•Reps sit on N500bn subsidy relief request today, FG, Labour for fresh negotiations
•N500bn not enough for 125 million poor Nigerians affected by deregulation – NLC, TUC
The Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress have thumbed down the N500bn palliative proposed by President Bola Tinubu, stating that it is grossly inadequate to assuage the hardships confronting workers sequel to the fuel subsidy removal.
They are demanding a 300 per cent salary increase to enable workers to cope with the challenges imposed by the deteriorating economic situation that came with the removal of the controversial fuel subsidy.
On Wednesday, the President wrote to the House of Representatives seeking approval for N500bn to cushion the effects of petrol subsidy removal.
Tinubu’s request was contained in a letter sent to the National Assembly and read during plenary by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tajudeen Abbas.
The President had announced the petrol subsidy removal during his inaugural address on May 29, 2023, in response to claims that the subsidy regime favoured the rich more than the average Nigerians, among other reasons.
In his letter, the President proposed an amendment to the 2022 Supplementary Appropriation Act.
It read, “I write to the House of Reps to approve the amendment of the 2022 Supplementary Appropriation Act in accordance with the attached.
“The request has become necessarily important to, among other things, the source for funds necessary to provide palliatives to mitigate the effect of the removal of fuel subsidy on Nigerians.
“Thus, the sum of N500bn only has been extracted from the 2022 Supplementary Act of N819,536,937,815 for the provision of palliative to cushion the effect of petrol subsidy removal.”
The president said he hoped the lawmakers would consider his request “expeditiously.”
The House is expected to hold a plenary today on the president’s request.
Last December, the National Assembly passed a supplementary budget of N819bn for the 2022 fiscal year and also extended the implementation of the 2022 budget till March 31, 2023.
In May, the National Assembly passed the amendment to the 2022 supplementary budget to extend the implementation of the capital components to December 2023.
But unimpressed by the amount contained in the President’s letter, the NLC noted that the money would not be enough to cater for 125 million Nigerians who are believed to be living in poverty.
The National Treasurer of the NLC, Hakeem Ambali, who spoke in an interview with our correspondent in Abuja, questioned the extent to which the palliative would cover.
When asked if the amount would be sufficient, he said, “Definitely not. We have over 125m Nigerians that are technically poor. To what extent can this cushion the effects of this economic hardship?”
Speaking on ways by which the President can mitigate the effect of subsidy removal, the NLC official asked for “Minimum wage review of 300 per cent to all workers; granting licences to individuals for modular refineries to refine petrol locally; granting economic stimulus loan to SMEs at 15 per cent rate.’’
He added, ‘’The government should provide social benefits for aged and unemployed youths; agric loans to farmers and youths through the Agric Bank and community banks at single digit rate; provide alternative energy supply such as massive investment in solar power and Compressed Natural Gas to motorists.
“Fix the refineries; reverse the privatization of electricity back to the state due to poor performance; Execute metro rail line projects in all state capitals and reduction of school fees for students of tertiary institutions.”
NACCIMA, LCCI react
Speaking with The PUNCH, the Director-General of the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture, Olusola Obadimu, welcomed the idea of palliatives for the poor, but he questioned how the N500bn for the palliative measures would be spent.
According to him, the chamber will refrain from making further comments on the matter until clarification is given on how the fund would be utilised.
He said, “The idea, in principle, is good. Of course, people expect some relief. It is in the statement that we issued. We said it clearly that palliatives would be a good idea. We argued for it. But talking about a specific figure is something we can’t do when we don’t know the scope. The concept is fine, but we need more information about the scope.”
On his part, the Deputy-President of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Gabriel Idahosa, while commending the move, said the fund would be insufficient to cushion the impact of the subsidy removal and the devaluation of the naira.
He further stated that the media and other interest groups must sustain the advocacy to ensure that the palliative measures are extended to the public and private sectors.
Idahosa said, “Whatever the president implements will not be sufficient to wipe out the impact of the two policies — subsidy removal and floating of the currency. So, it is going to be a partial effort to reduce, not eliminate the effect of those policies.
“There is a basis to complain if the details come out and only the public (sector) gets to benefit from it, then everybody in the private sector has a reason to complain. We have to wait and see how the first set of palliatives will be designed, then we can complain legitimately if the private sector is not involved.”
The President of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, Mr Laoye Jaiyeola, said his group supported the palliative measure but stressed that it should be extended to those who really needed it.
He stated, “The clarity is that all of us are saying we must have palliative for the people affected. So if you are asking for palliative and the president cannot spend one naira without approval; so, where can he get it if he doesn’t borrow it?
‘’Everyone said there must be palliative for the subsidy removal and the palliative means that government must address the shock of the people. You know you cannot spend without approval and you also know that we are in deficit before; so, which other way can he get money if not borrow? So, he is following what the procedure says is legal.
“We support palliatives but it should go to the ultimate consumer and not those who sit in one place and are spending money. Identify the people that were affected the most and give them the palliative.”
In a related development, the President on Wednesday assured Nigerians that the framework for palliatives to remedy the effects of fuel subsidy removal is being worked out, explaining that the decision to phase out the subsidy was taken in the best interest of the country.
He said the decision would guarantee future prosperity.
Tinubu gave the assurance when he received members of Class 1999 Governors who paid him a courtesy visit at the Presidential Villa.
Eighteen of the former governors were present at the Council Chambers where the President met with them.
Tinubu, a former Lagos State governor and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator George Akume, who was a former Benue State governor, also belonged in the 1999 Class of Governors.
While appreciating his colleagues who served during the birth of the 4th Republic in 1999, the President appealed for more patience from Nigerians, saying the government would increase efforts to alleviate the pains of the subsidy removal and speed up the process.
He said the government would ensure a full-proof social security structure that will not be compromised, especially in cash transfers.
“I understand that our people are suffering, yet there can be no childbirth without pain. The joy of childbirth is the baby. Relief comes after the pain. Nigeria is being reborn. It is a rebirth of the country for the largest number, over a few smugglers.
“Please tell the people to be a little patient. The palliative is coming. I am doing the arithmetics. I don’t want the cash transfer to fall into the wrong hands. I know it pinches and it is difficult. In the end, we will rejoice in the prosperity of our country,’’ he told the governors, who were led by a former governor of Edo State, Chief Lucky Igbinedion.
Speaking on the importance of national unity and citizens’ cooperation to forge a stronger country that caters for the interests of all, President Tinubu stated clearly that only Nigerians can build their country, adding that he is irrevocably committed to serving the country.
“We must put the country in the right direction. No European, no Bretton Woods institution will do it for us,’’ he pointed out.
The governors visited the President to congratulate him on the victory at the polls, his instructive and visionary decisions on the economy, and his election as Chairman of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government, a statement by the media aide to the President, Dele Alake said.
“We served as governors and sat in this Council Chamber. All I wanted was democracy and the salvation of the country. I never thought I was going to be here as President, but God Almighty has brought me here,’’ the ex-Lagos State governor stated.
The President assured his former colleagues and Nigerians that he would work towards “unity, equity, stability, and prosperity of the country. My commitment to that democratic value is unwavering. I am overwhelmed and honoured by this large number present here.
“I have an open-door policy. You are my advisers. We went into the pond and wrestled with the pig. We got dirty and cleaned up. That is why I am here today,’’ he added.
Tinubu noted that the country would not make meaningful progress without fixing electricity, assuring that his administration would harness gas resources and explore every opportunity to ensure stable power generation and supply.
On security, the President who had earlier met with Governor Babagana Zulum of Borno State to review the situation in the North-East, appealed to Nigerians, especially Plateau State residents, to sheath their swords and use dialogue in resolving conflicts, adding that issues of borders were man-made and not created by God.
The former governors urged the President to pursue his vision for a greater Nigeria with vigour, steadfastness, and resilience, expressing their support for development policies, and promising to provide the necessary social structure for actualization.
“We are here with you. We are your foot soldiers, and you can tap into our experience. You are a person who believes in Nigeria. With your good leadership, Nigeria will take its place,’’ the Chairman, Class of 1999 Governors said.
Igbinedion affirmed that they were 20 at the meeting, while 10 of their colleagues had passed on.
Former governors at the meeting with the President included Niyi Adebayo, Ekiti State; Sen. Orji Uzor Kalu, Abia State; Sen. Sam Egwu, Ebonyi State; Adamu Muazu, Bauchi State; Donald Duke, Cross River State; James Ibori, Delta State; Obong Victor Attah, Akwa Ibom State; Chimaroke Nnamani, Enugu State; Saminu Turaki, Jigawa State and Sen. Aleiro Adamu, Kebbi.
Others were Olusegun Osoba, Ogun State, Adebisi Akande, Osun State, Sen. Joshua Dariye, Plateau State, Attahiru Bafarawa, Sokoto State, Ahmad Sani Yarima, Zamfara State, and Rev. Jolly Nyame, Taraba State.