News Analysis: Jonathan's Carrots Not Enough for Labour

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Bayo Onanuga

President Goodluck Jonathan chose a carrot and stick game as he announced a new pump price of N97 in a broadcast Monday morning, while at the same time, he vowed to enforce law and order. The latter has gotten expression in the deployment of menacing soldiers on the streets in many cities. Labour has responded by ordering people to stay at home, to save lives.

The decision to reduce the price did not have the input of labour. As the president disclosed, it was an agreement forged after his meetings with the leadership of the National Assembly and the state governors.

“After due consideration and consultations with state governors and the leadership of the National Assembly, government has approved the reduction of the pump price of petrol to N97 per litre. The Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) has been directed to ensure compliance with this new pump price,” he said.

In contrast to the stance of the National Assembly and the governors, the President was exasperated with the position of labour leaders, whose dialogue with government ‘yielded no tangible result’. Government and the labour leaders failed to reach any accord on the appropriate price for petrol. Labour insisted on N65, unimpressed by government’s shift to N97, from the Aso Rock height of N141.

The President in his broadcast also spoke about his suspicion that the strike has been hijacked by some vested interests.

In his words: “It has become clear to government and all well-meaning Nigerians that other interests beyond the implementation of the deregulation policy have hijacked the protest. This has prevented an objective assessment and consideration of all the contending issues for which dialogue was initiated by government. These same interests seek to promote discord, anarchy, and insecurity to the detriment of public peace.”

He even pointedly accused these interests of being responsible for the “near-breakdown of law and order in certain parts of the country”. He said these interests seized the strike to “further their narrow interests by engaging in acts of intimidation, harassment and outright subversion of the Nigerian state.” His accusation only echoed earlier suspicions expressed by his supporters, especially the Governor of Akwa Ibom state, Godswill Akpabio.

The President therefore warned that his “government will not condone brazen acts of criminality and subversion. As President, I have sworn to uphold the unity, peace and order of the Nigerian State and by the grace of God, I intend to fully and effectively discharge that responsibility.”

In the discharge of this duty, the President this morning flooded the streets with soldiers. In Lagos, residents woke up to find soldiers manning innumerable road blocks on the Third Mainland Bridge and the Ikorodu Expressway, the location of the Gani Fawehinmi Park, where protesters had gathered the past week to condemn the increase of the petrol price to N141. A TV reporter who this morning passed the park, now also known as Freedom Square,said it has been cordoned off and that he went through a minimum of 25 road blocks before reaching his office.

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While the President appealed to labour to return for dialogue, he also appealed to Nigerians to return to work. His appeal, for now, may have fallen on deaf ears, as a mass of tweets and Facebook postings by Nigerians insisted that the protests must continue.

The labour leaders who promised a full statement later today on the dialogue with government, have also enjoined Nigerians to stay at home. The NLC and TUC spokesmen said at the end of the meeting in Aso Rock last night that the President’s offer of N97 “is not enough”.

“We came to a conclusion that we will stay at home, that is stay off the streets, in order to make sure that we don’t in the first instance endanger innocent lives because of the security situation in the country,” Nigeria Labour Congress chief Abdulwahed Omar told newsmen.

Asked if the strike would continue, he said, “yes, but we have suspended the street protests.”

For how long the strike will continue will be determined by the response of labour and the civil society groups later today.

For now, labour and the various civil groups can rest assured that the struggle of the past two weeks have yielded other concessions: government expressing readiness, after long years of toleration, to probe the mountain of corruption in the oil sector and also reduce the cost of governance, which has swept away more than 70 per cent of government’s yearly budget, leaving a paltry 25 per cent for capital projects.

President Jonathan’s last words:

“Government is working hard to reduce recurrent expenditure in line with current realities and to cut down on the cost of governance. In the meantime, government has commenced the implementation of the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment projects: including the Federal Government- assisted mass transit programme which is already in place, and job creation for the youth.

“Furthermore, the legal and regulatory regime for the petroleum industry will be reviewed to address accountability issues and current lapses in the Industry. In this regard, the Petroleum Industry Bill will be given accelerated attention. The report of the forensic audit carried out on the NNPC is being studied with a view to implementing the recommendations and sanctioning proven acts of corruption in the industry.

“Let me assure Nigerians that this administration is irrevocably committed to tackling corruption in the petroleum industry as well as other sectors of the economy. Consequently, all those found to have contributed one way or the other to the economic adversity of the country will be dealt with in accordance with the law.”