Compromise on fuel subsidy removal, FG tells labour; says labour is inflexible and unwilling to negotiate

(NAN) The Federal Government has appealed to organised labour to be patriotic and make compromises in the ongoing negotiation over the deregulation of the downstream sector of the oil industry.

Making the appeal on a television programme in Abuja, the Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku, said, “leadership is about responsibility and willingness to make compromises.”

This, he said, informed government’s decision to shift ground for normalcy to be restored to the country.

On Jan. 9, the organised labour and civil society groups embarked on strike and street protests in many states to register their opposition to the withdrawal of fuel subsidy by the Federal Government on Jan. 1.

Government and organised labour had since held series of meetings in an effort find a solution to the dispute enable the protesters to go back to work.

Maku said President Goodluck Jonathan had directed the Government Negotiating Team to negotiate with labour and make compromises, adding, however, that labour had taken an inflexible position and was unwilling to negotiate.

According to the minister, government is ready to enter into agreement in principle with labour over the phased deregulation of the downstream oil sector, but labour appears not to be committed to deregulation.

He recalled that in 2007, labour agreed with the government on the increase in pump price of petrol in 2008, but the price increase was not effected until 2012.

Maku said the government was worried that the unwillingness of labour to negotiate could be influenced by extraneous forces who might have hijacked the strike and were calling for a regime change.

He called on politicians who, he said, had infiltrated the ranks of labour to be patient and allow the present administration to run its full course instead of cashing in on the strike for political gains.

He reminded labour that “participation in any strike is voluntary” and noted with dismay that hoodlums hijacked the strike to forcefully close markets and other sensitive economic ventures, and manhandled people who were going about their normal businesses.

On the deregulation of the downstream oil sector, the minister restated that the measure was inevitable, considering the common market protocol adopted by ECOWAS, which made subsidy on commodities coming to Nigeria irrelevant and a waste.

He said it would be irresponsible for any government to continue to pay one-third of its annual budget to subsidise fuel consumption in the face of a growing population, unemployment and the dearth in infrastructure.

Also speaking, the Minister of State for Finance, Dr. Yerima Ngama, said the government was educating Nigerians to know that “fuel subsidy is at the expense of capital projects that will contribute to economic development and social well-being of the citizenry”.

Therefore, he said, for labour to continue to demand full subsidy on petrol, Nigerians should be prepared to forgo the execution of capital projects and other infrastructure that will make life more meaningful for them. (NAN)

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