· AGF says proposed strike gross violation of court order
· NLC: No agreement reached with FG to suspend planned industrial action
· CSO, activists vow to enforce sit-at-home
· Insist phantom fuel subsidy removal was self-serving policy of economic slavery
Deji Elumoye, Onyebuchi Ezigbo and Alex Enumah in Abuja
As the clock ticks towards October 3, the date Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) have scheduled to commence a nationwide indefinite strike, the federal government appears to be ramping up efforts to appease the trade union centres and try to prevent them from embarking on the industrial action.
National Economic Council (NEC), chaired by Vice President Kashim Shettima, yesterday, appealed to NLC and TUC to shelve the planned strike, pleading for more time for government to address labour’s demands.
Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, also yesterday, warned the organised labour against the planned nationwide industrial action, stating that going ahead with it would amount to violation of a subsisting court order.
However, Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) directed its members to withdraw their services nationwide from Tuesday, in line with the indefinite strike called by NLC and TUC.
Amid the growing tension over the strike, NLC yesterday stressed that it had not reached any form of understanding with the federal government on suspension of the planned industrial action.
NLC’s clarification came as United Action Front of Civil Society, the organised platform of civil society groups and activists on matters of governance and democracy in Nigeria, yesterday, announced its endorsement of the planned industrial action.
NLC and TUC had on Monday directed all their affiliates to commence an indefinite strike by midnight, Tuesday, October 3. The decision was reached after the National Executive Council (NEC) meetings of the two labour centres held in Abuja.
In a joint communiqué signed by NLC President, Joe Ajaero, and TUC President, Festus Osifo, the unions stated that they had deeply analysed the current situation in the country, taking into cognisance the extensive hardship and deprivation afflicting citizens across all states of the federation, and unanimously condemned the federal government’s apparent conscious lethargy and tardiness in handling the consequences of its petrol price hike on Nigerians.
But briefing newsmen at the end of the National Economic Council (NEC) meeting held at State House, Abuja, Governor of Plateau State, Caleb Mutfwang, disclosed NEC’s resolution on the proposed industrial action, and said the council had asked all the 36 state governors to resume negotiations with labour leaders in their respective states.
Mutfwang said NEC was of the opinion that continuing on the path of dialogue would be the best option for the economy, especially at the state level.
The Plateau State governor stated, “Council noted the notice by the national leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress to proceed on an indefinite strike from October 3, 2023.
“The council noted further the implication of this strike for the economy and the nation and, thus, urged members to continue to engage with the leadership of their respective states and to appeal to them to shelve the action and continue on the path of dialogue with the federal government. This is the appeal of Council.”
Explaining further the grounds for the council’s appeal, the governor decried the situation of most of the states when the various governors took over on May 29. He stated that many of them were just coming out of prolonged industrial strikes, adding that enforcing a new strike at this time would further damage the economy.
Mutfwang pleaded for more time for government to address the concerns of labour, acknowledging that there are feelers that leaders at every level genuinely want the issues raised by labour addressed once and for all.
According to him, “NEC actually expressed genuine concern on the situation in the country and appreciates the concern by labour to have those issues addressed.
“That is why NEC is appealing for patience, appealing for time to be able to address the concerns of labour. We also believe that Mr. President will be addressing the nation 1st of October and some of the concerns of labour will be appropriately addressed in the president’s speech.”
The governor said it was important to recognise that Nigeria was a federation, “So whatever happens, labour is represented in all the 36 states and the FCT and NEC is appealing that discussions should continue at the state levels because there will be peculiarities as to the issues to be addressed concerning the demands of labour.
“Therefore, dialogue is the way to go.
“The nation is at a very critical moment at this time. Some of the states, when they took over on May 29, the workers were on strike, some of those issues have just been resolved, for the workers to return to work. To ask them to go back immediately, it’s going to further damage the economy.
“Therefore NEC, while expressing genuine concern about the situation in the country, appeals for calm and patience and I want to believe that the leadership across the nation at this point in time wants to truly address the issues that concern labour and the general populace and move the country forward.”
Speaking earlier, Shettima identified stability as one of the priorities in the economic agenda of the President BolaTinubu administration for 2024.
The vice president stated that government at the federal, state and local government levels must remain committed to re-evaluating their priorities, streamlining processes, and making bold decisions that would reflect key social issues, including social protection, social investment, and nutrition.
In his opening address at the meeting, titled, “Planning for Stability: Our Agenda for Economic Growth in 2024,” Shettima reminded the governors and other members of NEC that the weight of the tough decisions to rescue Nigeria’s economy depended on their cooperation and goodwill.
He noted that what set Tinubu apart as a Nigerian leader was the courage to embark on fixing the country’s economy through bold reforms.
Identifying stability as a major priority in next year’s economic agenda, the vice president said, “It took courage to embark on fixing an economy hindered by decades of political lip service. But that’s what has set President Tinubu apart: his bold reforms to reposition the economy and save it from further erosion.”
Responding to a question on the probability of the administration drawing up a supplementary budget, Governor Abdullahi Sule of Nasarawa State said there was no need for such yet, going by the presentations before the NEC.
Speaking to a question around the $3 billion loan taken by the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) to stabilise the naira exchange rate, Sule said the new team at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) would require some time to put their acts together and take steps to achieve the stabilisation.
Equally speaking at the briefing, Minister of Budget and Economic Planning, Atiku Bagudu, said the council supported Tinubu’s eight-point agenda, stressing that it holds the key to Nigeria’s development.
“The meeting appreciates all the eight-point agenda of President Bola Tinubu and his investment drive around the world and measures he has taken so far,” Bagudu said.
The minister said the council was satisfied with the collaboration between the federal and state governments, and advised the sub-nationals to explore the abundant opportunities in the energy sector, in line with the new Electricity Act.
Bagudu stated, “In particular, the meeting agreed that there should be vigorous implementation of key resolutions in collaboration between the states and the federal government.
“One of the resolutions highlighted is the energy sufficiency for sustainable economic development. Government at all levels should promote the migration of heavy duty industry system from fossil fuel to gas infrastructure as well as acknowledge that the new Electricity Act empowers states and individuals to participate in all components of the energy sector.”
Bagudu stressed that state governments were encouraged to carry out energy audits in order to determine their energy needs as well as explore areas of collaboration with the private sector based on their competitive advantages.
Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Nyesom Wike, said at the briefing that the council, after receiving the report of the special committee on impact of flood and disaster across the states in Nigeria, adopted the grouping of states according to what they suffered from flooding.
Wike listed the states under their various categories to include, “Group A: states with over 15 points (most affected) Anambra, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Benue, Borno, Kogi, Nasarawa, Niger, Rivers, Enugu, Kano, Oyo, Yobe, Zamfara.
“Group B: (states with 10-15 points) Cross River, Delta, Jigawa, Kwara, Ondo.
“Group C: (states with less than 10 points) Katsina, Abia, Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Ebonyi, Edo, Ekiti, Gombe, Imo, Kaduna, Katsina, Kebbi, Lagos, Ogun, Osun, Plateau, Sokoto, Taraba, FCT.”
The FCT minister said the council directed the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to immediately provide intervention to the affected states. He added that a roadmap would be developed and articulated by NEC in collaboration with the chairman of Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF).
The governor of Katsina State, Dikko Radda, gave an update on the distribution of palliatives, as presented by the NGF chairman, and governor of Kwara State, Abdulraman Abdulrazaq.
Radda, who disclosed to journalists that the federal government had released N2 billion to each state and the FCT, added that the NGF chairman informed the council that members were making progress and urged them to re-double efforts as states looked forward to more interventions.
Accountant-General of the Federation, Mrs Oluwatoyin Madein, said the chairman of the Presidential Committee on Fiscal Policy and Tax Reforms, Mr. Taiwo Oyedele, made a presentation to NEC on the fiscal policy and tax reforms. Madein disclosed that the committee was set up by Tinubu to review and redesign Nigeria’s fiscal system with respect to revenue mobilisation through both tax and non-tax avenues; quality of government spending; and sustainable debt management.
She said, in addition, the committee would identify relevant measures to make Nigeria an attractive destination for investment and facilitate inclusive economic growth.
Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Communications, Stanley Nkwocha, gave details of balances in the country’s excess crude and other accounts as follows: Excess Crude Account, $473,754.57; Stabilisation Account, N34, 936,868,803.58; Development of Natural Resources, N128, 330,636,441.14.
AGF Warns NLC, TUC against Planned Nationwide Strike
Fagbemi warned organised labour against the planned nationwide industrial action.
In a letter to the NLC and TUC lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, the AGF reminded the workers’ union that the law banning any strike action in respect of the removal of subsidy was still in force and must be obeyed by all parties. He appealed to the labour leaders to comply with the law and exploit other peaceful and legal mechanisms in addressing whatever grievances they might have against the government and its policies.
In the letter dated September 26, Fagbemi told Falana that as counsel to the labour leaders, he was under obligation to let them know the consequences of proceeding with the scheduled strike action.
The letter, personally signed by the AGF, drew the attention of the labour leaders to a subsisting order of injunction which restrained them from leading workers in the country to any form of strike action.
The letter read in part, “The attention of the ministry has been drawn to media reports on the proposed nation-wide strike action by the NLC and TUC scheduled to commence on 3rd October 2023.
“You are kindly invited to recall the antecedence of previous steps, actions on this matter, particularly the exchange of correspondence between this office and your firm, before and after the nationwide ‘action/protest’ declared by the NLC on 2nd August 2023.
“Whilst your clients had maintained that the nationwide protest by NLC is in furtherance of its constitutional right to embark on protests, the ministry has repeatedly advised on the need to advise your clients to refrain from resorting to self-help and taking actions capable of undermining subsisting orders of a court of competent jurisdiction.”
The minister also reminded the labour leaders how the government had abandoned its contempt proceedings against them following the intervention of the president and National Assembly, in order for the government and labour to engage in further negotiations without any form of encumbrances.
Fagbemi stated, “However, in its communique issued at the end of its National Executive Council meeting on August 31, 2023, NLC resolved to embark on a total and indefinite shutdown of the nation within 14 working days or 21 days from August 31, 2023.
“Also on September 26, 2023, the presidents of NLC and TUC, jointly issued a communiqué stating that organised labour had resolved, ‘to embark on an indefinite and total shutdown of the nation beginning on zero hours, Tuesday, October 3, 2023’.
“From a review of the contents of the above communiques and available media reports, the proposed strike action is premised principally in furtherance of issues connected with the removal of fuel subsidy, hike in fuel price and consequential matters of making provisions for palliatives and workers welfare.
“These are undoubtedly issues that have been submitted to the National Industrial Court for adjudication. Therefore, the proposed strike action is in clear violation of the pending interim injunctive order granted on 5th June 2023 restraining both Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress from embarking on any strike of any nature, pending the hearing and determination of the pending Motion on Notice.
“We wish to reiterate that a court order, regardless of the opinion of any party on it, remains binding and enforceable until set aside. It is the expectation of the public that the labour unions would lead in obedience and observance of court orders and not in its breach.
“It is, therefore, the earnest expectation of this office that your distinguished law firm will advise the labour unions on the need to protect the integrity of courts and observe the sanctity of court orders.”
The AGF added, “Consequently, you are kindly requested to impress it upon the organised labour unions to note the fact that their proposed strike action is in gross breach of the subsisting court order, as well as the appropriateness of addressing their grievances/demands within the ambit of the law.
“Hence, the need for them to be more accommodating and show greater appreciation of the effect of the order of the court, by shelving the strike action.
“The foregoing will afford parties more room for further mutual engagements, for a holistic and sustainable resolution of all outstanding issues on this matter in the overall national interest.”
NUPENG Directs Members to Halt Fuel Supply
NUPENG directed its members to withdraw their services nationwide from Tuesday, in line with the indefinite strike called by NLC and TUC.
NUPENG said it was disturbing and unfortunate that the federal government and other tiers of government were insensitive to the excruciating socio-economic pains Nigerians were passing through as a result of harsh and sudden economic policies introduced by the Tinubu administration.
In a mobilisation letter jointly signed by NUPENG President, William Akporeha, and General Secretary, Afolabi Olawale, the oil workers’ union said although they were aware of the huge effect a-24 hour industrial action by organised labour could have on businesses and the socio-economic lives of the nation, the government’s actions and inactions were inextricably forcing organised labour to take “this very hard and painful route.”
The letter said, “Consequent upon the joint resolution of the National Executive Council of the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress ,as the outcome of the joint National Executive Council meeting of the two labour federations, held on September 25, 2O23, we wish to inform all our members in the formal and informal sectors of the Nigeria oil and gas industry and alert the general public that the rank and file members of our union are hereby directed to commence full mobilisation and ensure an unwavering compliance with the directive of the two labour centres to all affiliate unions to embark on a nationwide industrial action from midnight of 3rd October, 2023.”
NUPENG described as worrisome the apparent lack of regard for the cries and yearnings of the organised labour, civil society organisations, and the general public by the present administration.
It stated, “It appears the administration is arrogantly taking the goodwill and the tolerance level of the workers and Nigerians in general for granted. This arrogance is demonstrated clearly and loudly by the ways and manners meetings with organised labour and outcomes of such meetings are taking with levity and disrespect.
“Beyond any reasonable doubts, the government has demonstrated high insensitivity, lack of respect and regards to organised labour and the Nigerian masses.
“Therefore, it is in the light of the above that NUPENG, as a responsive and responsible affiliate union of the NLC, will fully comply with the resolution of the joint NEC meeting and we hereby direct the leaders in the four zonal councils of our great union to mobilise all our members in the formal and informal sectors to shut down services effective 3rd October, 2023.
“All NUPENG members, including the Petroleum Tanker Drivers (PTD), Petrol Stations Workers (PSW), Liquefied Petroleum Gas Retailers (LPGAR) and all other allied workers in the value chain of petroleum products distribution must comply with this directive from midnight of Tuesday, 3rd October 2023.”
Furthermore, NUPENG directed all its branches and units to ensure full compliance by setting up compliance and monitoring teams in all operational locations.
NLC: No Agreement Reached with FG to Suspend Planned Nationwide Strike
NLC stressed that it had not reached any form of understanding with the federal government to suspend the indefinite strike scheduled for Tuesday. It also said there was no scheduled meeting with government that might lead to the suspension of the proposed strike.
In a statement issued by NLC’s Head of Information and Public Affairs, Mr. Benson Upah, the labour movement said it became necessary to make the clarification following inconsistencies allegedly contained in the statement credited to Director of Press, Ministry of Labour and Employment, Mr. Olajide Oshundun.
Upah stated, “Accordingly, we find it necessary to make clarifications. Firstly, we do not have any agreement with the government to suspend the planned strike action.
“Neither do we have any date for a meeting with government that may lead to the suspension of the proposed strike.
“While we do not intend to demean or minimise the office of the Minister of Labour and Employment, this matter is beyond the ministry. This should have been obvious to them during our most recent meeting.
“Secondly, while we appreciate the role played by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Simon Lalong, in securing the release of the executives of the National Union of Road Transport Workers from unlawful/illegal police detention, we take exception to the ministry describing these executives as factional leaders.”
NLC advised the Nigeria Police and those behind the travails of the NURTW officials “to desist from this despicable and shameful conduct”.
Meanwhile, United Action Front of Civil Society endorsed the planned indefinite nationwide strike.
Head of National Coordinating Centre of the civil society group, Olawale Okunniyi, said, “It is unfortunate that while the arbitrary fuel price hike in the name of subsidy removal on premium motor spirit has pushed most Nigerians below poverty line, government continues to play the ostrich, in spite of the promises made to labour leaders on the need for upward review of workers’ wages, inclusive palliatives to citizens, among others.
“The leadership of the United Action Front of Civil Society wishes to enjoin all civil society leaders, activists, working people in the private and public sectors as well as all well-meaning Nigerians in general to team up with us in rallying support for the success of the indefinite strike action declared by labour by making out time to be part of the civil society coordinating centre charged to enforce citizens’ sit-at-home during the nationwide strike action called to save Nigeria; push for living wages for the working people and better welfare conditions for Nigerians in the face of excruciating consequences of the exploitative and wrongheaded policies of government.”
Okuniyi said it was evident that the present government lacked the requisite wherewithal to fix the rots perpetrated by the immediate past government of the same party and might end up worsening the situation.
He said it was regrettable that rather than prioritise reduction in the cost of governance, the Tinubu administration was deliberately indulging in over-bloated appointments, as typified by the appointment of the highest number of ministers and the largest cabinet yet in Nigerian history.
Okuniyi stated, “It is also regrettable that the National Assembly, which only recently arbitrarily allocated public funds to its members who embarked on recess, has also increased the number of its standing committees, which would also translate into additional cost of governance in an economy where overwhelming majority of the masses could barely cope with the costs of living in Nigeria or afford one square meal.
“The leadership of the organised civil society, therefore, urges all Nigerians to rally behind NLC and TUC in protest against the insensitivity and dubious politics of the Nigerian government, which has, so far, demonstrated total lack of comprehension and sensitivity to the economic challenges facing the country.
“We wish to reiterate that the inhuman policy of arbitrary hike in fuel price has further impoverished and pauperised millions of households, who were hitherto merely coping with meagre wages and incomes for their livelihoods.”