Ripples Nigeria - The call on Nigerian workers by the umbrella body of its unions, the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC), to shut down the economy beginning Wednesday may be still-born, Ripples Nigeria investigations have shown. The workers are demanding that the pump price of petrol be restored to N87 per litre instead of N145 per litre.

The NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, served notice of its intentions at the end of a National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting in Abuja on Friday. His counterpart, Mr Bobboi Kaigama of the TUC echoed a similar plan when he said in Lagos that its members had given government up to Wednesday to rescind the fuel price hike.

Both unions later on Saturday issued a joint communiqué urging Nigerians to stockpile enough food items to last them awhile for the prosecution of the current struggle against neo-liberal agenda in Nigeria.

Investigations, however, show that the planned disruption of economic activities by NLC and TUC to press for a reversal of prices may hit the rocks even before take-off. A petroleum industry source confided in Ripples Nigeria that, though workers’ agitations were anticipated, the federal government was confident that it had done sufficient ground work to make the new petrol price regime a ‘faith accompli.’

Speaking on condition of anonymity our source said, “Government’s move to deregulate the down-stream sector was deliberate and well thought out. President Buhari and his team have a two-pronged strategy to contain any backlash that may arise.

“The President and his cabinet were well prepared for this and you could tell from the way they went about marketing the pain and gains of the policy initiative. This explains why the 2016 budget was very silent on any subsidy regime. No one could have missed the coordinated barrage of articles and social media engagements soon after the pronouncement.”

Our source further noted, “It was Ibe Kachikwu’s lot to lead the debate. Never mind the double speak when it became obvious that the junior Petroleum Minister wasn’t doing enough to safe-guard the ruling party’s (APC’s) endangered goodwill. Through him, the government was constantly in touch with us in the downstream sector.

“The tacit support given by PENGASSAN and NUPENG to the deregulation exercise was very predictable. Beyond the issue of fresh empowerment to players in downstream operations, what many did not also realize was that there were still loads of unresolved subsidy payments and that members expect a reciprocal gesture from Buhari for their support.”

He added, “Don’t forget that the subsidy regime itself was fraught with plenty of fraud under the last administration. What looks like a capitulation by us is clearly a protection of self-interest.

“I think that it would be an uphill task for the NLC and TUC to ground the economy and force a reversal of policy without the support of NUPENG and PENGASSAN. It is not sustainable. At best, they would try.”

There are, however, indications that government plans to meet with the leadership of organized labour before the Wednesday deadline. A  Presidency source told Ripples Nigeria that, “the Buhari-led administration is willing to make concessions in the area of salary increment which has been a cardinal agitation by workers. We know that they need soft landing”

He acknowledged that the presidency is making frantic efforts to ensure that the negotiations with workers are not protracted. Said he, “The relevant ministry and departments already have a mandate to ensure that the concerns of labour are treated with dispatch so that peace returns quickly for the implementation of the 2016 budget.

“Mr President is also personally in touch with leaders of the APC, especially the national leader, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, to rein in ‘radicals’ who think that the party is slaughtering its political goodwill too early in the life of the administration.”

Ripples Nigeria investigations show that the long queues that used to be a regular feature across most states, especially Lagos and Abuja are beginning to disappear, leaving many to believe that the government policy initiative might return some level of productivity to the economy.

Outside Lagos and the federal capital, Abuja, petrol is hardly sold at official rates.

Already, the PENGASSAN and NUPENG, have tactically removed themselves from any planned strike, while the umbrella body for private sector employers in the country, Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association, NECA, has faulted the plan by labour to go on strike, urging the private sector employees to ignore the strike directive and go about their normal businesses.

On its part, the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE) said on Saturday insisted that it is in support of federal government’s resolve to fully deregulate the downstream sector of the oil and gas industry.

Also, a faction of the NLC led by Mr. Joe Ajaero, is yet to take a stand on the strike action, saying it would be meeting with market women and other informal sector workers and civil society groups on how to force the Federal Government to meet its demands.

As things stand, the NLC and TUC planned protests may just run short of achieving its planned impact to force the administration’s hand, as government seems to have covered all its bases.

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