Vows to cripple fuel supply, power grid, shut markets, schools, hospitals
•Federal Government begs, fixes another meeting with labour for Monday
•CSOs say labour can’t be trusted, SAN warns against disobeying court order
The Federal Government will on Monday meet with the representatives of the organised labour in an effort to prevent the nationwide strike called by the Nigeria Labour Congress.
However, the NLC has advised citizens to stock their homes with food items, medicines and other essential things ahead of the commencement of its seven-day strike to protest the removal of fuel subsidies and the escalating cost of living in the country.
The warning, it noted, had become necessary because the strike would cripple the country as movement would be severely curtailed as commercial transport operators would withdraw their services, while markets, schools and healthcare facilities would be forced to shut down.
The Assistant General Secretary, NLC, Chris Onyeka, said in an interview with one of our correspondents that the citizens should also minimise their movements so as to avoid being stranded.
Sunday PUNCH reports that the NLC had given the government a seven-day ultimatum with threats of a nationwide strike scheduled to commence on Wednesday, August 2, 2023. The labour movement in a statement signed by its National President, Joe Ajaero, accused the Tinubu-led Federal Government of failing to meet up with the demands it presented to it following the removal of the subsidy on Premium Motor Spirit, popularly known as petrol, which caused an astronomical rise in the pump price of the commodity.
Following the announcement of the strike by the NLC, the government team immediately called for an emergency meeting with the organised labour comprising the NLC and Trade Union Congress with a follow-up meeting on Friday at the State House.
However, officials of the organised labour angrily stormed out of the meeting following the alleged failure of the government team to show up.
Onyeka noted that the labour team would meet with the government on Monday, adding that the outcome of the meeting would determine the next step.
He said, “Nigerians should be prepared. That’s what we are saying. Being prepared means you have to stock food in your house and be economical with your movement at this particular point in time so as to avoid being stranded. It is going to be a nationwide mass protest and we are sure that it will affect every corner of the country. We are seriously mobilising across the nation. We are currently at work at the secretariat alongside the CSOs.
“We may not shut down the power supply system, but as the protest goes on, we may shut down other places depending on the response of the government. The (Friday) meeting didn’t hold at all. The government side was not prepared. The representatives were not available. They didn’t show any seriousness towards what they were doing. One of the things we do is hold dialogues. We don’t run away from the table anytime they call us. We are having another meeting with them on Monday.”
The Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas workers, and the National Union of Electricity Employees, on Saturday, confirmed that they were mobilising their members to ground the supply of fuel and the national electricity grid from Wednesday in response to the planned mass protest called by the NLC.
The General Secretary, NUPENG, Afolabi Olawale, told our correspondent, “The congress has taken a unanimous decision and it is mandatory that every affiliate should obey the directive of the Nigeria Labour Congress.”
When probed further to confirm if NUPENG was mobilising its members to halt the lifting of petroleum products, Olawale replied, “That’s it. I’ve given you an answer.”
On their part, electricity workers stated that they would shut the national power grid as it was binding on all employees in the sector to join the mass protest.
The acting General Secretary, NUEE, Dominic Igwebuike, stated, “The NUEE is an affiliate of the NLC and I’ve told you that we will join the strike action.
“The issue is that if there’s a deadlock between labour and the government; that means that the mass protest is still going on, and definitely electricity workers, as an affiliate of the NLC, will partake in the mass protest.
“So, all workers in the power sector will join the mass protest on Wednesday, August 2, 2023. It is binding on every staff member to join the strike action. So, if it results in a blackout, the only option is for the government to listen to us if it wants power to return.
“The government should listen to the Nigerian masses who are going through serious suffering right now. That is the only thing we are asking for. So, for now, the protest is going to hold, unless there is a further directive from the NLC.”
The National Deputy President, TUC, Tommy Etim, blasted the government over the lack of seriousness shown so far with regard to the negotiations.
“When we got to the Villa on Friday, we waited for almost two hours at the gate for clearance with no intervention. It was after two hours that we were allowed in. By the time we got to the point of the meeting, we realised that the team representing the government failed to show up. So, it is wrong to actually say labour stormed out of the meeting. How can labour storm out of a meeting that did not hold? We felt very disappointed because we did not expect this from the government,” he said.
The National Executive Council of the NLC had on Friday endorsed the August 2 nationwide strike and mass protests proposed by the body over the recent hike in the pump price of petrol.
However, the Federal Government had told the NLC that it was legally restrained from embarking on the planned nationwide strike due to the ruling of the National Industrial Court, which restrained organised labour from embarking on the strike.
The steering committee members met the government delegation on Wednesday, where the two parties agreed to reconvene on Friday to get a brief from the government’s subcommittees on mass transit, compressed natural gas and cash transfer.
The steering committee was set up by the Federal Government to draw up intervention plans to cushion the effects of fuel subsidy removal on Nigerians.
The Senate Leader, Opeyemi Bamidele, has assured Nigerians that the Federal Government will soon roll out social investment programmes to alleviate the sufferings of the masses, especially the poorest of the poor in the country in view of the removal of subsidy on fuel.
He said at a programme to mark his 60th birthday in Ado Ekiti on Saturday, “The Federal Government will put palliatives in place to help the poorest of the poor. There is also another category of palliatives that will be rolled out for civil servants apart from the promised salary increment that will be done across states and at the federal level.
“The subsidy removal is very significant because the Federal Government will be able to save a lot of money to do infrastructure and make all Nigerians happy. That was the intention of President Tinubu about the removal. He knows what Nigerians are passing through and efforts are underway to cushion the effects of this removal.”
CSOs, lawyers react
However, the Executive Director of YIAGA Africa, Samson Itodo, urged the NLC to engage the Federal Government in negotiations.
“It is quite a difficult situation. Honestly, what will be the pros and cons of embarking on the strike action? They should negotiate more because who is suffering at the end of the day? It’s Nigerians who will suffer. I understand that the NLC is defending the people’s rights and the entire people in society because of the hardship of the policy. The government, on its own part, needs to accelerate its response,” he said.
On his part, the South-South Coordinator, United Action for Democracy, Enefaa Georgewill, stated that the strike was long overdue.
“We agree with the Nigeria Labour Congress and this (strike) is long overdue although the NLC is equally suffering from the issue of trust. We feel that they have been used to behead the popular uprising. We don’t even trust that before the proposed date, the NLC will not come up with a story that they are calling off the strike because they want to go to negotiation,” he said.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Afam Osigwe, warned the NLC against disobeying any substantive court order on the issue of strike, describing such as a contempt of court.
“It will be wrong for anyone who has been ordered to refrain from something to go ahead to do it. That will be tantamount to contempt of court. The NLC, being a law-abiding organisation, should abide by the court order except the court directed otherwise,” Osigwe added.
Lawyer and human rights activist, Ridwan Oke, noted that NLC would find itself in contempt of the court if it decides to go ahead with the strike contrary to the court ruling.
He said, “Disobeying a court order is contempt no matter what labour thinks about it and it robs them of the moral ground to hold the government accountable”
“If labour has issues with the court ruling, the best decision is to appeal the same and wait for the appellate court to make a decision.”
Another lawyer, Muhammed Adam, corroborated Oke and emphasized that the NLC would be in contempt of court should it go ahead with the strike.
“If they proceed, it will amount to contempt of court and it’s punishable with imprisonment. The proper thing is to apply to the court to set aside the order or appeal the order and apply for an injunction pending appeal. Otherwise, they will be in contempt,” he stated.
The Vice Chairman, Senate Committee on Legislative Compliance, Chief Ede Dafinone, advised Nigerians to prepare for tougher times, especially in the next six months, as the price of petrol is expected to continue rising.
He, however, said despite the difficult economic situation, Nigerians should keep hope alive as the challenges would soon fizzle out.
Dafinone gave the advice on Saturday during a reception held in honour of federal lawmakers of Urhobo extraction in the 10th National Assembly organised by the Urhobo Leadership Forum in Abuja.
Other lawmakers honoured were. Rev. Francis Ejiroghene Waive representing Udu, Ughelli North and Ughelli South federal constituencies; daughter of James Ibori, a former governor of Delta State, Mrs Erhiatake Ibori-Suenu, who represents the Ethiope Federal Constituency; and Benedict Etanabene, representing Okpe/Sapele/Uvwie Federal Constituency.
Dafinone described fuel subsidy as a necessary evil, which required clinical amputation to save the nation from the brink of a full-blown economic collapse.
He said, “At this point, the government is putting together policies to ameliorate the situation. But Nigerians must be aware that the next one or two months will be difficult, because petrol price may still go up again, and we must be ready to spend wisely in an economy that will get worse before it gets better.
“So, I ask you here to also recognise that it may get worse still, and that belts must be tightened in preparation for what may be difficult four to six months before recovery commences.”
According to him, the criticisms trailing the removal of fuel subsidy by Tinubu are not fair, adding that all political parties agreed during campaigns that subsidy had to go.
Etanabene, however, disagreed with Dafinone’s submissions, saying the government was not sincere in its dealing with the people.
The lawmaker maintained that there was nothing wrong with the government subsidising petrol for Nigerians, adding that the idea of providing palliatives would not ameliorate the sufferings of the citizens.
Borno, Adamawa, Yobe’s palliatives
Meanwhile, the governments of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states have started taking steps to cushion the hike in transport fares caused by the removal of fuel subsidy by the Federal Government.
The News Agency of Nigeria reports that the state governments, which operate their transport companies, have continued to ensure that the fares remain lower than what obtains in motor parks.
In Borno, Governor Babagana Zulum approved the release of 50 buses to address the situation.
According to the Special Adviser to the Governor on Media and Strategy, Mallam Isa Gusau, the buses will be added to the fleet of the state-owned transport outfit, Borno Express Corporation.
Gusau said 30 vans were also provided for farmers, particularly those residing in Maiduguri, to enjoy free rides to the outskirts of the state capital where their farmlands are located.
A University of Maiduguri student, Mustapha Abdullahi, and a government worker, Ali Modu, who patronised the buses picking passengers at N50 per drop, lauded the government for the intervention.
In Adamawa, the state government constituted a special committee on mitigating the effects of subsidy removal with Dr Amos Edgar, the Chief of Staff to Governor Ahmadu Fintiri as chairman.
Edgar revealed plans by the state government to purchase shuttle buses for workers for inter-local government commuting at subsidised rates.
He said another measure being taken by the government was the approval of N10,000 monthly subsidy for all workers and pensioners.
The Director, Transport, Adamawa Ministry of Transport, Mr Labaran Salisu, said some of the 250 partially leased vehicles in the ministry’s custody for inter-state services would be deployed for town services at subsidised rates.
In Yobe, the Executive Secretary of the State Emergency Management Agency, Dr Mohammed Goje, said plans were underway to provide free transportation of students and civil servants.
“Very soon, the state government will provide buses for free transportation for civil servants and students,” Goje said.
Osun, Ekiti residents appeal
Residents of Osun and Ekiti states have appealed to the Federal Government to provide special funds to states to assist in ameliorating the effects of the fuel subsidy removal on the economy.
A survey conducted by NAN in the state shows that many residents have abandoned the use of their vehicles as a result of the exorbitant cost of petrol.
Respondents appealed for the speedy implementation of the palliatives, including the provision of commercial buses to cushion the effect of the removal of fuel subsidy.
The spokesman for Governor Ademola Adeleke of Osun State, Malam Olawale Rasheed, said the state government would soon unveil palliatives to cushion the effects of fuel subsidy removal.
Rasheed said the planned intervention would include support to public transport vehicle owners, monitoring of fuel stations and a review of the public sector work time.
He said top officials were finalising the state palliative plan in line with the directives of Adeleke.
In Ekiti, a CSO member, Mr Gbenga Ilori, urged the government to strive to revive its moribund transport company, Ekiti Kete Transport Company.
He also called on the Federal Government to evolve a programme to help states in this direction in order to cushion the effects of the removal of fuel subsidy on Nigerians.
Ilori described the hardship the subsidy removal had caused the masses as unprecedented, saying something drastic needed to be done to alleviate it.
According to him, many residents, especially workers, are finding things difficult as they now spend more to commute to their work places than what they earn, while many others have resorted to trekking long distances.
An engineer with the state Ministry of works, Mr Fatai Alaba, suggested the adoption of alternatives to fuel-powered vehicles.
“The Federal Government can import or make gas-powered vehicles for Nigerians to cushion the hardship on the people,” he said.
A civil servant, Mrs Sola Kehinde, advised the state government to resuscitate the transport company in the state and ensure that they pick government workers at different locations to their work places.