Organised labour has expressed doubt on the sincerity of the interventions President Bola Tinubu rolled out in his national broadcast to Nigerians to cushion the effects of his administration’s policies on the citizens.
The labour vowed to proceed with its planned protest over the removal of petroleum subsidy, saying what he told Nigerians was neither here nor there considering that after spending two months in office, there was no concrete measures to bring immediate succour to the people.
Tinubu had, in his broadcast, said his administration was monitoring the effects of the exchange rate and inflation on gasoline prices with a pledge to intervene “if and when necessary.”
But addressing reporters after the resumed meeting of the Presidential Steering Committee on Palliatives, held at the State House, Abuja, the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Joe Ajaero, said the plan for workers to proceed on a peaceful protest from tomorrow had not changed.
Ajaero, who dismissed fears that the peaceful protest could be hijacked by hoodlums, said that had never happened in the history of workers’ protest.
He, however, said it was the responsibility of security agencies to provide security for the protest to protect the workers.
He expressed doubts about President Tinubu’s ability to control inflation and gasoline prices due to the unification of the exchange rate.
He said the meeting was adjourned to 12noon today to enable the labour leaders to listen to the president’s national broadcast on Monday.
Reacting to Tinubu’s plan to intervene on exchange rate over inflation and high cost of gasoline prices, Ajaero said: “By the time you have a single market and you are not having anything that has a comparative advantage, your energy is import driven, then how are you going to control it? How are you going to control somebody that exchanged dollars at about 900 (naira)? Are you going to tell him to sell below the price?
“How are you going to tell even NEPA (DisCos) today, with the cost of production not to increase tariff? Even corn in the villages that was sold at N18, 000 by February, now it’s about 56,000. How are you going to control it?”
The Chief of Staff to the President, Femi Gbajabiamila, said the government was dealing with the oil cabals that had brought the economy to its knees.
Asked whether the oil cabals were more powerful than the security and government, he said, “Yes they are and that’s what the government is dealing with. First of all, remove the subsidy, that’s the first step.”
The National Security Adviser, Nuhu Ribadu, pleaded with the organised labour to give the administration little chance to fix the economy. He said President Tinubu inherited a bad economy that he is working hard to fix.
I’ll fix the challenges – Tinubu
Tinubu said the broadcast was important for Nigerians to understand the reasons for the policy measures taken to combat the serious economic challenges the nation had long faced.
The increase in transport fares and costs of food and other products is believed to have caused hardship for citizens after Tinubu announced the unification of exchange rates and the removal of petrol subsidy on his inauguration day.
The president recalled that he had promised to reform the economy for the long-term good by fighting the major imbalances that had plagued our economy, adding that “Ending the subsidy and the preferential exchange rate system were key to this fight. This fight is to define the fate and future of our nation. Much is in the balance.
“The defects in our economy immensely profited a tiny elite, the elite of the elite you might call them. As we move to fight the flaws in the economy, the people who grow rich from them, predictably, will fight back through every means necessary.
“Our economy is going through a tough patch and you are being hurt by it. The cost of fuel has gone up. Food and other prices have followed it. Households and businesses struggle. Things seem anxious and uncertain. I understand the hardship you face. I wish there were other ways. But there is not. If there were, I would have taken that route as I came here to help not hurt the people and nation that I love.”
He added: “Fellow Nigerians, this period may be hard on us and there is no doubt about it that it is tough on us. But I urge you all to look beyond the present temporary pains and aim at the larger picture. All of our good and helpful plans are in the works. More importantly, I know that they will work.
“Sadly, there was an unavoidable lag between subsidy removal and these plans coming fully online. However, we are swiftly closing the time gap. I plead with you to please have faith in our ability to deliver and in our concern for your well-being.”
He said the country will get out of this turbulence, adding that due to the measures his administration had taken, Nigeria would be better equipped and able to take advantage of the future awaiting her.
‘We’ve saved what would’ve been stolen’
Tinubu said in a little over two months, the government had saved over N1 trillion that would have been squandered on the unproductive fuel subsidy, which only benefitted smugglers and fraudsters.
“That money will now be used more directly and more beneficially for you and your families. For example, we shall fulfil our promise to make education more affordable to all and provide loans to higher education students who may need them. No Nigerian student will have to abandon his or her education because of lack of money,” Tinubu said.
He said to address the current situation, the government was working closely with states and local governments to implement interventions that would cushion the pains of people across socio-economic brackets.
He said what he could offer in the immediate was to reduce the burden the current economic situation had imposed on all Nigerians, most especially on businesses, the working class and the most vulnerable among us.
He said this administration would spend N75 billion between July 2023 and March 2024 to strengthen the manufacturing sector, increase its capacity to expand and create good paying jobs.
“Our objective is to fund 75 enterprises with great potential to kick-start a sustainable economic growth, accelerate structural transformation and improve productivity. Each of the 75 manufacturing enterprises will be able to access N1 billion credit at 9% per annum with maximum of 60 months repayment for long term loans and 12 months for working capital,” he said.
Tinubu also said the administration, having recognised the importance of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises and the informal sector as drivers of growth, would energise this very important sector with N125 billion.
He said: “Out of the sum, we will spend N50 billion on conditional grants to 1 million nano businesses between now and March 2024. Our target is to give N50,000 each to 1,300 nano business owners in each of the 774 local governments across the country.
“Ultimately, this programme will further drive financial inclusion by onboarding beneficiaries into the formal banking system. In like manner, we will fund 100,000 MSMEs and start-ups with N75 billion. Under this scheme, each enterprise promoter will be able to get between N500,000 to N1million at 9% interest per annum and a repayment period of 36 months.”
Announces N200bn for agric interventions
To further ensure that prices of food items remain affordable, he said the administration had a multi-stakeholder engagement with various farmers’ associations and operators within the agricultural value chain.
He said: “In the short and immediate terms, we will ensure staple foods are available and affordable. To this end, I have ordered the release of 200,000 metric tonnes of grains from strategic reserves to households across the 36 states and FCT to moderate prices. We are also providing 225,000 metric tonnes of fertiliser, seedlings and other inputs to farmers who are committed to our food security agenda.
“Our plan to support cultivation of 500,000 hectares of farmland and all-year-round farming practice remains on course. To be specific, N200 billion out of the N500 billion approved by the National Assembly will be disbursed as follows:
“Our administration will invest N50 billion each to cultivate 150,000 hectares of rice and maize. “N50 billion each will also be earmarked to cultivate 100,000 hectares of wheat and cassava.”
According to him, “This expansive agricultural programme will be implemented targeting small-holder farmers and leveraging large-scale private sector players in the agric business with a strong performance record.”
In this regard, Tinubu said the expertise of Development Finance Institutions, commercial banks and microfinance banks would be tapped into to develop a viable and an appropriate transaction structure for all stakeholders.
To improve the welfare and living conditions of citizens, the president said he approved the Infrastructure Support Fund for the states to enable them to intervene and invest in critical areas and bring relief to many of the pain points as well as revamp decaying healthcare and educational Infrastructure.
He added that the fund would bring improvements to rural access roads to ease evacuation of farm produce to markets, saying that “With the fund, our states will become more competitive and on a stronger financial footing to deliver economic prosperity to Nigerians.”
Tinubu said the government had made provision to invest N100 billion between now and March 2024 to acquire 3000 units of 20-seater CNG-fuelled buses as part of a programme to roll out buses across the states and local governments for mass transit at a much more affordable rate.
These buses, he said, would be shared to major transportation companies in the states, using the intensity of travel per capital. Participating transport companies will be able to access credit under this facility at 9% per annum with 60 months repayment period.
He said the government was also working in collaboration with the labour unions to introduce a new national minimum wage for workers, stating that “I want to tell our workers this: your salary review is coming.
“Once we agree on the new minimum wage and general upward review, we will make budget provision for it for immediate implementation.
“I want to use this opportunity to salute many private employers in the organised private sector who have already implemented general salary review for employees,” he added.