NLC Deplores FG on Economy

  •  Threatens nationwide strike over electricity tariff hike, fuel scarcity, el-Rufai
      N’Assembly concludes work on budget, to transmit bill to president thursday

Bolaji Adebiyi, Paul Obi, Damilola Oyedele in Abuja and Ejiofor Alike in Lagos

Reacting to the outcry against the excruciating pains felt by Nigerians under the current economic clime, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) has deplored the Muhammadu Buhari administration for failing on several fronts in its promises to the electorate.

The NLC also threatened to declare a one-day nationwide strike to protest against the insistence by the federal government to go ahead with the electricity tariff hike, the perennial fuel scarcity in the country, and the current economic hardship Nigerians are facing under the Buhari administration.

Declaring open the Central Working Committee (CWC) meeting of the NLC, its president, Mr. Ayuba Wabba accused the Buhari-led All Progressives Congress (APC) government of failing on several fronts in its promises to the people.

NLC also said it would protest against anti-labour laws about to be enacted by the Kaduna State Governor, Mr. Nasir Ahmed el-Rufai.

This came as human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), also speaking at the event, said that Nigerians “did not vote for change for suffering”.

“We didn’t vote change for agony, we didn’t vote change for tyranny, we fully endorse NLC resolution for the strike,” Falana said.

He further lambasted the double speak by the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, saying: “Today he says fuel scarcity will end in May, tomorrow, he says he’s not a magician. Somebody is supervising himself, because there’s no NNPC board.”

Falana also stated that the entire petroleum sector, ranging from the Petroleum Equalisation Fund (PEF) to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and its subsidiaries, were enmeshed in naked abuse of transparency and accountability rules embedded in their acts.

On the PEF, Falana said: “That body does not perform its functions, the cabal is there, so nothing has been done.”
He also berated the judiciary and some senior lawyers for frustrating the ongoing anti-corruption fight by the government.

According to Falana, labour would have to “lead Nigerians to take on that battle”, stressing that “Nigerian lawyers are going to frustrate anti-corruption cases if labour allows their manipulation and nobody is going to be jailed by 2019”.

Elaborating on the flagrant abuse of court orders, especially the order by the court asking the government to revert to the old electricity tariffs, Wabba warned that the government cannot arbitrarily disobey such orders without opposition from labour.

“The point must be made that obedience to the rule of law by all citizens, but more particularly those who publicly take the oath of office to protect and preserve the constitution is desideratum to good governance and respect for the rule of law. In a constitutional democratic society like ours, this is meant to be the norm.

“It is an act of apostasy for government to ignore the provisions of the law and the necessary rules meant to regulate matters.

“I must say it loud and clear that the government of this country shall be a government of laws and not men,” he said.

He also blamed the administration for being “very strong on words” but had shown little action, stating: “While the process to resolve the crisis on the tariff hike was still on going, the tariff increase has remained, and under a worsening power supply situation.

“Not a few Nigerians are groaning under this burden. Not a few of them look to the congress for a solution.
“Even with this increase, there is no light and there are indications that the privatisation might not work. We demand that the entire process of privatisation be reviewed.

“Government said the increment was a bitter pill that we have to swallow, we say that the increase is a bitter pill we can vomit. The tariff is both illegal and it is outrageous, the increase is not bearable.”

On the forthcoming strike, Wabba said though the NLC was yet to arrive at a definite date, but it would reach out to the Trade Union Congress (TUC) for a specific date.

Although the NLC CWC’s meeting was still in progress at press time, THISDAY learnt that there was a likelihood that the nationwide strike will be fixed for sometime next week.

While expressing NLC’s concerns over the fuel shortages, Wabba stated: “When the first incident of fuel scarcity occurred under this government, we put it to sabotage and urged the government to deal decisively with the saboteurs but with an eye on enhancing local production as an enduring solution.

“When the second incident happened, we similarly reasoned the same way. However, with the latest incident of prolonged scarcity and confession by the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources that the scarcity will persist till May, as he is not a magician, regular scarcity might as well become a familiar feature, and we would do well to brace ourselves for long spells, except government does the needful.

“We must however make the point that spells of scarcity will not be acceptable to labour and other Nigerians because the human and economic costs are unimaginable.

“Because of the place of petroleum products in the lives of the citizenry, its scarcity, even for a day, generates ripples and crippling effects. We dare say that one of the fastest ways for government to lose its credibility before the ordinary citizenry is the scarcity of petroleum products, because the combined effects of scarcity of petroleum products and low power supply create misery for the people, as well as have a damning impact on travel, jobs, productivity and the economy as a whole.

“It is gratifying to note that the government has straightened its relationship with the critical stakeholders (including IPMAN) which it says will henceforth guarantee regular supply at N86 per litre at NNPC filling stations and N86.50 at non-NNPC filling stations.

“Without prejudice to the ongoing government’s initiative at finding a lasting solution, we believe the subsisting fuel scarcity is caused by an interplay of corruption in the system; the existence of a cabal that defies the structural changes at NNPC; national and international politics around the production, sale and consumption of oil; sabotage in the management of the refineries; award of contracts for turn around maintenance (TAM) without regard to the companies that built these refineries; and smuggling.

“Also not helpful to the system is the regular friction or power play between lifters or distributors of products such as major marketers, independent marketers, the Association of Tank Farm Owners, and others in the distribution chain.

“It is worth mentioning that government institutions in the sector, such as the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), which are expected to function independently as well as regulate the system, have either been sidelined, weakened or brought under the control of the Ministry of Petroleum Resources.

“Accordingly, we call on the government to do the needful by demonstrating the will and capacity to restore sanity, discipline and transparency to the downstream sector of the industry. The statutory roles of these agencies should be restored so they can function properly.

“Government should also deal summarily with the corruption in the sector. It should never allow itself to be blackmailed or cowed into taking decisions that in the long run will not be helpful to the ordinary Nigerian.
“In view of the following, we demand the diligent prosecution of all those found wanting in the distribution of fuel products, cold or fresh cases.

“We demand the constitution of the boards of NNPC and PPPRA. The latter is meant to be a 26-man board vested with the powers of regulating prices of petroleum products. Today, it is a one-man show.”

The NLC also deplored the federal government on the economy, saying: “The naira continues to fall against the major currencies, inflation continues to rise, commodity prices mount, and the productive sector continues to shrink with more job losses. Very few employers are paying salaries as and when due. We need no telling that the situation is serious.”

The NLC, while commenting on the police recruitment exercise, urged the authorities to conduct the exercise “with all sense of responsibility, care, transparency, justice, equity and minimum discomfort or pain to the applicants”.
“There is hardly any family that does not have an army of applicants. This, however, should be no justification for subjecting this process to a selfish end or abuse,” the NLC president cautioned.

He also took on the Kaduna State governor, accusing him of being “liable for the death of 28 workers” during the verification exercise in the state.

“The idea that workers are rejecting verification is false, some workers were being owed eight months salaries. The Kaduna government has no right to tamper with a national law. So the NLC has proposed a national day of action against el-Rufai.

“The issue is not about the report that we want to undermine the law, they can’t do verification without the unions, the management has no role. It is an effort to undermine the law.

“It is a prelude that was implemented in Kaduna and any attempt to reduce the workforce will further compound the security situation. el- Rufai should be able to copy Mr. President,” Wabba said.

But as the federal government and its officials in the oil sector were being excoriated by the NLC and Falana, the Pipelines and Products Marketing Company (PPMC), a subsidiary of NNPC, reassured Nigerians that it has taken strategic steps to end the current petrol shortages in the country.

PPMC’s Executive Director in charge of Supply and Distribution, Mr. Justin Ezeala, told journalists in Lagos yesterday that 30,000 metric tonnes, about 40 million litres of petrol, would be discharged daily in order to ease the fuel scarcity till the end of April 2016.

Ezeala said about 290 trucks were being deployed as against the normal 200 trucks to a place like Lagos, expressing concern, however, that people have continued to hoard the product.

He said the number of the trucks in Lagos alone would be increased to 300 in order to ensure that the city and its environs are saturated with fuel.

He said in anticipation of today’s target by Kachikwu to ease the scarcity, the company had decided to push seven cargoes to various coastal cities such as Port Harcourt, Calabar and Warri.

According to him, the System 2B petroleum products distribution pipeline was also working and pumping fuel to Mosimi depot and Ibadan, from where the northern parts of the country would be serviced in order to cut short the number of days it would take to transport fuel by trucks to the north.

“The federal government has embarked on massive importation of fuel in order to end the lingering fuel scarcity. As at today, seven cargoes of fuel have arrived the country for distribution to major cities like Lagos, Abuja, and others. We have taken into cognisance that the country consumes 40 million litres of fuel daily, and we would ensure that fuel supply goes round the country,” he said.

“PPMC has met with major marketers and representatives of the federal government everyday since the fuel crisis started a few weeks ago. The government is feeling the pains endured by Nigerians, hence the decision to meet regularly with stakeholders in the value chain in order to strategise on the issue of ending the fuel problem,” he added.

Meanwhile, there are indications that President Buhari would get the comprehensive 2016 budget today, as the National Assembly yesterday presented the details of the budget to the Clerk of the National Assembly, Mr. Salisu Maikasuwa, for onward transmission to the president.

This is as it described the N6.06 trillion budget as one of the most controversial to ever come before the National Assembly from the executive, owing to the controversies surrounding the budget proposal since its presentation by the president to parliament last December.

The Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations, Hon. Jibrin Abdulmumim submitted the 1,800-page document to Maikasuwa at 4.40 pm wednesday.

Besieged by journalists who waited for him to emerge from the clerk’s office, Abdulmumim disclosed that the Senior Special Advisers to the President on National Assembly Affairs were informed that the budget details were ready.
Buhari had hinged his refusal to sign the 2016 Appropriation Bill on the non-submission of the comprehensive budget which was passed by the legislature on March 23.

Abdulmumim however noted that while the National Assembly was determined to ensure that the budget provides a comprehensive statement of the nation’s priorities, he blamed the delay in its passage and submission of its details to the sloppy preparation by the executive.

“That task has been made very difficult by the sloppy manner in which the 2016 Appropriation Bill was prepared by the executive such that many of the officials who came before our various committees practically disowned the inputs from their own departments and ministries.

“In most instances, and across several agencies, the bill that was initially presented to us failed in many respects to connect with the policy thrust of the government and the needs of our people. That is aside the fact that most of the figures simply did not just add up,” he said.

He stressed that the National Assembly had no ulterior motive by taking its time to work on the budget, adding that it needed to correct all the inconsistencies, errors, omissions and padding in the document.

This, he said, was in a bid to balance the projections for revenue against the estimates for expenditure based on the reality of the country’s economic situation.

Also confirming that work had been wrapped up on the budget, the president’s media aide, Malam Garba Shehu, confirmed to THISDAY wednesday that the presidency was expecting the budget thursday.

“We have received confirmation from the Clerk of the National Assembly that the 2016 budget would be transmitted to the president tomorrow (today),” Shehu said.

He added: “The president, however, will not be signing it immediately. Copies of the budget will be transmitted to all the ministries, departments and agencies for them to compare with what the president presented to the National Assembly. They will then report back to the president.”

The presidential aide, nonetheless, assured the public that the executive scrutiny of the budget would be done expeditiously.

“All MDAs have the firm directive from the president to deal with this matter expeditiously because President Buhari is eager to implement the budget and deliver on his promises to our people,” Shehu said.

Shortly after word got out that the National Assembly had concluded work on the budget, the federal government, on its part, assured Nigerians of its effective implementation in order to achieve accelerated development in the country.

According to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, made the statement when he received the German Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Micheal Zenner in Abuja.
A statement by Mr. Charles Dafe, the Director of Information in the ministry, said Udoma spoke on the blueprint of federal government and how to ensure effective implementation of the budget.

The statement quoted the minister as saying: “Our 2016 budget will be well-managed; on the expenditure side, we are taking measures to ensure the release of funds for capital projects and the projects will be properly monitored.
“This is to ensure that the funds are efficiently utilised towards economic development.

“On our planned N1.8 trillion borrowing for infrastructure development, we have started discussions with our local banks and international financial institutions like the World Bank and China Exim Bank, among others.
“Our budget crux is targeted at import substitution and export promotion.”

The minister commended the German government on its plan to assist Nigeria with rebuilding the North-east which has been ravaged by the insurgency, and the development of the agricultural sector.

He said the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration would prioritise agriculture so that Nigeria would be self-sufficient in food production.

Zenner informed the minister that Germany would provide 13 million euros to support the rehabilitation of the North-east and in polio eradication, as well as the promotion of solar energy.

The envoy also said Germany would assist Nigeria to attain self-sufficiency in rice and potato production through a loan package.

The ambassador explained that the loan would be jointly funded on a 50-50 basis by the Nigerian and German governments.