Subsidy Pain: Labour Talks Tough, ASUU, Protesters Condemn Relief Plans

 

Subsidy Pain: Labour Talks Tough, ASUU, Protesters Condemn Relief Plans
Subsidy Pain: Labour Talks Tough, ASUU, Protesters Condemn Relief Plans

The groaning occasioned by the removal of the fuel subsidy grew louder on Monday as the  Nigerian Labour Congress said it was ready to fight the economic pains and hardship caused by the Federal Government’s decision.

Also, university workers under the aegis of the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, the University of Lagos chapter of the  Academic Staff Union of Universities, Congress of University Academics and protesting members of the Edo Civil Society Organisations lamented the subsidy removal and it attendant pains. The varsity unions decried the situation, saying the subsidy was ’unintelligently removed.’

The National Assistant Secretary, NLC, Chris Onyeka, said the Central Working Committee of the congress would hold an important meeting today and take a position.

He said all issues around the suffering of the masses because of the recent price hike in PMS price would be addressed at the meeting.

“We are going to give the Federal Government an ultimatum. We have given them enough leverage to take care of Nigerians and make amends, but they have refused to make amends. Let them prepare themselves because we are preparing. We are ready to fight back,” he said,

Meanwhile, the Trade Union Congress has faulted plans to allow state governments to roll out palliatives to citizens to cushion the effects of the hardships caused by the removal of fuel subsidy.

Meanwhile, the Trade Union Congress has faulted plans to allow state governments to roll out palliatives to citizens to cushion the effects of the hardships caused by the removal of fuel subsidy.

President Bola Tinubu had during his inaugural address on May 29 announced the end of the fuel subsidy regime which instantly shut up the pump price of Premium Motor Spirit popularly known as petrol from N165 per litre to N540. The product currently sells for between N568 and N617 per litre.

Speaking on the economic pains brought about by the fuel hikes, the National President, Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, Mr Ibrahim Mohammed, in an interview with The PUNCH on Monday, explained that no specific progress had been recorded since the fuel subsidy was removed, adding that Nigerians were in anguish and distraught.

He noted, “The government removed the subsidy very unintelligently; now that they have removed the subsidy, nothing has changed except that people can’t feed, we can’t pay our children’s school fees, and people are committing suicide.

“We lamented the way the government handled this idea of subsidy removal; we welcome the removal if that will be the solution to Nigeria’s problems. But the government is not strategic with the removal, you have thrown people into anguish, into the wild forest and people are scampering.”

Elaborating on the impact of the fuel price hike on university workers and students, he said, “Most university campuses are located on the outskirts and people have to commute 15km to 20 km. How can work be done when a full tank can no longer last a week?”

He lamented that the government had yet to settle four months’ salary, stressing that none of its promises had been fulfilled.

Mohammed added, “Salary not reviewed and other promises made by the past government are not being fulfilled. They are owing us four months’ salary; the revitalisation funds have not been paid.

“If they feel the plight of Nigerians and of university staff, they will fulfil all their promises and meet up with the commitment of Earned Allowance and review salaries so that people can face their jobs. All civil servants have been exposed to hardship, so how can they stop corruption?”

Also speaking, the Chairman, ASUU, University of Lagos chapter, Prof. Kayode Adebayo, revealed that due to the fuel subsidy removal, living in Nigeria was now tough for lecturers as it was for every Nigerian.

He called on the government to galvanise the system and put smiles on the faces of the citizens.

Adebayo added, “All lecturers are paid peanuts; this was part of the reasons we fought against the government about the 2009 agreement. We tried to negotiate; no need to pretend, the situation is still the same. Just as it is tough for ordinary Nigerians, so it is tough for us too.

“Government is responsible for the security of the citizens. The citizen welfare has been compromised. The government needs to put a smile on the faces of Nigerians. Nigerian citizens are hardworking and understanding and that is why we say Nigerians are the most docile people in the world.

“The government needs to look at the plight of the citizens. We have what it takes to build a country that everybody will be proud of, not people who will finish (graduate) here and be looking abroad for greener pastures.”

He also told The PUNCH that the Federal Government was indebted to ASUU, saying it had refused to settle the seven and a half month’s salary incurred when the union members went on a strike last year.

Dr Adedeji Oyenuga of the Department of Sociology, Lagos State University, Ojo, said, “I have been spending more, a lot more. For my children’s car, I buy N7,000 (fuel) per week. The first increment made it N15,000 per week, but now, I do N18,000 per week with no guarantee that it would last the week. I used to fill my car tank with between N12,000 and N13,500 fuel. It rose to about N40,000, but is now N50,000.”

In Benin City, Edo State, citizens took to the streets on Monday to protest the increasing hardships imposed by the fuel subsidy withdrawal which had led to sharp hikes in fuel pump prices as well as an increase in prices of goods and services.

Members of the Edo State Civil Society Organisations and other civil rights groups organised the protest which kicked off at Ring Road.

The protesters marched through the major streets in Benin, like Mission Road, Akpakpava Road, Sakponba Road, and others.

The protesters displayed placards with inscriptions: ‘In less than two months, the Tinubu Government is choking Nigerians to death’; ‘Tinubu, let us breathe’; ‘Kill corruption, not Nigerians,’ and  ‘Cost of living in Nigeria is choking us,’ among others.

Addressing journalists, the EDOCSO interim president, Austin Enabulele,  said the group appreciated the removal of the petroleum subsidy by the Federal Government but urged it to put modalities in place to cushion the pain it had caused the poor masses.

“We appreciate that the President has removed the subsidy because it became an avenue to steal from us. However, palliatives should have been put in place before the removal. The refineries should work, even if there are only two, so that we can buy fuel at an affordable price in Nigeria,” Enabulele said.

He questioned the rationale behind the N8,000 proposed palliative for 12 million Nigerians, which amounted to N996bn, while N70bn will be spent on 469 National Assembly members.

He added, “We have come to tell the President that we don’t need the N8,000 palliatives. He should keep it to himself. It is another way of stealing Nigerians’ money. How do you get the statistics of 12 million Nigerians that you want to pay N996bn to as palliatives? Meanwhile, you want to spend N70bn on the National Assembly, which has just 469 members.’’

“Is that not stealing? Is that not calling Nigerians fools? We want to let President Bola Tinubu know that we are not fools and that enough is enough,” Enabulele added.

Speaking also, the President of Talakawa’s Parliament, Kola Edokpayi, said, “It is no longer news that the poverty rate has increased under the watch of our president. It is sad we are where we are today. We cannot continue like this. Imagine lawmakers proposing N70bn payment when the masses are suffering.”

Responding to the demands of the protesters, the Special Adviser to the Edo State Governor on Media Projects, Crusoe Osagie, said that the Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, could not determine the fuel pump price in the state and urged the citizens to hold the Federal Government responsible for the hardship faced by the people.

But expressing concern over the planned rollout of palliatives by the states to cushion the subsidy removal, the Trade Union Congress said it did trust state governors to manage the process well.

He was speaking against the backdrop of plans by the National Economic Council comprising 36 state governors and Vice President Kashim Shettima to allow state governments to implement the cash transfer programme for N12million Nigerians using state-generated social registers.

Addressing journalists in Abuja on Monday,  the TUC President, Festus Osifo, stated that the governors had not been specific about what they intended to do.

He said,  “The Nigerians Governors Forum invited us for meetings and we made our case known to them. There is nothing specific about the palliative,  they said each state should go back and look at what they could do. There is nothing concrete, there is nothing we can hold them accountable for.

“If you are coming out to say each state should pay a certain amount of money as wage award or each state should give some categories of workers tax relief,  we can hold you accountable on that and not say each state should go and do according to their purse. That is not it. What they must bring to the table must be specific and measurable and must be done transparently.’’

Continuing, he noted, “For us, anything called palliative must be things we can verify and not something that you will promise us and at the end of the day you will not implement.  We all remember during COVID-19 when palliatives were in warehouses and people were dying on the streets.

“We do not trust the process. The Governors’ Forum should do better. They are talking about mass transits,  how many are they bringing up,  let them tell us and we will empower our state councils to follow up. “

Condemning the hike in tuition fees, he cautioned the government against any policy that could render workers’ salaries useless.

He added that the student loan, which according to him had stringent provisions,  should not be a yardstick to increase tuition fees.

Osifo said,  “Also,  we understand that our tertiary institutions are in a sorry state. We call on the government to be mindful of policies that would erode the take-home pay of Nigerian workers by introducing all manners of tuition fees from the Unity Schools to tertiary institutions.

‘’We understand there is a student loan but if you look at the provision of the law, students of any household where the parents are earning the N30,000 minimum wage cannot qualify for it. It clearly shows they are not willing to give the loan to anybody. There are other stringent conditions attached to it. For us,  this should not be a yardstick to start increasing fees drastically. “

Osifo further rejected the proposed  7.5 per cent Value Added Tax on diesel, adding that affiliate unions had been placed on alert to monitor the activities of the government in that regard.

He said, “We also say no to the proposed 7.5 per cent VAT on AGO.  It has been deregulated and the market forces are what determine the price.  Today,  if you introduce the VAT on AGO,  we should be ready that this similar VAT will be introduced to PMS.

“As of today,  they are listening but we have communicated with some of our affiliates that are directly responsible for this to continuously monitor if the government wants to introduce this through the backdoor.”

He also called on the government to ensure that the planned increase in electricity tariff does not see the light of day.

He warned that Nigerians’ endurance level was getting to the limit,  advising the government to be mindful of the timing of some of its policies.

“You will be adding salt to people’s injuries if you increase the electricity tariff.  Nigerians’ endurance level is getting to the limit. It may get to a point that Nigerians would not be able to take this anymore.  When you are bringing about policies even when the policies are the best, you must look at the timing and how to phase them out for you not to make the citizens suffer,’’ the labour leader cautioned.

While commending the president for suspending the proposed excise duty on telecommunications in the country,  he called on the president to scrap it.

He also called on the National Assembly to remove the item from the Finance Act.

Osifo,  however,  called on the government to come up with policies that would support the country’s exchange rate.

In a related development, Kwara State Governor, AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq has approved a slew of palliatives to neutralise the effects of the recent removal of fuel subsidy, cutting across the different sectors and demographics of the state.

The government’s plan to cushion the effect of the fuel subsidy removal was announced at a press conference addressed by the Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Mallam Rafiu Ajakaye, at the Government House, Ilorin on Monday.

Ogun’s palliatives

Meanwhile, the governor of Ogun State, Dapo Abiodun, on Monday approved palliatives to cushion the hardship occasioned by the removal of fuel subsidy by the Federal Government.

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A statement signed by the Secretary to the State Government, Tokunbo Talabi,  said the decision was taken in view of the current economic realities in the country.

In Kwara, Ajakaye said, “On top of the palliatives is a cash support of N10,000 for every public sector worker in the state, which will begin this month (July) and last until a new minimum wage is introduced to enable workers to cope with the economic shocks created by the subsidy removal.

“In deference to the new advisory of the National Economic Council for states to design their own independent responses to the development, the governor has directed the leadership of the civil service to continue a staggered work schedule — not exceeding three days a week — to reduce transportation expenses for workers.’’

He stated, “The governor has similarly approved the payment, from this month, July, of new hazard and skipping allowances, and 100 per cent CONMESS for consultants and medical doctors under the government’s payroll.

“He also approved a new regime of allowances for nurses working for the state government. The whole essence is to check attrition rate in the health sector, and attract and retain medics and specialists to provide improved, qualitative healthcare services for the people of the state.’’

Unveiling other plans by the state, Ajakaiye said, “The governor has also endorsed immediate cash-backing of 2019 and 2020 promotion for Teaching Service Commission workers. The administration had earlier cash-backed arrears of promotion for TESCOM for the years 2015-2018.

“In the same vein, he has approved cash-backing for 2021 promotion exercise of teaching and non-teaching staff of SUBEB and restoration of steps to all of them. This is a policy response to the yearnings of SUBEB workers since 2016 when SUBEB workers no longer had steps.

“The governor also approved the extension of free bus rides for students of tertiary institutions in the state, while modalities for occasional distribution of food to poor and most vulnerable households are to be activated in the next few days.

The approved measures in Ogun State include a cash palliative of N10,000 for each public servant (including pensioners) a hazard allowance for all health and medical personnel in the State, a peculiar allowance for public servants and an immediate release of letters of promotion dating back to 2021 and 2022.

Others include payment of March and April 2023 leave bonuses for public servants, immediate cash-backing for the quarterly payment of gratuities to pensioners, and commencement of food palliatives to the vulnerable, among others.

Credit: Punch

 

 

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