In what appears a desperate bid to pacify angry Nigerians and weaken the plan by Labour to lead a nationwide protest on Monday, the Federal Government today announced some palliatives to cushion the pains triggered by the recent contentious hike in the price of petrol.
At the end of the emergency meeting of the Executive Council of the Federation held in Abuja, Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, announced plans by the Federal Government to utilise the N10 billion revolving loan set aside for transport infrastructure to procure 1,600 mass transit buses for the country.
However, the number of the buses to be acquired translates to 98,125 Nigerians per bus (at our prevailing 157 million population). This appears grossly inadequate to persuade the leadership of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) to take government seriously and consider reviewing its position on the planned action.
In a swift reaction, acting Secretary General of NLC, Owei Lakemfa, laughed off government’s plans, which also included a directive to all ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) to ensure that they pay salaries to their workers latest by January 20 to reduce the hardship the policy has inflicted on citizens.
“1,600 buses will translate to about 100,000 Nigerians per bus,” Mr. Lakemfa said. “In any case, would these vehicles be bought off the shelf? That is not enough to stop the strike.”
The carrots being dangled at protesters and organised labour also include a directive to government agencies to hire qualified, but unemployed Nigerians. Even by government estimate, as contained in the annual socio-economic report 2011, over 16 million or 23.9 percent of the population are unemployed. Most of them have been without jobs for more than five years after graduation and, until now, government has never demonstrated the political will to tackle the spiralling unemployment rate in the country.
Mr. Maku, who was addressing reporters in company with the Minister of Trade and Investment, Olusegun Aganga, and his counterpart in Transport, Idris Umar, said only credible Nigerians involved in transport business would benefit from the revolving loan payable over a five year period at five per cent interest rate under the Urban Mass Transit Programme (UMTP). The conditions for obtaining loans are strigent in Nigeria and ordinary folks are hardly considered.
Mr. Maku said the meeting, chaired by President Goodluck Jonathan, was convened to deliberate on very crucial issues bordering on terrorism and deregulation, particularly the review of recent measures by government to deregulate the downstream sector of the oil industry, which has seen the prices of goods and services hitting the roof.
“Mr. President is deeply touched by the pains citizens are going through because of the temporary jump in the prices of petroleum products as well as of transportation in most parts of the country,” the Minister said. “The meeting was to expedite action on measures to alleviate these pains, particularly the issue of mass transit, to bring down the cost of transport fares as well as alleviate the pains and discomfort that citizens are facing at the moment.”
Other resolutions at the meeting include the need for the completion of the rehabilitation work on the Lagos-Kano rail system as well as Port Harcourt through the North-east, down to the North-central to Maiduguri, and to revive rail services from Lagos to Ilorin, Lagos to Abeokuta, Minna to Kaduna-Zaria to Kano as well as intra-city rail transport in Lagos, Ibadan, and Ilorin.
On insecurity, the minister said the council resolved to sustain security measures already in place to check the activities of terror groups in the North-east and North-central regions, adding that security agencies have been directed to take steps to restore order and public safety in affected states of the federation.
He said government was not considering reverting to the former price of petrol following threats by Labour to embark on strike, pointing out that doing so would cripple the economy.
In his own contribution, Mr. Aganga said: “Government has a duty to turn short-term pain to long-term gain. In the next couple of weeks, there will be sufficient mass transit buses. It will go on for two years. For the first time, we want to put in place a sustainable robust mass transit programme to reduce the pains fellow Nigerians are going through now”.