lacks basic ingredients that show good tiding. The President’s address follows the pattern of other documents (like the SURE Programme) by his administration; long in rhetorics and short on basic issues.  For instance, the major anchor of the broadcast is that salaries of political office holders are to be cut by 25 per cent.  But he failed to tell us how much this would amount to. Is this a mere symbolic gesture or a fundamental contribution to economic recovery?

The Abuja leg of the protest will take off at the Berger Junction at 8.00 a.m. today

A visit to the city centre in Abuja yesterday revealed that most residents are fully prepared for the action as most filling stations, markets, shopping malls and other selling outlets were besieged by residents to stock their homes with foods ad other necessities that can last them for as long as possible.

The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) also said yesterday that Jonathan’s televised speech defending his administration’s withdrawal of petrol subsidy only succeeded in deepening the people’s mistrust of the government, as it failed to address the pertinent issues.

In a statement issued in Lagos yesterday by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party said the deficit of trust between the Jonathan administration and the Nigerian people is the main reason why the people did not take the President’s speech seriously.

“If the President did not stand by his earlier promise to Nigerians on this issue, why should they believe him now to do all that he has promised in his speech?’’ the party queried.

ACN, therefore, restated its opposition to the removal of the fuel subsidy, saying all that the government subsidises are corruption and inefficiency. It also hailed the governors of ACN states for their courage in standing on the side of the people and Labour.  The party challenged the government to counter, with facts, the conclusion by experts that there is indeed no subsidy on fuel; that the production from local refineries, even though they are functioning far below capacity, will deliver petrol at the filling stations at under N40 a litre.

Meanwhile, the government has restated its determination to complete the Sagamu-Ore-Benin; Onitsha-Owerri; Abuja-Lokoja roads and not to embark on any highway project without adequate provision for funds.

Minister of Works, Mike Onolomemen, who gave the assurance, said with the deregulation of the downstream oil sector, some critical road projects dogged by inadequate funding would be completed by 2015. He said the measure would check unnecessary cost increase in projects that usually occur when projects exceed their original completion period and subsequent review of contract sum.

Answering questions from journalists at the weekend in Abuja, Onolomemen said part of the subsidy funds would be used to complete the Sagamu-Ore-Benin Road, the Abuja-Lokoja dualism project, the Kano-Maiduguri Expressway, Onitsha-Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway, building of the Second Niger Bridge and building of Oweto Bridge.

Onolomemen said the government is not in a hurry to re-introduce toll gates on federal roads as it cannot toll any highway that is not rehabilitated or reconstructed.

He said: “We have three-four year medium-term framework to deliver on these roads. Our position is consistent with that of the President that tollgates are not likely to be in 2012 or even 2014. We are working on road sector reform and the critical aspect of the reform is the creation of a National Roads Fund and Federal Roads Authority.

“When these roads are eventually reconstructed and rehabilitated, may be by 2014 or thereabout, the governance structure will be very clear because monies generated would be pooled into the National Roads Fund.”

The minister who explained that the deregulation policy of government is in the overall interest of the country said, “government is convinced that the current subsidy regime is not sustainable, this is the time to make sacrifice so that in three years, we will have enough refining capacity that will make us a major exporter of petroleum products.”

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