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National Assembly probe may frustrate rail projects, says Amaechi

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The Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, says the ongoing probe by the National Assembly into loan agreements being entered into by the Federal Government with China may frustrate various rail projects in the country.

The House of Representatives had on Tuesday expressed its resolve to review loan facilities already taken by the country from China and other countries.

Amaechi had appeared before the House Committee on Treaties, Protocols, and Agreements on the $500m loan taken on the Abuja-Kaduna and other rail line projects.

The minister, who warned the lawmakers against sending a wrong signal to China, on Tuesday, explained in Abuja on Wednesday that negotiations on the facilities be concluded while the lawmakers investigate the agreements.

The minister said, “The investigation being carried out by the National Assembly may frustrate the loan agreement between us and China on the Port Harcourt to Maiduguri rail project.

“So, if tomorrow we are unable to construct Port Harcourt to Maiduguri railway because we didn’t get the loan, it is because of the investigation by NASS.

“I told the National Assembly that they can investigate but they should allow us to get the loan first. If they stop the work from Ibadan to Kano, it is because of the investigations, the same with Lagos to Calabar railway.

“If you think there is corruption, investigate corruption. What we are saying is that we should conclude negotiation first because there is pressure affecting the Chinese government in which they are talking to us directly. So, for me, what is primary here should be national interest.

“We have the approval to construct the Lagos-Ibadan, Lagos-Kano, and Lagos-Calabar rail lines; we are also at the point of negotiating for the loans.

“Summoning us to the National Assembly to come and address the loans would look like the government is no longer interested in the loan.”

On plans to repay the loans, the minister said that profit generated from the train service would be used through a special account to be opened for that purpose.

Meanwhile, the House committee asked Ameachi to reappear on August 17 along with more details on the loans and projects.

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NIGERIA

Labour shuns ruling stopping strike, talks with FG deadlocked

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The Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress, on Thursday, dismissed the ruling of the National Industrial Court restraining them from going on strike beginning from Monday.

The NLC and the TUC stated this after a meeting between the Federal Government and the workers ended in a deadlock on Thursday evening.

Following the hike in electricity tariffs and fuel pump price, the government and the labour unions had met penultimate Tuesday, but the dialogue ended in a deadlock following the failure of the government to reverse the price increase or offer palliatives to cushion the effects on the workers.

The NLC and TUC subsequently declared a strike and protest scheduled to commence on Monday. Both unions said they would collaborate to execute the industrial action for maximum effect.

Rising from a meeting in Abuja on Tuesday, the National Executive Council of the NLC comprising the chairpersons of the 36 state chapters and the Federal Capital Territory endorsed the decision earlier taken by the Central Working Committee of the Congress on the strike last Wednesday.

Court stops strike

But the industrial court in Abuja, on Thursday, issued an interim order restraining the unions from embarking on the strike.

Justice Ibrahim Galadima issued the interim order following an ex-parte application filed by a group, Peace and Unity Ambassadors Association through their counsel, Sunusi Musa.

Justice Galadima ordered the labour unions, their officers and affiliate groups to halt the plan to embark on the strike pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice filed by the applicant.

The judge also granted an order of interim injunction restraining the unions from disrupting, restraining, picketing or preventing the workers or ordinary Nigerians from accessing their offices to carry out their legitimate duties on September 28, 2020, or any other date.

The court also granted an order compelling the Inspector-General of Police and the Director-General, Department of State Services, to provide protection for workers engaged in their legitimate duties from any form of harassment, intimidation and bullying by the officers, agents or privies of the unions pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice.

Those who obtained order not our employers –NLC

Reacting to the court injunction, the NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, dismissed it, saying he had not been served, adding that the group that filed the suit was not his employers.

He asked, “How does that (injunction) affect me if I have not been served? Have I been served? Are they our employers? What relationship do I have with any group?”

The meeting between the Federal Government and organised labour meant to avert the planned strike and protest ended in a deadlock.

The meeting, which started at 4.16 pm at the Presidential Villa’s Banquet Hall, Abuja, on Thursday, dragged till 9.22 pm without a resolution.

But speaking to journalists after the dialogue, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, said the parties had a fruitful discussion, adding that it was shifted till Monday to conclude the discussions.

He expressed the belief that the unions would heed the government’s plea to suspend their planned strike.

However, the TUC President, Quadri Olaleye, told journalists that the mobilisation of workers for the strike would not be halted, noting that the government failed to reverse or suspend the fuel price hike and electricity tariff adjustment.

He stated, “We were not the one that adjourned the meeting; the government adjourned it till Monday. Monday is the expiration of the ultimatum and we are still very much focused on that. It is a deadlock now.

“Of course, that (adjournment) will not stop the action that has been put in place. We have told them to reverse or to suspend, while the discussion goes on Monday. So, labour is left with no option but to go our way.”

Asked about the offers or concessions made by the government’s team, the union leader said, “We are coming with an open mind to find a solution to the problems in the country, especially on the price hike. They have made their proposal, but we are saying let us suspend or reverse, then we can now continue to discuss but they have adjourned. But labour will continue with the mobilisation of workers.”

Speaking earlier before the closed-door technical session, Ngige said attendance at the dialogue was expanded to include the Secretary to Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, and others following the declaration of strike and protest by the labour centres.

Other officials in attendance included the Minister of Power, Mamman Saleh; Minister of State for Petroleum, Timipre Sylva; Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed; and the Minister of State, Labour, Festus Keyamo (SAN).

Ngige, TUC leader in an altercation

There was a mild drama as Ngige got into an altercation with the TUC president, who accused him of using “divide and rule tactics” to create a breach within the labour unions.

Ngige in his welcome address had reiterated that he has not received TUC’s letter whose notice of industrial action was addressed to the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.). He explained that his attention was drawn to the letter on social media by an aide.

The minister stated, “I want to reiterate that the country belongs to all of us, it is not Buhari’s country. Whatever we want to discuss, we will discuss dispassionately in furtherance of the welfare of Nigerians.

“I will even assume my role as a conciliator: if the government side did not play ball, I will tell them, and if labour also crosses into a lane that will lead to the collapse of the entire economy, I will also bridge the gap.”

But Olaleye in his remark dismissed Ngige’s claims that the country belonged to all Nigerians, stressing that the workers were being used as sacrificial animals by the political elite.

He said, “I heard when the minister mentioned that the country belongs to all of us. I, as a person, except you change my impression, I believe the country belongs to the few politicians that take decisions and make policies that are very hard for us to live in this country.

“If the country belongs to all of us, the question is, why are people running out of this country? Our youths are running out of this country despite all the dangerous obstacles on the road, many have lost their lives.

“Can somebody run out of his father’s house when nothing is pursuing him? So, definitely, the answer is no. Let’s make the country to belong to all of us so that we can be a bona fide owner of our country.”

He asked the labour minister to withdraw his comment over the letter, pointing out that the issues were beyond Ngige, hence the decision to address it to the President.

He noted,” I want to disagree with you; with due respect to your office, we honour your office and we will not do anything to undermine your office.

“But the issue is an issue that Mr President himself has to handle, we are not talking about the minimum wage, increase or any price with the government. We are talking about economic issues and we have elected Mr President to lead and that is why we have addressed that issue to him.

“But if you want to insist sir, that because the letter is not referred to you, then TUC can excuse you. I know it’s a statement of divide and rule which will not be acceptable to this congress sir.

“I will prefer that you withdraw the statement and let us continue the meeting. If the letter is not addressed to you and you invited us here, I don’t know how we can reconcile this statement.”

An obviously indignant Ngige took time to lecture Olaleye on his knowledge of International Labour Organisation’s practices, stating that he had attended all ILO sessions, governing board meetings and general assembly, insisting that the ‘competent authority’ for labour issues in any country is the minister of labour.

He stated, “My friend, the new president of TUC, I don’t want to start altercations before we start the technical session but I want to put the records straight for you so that if your general secretary has not educated you properly, then, he better go home and do so.

“You have no business with the President of Nigeria. Your place of business is the Ministry of Labour. You have said the issue is not labour dispute or wages negotiation, but in the same breath, you said your earnings are being eroded.

“If you want to address social issues, the civil societies are there, the political parties are there and you can write or castigate Mr President, but when you talk about the working class of Nigeria, erosion of their wages and anything that has to do with their welfare, you are dealing with the ministry of labour. So, there is nothing to withdraw from my earlier statement and I still stand by it.”

But the SGF, Mustapha, said no government decision was intended to hurt the citizens, arguing that the price hike “was taken in the interest of the people and the country.”

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NIGERIA

Nigeria isn’t building rail line into Niger but only to the designated Border point – Garba Shehu makes clarification

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Presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu has made a clarification on the controversial railway contract which the federal executive council recently approved.

Pointing out that an agreement between Nigeria and Niger in 2015 coordinated by the Nigeria-Niger Joint Commission for Cooperation has a plan for “Kano-Katsina-Maradi Corridor Master Plan, (K2M)”, Garba Shehu further stated that the two nations would each build a rail track to meet at the border town of Maradi.

He added that the objective of the rail is the harnessing of raw materials, mineral resources, and agricultural produce. When completed, it will serve domestic industries and play the role of a viable transportation backbone to the West African subregion, starting with the neighboring Niger Republic for their export and import logistic chain.

The statement read;

Nigeria isn’t building rail line into Niger but, only to the designated Border point.

An agreement between Nigeria and Niger in 2015, coordinated by the Nigeria-Niger Joint Commission for Cooperation has a plan for “Kano-Katsina-Maradi Corridor Master Plan, (K2M)” as it is called.

Going by this, the two nations would each build a rail track to meet at the border town of Maradi.

Nigerian delegates to that meeting comprised officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, National Boundaries Commission, Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Water Resources as well as those of Kano and Katsina states.

The objective of the rail is the harnessing of raw materials, mineral resources and agricultural produce. When completed, it will serve domestic industries and play the role of a a viable transportation backbone to the West African subregion, starting with the neighboring Niger Republic for their export and import logistic chain.

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NIGERIA

Insecurity threatening the existence of Nigeria – Gbajabiamila

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Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila has expressed fear of increased insecurity witnessed across the country.

Gbajabiamila who stated that the existence of Nigeria is being threatened by insecurity while speaking at a two-day retreat in Abuja on Thursday, September 24, added that citizens expect the government to fulfill its constitutional responsibility of protecting them.

He said;

“These internal security challenges threaten the very existence of the Nigerian state because they undermine public faith in the government’s ability to fulfil its fundamental obligation to protect the lives and property of citizens,” he said.

“Across the three arms of government, we have a shared responsibility to take all necessary actions to meet these challenges head-on. This is what the people who elected us rightly expect.

“National security is generally understood to be the preserve of the executive arm of government. As a result, the general public and even the political class often do not know what the legislative role in national security is or ought to be.

“This knowledge gap presents an ongoing limitation on the policy-making and oversight role of the legislature as it pertains specifically to the challenges we face in the security sector.

“Workshops such as the one we have gathered here for today are an essential tool in reversing this gap.”

On how the house of representatives has contributed to security in the country, Gbajabiamila said;

“Key followers of the house would notice that security has been a very important part of our work. It’s part of our legislative agenda. When I came in, I visited three key states affected by insecurity.

“I went to Katsina, Borno and Zamfara. We now have in our process the means of alternative funding for the security agencies. I think we should have the roles of each security agencies clearly defined.

“It’s important that we understand the separation. Anything else relies on security. That’s why when this government came in, security was one of the legs.”

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