Against all odds, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has today, proceeded with its planned protest against recent fuel price hike, tuition fees hike in public schools and withheld salaries of lecturers and workers in universities and general hardships in the country.
There had been doubts over fate of the nationwide protest called out to demonstrate against what Labour described as ‘anti-poor and anti-workers policies’ of government as it could be seen that the government did everything possible to throw spanners in the works, including court injunctions coupled with long-drawn negotiation meetings with no logical conclusions till today.
The Guardian reported that some saying NLC would as usual, chicken out at the last minute, especially after suspending a planned strike twice this year alone – in March against currency swap introduced by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and in June against removal of fuel subsidy.
Rising yesterday from the rescheduled Presidential Steering Committee on Palliatives meeting with Organised Labour, comprising NLC and Trade Union Congress (TUC), there had been insinuations that the labour leaders would rethink its planned nationwide protest.
TUC President, Festus Osifo, stated that while President Bola Tinubu’s palliative measures were welcoming, they were not comprehensive, adding that while government requested that the protest be shelved, the Organised Labour would consult with members whom they represent to reach a consensus on the next course of action before the day ends.
Corroborating Osifo, Chief of Staff to the President, Femi Gbajabiamila, described Organised Labour as a listening organisation that would not go ahead with its planned protests after listening to President Tinubu’s national broadcast on Monday.
He said: “Basically, we laid out the plan and intervention of the President as you all heard in his broadcast. We made it clear that this was Mr. President’s initial roll out interventions and the conversations will be ongoing as we go along. So, we’re hopeful that they will do the right thing and not protest tomorrow (Wednesday).”
But in a swift reaction, NLC denied rumours making the rounds that it was reconsidering the nationwide protest, which it alleged was the handwork of fifth columnists. It insisted that despite all distractions, the Congress and its members were fully mobilised across the country and nothing has changed.
NLC President, Joe Ajaero, said the Congress neither reconsidered nor suspended the nationwide mass protest. Ajaero, in a statement personally signed by him, listed the Congress’ demands, which include the immediate implementation in good faith of the resolution with the Congress, jointly signed with the government and TUC.
It demanded the immediate reversal of all anti-poor policies of the government, including the recent hike in fuel prices, school fees and Value Added Tax (VAT).
Part of the NLC demands, Ajaero said also include the fixing of local refineries in Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna; release of eight months withheld salaries of University lecturers and workers.
He said the government should accord appropriate recognition and support to the presidential steering committee and the work of its sub-committees, as well as put a stop to inhuman actions and policies of the government.
Also, General Secretary of NLC, Emmanuel Ugboaja, in a phone interview, told The Guardian: “The protest is going on tomorrow (today). There is nothing to reconsider. The person that quoted me must be an imbecile. I have not spoken with the media today. It is all the tactics to cause confusion. I say the action is on. We are fully mobilised across the country, nothing has changed that, not even the meeting we had today with the government.
“We are not reconsidering. It is the action of fifth columnists. They are working for the government. There is nothing that happened at today’s meeting that is enough to make us change our minds. We have neither reconsidered nor suspended the nationwide protest. Nigerians should ignore any information to the contrary. We are committed, resolute, and made last minute preparation to ensure that the mass protest takes place and is effective across Nigeria and nothing will stop us except the government meets all of our demands.”
Asked if TUC was still part of the solidarity, NLC Assistant General Secretary, Chris Onyeka, said: “We are all moving forward. TUC remains an independent labour centre that could determine the type of action they want. If they want to join us or not, fine and good, we were at the meeting together. We are walking together and speaking together.”
As scheduled, the nationwide protest will begin by 7:30a.m. in Abuja and across states of the federation. According to NLC Head of Information, Benson Upah, workers and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) will converge on the Unity Fountain, Abuja, to kick-start the protest while the state chapters will commence protest at the same time.
He said eyes of the international community are on the Federal Government to see how they truly treat their citizens, adding that all affiliate unions of the NLC thought their state branches had mobilised their members and were already for the protest.
“Appropriate security agencies have also been notified and are expected to provide security for Nigerians during the protest. We have consolidated on our arrangement and the feelers we are getting is that Nigerians are ready to be on the street to express their feelings and outrage over the harsh economic situation in the country,” he added.
While the Federal Government on Tuesday pleaded with Organised Labour to suspend the protest, saying it is doing everything to ensure that the hardship occasioned by the petrol subsidy removal is addressed, Labour said the palliatives rolled out by the President in his broadcast is very insignificant to cushion the effect of sufferings in the country.
Joining other state councils’ readiness ahead of today’s protest, Chairperson of NLC, Lagos Council, Funmi Sessi, said members are expected to converge on Ikeja under the bridge, as early as 7:00a.m. and proceed to the Governor’s Office to deliver the letter, which contains their demands.
She lamented the sufferings the masses were facing through the anti-people policies of the government. “It is time to speak truth to power. We can no longer bear the pains. Government should act urgently.”
A civil service organisation, Joint Action Front (JAF), led by Achike Chude, Dr. Dipo Fashina and Abiodun Aremu, alongside the Alliance for Surviving COVID-19 and Beyond (ASCAB), led by Femi Falana, and Coalition for Revolution (CORE), led by Baba Ayelabola, have declared their total support for the protest. In a joint declaration, the group resolved to join in the protest until victory was achieved.
MEANWHILE, the acting Inspector-General of Police, Kayode Egbetokun, has warned NLC and TUC members over the protest. Egbetokun warned that although he is mindful of the right to peaceful protest, the police would not allow any violent rallies.
In a statement signed by the Force Public Relations Officer, Muyiwa Adejobi, the IGP urged all parties involved to ensure that the planned demonstrations are conducted peacefully to prevent being hijacked by miscreants, especially in major cosmopolitan cities.
According to the statement, the IGP ordered the Commissioners of Police and Supervisory Assistant Inspectors-General of Police, to engage in fruitful discussions with leadership of the labour unions to foster understanding and reach common grounds on the protests.
“However, it is hereby reaffirmed that any attempt by miscreants to exploit the situation for violent purposes viz-a-viz vandalism, gangsterism, and extortion will be met with a firm, professional and commensurate lawful approach. The police will not tolerate any act that threatens the peace and well-being of our country,” the statement emphasised.
The police in Kano State yesterday dispersed a protest organised by some groups in order to express their displeasure over removal of fuel subsidy as warm up for today’s protest. The group who were said to have arrived early in the morning began the protest before the arrival of security operatives.
It was gathered that the protesters had assembled at Gida-Murtala, very close to Kofar-Nassarawa road, as early as 7:00a.m. but when journalists arrived at the scene, policemen took over the venue where the protest had already been held.
Also, yesterday, 16 Northern-based CSOs under the aegis of the Coalition of Arewa Civil Society Organisations pulled out of the protest on the grounds that the action will damage the fragile economy and cause more hardship to ordinary citizens.
“After a critical study of the disadvantages and overall consequences on the masses, we decided to pull out immediately and asked the labour unions and Federal Government to rather embrace dialogue on mitigating measures,” the CSOs stated.
The decision to pull out was contained in a statement jointly signed by Chairman and Secretary of the Arewa Coalition, Ibraheem Suleman Dogo, and Friday Luka Dalung, respectively.
They added that the strike would cripple the country as movement would be severely curtailed with markets, schools, and healthcare facilities forced to shut down.
Another coalition of CSOs, including Centre for Social and Economic Right, Centre for 24 Century Issues, Humanity Services Project, among others have appealed to NLC to ensure the protest is not hijacked by hoodlums like the 2020 #EndSARS protest.
Led by the convener, Campaign for Dignity in Governance, Razaq Olokoba, the coalition at the townhall meeting in Ikeja, also appealed to Nigerians to be patient and exercise understanding over the economic pains and inconveniences they are passing through.
The coalition noted that the fuel subsidy removal, though painful, has resulted in some economic gains for the country, the benefits that will manifest soon.
“Some of the benefits can be gleaned from the reduction in our daily petrol consumption from 66 million litres to 40 million litres and saving about N1 trillion in just two months.
In the communiqué signed at the end of the meeting, the coalition stated that Nigerians are determined to defend democracy with all means necessary for their collective good.
Former Director General of the Progressives Governors’ Forum (PGF) and erstwhile National Vice Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for Northwest, Dr. Salihu Lukman, has accused NLC of politicising the issue relating to the removal of fuel subsidy in the country.
Lukman in a statement titled: ‘Silver Bullet Politics and Challenges of Democracy,’ urged the Joe Ajaero-led NLC to rise above the narrow sentiment of playing to the gallery on the issue of fuel subsidy removal.
Acknowledging that there are gaps in the proposals by the government to cushion the effects of subsidy removal on the citizenry, he maintained that NLC posture on the issue was unacceptable and will not augur well for our democracy.
He applauded President Tinubu for finding it compelling to address the nation given the difficulties Nigerians are facing since the withdrawal of fuel subsidy. “If anything, this confirms that the President is not in denial and aspires to ensure that his government is responsive,” he added.
IN another development, workers’ welfare crisis and maladministration allegations levelled against management of the Nigerian Upstream Petroleum Regulatory Commission (NUPRC) may threaten the daily crude oil production of Nigeria.
The workers, who protested withheld salaries in Abuja yesterday, said the Commission, supervised by Gbenga Komolafe, may be thrown into an industrial crisis if urgent measures are not taken to resolve unpaid salaries and emoluments of workers.
The Commission’s branch chairman of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), Okechukwu Anya, said: “The Commission is currently facing serious allegations of staff welfare neglect and financial mismanagement from its employee union. The NUPRC is facing an impending crisis of industrial unrest. The Commission’s staff union is expressing profound displeasure and is carrying out civil disobedience, a non-violent form of protest, as a response to ongoing concerns over welfare neglect and financial mismanagement.”
Anya noted that despite a series of prior letters and meetings aimed at addressing the concerns, the situation has escalated, with the union expressing deep dissatisfaction with the Commission’s management and alleged indifference to resolving the issues.
The union explained that its mandate is to work in partnership with the management to enhance the welfare of the staff and the organisation’s overall growth, adding that the union’s potential move towards civil disobedience indicates the staffers’ desperation for prompt resolution of the issues.
He said the protest is a plea to the commission’s management to respect and uphold their commitment to the workforce. The union listed contentious issues including pension non-remittance. It also complained about insufficient working tools.
It noted that the lack of necessary tools compromises staffers’ ability to perform their duties and contradicts the commission’s vision of being Africa’s leading regulator.