By Victor Ahiuma-Young, Dapo Akinrefon &’Johnbosco Agbakwuru ABUJA —
ORGANISED Labour, weekend, advised the Federal Government to jettison planned sale of national assets, to avoid mass revolt and civil unrest that will be worse than the anti-SAP riots of 1989. The Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC; Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC; the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG; and Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, PENGASSAN, in one accord, told government that it would be playing with fire should it go ahead to sell the assets. No comment — Presidency The Presidency kept mum, last night, as Spokesman to the President, Mr. Femi Adesina, in a reply to the text message sent to him, said “no comment.”
However, Budget and Planning Minister, Udoma Udo Udoma, said in a statement on Saturday that the Federal Government would not sell critical national assets to shore up its foreign reserves as well as have funds to retool the economy against the current downward plunge. According to him, government plans to source immediate funds to reflate the economy and implement capital projects in the 2016 budget. Already, NUPENG and PENGASSAN have threatened to shut Nigeria over the planned sale, which they argued, would not profit the nation but a few privileged Nigerians. According to PENGASSAN, the planned sale of national assets is a self-destructive move that would further impoverish Nigerians. The union said the plan, meant to solve short term financial obligations, was targeted at handing over Nigerians’ collective commonwealth to a few individuals and further impoverish the rest of the people. It advised that instead of selling assets, government should look for other ways of increasing the revenue base of the country, while plugging loopholes and leakages in public finances. PENGASSAN noted that governments at all levels should reflate the economy through execution of capital projects and payment of workers’ salaries. We’ll shut down Nigeria — PENGASSAN It stated: “Any attempt to sell these national assets will be met with stiff resistance from the Association, as PENGASSAN will galvanize every support, including that of our sister union and labour centres, to shut down this country by ensuring that every activity in the oil and gas sector is brought to a complete halt. “Some opportunists in the cloak of businessmen and short-sighted politicians had earlier advocated the sale of public assets such as the NLNG, four state-owned refineries, Nigeria’s stakes in Africa Finance Corporation, AFC, the nation’s airports and reduction of government’s shares in upstream oil joint venture operations and this was approved by the National Economic Council, NEC.” PENGASSAN National Public Relations Officer, Comrade Emmanuel Ojugbana, said such sales would further compound the economic and security problems in Nigeria. He expressed surprise as to why anybody would plan to sell the assets, such as the NLNG and shares in the upstream oil and gas JV operations, which had been generating revenue for the country to date. “They should tell us what will happen after the recession, if we have sold the assets to greedy individuals. Will the country go cap in hand begging those individuals who bought the assets and borrow from them?” Ojugbana alleged that the plan was ill-timed and unwarranted as it would not serve national interest, adding that no nation would develop, survive or feel secured after selling all its national assets. He continued: “The proponents of the sale of national assets are those who have been actively involved in the operations of the nation’s economy in the past. They were part of those responsible for the country’s current economic situation. “Moreover, such sales in the past, including the power and steel sectors privatisation, were just a shift from public to private monopoly which has further worsened those sectors. “It is, therefore, the candid position of PENGASSAN that such plan should be thrown into the trash bin. Government should continue to seek better ways to address the present economic challenges and reduce areas of wastages.” Enemies of the country at work —NUPENG On its part, NUPENG, through its General Secretary, Mr. Joseph Ogbebor, said: “We will resist the sale with all our might. It is not in the best interest of Nigerians. It will only compound the unemployment in the country. It will also compound the restiveness and agitation in the Niger Delta. There is no way we are going to accept it. If the President is really a patriot as claimed, he should not yield to the pressure because enemies of the country are at work. “However, our organs will meet either as NUPENG or jointly with PENGASSAN to deal with it. Certainly, it is unacceptable, unpatriotic, anti-Nigeria and must be rejected and resisted by all. We call on Mr. President to declare a state of emergency on the economy and summon an all-encompassing stakeholders meeting to brainstorm on how the present economic challenges can be quickly addressed. “NUPENG is of the view that Nigeria is a big market and certain measures should be put in place to reflate the economy so that it will be an investors’ destination.” NUPENG also said it was disturbed and worried about the drop in oil production, occasioned by the bombing of oil and power installations in the Niger Delta. It advised the Federal Government to reinstate the former private security outfits used to police the oil pipelines by the past administration. It stated further: “The current challenges facing oil production capacity can only be addressed by bringing back the private security agencies that were approved by the last administration, which was profitable to the oil and gas industry and the nation in general. “We want the Federal Government to take the bull by the horn and stop the blame game when the panacea is to reinstate the former security agencies to put a stop to the menace which is taking a toll on the economy.” Economic hawks out against Buhari — Ajaero Factional President of NLC, Joe Ajaero, said the battle would be to save President Buhari from economic hawks, who were out to bring the government down, noting the President meant well for the nation. He said: “The nation’s assets do not belong to the National Economic Council. Some of them were not born when these assets were set up. For members to approve the sale is just being prodigal. I cannot remember any of the assets in question that was set up by them. “They cannot tell us, Nigerian people, whose taxes were used to set up these assets, that whatever they say, we must obey them. They did not consult and they seem not to realise how it is pinching us. The question you should ask them is of all the national assets sold, how much did they make from them? ”How much did government make from the sale of PHCN? How much did government make from the sale of NITEL? How much was the proceed from Nigerian Airways? What impact did sale of those assets have on Nigerians? “If they have their security report, they should know this is not the time to toy with things like these because Nigerians are angry and they are prepared to vent their anger on the oppressors. “I will advise these people to play back what happened during the anti-SAP riots. The way we are going to resist this one will be worse than the anti-SAP crisis. The problem is that these people are not connected with the people.” We’ll resist it — TUC Also declaring its opposition, TUC, through its Acting Secretary General, Simeso Amachree, said: “We are not going to accept it and we will resist appropriately. As it was done before, it is an attempt to take over the national assets. “Like we stated earlier, the idea should be dropped or they will incur the wrath of workers. “It is our thinking that if those clamouring for the sales pay their appropriate taxes, there would be enough money to bring the country out of the woods without sacrificing our national assets. “Truly, we appreciate the concern of some sincere people in government, especially President Muhammadu Buhari, who is working tirelessly to fix the economy. But we get worried when people suggest we sell investments like NLNG which provided the money for the bailout of states when they could not pay salaries or concession our airports. On what grounds? “The Congress will mobilise and resist any further sale or concession of our national assets under whatever guise.” Wabba faction of NLC decides today On its part, the leadership of Wabba-led NLC faction will today take final position on the issue. Speaking to Vanguard in Abuja, General Secretary of the faction, Peter Ozo-Eson, called on all Nigerians to rise and oppose the government’s proposal. Ozo-Eson suspected a conspiracy where the public assets would be sold to those in the corridors of power and their cronies outside. He said: “We remain opposed to the sales of the national assets. We are coming out with our position in a press conference tomorrow (today). Nigerians should rise and oppose this proposal.” While calling on the government not to embark on anti-national policy, Dr. Ozo-Eson said: “It is like they want to share our assets to themselves.” Also commenting on the issue, the National President of Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, SSANU, Comrade Samson Chijioke Ugwoke, advised the government to be cautious in its plan to sell the nation’s assets. Ugwoke also advised the government to think inward on how to tackle the recession, instead of selling public assets that had in the past sustained the nation’s economy.