In this interview with SUBAIR MOHAMMED, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) presidential candidate in the February 25 election, Mr Adewole Adebayo, speaks on the policies of the Bola Tinubu administration, stand of the organised Labour, among other issues. Excerpts:
What is your impression about the protest staged by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade union Congress (TUC) against the removal of subsidy?
The issues at stake are of public concern. And the labour unions, irrespective of what you might think of their leadership and their choices, in recent times, still have a role in society. With the protest, the labour unions called the attention of the Federal government to the adverse effects of the subsidy removal on their members and indeed Nigerians. Though there are occasions where the interest of their members might coincide with the concerns of the public. So, members of the public might also want to align with them and express their minds to the government. I think the protest was okay. And with their engagement with the president after the protest, they appeared to be happy about it. When it comes to ventilating issues, the NLC/TUC through the protest tried to ventilate their issues to the president. But, whether the protest had ventilated these issues or not is another thing because the issues at hand are issues of economics. When you elect a government, you elect them together with their advertised policies and when these policies have some effects you don’t like, you can ventilate back to the government and you keep the dialogue going on with the government. But what we do after the protest is more important than the protest. I think the way the government has responded has shown that the government understands the issue. They are not taking so many days. You know, in the past, you had a protest that will last days upon days before junior people in government will intervene. The government has intervened at the highest level, and on the eve of the protest, there was a national broadcast where the president tried to make his case. So, it is a democratic engagement. I think each person played their roles. The role of the Labour leader is to remind the government that they represent a segment of the populace. The government also showed that they understand the labour leaders option. They may both agree with them, but the two of them looking at it together might be able to have a better view.
Do you think the outcome of the meeting of the president with the labour leaders was reassuring to warrant the Labour calling off the protest?
In the first instance, there shouldn’t have been any protest. This is because during the electoral campaign, every adult Nigerian knew where each of the candidates was heading. If someone says I am going to eliminate fuel subsidy, unify the foreign exchange, I am going to do this, I am going to do that and he gets elected and doing exactly that, that is natural. The labour unions could join other stakeholders to speak to the government. They went out, maybe because they wanted the government to take them more seriously. A one day, protest or demonstration is enough. It is not about how long the demonstration is but what you achieve out of it. Then, the government told the labour that the Port-Harcourt refinery would work. It should work, whether there was a protest or not. But, any justification given to restore peace and tranquillity to allow the economy to work and to allow the people to cope, I am okay with it. I would rather have no protest but robust engagement on policy issues. It is not in anyone’s interest to have a volatile situation. So, labour should be careful not to be seen to be too partisan and to overplay their hands. Everyone behaved maturely at the meeting, and I hope that labour will focus more on productivity and getting more of their members who are in the public services to make things work for the public.
Going by the pronouncement of President Tinubu that Port Harcourt refinery will be running by December and the Dangote refinery soon, would this bring down the price of fuel?
Dangote refinery is a private entity. Although NNPC has a minor stake in it, it is a private company. They might have allowed former President Buhari the honour to commission it, but it didn’t mean it was ready. They just wanted him to have that sense of achievement that the refinery took place during his time. I can tell you that I don’t see that refinery producing anything this year, may be towards the end of early next year, but before it can fully become operational, it will be 2025.
The other refineries, Port Harcourt, Kaduna, and Warri refineries, they have been trying to work out their readiness . I think we should try and get them to work but they will need not less than two years before they can work ,though the president told the labour that it will be operational by December, that’s mere aspirational and I think it is good for the president to have that aspiration and to mandate whichever minister he appoints to facilitate it and make it a top priority.
But, all of that put together would still not reduce the price of petrol on the streets significantly. So, all those talks are just a way of calming people down. So, there is no longer price control. What happens now is that we are merging with the international market in terms of the pricing of petroleum products. Even if we produce locally, the only way we can reduce the cost here is if the logistics is easier even though other costs may also increase. So there is no time where the price of petrol is guaranteed.
You said the coming on board of all the refineries will still not bring down the price of petroleum products, but government officials keep on telling us that it will. Can we say that they are deceiving Nigerians?
Government officials are not God because many of them are not properly trained in the area where they are manning. Sometimes it is just an innocent error or negligent error. They don’t know it.
There are critical areas in the polity that need urgent attention. Is there anyone you have identified that can help Tinubu?
Yes. I can have them in my mind. But the nature of the presidency is this. You don’t get to tell your opponent who to appoint because he knows what he is looking for. So, please let him lay his bed himself, and I think he is beginning to lay the bed slowly. The president is a politician who doesn’t want to have a political crisis because in the ranking of problems for politicians when they are in office , political crisis, governance crisis, security crisis and economic crisis, the one they feel the most is the political crisis. But when the work starts, Nigerians wouldn’t care whether he used this or that because the economy is getting better, security is getting better, inflation is coming down, and people are getting jobs.
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