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Cablegate: Obasanjo Criticizes Nlc in National Speech Just

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 ABUJA 001735

SIPDIS


E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PINS EPET ECON NI
SUBJECT: OBASANJO CRITICIZES NLC IN NATIONAL SPEECH JUST
BEFORE IT CANCELS GAS STRIKE

1. (U) On the evening of October 8 President Obasanjo
delivered a nationally televised speech sharply criticizing
the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC). Obasanjo bitterly
denounced the NLC's strike threat, but also called on the NLC
to reach an agreement with the oil marketers (including the
GON-owned NNPC) mediated by ruling-PDP governors and
legislators. Two hours later, the NLC and oil marketers
reached agreement at that mediation (septels).


2. (U) The following transcript is taken from the Daily
Independent, but tracks with the Presidency's text.
(Begin Text)


Fellow Nigerians,


It was only after very painful consideration and reflections
on the state of affairs in our dear country today, that I
decided to address you all. This national broadcast, the
second in the last eight days, is evidence of my deep concern
over the conduct of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the
Government's resolve to ensure that the ongoing reform agenda
remains on course.


Let me reiterate my unwavering commitment to the full
democratisation of all aspects of our political life,
including free and open dissent and constructive criticisms
of the government within the limits of the law. That is, in
fact, why my government has allowed sometimes protracted
labour strikes not embarked upon legally and other aspects of
opposition to government policies. This government has
always considered labour as important and therefore consulted
with it on many national and international issues. It is no
wonder that in the last four years, the NLC has not organised
a single strike over wage or salary issues because we have
been very productive in the interest of the workers.It is
worthy to note that between 1999 when this government came in
and 2003, the salary of some workers have been increased
eight fold, including the recent increase in the civil
service that would take effect this October.


I remain committed to these ideals of an open society.
However, no government would tolerate lawlessness or the
attempt by any group of people under any guise to use illegal
means to take over government or make the country
ungovernable as the labour leader has promised. I will be
failing in my constitutional duties to the people of Nigeria
to allow that to happen.


As you are aware, my government has embarked on fundamental
reforms designed to depart from the waste and unproductive
exercises of the past and leave lasting legacies for the
prosperity and improved welfare and well-being of all
Nigerians. Since 1999, we have gradually but steadily
embarked on the programme of liberalisation and deregulation
of the Nigerian economy to promote efficiency and
effectiveness of service delivery. Most Nigerians and
certainly all organised key stakeholders in the Nigerian
economy, including the Nigeria Labour Congress, have endorsed
the deregulation programme of government.


It is as a fitting symbol of our administration's commitment
to the welfare of workers and in an effort to cushion the
effects of deregulation that the government provided 80 buses
to the NLC in 2002. The transliner buses were delivered to
the Congress for management without government interference.
It is noteworthy that every step taken to deregulate the
downstream oil sector has been dogged by, sometimes,
irresponsible opposition by the Labour Congress. The result
has been that we took too little steps to achieve no
meaningful and satisfactory progress. We have tolerated all
of these in the interest of promoting popular dialogue and
informed dissent.


Let me inform Nigerians that when government first came up
with the deregulation programme, it was endorsed by the NLC
and other stakeholders. In fact, the NLC had requested that
we call it a "liberalisation" programme. It was thus more a
matter of label than of substance. If we had been successful
in implementing the deregulation or liberalisation of the
downstream oil sector as earlier agreed by all stakeholders,
including labour, we would not have been worrying about the
periodic and unsatisfactory price-fixing which has led no
where accept to frustration. The failure to fully deregulate
or liberalise has also cost Nigerians billions of naira which
are currently wasted on millions of man-hours in queues at
the petrol stations.


The tens of billions of naira currently being lost in money
that could have been used to increase capital spending in the
universities, fund agriculture, repair and rehabilitate our
roads, invest in education and health, improve security with
extra police for security of lives and property. Realising
that the investment of well over $400 million (excluding
pipelines and depots) in the last six years mostly on Turn
Around Maintenance (TAM) and repairs had not improved the
performance of the refineries significantly, government had
decided that it was unwise to put additional money into the
repair of the Kaduna and Port Harcourt refineries before
privatising them.


What most Nigerians must know is that the contracts for the
Turn Around Maintenance for the Kaduna and Port Harcourt
refineries were awarded with 50% of the cost paid upfront
before the advent of this administration in 1999. Allow me to
add that two of the three refinery locations in the country
today, were built by my administration as military head of
state. This means that if for no other reason, I should be
interested in keeping them working. Already, 18 private firms
have been licensed to build refineries but they have been
reluctant to go into the industry because of Government's
price control in the sector.


If only 30% of these firms had been able to establish and
operate private refineries, thousands of jobs would have been
created and Nigeria would have been in a position to even
export refined oil products. All these benefits and more have
been denied to Nigerians by the stop-go approach to the
deregulation or liberalisation programme, and only a few
Nigerians are benefiting from the prevailing government
controlled system. In fact, the NLC 's approach has been
counter-productive, and inflicted more pains on Nigerian
workers. Each time there is a small increase of three naira
or more, transporters have used the opportunity to jerk up
transportation cost thereby making the ordinary worker poorer.


A once-and-for-all total deregulation would have meant a
once-and-for-all increase in transport cost and the pump
price for petroleum products. Without doubt, a
once-and-for-all total deregulation would have resolved the
problem of availability and thus bring down prices for those
outside Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt and their environs who
have always paid much more than the official posted price.
Pump prices arising from the present total deregulation
would, in reality, amount to a reduction in prices of
majority of Nigerians.


Let me add, that before the marketers have the signal that
they were fully ready for liberalisation, they sought and
received government's assurance to repair all necessary
infrastructure for importing and discharging products. These
infrastructure were substantially repaired and made available
by the 28th of September, 2003.


Fellow Nigerians, we must move forward in the interest of
this country. In recent times, especially since the new
administration was sworn-in in May this year, the NLC has
constituted itself into an opposition political movement
rather than a labour organisation to advance the interest of
its members contrary to the provisions of the law
establishing it. The tactical move by the NLC to mislead and
recruit some opposition political parties is evidence of an
attempt not only to politicise what otherwise is an economic
issue, but also to promote its avowed objective of bringing
down a democratically elected government.


This new alliance appears designed to attain power through
undemocratic means. The leadership of the NLC has engaged in
series of subversive activities, deliberately misrepresenting
government policies to the public and its members, and using
every opportunity to blackmail the government and others who
hold contrary opinions or views. Of more serious concern is
the fact that the NLC leadership is conducting itself as a
parallel government in Nigeria, and brazenly breaks the law
of Nigeria regarding the conduct of strikes which stipulates
a mandatory 15-day notice before embarking on any legitimate
strike in the interest of the conditions of service of
workers.


During the last strike in June, which a Lagos court declared
illegal and a contempt of court, the NLC threatened the
police and threw tear gas at policemen on legitimate duties.
Even now, in its arrogance and disrespect for law and order,
it continues to warn and threaten the police. It not only
enlists the services of other political parties, but also the
services of hoodlums and drug addicts who are used to harass,
intimidate, disrupt and destroy the lives and properties of
innocent Nigerians. Government has sufficient evidence that
the NLC has provided cash to hoodlums to distribute
subversive materials and act against the Nigerian state.


This cannot be the way that a responsible labour leadership
should act. Government has thus far tolerated these nefarious
and criminal activities as a demonstration of goodwill and
also as part of the nurturing of our nascent democracy. It
seems, however, that the Government's hands of friendship,
tolerance and statesmanship are being misinterpreted as
indication of weakness. This must now stop. The time has
come when this government must decide whether it was elected
by the people to serve the interests of all Nigerians and
establish a firm foundation for growth, stability,
development and democracy, or whether it would succumb to the
clearly misguided and irresponsible leadership of the NLC.


What the NLC leadership must realise is that it has no
mandate from whatever source to mobilise, much less call for
anti-government action, the Nigerians who are not dues-paying
members of its affiliate unions. No self-respecting
government would abdicate its responsibility to the people
who elected it. And this government will not be distracted
from the overwhelming mandate of the people of Nigeria.
Let me therefore use this opportunity to remind the NLC that
there is an existing law of the Federal Republic of Nigeria
requiring that labour serves a 15-day notice of intention to
go on strike, and that this has not been followed in the
current threats.


So far, the NLC has shown a total disdain for our traditional
institutions and neither consulted with the traditional
rulers nor with the major organs of our society. Before fully
exploring the avenues for dialogue, it is already threatening
innocent Nigerians to stay at home or be visited with mayhem.
Nothing can further demonstrate the unpatriotic and sinister
motives of the NLC than the contents of the communiqu at the
end of its meeting of 4th October in which it not only sought
to mobilise 'all Nigerians' and not just financial members of
the NLC to join the strike, but also issued threats and
warnings to several agencies, including the police, bank
workers, air travelers and aviation workers.


Unbelievably, the NLC betrayed its hidden agenda by calling
on all Nigerians to boycott the on-going 8th All Africa Games
holding in Abuja. These unpatriotic acts and attempts to make
true the NLC leadership's all-time boast to make the country
ungovernable cannot be allowed to stand. The NLC must
recognise that it is not a parallel government
in Nigeria. Such a position constitutes security threats for
which government cannot fold its hand. I only hope that the
leadership of NLC would be wise to retrace its steps and take
back the Congress to the path of legality and patriotism.


Deregulation or liberalisation of the downstream sector means
that everyone can participate. If the NLC decides to run its
own transport company or engage in petroleum importation or
refining ,it is free to do so and sell to its members and
whoever it pleases and at whatever price it deems fit.


For the millions of law abiding citizens of Nigeria, let me
assure you of the government's readiness to ensure full
protection of lives and property. The marketers, I
understand, have had a very engaging dialogue with the NLC
and with the men and women of good will as umpires. I will
expect that this golden opportunity of dialogue will not be
lost.
It is my hope that in spite of everything, the NLC can still
allow reason to prevail and enter into productive dialogue
with the marketers as midwifed by mediators.


I appeal to all Nigerians to remain calm and go about their
normal businesses without let or hindrance. The Nigeria
Police and other law-enforcement agents are ready to provide
maximum protection and security. No one should attempt to
disrupt the normal transportation either by land, sea or air,
or try to force the closure of markets, banks and shops. Let
me also assure all banks and all public and private
institutions of maximum police protection and security.


No one ever said that fundamental and sustainable reforms
would be easy. Incessant strikes as a way of derailing the
reforms serve no one any good. Given our bitter experiences
in the not too distant past, we must not do anything that
would erode the values and worth of our achievements so far.
A strike that would disrupt economic, social and other
activities while imposing heavy costs on the ordinary
Nigerian and worker in discomfort and inconvenience negate
the very essence of labour movement. A strike that would
cause avoidable deaths, prevent our children from getting to
school, workers from earning a living, and essential services
from working in the interest of all cannot be justified.


A strike that plans to rely on intimidation, blackmail,
deceit, thuggery, violence and other coercive methods cannot
be an expression of democratic practice. A strike that seeks
to humiliate a nation in the presence of august visitors and
compromise the dignity of our great country in the eyes of
the international community is a direct attack on the new
patriotic spirit that binds the Nigerian people. It will not
be allowed. Our brothers and sisters from the rest of Africa
who are participating in the 8th All Africa Games are guests
within our gates. As Africans, we must protect them as we
protect ourselves. The NLC obviously does not think this way.
I want to assure our brothers and sisters of maximum
protection and security for as long they are within our gates.


While this statement is an appeal, it is also a warning that
anyone who embarks on an illegal strike or who connives,
encourages and instigates others to embark on strike,
intimidate other citizens, disrupt businesses or engage in
acts of lawlessness and violence would have himself or
herself to blame. Under no circumstances would this
democratic government accommodate or tolerate undemocratic
conducts that would compromise the integrity of our
democratic values or derogate the liberties of our peoples.
The full weight of the law would be brought to bear on such
persons for the maintenance of order and discipline.


Finally, fellow Nigerians, let me assure you that our reform
programmes are on course. We thank the millions of Nigerians
who have signed on to the reforms and rejected the cynicism
and unpatriotic conduct of the minority. To move our economy
and country forward, I have promised Nigerians that it will
not be business as usual. We are already implementing
reforms, and invest heavily in infrastructure, agriculture,
education, health, and industry. To do all of these, we must
change our ways of thinking and doing business, and the
deregulation and privatisation of the downstream oil sector
are important aspects of these reforms.


Although the private sector will now be the driving force of
the downstream sector of the petroleum industry, the
government would continue to monitor and ensure quality
control and to help the sector develop in an orderly manner.
Government regrets some of the short-term pains especially
for the minority who had been buying fuel at 34 per litre,
even though we all know that majority of our people would
gladly buy for N40 per litre if only it is made regularly
available. I am confident that the medium to long-term
benefits would more than offset those pains for the
generality of Nigerians. Liberalisation and deregulation is
the answer for availability of products at competitive prices
as our
experience in the telecommunications sector shows.


I will continue to count on your understanding and support as
we build a new and prosperous Nigeria. I particularly appeal
to your patriotism with hospitality, especially at this time
when we are hosting all of Africa. Let us all join hands as
good hosts.


Thank you and may God bless Nigeria.


(END TEXT)
ROBERTS

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