The Organised Labour, yesterday, came under attacks after it reneged on its promise to ensure the total reversal of tariff increases in electricity and fuel consumption. Ethnic nationalities, regional groups, civil society organisations and political interest groups, including the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) took a swipe at the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) for calling off a nationwide protest scheduled for Monday, September 28, 2020.
The widely publicised protest had got angry citizens mobilised for result-oriented action until the negotiation team of the NLC and TUC made a volte-face after Sunday night’s consultation with SGF Boss Mustapha-led team that reportedly agreed to the temporary suspension of electricity tariff hike but retained the controversial market-driven pump price of fuel.
Despite the suspension of the proposed strike, protests rocked Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, and Benin, the Edo State’s seat of power over electricity tariff and fuel price hike.
Members of the Alliance on Surviving COVID-19 And Beyond (ASCAB) and other members of civil society organisations, including the Joint Action Front (JAF), yesterday staged a peaceful protest across various streets of Ibadan, demanding immediate reversal of hike in electricity tariff and fuel price.
Membership of ASCAB includes NLC, TUC, Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT), Joint Health Sector Unions (JOHESU), the Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria (MHWUN), among others.
Leaders and members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Non-Academic Staff Union of Universities (NASU), ASCAB, JAF, including Comrade Femi Aborisade, Comrade Andrew Emelieze, Comrade Adebayo Titilola-Sodo, Comrade Rasheedat Adesina, Prof. Ademola Aremu, Prof. Deji Omole, Comrade Taofeeq Lawal, Prof. Adenike Ogunshe, market women, students and youths joined the protest. They sang solidarity songs along major streets of Ibadan. They chided President Muhammadu Buhari for compounding the economic woes of Nigerians.
The protesters took off at the Oyo State NLC office, American Quarters Gate, and moved to Oje Market and landed at Beere, before heading to the State Secretariat Complex.
They carried placards bearing various inscriptions such as: ‘‘Don’t destroy this country,” “Nigerians are hungry,” “Reverse all privatization,” “reverse pump price hike,” “What is the outcome of NDDC/EFCC probe,” “We want to sleep with eyes closed,” “We say no to corrupt leaders,” “Stop importation of petrol, and others.
Speaking to journalists, the state’s Vice-Chairman of ASCAB, Femi Aborisade, said: “We are carrying out this peaceful march to protest unjustifiable and punitive economic measures being imposed on the Nigerian masses by the Federal Government. By section 14 (b) of the Constitution, the essence of government is to provide the basic welfare and security for the people. The Federal Government has chosen to wage economic war against the Nigerian people. The labour movement, the market women, students and workers in Oyo State are out demonstrating against the increase in electricity tariff and fuel price. As far as 2013, the Federal High Court had ordered that deregulation of petroleum products by which oil dealers will be selling oil at their whims and caprices is not only unconstitutional but also illegal, null and void. For the Federal Government to go ahead to deregulate petroleum products and allow oil dealers to increase prices at their whims and caprices shows that the Federal Government is lawless. Nigerians are saying the government should rule according to the law.
“In 2016, another High Court also declared the 45 per cent increase in electricity tariff to be unconstitutional, illegal null and void. Up till today, the Federal Government has not brought the DisCOs to justice.
“I oppose the compromise entered into by NLC and TUC leaderships. I oppose the resolution of betrayal of the interest of the Nigerian masses entered into by the leadership of the NLC and TUC. We must be governed by the rule of law.
The Federal Government has not brought to book the DisCos, oil dealers yet they are repressing the Nigerian people. I oppose an increase in fuel price, electricity tariff. Our government should not be lawless but should be law-abiding.
“When President Muhammadu Buhari was campaigning he said the government of Jonathan was fraudulent. He said when he got to power he would ensure that no increase would be imposed on the price of electricity and fuel. He has got there and started to increase the prices of electricity and fuel.”
Prof. Adenike Ogunshe who is the Secretary of ASCAB in Oyo State said: “President Buhari who cried so much before becoming President, is making Nigerians cry. Is this a country? Mr. President speaks from both sides of the mouth. NLC, TUC may decide to suspend the strike but ASCAB says No to petrol price and tariff hike. This government is borrowing too much; unfortunately, women are going to labour only to watch their children die.”
The convener of All Workers’ Convergence, Andrew Emelieze, said: “We are showing our displeasure to the state of bad governance in Nigeria. Things are getting from bad to worse and we can no longer continue in this way. We are not happy with the state of Nigeria.”
Former ASUU Chairman of the University of Ibadan, Prof. Deji Omole, said: “Government policies have not gone down well with the Nigerian masses. If we were truly practising democracy, a responsible government would listen to its people. You don’t just gather a very few people and say that they have decided on behalf of the Nigerian people. Nigerian masses are not happy with this government and that is why we are demonstrating.”
In the same vein, the labour movement in Edo State embarked on a street protest against the hike in the pump price of PMS and electricity tariff.
Members of NLC and TUC took to the streets of Benin to kick against hikes in the two critical sectors.
The protesters led by the former presidential candidate of the National Conscience Party (NCP), Dr. Osagie Obayuwana and the state NLC chairman Mr. Sunny Osayande, insisted that they would embark on total strike if government refused to totally reverse the actions within two weeks.
Obayuwana said: “We say no to the increase in electricity tariff, fuel and VAT. We say no to privatisation where our wealth is given to a few persons. They are just buying time, but before you know it, two weeks will come and go.”
Osayande said that the union decided to embark on the peaceful march to express its displeasure with the manner the union call off the strike.
He warned that, in the event that Federal Government refused to listen to the grievances of the real masses of the Organised Labour in two weeks, they would have no other choice than to embark on total strike.
The unionist added: “We took to the streets to tell the masses that what the Federal Government brought was nothing. The hike in VAT, fuel and electricity tariff should be reversed within two weeks; otherwise, we will go on strike.”
Top on the list of incentives for the union leaders economic wellbeing of members of labour movement in oil and gas sector as they motivated both the NLC and TUC to suspend the strike slated to begin yesterday.
Although the decision to suspend the strike did not go down well with most workers, we learnt that the Federal Government presented the state of Nigerian economy and impact of the coronavirus pandemic before the labour movement and argued that it needed to abandon the subsidy regime.
Clear indication that Labour had accepted deregulation of the downstream sector of the Nigerian petroleum industry was given by the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva, when he said the matter is no longer whether Labour had accepted deregulation or not, but working out the details of the agreement on electricity tariff.
The pressure from industry operators, who dissociated themselves from the strike, also sent early signal to the movement that the time to fully deregulate the downstream had come.
Highlights of the agreement reached between Labour and government at the end of the parley that ended around 2am on Monday morning was; removal of tax on minimum wage to cushion the impact of the policy on vulnerable groups. Federal Government would also make available to the Organized Labour 133 CNG/LPG-driven mass transit buses immediately and, thereafter, provide the same to major cities of states and local governments on a scale-up basis before December 2021.
The Federal Government will also make 10 per cent of the ongoing Ministry of Housing and Finance sponsored initiative to workers through the NLC and TUC.
Both government and labour resolved to set up a technical committee, which has two weeks, beginning from yesterday (Monday), to examine the justification for the new policy, in line with the need for validation of the basis for the new cost-reflective tariff as a result of the conflicting information regarding NERC’s data on metering, challenges and timeline for massive rollout. The meeting also agreed that the deregulation of the downstream sector was inevitable.
It was also agreed that there was an urgent need to increase local refining capacity to reduce over-dependency on the importation of petroleum products to ensure energy security, reduce the cost of finished products, increase employment and business opportunities.
To address massive importation of petroleum products, NNPC was tasked with fast-tracking rehabilitation of the four refineries located in Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna and to achieve 50 percent completion (rehabilitation) for Port Harcourt by December 2021, while timelines and delivery for Warri and Kaduna would be established by the Steering Committee.
To ensure Commitment and transparency to the processes and timelines of the rehabilitation exercise, NNPC offered to integrate the national leadership of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association (PENGASSAN) into the Steering Committee already established by the Corporation.
A Validation team comprising representatives of the NNPC, Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC), NUPENG and PENGASSAN would be established to monitor the progress of the rehabilitation of refineries and pipelines/strategic depots network and advice the Steering Committee periodically.
POST rehabilitation, NNPC shall involve the PENGASSAN and NUPENG in the process of establishing the operational model of the nation’s refineries.
It also resolved that the Federal Government would facilitate the delivery of licensed modular and regular refineries, involve upstream companies in petroleum refining and establish a framework for financing in the downstream sector.
The communique also mandated the NNPC to expedite work on the Build Operate and Transfer framework for pipelines and strategic depot networks for efficient transportation and distribution of petroleum products to match the delivery timelines of refineries as agreed. This could also lay the foundation for the demise of the Petroleum Equalisation Fund (PEF), which would be merged with the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) to form the Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority when the new regulatory for the oil and gas sector becomes operational.
To cushion the impact of the downstream sector deregulation and tariff adjustments in the power sector, the Federal Government agreed to involve workers in its agricultural ventures through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Ministry of Agriculture.
Afenifere, NCFront chide NLC over shelve strike
NOTWITHSTANDING, a Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere and National Consultative Front (NCFront) took a swipe at the NLC for shelving its planned strike. Both bodies flayed the labour union leaders, describing them as a complete disappointment to the people of Nigeria.
In his reaction, Spokesman of Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin said NLC leaders had never acted in the interest of the people of Nigeria and their members.
“Why taking your members through the pains of threatening to go on strike while you have another agenda at the back of your mind? “ he asked. “We have heard many promises from the same government that eventually failed. It is painful that NLC again fell for the tricks of the Buhari-led administration.”
Spokesman of NCFront, Dr. Tanko Yusuf lamented that the NLC would be shelving strike for a second time. “It is disappointing. Government has made several promises of palliatives and failed; so, why fall for the trick again? I want to assure Nigerians that nothing would happen in the next two weeks and very soon, Nigerians would neglect NLC and move onto the streets to fight for their destinies.”
The NCFront scribe said nobody motivated Nigerians before they all trooped to the streets to protest against fuel price hike during the administration of former President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan.”
Lawyers condemn Labours’ suspension of strike, say govt weakened unionism
A cross-section of lawyers also condemned the action.
Leading the vilification, human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Ebun Adegboruwa,who said the suspension was very disappointing. Having mobilised Nigerians in readiness for a total shutdown, he said, it was not very patriotic to suddenly suspend the strike like a thief in the midnight.
He said the unionists had disrupted people’s plans and schedules almost for the entire week.
“But more importantly, labour did not gain anything from the negotiation at all, except it is deceiving and misleading Nigerians.
“The so-called suspension of electricity tariff increase will come back in just two weeks. And labour also accepted deregulation to kill the people of Nigeria.
“The real question then is, why did labour declare the strike at all when it knew it was yet to exhaust avenues for dialogue?”
The government, Adegboruwa said has succeeded in weakening labour, such that, “I don’t think it can ever call our workers and Nigerians again. It is most unfortunate; but, if labour can be steadfast to see through the negotiations, what a strike should have achieved can also be achieved through a roundtable.”
Another lawyer and former director of Constitutional Watch, Aham Njoku, said a lot of Nigerians were disappointed with the way and manner the NLC and TUC handled negotiations with the government.
“In all, from what l hear, people feel that labour just acted an old and worn-out script. They made a lot of noise claiming to be mobilising citizens for protest, only to chicken out at the last minute. This has happened several times in the past,” he said.
Labour lack capacity to mobilise Nigerians says PANDEF
THE Pan Niger Delta Forum, (PANDEF) said it was not deceived by the decision of labour to suspend the planned strike.
Its National Publicity Secretary, Ken Robinson, said the body didn’t expect labour to be able to carry out the action because they did not have the capacity to mobilise Nigerians for a strike.
According to him, it takes strength and character to be able to stand against inducement and all the undercurrent activities.
“ We have seen the trend of the leading Nigerian labour unions, even civil society organizations. You know that most of them are politicians,” he said.
“What is the difference between 2012 and 2020?” It was in 2012 that deregulation was defended under President Goodluck Jonathan and the whole country was on fire; there were protests everywhere. This is 2020 and there is fraudulent supposed deregulation and then people say they have signed an agreement to suspend the strike. There was not supposed to be any strike. I think the time will come when Nigerians will no longer be fooled with these antics. Nigerian people will take their destinies in their own hands and salvage this country from rot,” he said.
PANDEF said the Nigerian worker was in a very precarious situation because the leadership of labour unions had proven their insincerity and inability to defend the masses from exploitation.
“When you hear the conditions upon which the strike was suspended, you begin to wonder if we are really facing reality or playing a drama, a script that has been written by some persons. We are told that electricity tariff has been suspended for two weeks, what does that mean? Does it make any sense? Or that deregulation is to stay. If you have deregulated, why are we selling petrol N160 in Lagos and selling it the same price in Kaduna, Kano, Bauchi and other places in the far North? Is there any deregulation? If we buy at the same price, where is deregulation,” he queried.
NLC, TUC’s accord with Buhari shortchanges Nigerians, says HURIWA
PROMINENT civil rights advocacy group, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), asked Nigerians to fight for their rights regarding the excruciating hardship already inflicted on them.
The group explained: “The idea that the organised labour told Nigerians that the intentions for the now-suspended but never intended strike was to defend the interests of the oppressed masses but will in the wee hours of the night sneak into the presidential mansion to strike an unholy accord with the Federal Government, is the height of betrayal similar to the depravity of Judas Iscariot in the New Testament of the Holy Scriptures,”