FG’s Last-ditch Effort to Stop Labour Fails As Ajaero Insists Nationwide Rally Kicks off Today

•Police on red alert as IG orders deployment 

•Threatens proportional force with troublemakers 

•Civil society leaders back action by NLC

Kingsley Nwezeh, Onyebuchi Ezigbo, Olawale Ajimotokan in Abuja, Sunday Ehigiator, Ugo Aliogo in Lagos, Sylvester Idowu in Warri, Seriki Adinoyi in Jos and Laleye Dipo in Minna

The federal government’s last-ditch attempt to stop the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) from embarking on its planned strike failed last night, as NLC President Joe Ajaero insisted that the protest against the current state of the economy would go on as scheduled nationwide today.

A meeting last night between the federal government and the leadership of NLC, held behind closed-doors at the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, to try to avert the protests ended in a deadlock.

Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Kayode Egbetokun, ordered Commissioners of Police in the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to effect the deployment of police personnel nationwide to ensure that today’s protests were not hijacked by fifth columnists.

Egbetokun said the police was fully prepared to respond swiftly and decisively to any unlawful activities or acts of violence that could threaten peace, public safety and security.

Labour-Civil Society Front, a coalition of eminent civil society leaders and groups, declared its support for today’s protest. The group is dedicated to collaborating with the labour movement on pro-people and pro-poor issues.

At the same time, Afenifere, a pan-Yoruba socio-political group, distanced itself from a call by some of its leaders on the Yoruba not to join the NLC protest.

At the meeting held in an effort to stop the NLC strike, the federal government was represented by Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Senator George Akume;  Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi; Minister of State Labour, Hon Nkiruka Onyejeocha; Minister of Agriculture, Senator Abubakar Kyari; Minister of Finance, Olawale Edun; Minister of Budget and Planning, Senator Bagudu Atiku; and Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Dr Folasade Yemi-Esan.

The organised labour was represented at the closed-door by National President of NLC, Joe Ajaero, and his team, while the Trade Union Congress (TUC) was led by Festus Osifo.

But the labour unions stuck to their guns, insisting the strike will go ahead, with the scheduled protests billed for today and tomorrow in Abuja and other parts of the country. This was despite a warning against the protests by the Department of State Services (DSS), which claimed they could jeopardise national security.

Ajaero confirmed labour’s stance when he spoke to reporters after the meeting.

He said, “The rally goes on. But it is part of their (DSS) constitutional responsibility to make sure that the rally is peaceful and while we are going to try on our own side to make sure it’s peaceful.”

He added that the organised labour would take the protest to the doorstep of the National Assembly, where they plan to present their demands to the lawmakers.

NLC invited the media to the kick-off of the protest rallies.

A notice by NLC posted on its platform last night stated that the protest would take-off from the Labour House, headquarters of NLC, by 7am.

But a statement by the Force Public Relations Officer, Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Olumuyiwa Adejobi, said the Nigeria Police had deployed personnel nationwide and placed them on red alert to monitor the planned protest.

The statement said, “In line with its lawful duty to maintain law and order, the Nigeria Police has deployed personnel nationwide and placed them on red alert to monitor the planned protest.

“All Commissioners of Police and their respective supervising officers have been briefed and instructed to coordinate the officers on ground in ensuring the safety and security of all participants, if the protests hold as planned.”

The statement also said while recognising the importance of peaceful protest, the Nigeria Police remained “vigilant against any attempts to hijack such protests by individuals or groups of persons with sinister intents.

“Emphatically, the force, therefore, is fully prepared to respond swiftly and decisively to any unlawful activities or acts of violence that may threaten peace, public safety, and security in the event of such.

“It is vital to state that the police have spread their tentacles nationwide to curb any attempt by some individuals, who might want to leverage on the nationwide protests, to create brouhaha.

“Such will be met with an approved legal and proportional force, as the police will not allow wanton breakdown of law and order, loss of lives and property, like we had experienced, in some instances, in the past, in any part of the country.”

Adejobi also stated, “As such, the NPF reiterates its commitment to ensuring the rights and freedom of protesters are protected.

“The Inspector-General of Police urges all participants at the proposed protest to conduct themselves peacefully and responsibly, adhering to the principles of non-violence and respect for the rights of others.”

The IGP called on organisers of the protest to cooperate with the police and other relevant security agencies in ensuring that the exercise remained peaceful and orderly, even as the law enforcement agency worked to ensure that protests were conducted in a safe environment, conducive to the promotion of democracy and the rule of law in Nigeria.

Civil Society Leaders Back Protest

A coalition of civil society leaders and groups collaborating with the labour movement declared support for the national protest by NLC.

The group’s position was contained in a statement jointly signed by its national spokesperson, Comrade (Amb) Nkoyo Toyo (Labour-Civil Society Front), Mallam Hamisu San Turaki (United Action Front of Civil Society), and Convener, Country First Movement, Professor Chris Mustapha Nwaokobia.

The coalition said it was constrained “to state unequivocally that we are unwavering in our support to the organised labour and, therefore, fully endorse the nationwide mass protest on hardship slated to hold on Tuesday, 27th and Wednesday, 28th February 2024.

“Consequently, we urge our teeming members and allies across Nigeria to join and participate fully in the peaceful national protest to draw government’s attention to the unmitigated sufferings and impoverishment of Nigerians foisted by the mindless implementation of dehumanising economic policies of governments at both national and sub-national levels of the country.”

The statement said the decision to align with organised labour on the mass action did not have any political, ethnic or religious colouration, as hunger, declining health and orchestrated deaths ravaging Nigerian citizens, were not discriminatory on the grounds of political affiliation, ethnic and religious sentiments.

Protest in Lagos Despite Police Warning

A human rights group, “Take It Back Movement,” began a nationwide protest in Lagos against the economic hardship being experienced in the country, in spite of a warning by the state Commissioner of Police, Adegoke Fayoade.

The police spokesman in Lagos, Benjamin Hundeyin, had in a statement on Sunday quoted Fayoade as warning intending protesters against violence or acts that could infringe on the rights of others, such as obstruction of traffic and paralysing the commercial activities in the state.

Fayoade assured residents of Lagos State that necessary security measures had been put in place to protect lives and property, with or without any protest.

However, a day to the proposed date of the rallies by labour, the “Take It Back Movement” shunned police warning and took to Ojuelegba under-bridge area of the state to register their displeasure at the growing hardship in the country

Delta CP Orders Vast Police Deployment

The Commissioner of Police in Delta State, Abaniwonda Olufemi, ordered massive deployment of personnel across the state to ensure security and safety during the protest. Olufemi said this was to ensure that the protest was not hijacked.

He said the measure was taken in line with the directive of the IGP.

The measures were contained in a statement by the Police Public Relations Officer for Delta State, DSP Bright Edafe. It warned all intending protesters that “anyone found wanting will be immediately arrested and prosecuted”.

Plateau NLC to Join Protest, Says Chair

Plateau State chapter of NLC disclosed that it has concluded arrangements to join the national secretariat and other state councils to peacefully protest against the prevailing economic hardship in Nigeria.

Plateau State NLC Chairman, Mr. Eugene Manji, reassured that his chapter would participate in the protest. Manji said the decision at the State Executive Council meeting was for the chapters to join the protest, and arrangement had been put in place to make it a peaceful exercise.

Manji said all NLC affiliates had been briefed and urged to fully mobilise their members for the protest slated for today and Wednesday.

The state NLC chairman said, “We have just completed the meeting for the final mobilisation. As I speak to you, we are still at the venue of the meeting, and we are going ahead with the protest tomorrow.

“We are urging all affiliates to come out in their numbers to participate in the protest in support of the workers and suffering masses.”

Police, DSS Invite Niger Labour Leaders

The police and the Department of State Services (DSS), yesterday, invited the leadership of the organised labour in Niger State for talks over the protests planned for today and tomorrow.

THISDAY learnt that the meetings with the security chiefs were held separately at the police and DSS offices.

The meeting at the police headquarters, presided the Commissioner of Police, Mr Shawulu Ebenezer Danmamman, emphasised the need for the protest to be peaceful and orderly.

However, the one with the DSS was a little heated, as the operatives warned against the strike taking place because the organisers would be held responsible for any breakdown of law and order.

The police according to a source close to the meeting, promised to provide adequate security to the protesters.

Chairman of the NLC in Niger State, Comrade Idris Lafene, confirmed that the meeting took place, in a telephone interview with THISDAY.

Lafene said, “We are just coming from the meeting with the police and the DSS, the police promised to give us protection during the protest.

“We are going ahead with the protest, everything is set.”

Lafene declared that the protest would commence at the Labour House to the State House of Assembly and back.

Afenifere Opposes Curtailing Yorubas Right to Protest against Tinubu’s IMF Policies

Afenifere distanced itself from the call by some of its leaders that the Yoruba should not join the NLC and other protests concerning the state of the nation.

In a statement by Afenifere National Publicity Secretary, Mogaji Gboyega Adejumo, and Deputy National Publicity Secretary, Justice Faloye, the organisation stated that Afenifere had always supported the right to protest in a democracy, from the beginning when Awolowo protested against the colonial constitutions of 1946 and 1949 that did not allow for full federalism.

The statement read in part, “Afenifere considers the undemocratic statement by the renegade ex-members as ill-informed, as the President Tinubu whom they are trying so desperately protect, was at many times an active protester against President Jonathan on issues, such as subsidy removal, Boko Haram terror, and on the abduction of the Chibok girls.

“The renegades in their desperate bid to please President Tinubu conveniently forgot that Citizen Tinubu at that time took to the streets to protest and at a time even advised President Jonathan to resign if he found governance beyond his capacity.

“Many would recall that Chief Obafemi Awolowo warned Yoruba states and newspapers, like Tribune and Sketch, under his influence never to stifle voices of dissent, but embrace voices of opposition, therein, as he posited, the methodology of balancing all views toward a positive solution-based effort can only be achieved.”

Afenifere, in the statement, queried if the Yoruba were not included in the membership of NLC. It stated that if ever Afenifere was to advise against a protest, it would be based on solid policy direction and not shallow tribal sentiments to silence the pains, hunger and anger of the masses.

The statement said, “Those using the incapacitated retired Afenifere leader, Pa Reuben Famuyide Fasonranti’s name to tarnish the time tested and trusted Afenifere motto of ‘Freedom for all, Life more Abundant’ should know that not only would the Afenifere never stop being people-oriented, that the Afenifere will not also interfere with the peoples’ resolve to exercising their constitutional rights, of which the right to protest is an integral part of their fundamental human rights.

“The Afenifere,, from her inception in 1951 to date and having in her fold a succession of seasoned economists, and following our indomitable belief system in Democratic Welfarism, will rather hesitate in vouching for Tinubu’s IMF’s inclined anti-people policies, which have failed in almost every country where such policies have been implemented.”

Meanwhile, the federal government appealed to NLC to show understanding over efforts to address their demands.

Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, who made the call after the FEC meeting, said most of the demands by labour had already been met, stating that there is therefore no need for them to go on protest.

Idris said government was baffled by the impending action, saying nothing has been done to truncate agreement with labour.

He said, “Government has done nothing to truncate the agreement. We appeal to labour to see reason.”

He said the issue of the Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) buses was not what could be provided immediately, as it was not something bought off the shelf.

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