Opposition continue to mount against governments plans to sell key national assets, as government retraces its steps.
By Oji Odu
Following heightened anger by Nigerians from different quarters against plans by the Federal Government to sell key national assets with the hope to shore up foreign reserves to bail the country out of recession, government is back tracking on the decision.
Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, on Wednesday, September 28, 2016, said the Federal Government was yet to decide on the sale of national assets. The Minister, while speaking to State House Correspondents at the end of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting chaired by President Muhammadu Buhari, said although the National Economic Council (NEC) chaired by Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, had last Thursday supported such sale for reviving the economy, the final decision on the issue which is yet to be taken lies with the FEC.
“ Government is still working on the most comprehensive manner to reflate the economy, and the government will make its position known….The government is yet to come out with its position on how to bail out the economy, and it will take that position,” he said.
He disclosed that everything that have been said on the issue are mere speculations and suggestions, and it is the duty of NEC to recommend to FEC which takes the final decision on it.
The dust which drew the angst of Nigerians was raised after business mogul, Aliko Dangote allegedly suggested that Federal Government sell one of the remaining viable assets of the nation, the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG), so as to raise capital to revive the recessed economy.
Following opposition to the move, government was said to have ruled out outright sale of its 49 per cent shares in NLNG, and gave conditions that must be met before the sale of certain national assets. Top among the conditions is that government will insert repurchasing clauses in the assets sale agreements.
“…Some of the intended sales could be in form of time-bound leases, advance renewal payments on leasing licenses and concessioning which could attract buoyant signature fees…,” a top government source who craves anonymity said.
Meanwhile, organised labour has continued to lash out against government plans to sell critical national assets. Apart from its decision to organise mass protests against the plan, both the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Union (PENGASSAN) and the National Union of Petroleum and Natural (NUPENG) have threatened to shut down the nation.
In a separate outburst, the Nigeria Labour Congress described campaigners of national assets sale as Nigeria’s enemies. The union’s President, Wabba Ayuba accused them of wanting to repatriate the funds they had stashed in foreign banks abroad and use the money to buy the critical assets.
Ayuba called for the investigation of Nigerians indicted in the Panama leaks, who he alleged were the proponents of asset sale. He also accused President Buhari as anti- poor Nigerians by the move.
The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) described the move as an unwise decision and called on government to drop the idea as People’s Democratic Party (PDP) stalwart, Abu King Shuluwa said the plan as unprogressive.
Shuluwa recalled that some national assets like Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), Nigeria Telecommunications Limited (NITEL) that were sold off in the past have not made visible economic gains to the country and expressed fears that if the current plans succeed, it will end up the same way.
Meanwhile, the Senate has rejected NEC’s recommendations that Federal Government sell off some critical national assets to shore up capital and get the nation out of it current economic recession. In a decision which ran contrary to that of its President, Bukola Saraki which supported government’s move to sell the assets, it said: “ Being a sensitive issue, it should be approached from a commitment to protecting the common patrimony of Nigerians by preventing the assets from falling into the hands of sharks, cannibalizers, while also guarding against the fuelling of further inequalities in the society and polity.”
The legislative chamber rather called on President Buhari to, as a matter of urgency, prepare an Economic Stimulus Bill containing fiscal stimulus packages, investments and incentives designed to pull the country out of economic recession.