The Federal Government last night betrayed panic as the country inches closer to the nationwide industrial and mass action declared by organized labour over the January 1 cut in petrol subsidy, rolling out cost-cutting measures aimed at regaining the fast-waning support of labour, civil society and the Nigerian people.
In a national television broadcast, President Goodluck Jonathan restated why his administration was deregulating the downstream sector of the country petroleum industry, which has triggered a hike in petrol price by over 117 percent and spiraling rise in the prices of goods and services,
Mr. Jonathan said the policy was part of efforts to transform the economy and guarantee prosperity for all.
To demonstrate to Nigerians that government shared their pains, the President announced various measures to cut the cost of governance, including a reduction in the number of foreign trips as well as size of delegation on foreign trips by him and all political office holders.
Similarly, during the year, the basic salaries of political office holders in the executive arm would be slashed by 25 percent, while the number of committees, commissions and parastatals with overlapping responsibilities are to be reviewed. Ministries, departments and agencies are also expected to reduce their overhead expenses.
“We are all greatly concerned about the issue of corruption,” the President said. “The deregulation policy is the strongest measure to tackle this challenge in the downstream sector, apart from other steps by government to further sanitize the oil industry.”
But, the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), which is already mobilizing its members in readiness for the impending protest Monday dismissed government’s gestures as “after-thoughts about demands labour had already made in the past, which government rejected.”
The officer-in-charge of Information and media, Christ Uyot, said: “The President’s broadcast has not said anything fresh other than merely affirming the decision of the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) to remove subsidy on petrol, the position of the Labour Movement has always been that the increase in the price of petrol, which has astronomical impact on cost of transportation as well as the prices of goods and services, is not acceptable, and that members will oppose such increases.
“Therefore, the protest scheduled for Monday is irrevocable. The President’s speech has therefore given Labour and affiliates to heighten their mobilization for the protest. The issue of any form of dialogue with any group or agency can only be possible if government reverts to the price of N65 per litre.”
According to the Labour, the President broadcast fell far short of the expectation of Nigerians, as it was silent on specific actions in respect of how his administration would cut the huge overheads of the Presidency and the MDAs as well as sanitise the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), which has been blamed for the inability of the nation’s refineries to work, making the country to rely on importation of petrol.
Besides, the broadcast did not address how the government would deal with hyper-inflation the high fuel prices have triggered, as prices of foods, goods and essential services have skyrocketed, making nonsense the value of the workers’ salaries and income.
However, President Jonathan, who sounded adamant, did not give any suggestion that the government may be considering a reversal of the price, as he pleaded with Nigerians, particularly the youths, for understanding and avoid being used by mischief-makers to mislead or incite the disturbance of public peace.
He said government, through the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme, had taken sufficient steps to ensure that the funds to be realized from the removal of subsidy are spent on projects that would benefit the people, particularly on improving national infrastructure, power supply, transportation, irrigation and agriculture, education, healthcare, and other social services.
To address the immediate challenges of rising transportation cost, he said all MDAs had been asked to commence the immediate execution of all projects designed to cushion the impact of the subsidy removal in the short, medium and long-term, announcing that a mass transit intervention programme is to be launched today to help bring down the cost of transportation across the country.
He also said government had ordered the mobilization of contractors for the full rehabilitation of the Port Harcourt –Maiduguri Railway Line and the completion of the Lagos-Kano Railway Line, while a Public Works programme is expected to engage about 10, 000 youths in every state of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory towards creating an additional 370, 000 jobs in the country.