Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: President still consulting on subsidy – NLC meets Tuesday to plan protests
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Coordinating Minister for the Economy, said while explaining details of the 2012 budget that the president would only announce a decision when he completes discussions with various interest groups.
Jonathan did not mention any provision for fuel subsidy in the 2012 budget he presented to the National Assembly, which was interpreted to mean removal of the subsidies.
The Finance minister was not categorical when asked by journalists to say if subsidies were removed or not.
“The President is consulting extensively; he has been meeting with students, with labour unions, church groups. At least he is consulting and when you have consulted truly and meeting with respected members of this society, and listen to them, they will give him the respect to make the decision he would want to make,” she said.
Asked if any amount was set aside for fuel subsidies in the 2012 budget, Okonjo-Iweala said, “I have already said what I am going to say. We have copies of the budget, you can see it yourself and see what there is or what there is not. You can come at it through every clever ways you want. It affects everyone but you must allow the process to go through.”
But the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), apparently reacting to reports that fuel subsidies have been removed, said yesterday that Jonathan’s failure to make any funds available for subsidies amounted to a declaration of war on Nigerians.
The congress said its executive would meet on Tuesday to decide on modalities of launching a protest against the President’s decision.
In a statement in Abuja, titled The 2012 Budget: A disaster waiting to happen, NLC’s acting general secretary Owei Lakemfa warned the Federal Government not to take Nigerians for granted and to prepare for a shutdown of the nation whenever the proposed budget takes effect.
“No one should underestimate the general mass poverty, unemployment and discontent that has increased bottled up anger in our polity. The removal of fuel subsidy will provide the spark for mass protests such that even the increased security vote cannot buy enough arms to contain.
“Since the government of Jonathan has elected to punish the Nigerian people through a budget that is poverty inducing and will cause a lot of hardship, the Nigerian people will have no alternative but to resist.
“This further attempt to impoverish workers and the Nigerian poor, is coming at the heels of increased tariff on electricity, the move to massively sack workers in the name of merging parastatals, the attempt to collect more taxes through the return of toll gates, the refusal to adequately fund education, and refusal to pay minimum wage, which is an impeachable offence.
“Despite the country’s security challenges, it is curious that the Jonathan government has allocated a massive lion share of the budget to security. In the first instance, the major cause of the increasing wave of insecurity in Nigeria is lack of education and mass unemployment, which are direct consequences of the general collapse of public infrastructure such as public electricity, roads, education, health etc. The security challenges are further compounded by lack of political will and abysmal ineptitude of security agencies.
“We call on all Nigerian workers and people to begin preparations for a general strike and mass protests. The people must be prepared in the next few weeks when the Jonathan administration begins to implement his anti-Nigerian policy. Nigerians should prepare to occupy the streets and public institutions to prevent them from being taken over by anti-patriotic forces.”
Lakemfa said the NLC leadership will meet on to “firm up strategies and give directive on the commencement of this protest and the resolve of workers and the Nigerian people to reclaim their country back.”
NLC urged the National Assembly “to side with the electorate and the Nigerian people by refusing to pass this budget. We also ask the Jonathan administration to seriously have a rethink by reviewing his budget proposal, or be ready to take on the Nigerian people.”
Lakemfa said the 2012 budget “is actually an anti-peoples budget designed purely in the service of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) and their local lackeys who dictate to the Nigerian government. It is a disaster waiting to happen.
“In particular, the exclusion of fuel subsidy in the budget is not only tragic, but a declaration of war on the Nigerian people. Thus, the Nigerian people will have no choice but to confront this challenge.”