- FG replies labour, says all stakeholders were consulted
- Senate asks labour committee to mediate
- SSANU, ASUU join strike
- NMA supports deregulation with a caveat
From Paul Obi, Onyebuchi Ezigbo, Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja and Chinedu Eze in Lagos
The nationwide strike embarked upon yesterday by a faction of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) led by Comrade Ayuba Wabba suffered poor compliance as reports from majority of the states indicated that workers went about their normal duties and commercial activities in major metropolis went on unhindered.
Following the development, the NLC insisted wednesday that the strike and protests would continue despite reports that workers shunned its call to support the action.
NLC Secretary General, Dr Peter Ozo-Eson, in a statement commended unions and affiliates that responded positively to the strike, urging them to keep the tempo of the action.
He said: “We commend our members and civil society allies for turning out enmasse today (yesterday) to prosecute the strike action against the increase in pump price of petroleum product in spite of teething challenges.
“We salute their courage, patriotism and sacrifice in the face of overwhelming acts of threats and treachery. We note that no reasonable struggle comes easy, and this cannot be different. Thus, in pursuance of the mandate given by the NEC of the Congress in conjunction with our civil society allies, the protest continues tomorrow.”
He added: “Accordingly, we urge you to mobilise your members, friends or colleagues for the continuation of the protest tomorrow,” maintaining that “no level of comfort today or primordial sentiments should blind us to the cruel realities of the increase in the pump price of the petroleum products as what we are seeing is just the beginning”.
In a swift reaction to labour’s claim that it did not consult widely before promulgating the new price of petrol, the federal government yesterday insisted that it indeed consulted widely and carried all stakeholders along before arriving at the decision to increase the price of petrol.
Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, in a statement in Abuja, said: “I wish to further state that series of meetings and consultations were held between the federal government through the Minister of State Petroleum, the Office of the Vice-President, the Minister of Labour and Employment and organised labour unions. It bears putting on record that on the 4th of May 2016 while discussing the template put forward by the Minister of State Petroleum, the NLC, TUC, NUPENG, PENGASSAN and other major stakeholders even advised that the NNPC pricing should be same with that of the Independent Petroleum Marketing Companies at N140 per litre.
“There was another meeting on May 11, 2016 where governors, National Assembly leadership and some ministers were in attendance with NLC, TUC, PENGASSAN and NUPENG promising to take the decision of the meeting to their respective organs for further necessary actions.
“It was therefore surprising that the NLC, at the maiden meeting, put forward the issue of non-consultation as a major non-compliance issue on the part of the government but was outrightly debunked by the NNPC and Ministry of Petroleum.
“Hence, I wish to use this forum as the major conciliator in this critical national issue to appeal to NLC to return to the negotiating table to conclude the negotiations that have been kick-started. Other brother federation unions, TUC, NUPENG, PENGASAN, NUEEE, NUBUIFE and other sensitive unions have signed a memorandum of understanding with the government negotiating team on the modalities for the implementation of the palliatives needed to cushion the adverse effects of the increase in the pump price of petrol.
“Finally, I wish to state unequivocally that strikes will neither increase government earnings nor repair our ailing refineries but will rather lower productivity and further damage our limping economy. In this wise I have obtained the readiness of the federal government negotiating team to recommence negotiation with the NLC led by Comrade Ayuba Waba any time, in compliance with the directive of the National Industrial Court for both parties to further explore Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanism (ADR).”
Ngige added: “It is instructive to note that most Nigerians have shown great understanding of the fact that the current problem is not a subsidy removal issue, but how to deal with the non-availability of foreign exchange, a situation that leaves the federal government with no other choice than to deregulate the downstream of the petroleum sector, which resulted in the rise in pump price of petrol.”
He said the federal government was fully committed to the quick implementation of the palliatives in the 2016 budget even as it was developing other ways to alleviate the sufferings of Nigerians.
According to him, “The federal government appreciates all the important issues raised by the labour unions and has taken them into consideration. Government is resolute in making sure that the economy is not only strong but able to provide jobs and opportunities for all Nigerians.”
He explained that the federal government went to court to seek an injunction restraining labour from embarking on strike because the NLC had neglected to follow the process for declaring labour strike under the law.
Reports from the nation’s capital, Abuja, indicated that notwithstanding the strike declared by NLC, business activities were barely disrupted as civil servants, banks and private offices all went about their activities.
However, NLC led by its president, Wabba, held a peaceful rally in Abuja, calling on government to revert to the old pump price of N87 or face severe strike likely to disrupt the economy.
He explained that the congress would continue to fight against anti-people policies of the federal government in order to ensure that the interest of the masses comes first.
Wabba said labour, particularly the NLC, had said consistently that it would support all right policies of government but would resist any anti-people policy.
“That is why we are here today to resist this policy of the increase in fuel pump price; we must allow market forces to drive the pump price of this very essential product in our country,” he told the protesters, adding: “Continuous importation of fuel will be used to enslave Nigerians; the naira will be devalued and prices will keep going up and there will be no end to it.’’
According to him, the NLC supports the fight against corruption and the issue of good governance, and would continue to demonstrate its commitment in those directions.
Wabba noted that corruption was inherent in the system, hence the reason why refineries were not functioning. He said the refineries could be turned around because Nigerian refineries were among the newest in the world, therefore, there was no need to sell them off.
He told the crowd: “We have refineries that have stayed up to 110 years and with regular maintenance, refineries can be fixed and production capacity can also be upgraded for local consumption.
“But because of corruption, we have refused to do so. So, instead of producing, we will be importing more than we should be producing.
“Therefore, if we do not address corruption, even the attempt by government to fix the refineries will be scuttled.’’
Wabba assured Nigerians that NLC would continue to stand by them and confront the issues that would create hardship for the masses.
The General Secretary, National Union of Textile Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria (NUTGTWU), Mr Isah Aremu, described the increase in the pump price of petrol by over 60 per cent as outrageous and accused the government of increasing electricity tariff by almost 50 per cent without improvement in supply.
“This is just too much for the common man; a lot of people are suffering,” he said, adding: “Government must understand the plight of the masses as all hands are not equal and this kind of suffering must not continue.’’
Aremu stated that the protest was aimed at urging President Muhammadu Buhari to have a rethink on issues that affect the people and do the needful by reversing the current petroleum pump price of N145 to N87.
Chairman, Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LACSCO), Dr Dipo Fashina, on his part, described the hike as “arbitrary, unjust and against all rules of good governance”.
Fashina stressed that the increase was a subversion of the 1999 constitution of Nigeria and undermining of democracy, as well as short changing the Nigerian populace.
SSANU Joins Strike
The Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) yesterday joined the strike. The National President of SSANU, Comrade Samson Ugwoke, who was represented by the Deputy President of SSANU, Comrade Moses Adeniyi-Aogo, stated that the strike was a necessity.
SSANU observed that other unions in the universities including the Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU) had peaceful solidarity rallies on their campuses.
SSANU explained that as an affiliate union that endorsed the Wabba leadership, it would comply with any directive from him (Wabba).
It said: “This house has unanimously taken the directive of NLC to proceed on indefinite strike. The strike has already commenced. We are against the increase of N145.”
NMA Supports Deregulation with Caveat
The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) on the other hand said it “supports the deregulation of the oil sector but with a caveat that part of the palliatives should include the immediate release of at least 5% of the consolidated revenue fund as the Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHPF), which the National Health Act has given to Nigerians and guarantees its availability”.
NMA President, Prof. Mike Ozovehe Ogirima, explained that: “this would revamp Primary Health Care (PHC) and reinvigorate the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) to cover all Nigerians.
“We also press for the immediate rehabilitation and establishment of functional PHC in all the wards nationwide as a way of cushioning the harsh effects of out-of-pocket expenditure and various inequities in healthcare delivery.”
Ogirima further stated that “NMA also urges the government to mobilise contractors to the various sites of road rehabilitations as this will reduce delays in reaching health care facilities and reduce road traffic accidents in the country.
“We call for the immediate establishment of national emergency ambulance service for quick rescue and resuscitation of emergencies from our roads, provision of low tariff buses and rehabilitation of our railway system.”
But reacting to the development, the Senate yesterday directed its Committee on Employment, Labour and Productivity to mediate in the ongoing face-off between the federal government and the NLC over the hike in the pump price of petrol.
This decision was taken at a 35-minute closed-door session presided over by Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu before the take-off of yesterday’s plenary.
Announcing the resolution at the commencement of the day’s plenary, Ekweremadu said the meeting was held to devise ways of resolving the crisis caused by the hike in fuel price with a view to averting untoward hardship that the trend would visit on hapless Nigerian citizens.
Ekweremadu further said the Senate had mandated the committee and its chairman, Mohammed Nazif, to sustain their intervention in the imbroglio until the crisis is eventually resolved.
At the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, members of the Wabba faction of the NLC and civil society organisations yesterday blocked the road leading to the local wing of the airport in Lagos at the Ikeja end resulting in traffic jam and leaving air travellers, commuters and motorists stranded.
The road, which was blocked for about six hours, affected the free flow of traffic while intending air passengers had to alight from their vehicles and trekked to the various terminals.
The NLC, the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) and other civil society groups gathered at the roundabout close to Forte Oil and Arik Air, where they sang solidarity songs and made anti-federal government speeches as it concerned the hike in petrol pump price from N86 to N145 per litre.
At the scene of the protest, close to 10 police vehicles, which brought policemen from both the Airport Police Command and beyond were seen monitoring the protesting groups.
Some of the groups that were at the airport with the NLC were the Joint Action Front (JAF), Academic Staff Union of University (ASUU), and the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) among others.
Speaking on the protest, the Secretary, JAF, Comrade Abiodun Aremu, stated that the strike embarked upon by labour and other groups was to resist the wicked increases in fuel price and electricity tariff.
He added that there was no going back on the strike brought about by the increase in the price of fuel from N86 per litre to N145 per litre, an increase which he said had further made life more difficult for Nigerians.
The protesters vowed to continue to block and occupy the airport until the federal government reversed the pump price of fuel to the former price of N86 per litre.
Some of the protesters carried placards with the inscription, “Stop importation of petroleum product”, “Fix existing local refineries”, “Stop dehumanising Nigerians with the increase of fuel from N86 to N145 per litre”, and “Increasing the pump price of fuel from N86 to N145 is illegal and it cannot stand”, among other inscriptions.
Also speaking, a member of the CDHR, Mr. Malachy Ugwumadu, stated that a people united could never be defeated.
Despite the action of the protesters, airlines yesterday operated domestic, regional and international flights without interference as all airports were open for service.
The only hiccups were the scaling down of operations due to the scarcity of aviation fuel.
THISDAY investigations revealed that all domestic airlines carried out their scheduled flight services and there was no indication they would stop providing services today.
Also all aviation agencies shunned the strike as the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) and the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) sustained their services for full flight operations.
The General Manager, Public Affairs, FAAN, Mr. Yakubu Dati, spoke to newsman at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos stating that everybody turned up for work and airlines were operating in full gear, except inadequacies caused by fuel scarcity.
He said: “As you can see, flights have commenced operation as early as scheduled and we have had flights early this morning from Lagos, Murtala Muhammed Airport, the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport in Abuja and other airports across the country. So we have been doing our scheduled operations across the country for all the airlines except, of course, where we have delays due to scarcity of aviation fuel, Jet A1. Workers are out ensuring that the activities go on as scheduled.”
Meanwhile, the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the South-south has expressed its support for the recent removal of fuel subsidy by the federal government, describing it as a timely measure that will free resources for infrastructure and human capital development.
The party urged organised labour to support government to ensure the success of the policy by suspending the strike.
In a statement yesterday by the National Vice-Chairman, Chief Hillard Ettah, and the party’s state chairmen in the zone, the party urged well-meaning Nigerians to rally in support of the deregulation.