Update: NLC Insists On Going Ahead With Planned Protest After President Tinubu’s Speech On Palliative Plans

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Update: NLC Insists On Going Ahead With Planned Protest After President Tinubu’s Speech On Palliative Plans

The organised labour has said it will hold its planned nationwide protest on Wednesday despite the Monday rollout of subsidy removal palliative plans by President Bola Tinubu.

Tinubu had in a national broadcast unveiled a N500bn palliative for manufacturers, small businesses and farmers. He also released plans to increase salaries and acquire 3,000 mass transit buses.

Notwithstanding the President’s last-minute moves to avert the protest, the Nigeria Labour Congress President, Joe Ajaero, said the rally would hold in line with its schedule.

Ajaero spoke shortly after talks between the organised labour and the Federal Government on Monday became inconclusive.   The talk is expected to resume on Tuesday (today).

The Presidential Steering Committee on Palliatives meeting between the government and labour was held at the Aso Rock Villa, Abuja.

“We just adjourned to go and listen to Mr. President’s speech and to continue with our conversation tomorrow (Tuesday). Our peaceful rally will go on as scheduled…this rally has been fixed,” Ajaero told journalists after the meeting.

Ajaero allayed the fears that the peaceful protest could be taken over by hoodlums, saying that such had never happened in any of its workers’ protests.

However, he said security agencies were responsible for safeguarding workers in such exercises.

The meeting of the steering committee was adjourned till 12 noon on Tuesday.

Reacting to Tinubu’s economic reforms, especially on the exchange rate and others, Ajaero said “By the time you have a single market (exchange rate) and you are not having anything that has a comparative advantage, your energy is import driven, then how are you going to control it?

“How are you going to control somebody that exchanged dollars at about N900? Are you going to tell him to sell below the price?

“How are you going to tell even the Discos not to increase their tariff with the high cost of production today? Even corn in the villages that was sold at N18,000 in February; now it’s about 56,000. How are you going to control it?”

On his part, the President’s Chief of Staff, Femi Gbajabiamila, said issues around the subsidy removal were discussed at the closed-door meeting, after which it was later adjourned.

He also said the government was dealing with the oil cabals that have crippled the economy.

He said, “We have been locked behind for a couple of hours, we had a good meeting, and issues were thrashed out on the situation in Nigeria today in terms of issues centred around government intervention in the situation in the country.

“We agreed to adjourn till tomorrow as you know Mr President is making a national broadcast today. Based on what we anticipate that Mr. President will be telling Nigerians, we decided to adjourn the meeting till 12pm tomorrow (Tuesday) before labour can decide whether or not they want to continue with the protest on Wednesday.”

He added, “But we believe that after tonight’s broadcast, President will speak to all the issues, he will roll out his interventions and needless to say we believe any reasonable person will tell you that at that point there will be no need for any protest.”

On why the government did not roll out palliatives before ending the subsidy regime, he argued that the previous government did not budget for subsidy and that President Tinubu was rolling out palliatives to cushion its effect on the people.

Also speaking, the National Security Adviser, Nuhu Ribadu, pleaded with the organised labour to give the administration some time to fix the economy.

He said his administration planned to invest N100bn between now and March 2024 to acquire 3,000 units of 20-seater CNG-fuelled buses.

The buses, he said, would be shared with major transportation companies in the states, using the intensity of travel per capital, adding that participating transport companies will be able to access credit under this facility at 9 per cent per annum with 60 months repayment period.

Tinubu stated, ‘’In the same vein, we are also working in collaboration with the labour unions to introduce a new national minimum wage for workers. I want to tell our workers this: your salary review is coming.

‘’Once we agree on the new minimum wage and general upward review, we will make budget provision for it for immediate implementation.’’

According to him, manufacturers, medium and small-scale enterprises and farmers will get a whopping N500bn share of the palliatives that would be rolled out.

He said, ‘’ Our plan to support the cultivation of 500,000 hectares of farmland and all-year-round farming practice remains on course. To be specific, N200bn out of the N500bn approved by the National Assembly will be disbursed as follows:

“Our administration will invest N50bn each to cultivate 150,000 hectares of rice and maize. N50bn each will also be earmarked to cultivate 100,000 hectares of wheat and cassava.

“This expansive agricultural programme will be implemented targeting small-holder farmers and leveraging large-scale private sector players in the agric business with a strong performance record.

“In this regard, the expertise of Development Finance Institutions, commercial banks and microfinance banks will be tapped into to develop a viable and appropriate transaction structure for all stakeholders.’’

Tinubu admitted that the economy was going through a tough patch and citizens were being hurt by it, citing the high cost of fuel, food prices and others.

To ease the hardship, he said his administration desired to reduce the burden the current economic situation has imposed on citizens, businesses, the working class and the most vulnerable.

The President noted, ‘’Earlier this month, I signed four Executive Orders in keeping with my electoral promise to address unfriendly fiscal policies and multiple taxes that are stifling the business environment.

‘’To strengthen the manufacturing sector, increase its capacity to expand and create good-paying jobs, we are going to spend N75bn between July 2023 and March 2024. Our objective is to fund 75 enterprises with great potential to kick-start sustainable economic growth, accelerate structural transformation and improve productivity.

‘’These Executive Orders on suspension and deferred commencement of some taxes will provide the necessary buffers and headroom to businesses in the manufacturing sector to continue to thrive and expand.

‘’To this end, I have ordered the release of 200,000 metric tonnes of grains from strategic reserves to households across the 36 states and FCT to moderate prices. We are also providing 225,000 metric tonnes of fertilizer, seedlings and other inputs to farmers who are committed to our food security agenda,’’ the President disclosed.

For several years, Tinubu said he had consistently maintained the position that the fuel subsidy had to go, stressing that the once beneficial measure had outlived its usefulness as it costs the country trillions of naira yearly.

Such a vast sum of money, he added, would have been better spent on public transportation, healthcare, schools, housing and even national security.

‘’Instead, it was being funneled into the deep pockets and lavish bank accounts of a select group of individuals.  This group had amassed so much wealth and power that they became a serious threat to the fairness of our economy and the integrity of our democratic governance,’’ the President observed.

He declared that Nigeria could never become the society it was intended to be as long as such small, powerful yet unelected groups hold enormous influence over its political economy and the institutions that govern it.

The President argued that the whims of the few should never hold dominant sway over the hopes and aspirations of the many, noting that ‘’If we are to be a democracy, the people and not the power of money must be sovereign.’’

The ex-Lagos State governor maintained that his predecessor did not make provision for the fuel subsidy beyond June in the 2023 Appropriations, stating that ‘’removal of this once helpful device that had transformed into a millstone around the country’s neck had become inevitable.’’

He said it was used to divert money that should have been used to create jobs, build factories and businesses for millions of people.

‘’Our national wealth was doled on favourable terms to a handful of people who have been made filthy rich simply by moving money from one hand to another. This too was extremely unfair,’’ he lamented, stressing that it also compounded the threat that the illicit and mass accumulation of money posed to the future of the nation’s democratic system and its economy.

Tinubu reiterated his promise to reform the economy for the long-term good by fighting the major imbalances that had plagued it.

Ending the subsidy and the preferential exchange rate system were key to this fight, he explained.

‘’As we moved to fight the flaws in the economy, the people who grow rich from them, predictably, will fight back through every means necessary,’’ the President submitted.

On the Infrastructure Support Fund, the President said it would enable the states to intervene and invest in critical areas and bring relief to many of the pain points as well as revamp their decaying healthcare and educational Infrastructure.

 ‘’The fund will also bring improvements to rural access roads to ease evacuation of farm produce to markets. With the fund, our states will become more competitive and on a stronger financial footing to deliver economic prosperity to Nigerians,’’ he assured.

Also, the Chief Spokesman of Labour Party Presidential Campaign Council, Yunusa Tanko, has expressed concerns over how President Bola Tinubu plans to fund all the promises he made to Nigeria on Monday evening.

Tanko’s worry is coming in the wake of the President’s nationwide broadcast.

He said, “There is a particular saying that ‘a society that unites in corruption is sickening.’  The only hope here is that no amount of falsehood filled in a balloon can hold sway. It will deflate. What this means is that in this situation, we have had a lot of promises made by the past and this present government.

“Even this president knows that it was the last regime that removed fuel subsidy, which we all know was scam ab initio. Ordinarily, we shouldn’t even be calling Tinubu the president because he is still struggling with illegitimate issues which we are still challenging in court.

“For instance, when you are making all these promises, the question you want to ask is all this president is referring to, are they budgeted for? Are these monies he is planning to spend in the budget? You cannot be making promises to the Nigerian people when you don’t have financial mega backing.

“I hope Nigeria will not fall for this particular trap that was promised to them in the past and in this particular regime too. We are not perturbed nor are we carried away by this statement. It is said that a dog does not know there is a fanfare in his house until he sees fat bones on the ground.”

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