An unyielding government team only offered to reduce the pump price of petrol from the current N141 to N120 per litre, a source at yesterday’s labour/government parley has told Premium Times.
Our source said the government team, led by Vice President Namadi Sambo, ignored arguments by labour that the sudden cut in fuel subsidy had foisted severe hardship on the Nigerian people, insisting that any reduction in price below N120 per litre was unsustainable.
The Minister of Labour & Productivity, Emeka Wogu, who made the offer on behalf of the government team reportedly argued that even the N120 per litre price would put severe strain on the economy and affect the deregulation programme.
“With the way its representatives spoke, it is clear government is not bothered about the suffering of the people,” one of our sources said. “It is only bothered about the potential breakdown of law and order in the country.”
Although government repeatedly pleaded with labour to meet it midway, it did not make any major concession beyond the N120 per litre price offer during the over six-hour meeting, our sources further disclosed.
The labour/civil society delegation rejected the offer, saying it had only a mandate to request government to reverse the subsidy removal policy and not to negotiate a reduction in price.
In response to pleas by President of the Senate, David Mark, that it should relax its hard-line stance to allow for a speedy resolution of a crisis that has grind Nigeria to a halt, labour had demanded that government “suspends” the implementation of the subsidy removal policy for 90 days to allow for extensive negotiation and consultation.
“Labour shifted ground by asking for “suspension” of the policy instead of outright “reversal,” a source familiar with the negotiation said. “They said the N65 per litre should stay for 90 days to allow for negotiation. That is a major concession. But government rejected the proposal.”
Premium Times learnt that the labour team, led by the President of the Nigerian Labour Congress, Abdulwaheed Omar, also proposed that government raises an all-embracing committee to look at the issue of corruption in the oil industry.
The committee, labour proposed, is also to take a holistic look at the subsidy policy and determine how funds allocated to the scheme were spent.
The unions further requested a comprehensive audit of the oil and gas sector with a view to determining how revenues earned from oil exports are managed.
But government rejected the proposals, and was only willing to discuss price reduction. Everyone on its delegation, who spoke at the meeting, articulated that position.
So also were representatives of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, who canvassed a mid-point approach to the resolution of the crisis by both labour and government, without putting any concrete proposal on the table.
When the negotiation made no headway, labour proposed that it should be allowed to go present government’s offer to its executive committees for a resumption of deliberation on Saturday.
Our source said Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as well as her petroleum ministry counterpart, Diezani Alison-Madueke, who are regarded as faces of the subsidy removal, did not speak at the meeting.
Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, whose party is vehemently opposed to the removal of subsidy, was reportedly non-commital at the meeting, our source said.
He reportedly kept appealing to labour to shift grounds and embrace a midpoint approach to the resolution of the crisis. He did not suggest any concrete solution to the problem, the source added.
Both parties have agreed to resume negotiations on Saturday. But some participants say except government make more concessions, that meeting might also yield no result.