Talks to resolve the ongoing fuel subsidy crisis ended in a deadlock on Thursday as the organised Labour insisted that the government should return the pump price of petrol to N65 per litre.
The talks between a government team of ministers and governors, and officials of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Trade Union Congress and representatives of the civil society held in the Presidential Villa in Abuja.
A source who attended the meeting told THE PUNCH last night that the government delegation to the meeting said it could only offer Labour N90 per litre. The source said that the team had initially said that it could not go below N120 per litre. He added that the government team reduced the offer when it was told that Labour did not have a mandate to accept any amount above N65 per litre.
As a result of the failure of the talks, the organised labour instructed its affiliate unions to continue with the nationwide strike on Friday (today).
After the meeting, the NLC President, Abdulwaheed Omar, told journalists that while compromises had been made by both parties no agreement had been reached yet.
Further talks, Omar said, would continue on Saturday (tomorrow).
The NLC president said, “The outcome is that we have not concluded discussions yet, but we have had fruitful discussions and we are to continue on Saturday. It is not conclusive yet.”
Asked if government and labour were ready to shift grounds, he said, “Yes, that was part of the discussions. Of course, all of us are trying to shift grounds, which was why I told you that we have had fruitful discussions.”
On whether the strike would be called off immediately, Omar answered, “Unless and until we get a conclusive conclusion from the discussions, we will maintain the status quo.”
The Senate President, David Mark, who spoke to journalists after the meeting, also confirmed that both labour and the government had shifted grounds.
Mark said, “The meeting was very fruitful. Everybody shifted grounds to the level that we will take a decision that will be in the best interest of Nigerians. That will be any moment from now.”
On whether Nigerians should expect a cut in price, the Senate President said, “Nigerians should expect the best decision.”
Pro-subsidy protesters, in postings on the social media, on Thursday, had warned the organised labour against reaching any compromise short of reverting to the old N65 pump price of petrol.
Fiery preacher, Pastor Tunde Bakare, also warned that the people would continue the anti-subsidy removal protests if labour backed out.
‘‘Even if the NLC and the TUC call off the strike people who have no job and who do not belong to any union will continue. No retreat no surrender. Nigerians, rain will soon fall,” he told a crowd of pro-subsidy protesters at the Gani Fawehinmi Park, Ojota, Lagos.
Before the labour leaders were ushered into the venue of the meeting, President Goodluck Jonathan had met behind closed doors with Vice President Namadi Sambo; Mark; his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu; Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim.
Others at the first meeting were Governors Babatunde Fashola (Lagos); Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers); Lyel Imoke (Cross River); Adams Oshiomhole (Edo); Gabriel Suswam (Benue); Babangida Aliyu (Niger); and Peter Obi (Anambra).
Also at the meeting were the ministers of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; Trade and Investment, Olusegun Aganga; Petroleum Resources, Diezani Allinson-Madueke; Justice, Bello Adoke; Labour, Emeka Wogu and Health, Onyebuchi Chukwu.
The 17 labour leaders and civil society representatives were led to the meeting by Omar, and his TUC counterpart, Peter Esele.
Shortly after they entered, the President and Sambo left the venue.
But the VP returned later to lead the government team to give the President feedback in his residence.
The spokesman for the Save Nigeria Group, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, while reacting to the stalemate, said the decision of the government not to back down from its hard stance was a test of the will of the people.
“The government is behaving irresponsibly by being insensitive to the cries of the people. The people will give the regime a maximum struggle never witnessed in this country,” Odumakin said.
The House of Representatives said it believed that the strike could still be called off before next week.
The Deputy Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Victor Ogene, said the fact that discussions were taking place meant that a peaceful resolution was in sight.
He added, “It’s progress being made. Discussions will continue on Saturday.
“That means that hope is not lost and that the strike can still be called off during the weekend.
“Recall that labour initially declared five-day strike in the first instance, which means that tomorrow (today) would still have been lost had they called at the strike.
“There is still hope for amicable resolution of the crisis.”