Sen. (Dr.) Chris Ngige, Honourable Minister for Labour and Employment (Inset) and Nigerian Workers

Government pleads as Nigerian workers brace for national strike over fuel, electricity tariff hikes

*TUC appeals to all Nigerians to get ready for the unprecedented mass action

*Any strike will worsen the currently deteriorating economic situation caused by COVID-19 pandemic in the country ─Nigeria Governors’ Forum

*Federal Government warns Civil Servants against participating in nationwide strike called by Organised Labour, says Dr. Folasade Yemi-Esan, Head of Civil Service

Isola Moses | ConsumerConnect

Following the recent increases in petrol price and electricity tariffs in the country, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC), and associated trade unions have informed Nigerians to be prepared for a nationwide strike and protests in spite of the court injunction prohibiting the planned strike for Monday, September 28, 2020.

ConsumerConnect reports that as the Federal Government is trying to dissuade the Trade Union Congress and Nigeria Labour Congress from their plan to begin their protest on Monday, talks between the two parties yet have so far been inconclusive.

Likewise, in a last-ditch in less than 24 hours to deadline, governors of the 36 states of the Nigerian Federation have put pressure on the Organised Labour so as to resolve the standoff induced by the workers’ decision to embark on a nationwide strike and protests Monday, September 28, if the Federal Government refuses to reverse the latest decision to increase the pump price of petrol and electricity tariffs respectively.

This was the outcome of an early morning dialogue between representatives of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) at the residence of Governor (Dr.) Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State and Chairman of NGF, in Abuja, FCT.

While Fayemi spoke for the NGF, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, President of NLC, accompanied by Quadri Olaleye, TUC President, and Emmanuel Ugboajah, General Secretary of NLC, represented the Organised Labour.

The Ekiti State Governor explained that governors decided to intervene in the ongoing negotiations with a view to broadening consultations and assisting to bring the impasse to an end, thus averting the imminent countrywide strike and protests.

Fayemi pleaded with the NLC that the timing of the action was inauspicious and could aggravate an already worsening situation if not averted.

Recall that earlier, a court in Abuja, FCT, had issued an injunction September 24, barring the industrial action from going ahead on the planned date.

Last week, both Organised Labour unions, whose members include Nigeria’s two largest oil-worker unions, had endorsed an indefinite strike from next Monday unless the government reverses the decisions.

The TUC in a statement “appeals to all Nigerians to get ready for the unprecedented mass action.”

Comrade Ayuba Wabba, NLC President, was reported to have said that though the Labour Unions haven’t been served with any court order banning their strike, they could still call off their plans.

Wabba said: “The government knows our position…. If there is progress, then we are open to dialogue towards resolving the issue.”

However, the NLC Friday insisted that it would go ahead with its planned mass action scheduled for Monday.

Comrade Emmanuel Ugboaja, General Secretary of NLC, in a communiqué, said that the Union asked its members across the nation to come out in large numbers to protest the increase in fuel and electricity prices.

The NLC rather asked all National Leadership of affiliates in Abuja to mobilise at least 2,000 of their members to Unity Fountain, Abuja, for the mass rally which takes off at 7a.m. on the planned date.

Similarly, affiliates are expected to mobilise the same number of members to the NLC Sub-Secretariat, 29, Olajuwon Street, Yaba, Lagos, which is the take-off point for the Lagos action at 7a.m.

Ugboaja stressed that all Presidents and General Secretaries are expected to lead and identify with their members at the take-off point.

Recall that earlier in September, the Organised Labour threatened to embark on a nationwide strike, if the Federal Government refused to reverse the recent increases in fuel price and electricity tariffs.

Wabba while making the announcement in Abuja then, said the NLC’s Central Working Committee (CWC) had resolved to issue a two-week ultimatum to the Federal Government to reverse the increase.

According to him, workers and Nigerians in general were disappointed that the government decided to increase both the price of fuel and electricity tariffs at a time “other countries across the world are giving palliatives to their citizens to cushion the effect of COVID-19.”

He stated that the “NLC Central Committee will also mobilise its members, civic society allies, and other social partners to resist this policy because it has driven many into poverty.”

Also, as a form of intermediate between the Labour Unions and the Federal Government, so that the former would not resort to industrial action, the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) also held an emergency meeting of all the governors Saturday.

The governors, again, emphasised that any plan to embark on strike and protests would further worsen the currently deteriorating economic situation the COVID-19 pandemic has caused Nigeria in recent times.

Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State, Vice-Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), in a communiqué related that the governors said any strike now could worsen the already bad economic situation in the country.

The meeting actually focused on two key issues, including the planned industrial action by Labour and the deduction for Local Governments’ allocation to fund the construction of primary healthcare centres in each LGA.

The state governors’ communiqué stated: “The forum (NGF) believes that the Labour unions should exercise caution on the call for a strike action, noting that any strike action will worsen the currently deteriorating economic situation of the country brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“While expressing concern over the call for a national strike action by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), forum members suggested the provision of a cushioning arrangement to ameliorate the effect of subsidy removal.

“Governors confirmed during the meeting that an Industrial Court had barred Labour from embarking on its planned industrial action but nevertheless decided to use the intervening period to mediate between the stakeholders.”

Subsequently, the state chief executives decided to “intercede with the Labour unions, the Federal Government and other stakeholders and especially call Labour to exercise caution in its plan to embark on an indefinite strike action, noting that any such action will worsen the already deteriorating economic situation of the workers brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

They as well set up a committee comprising Governors of Jigawa State as the Chairman, and governors of Nasarawa, Ogun, Kwara, Gombe, Abia and Bayelsa states to interface with the National Economic Council (NEC), the Labour unions, and other relevant stakeholders for the overall interest of the nation.

They equally resolved that the NGF Secretariat in Abuja would provide relevant support for the committee on the details of the mechanism for deregulation put in place by the federal government.

They also agreed to call for an emergency NEC meeting as soon as the committee comes up with a common position on the deregulation of both the petroleum and power sectors, and the figures laid bare for all to see.”

However, the governors urged that any position taken at the meeting “should not be seen to be contrary or injurious to the position state governors have always maintained in support of deregulation in the country.

The communiqué added that “governors insisted that subsidy in the petroleum sector, apart from promoting corruption in petroleum pricing and distribution, brings about loss of revenue to the three tiers of government and loss of jobs to the populace.”

Meanwhile, the Federal Government has warned the Nigerian Civil Servants against participating in the planned nationwide strike called by the Organised Labour on Monday.

Dr. Folasade Yemi-Esan, Head of the Civil Service of the Federation (HoCSF), in a statement Saturday, September 26 asked the Civil Servants to be at work.

A Section of the Federal Government Secretariat, Abuja, FCT

According to Dr. Yemi-Esan, the government is engaging with the union officials over the issue.

She said: “Accordingly, all officers on grade level 12 and above and those on essential services are hereby strongly advised to be at work to perform their official duties.

“Permanent Secretaries and Chief Executive Officers are, therefore, enjoined to bring the contents of this circular to the attention of all concerned officers and ensure strict compliance.”

Yemi-Esan also contended that there is a court injunction granted by the National Industrial Court with suit number, NICN/ABJ/253/2020 issued September 24 on the matter.

The HoCSF said that the court order had restrained the NLC and TUC from embarking on any form of industrialisation action pending the hearing and determination of a motion on notice.

“Sequel to the Labour Unions for workers to embark on industrial action from Monday, Sept. 28, the office of the HOCSF wishes to inform all public servants that the Federal Government team is currently engaging with the Labour unions with the view to resolving all contentious issues and avert the planned industrial actions.

The HOCSF’s directive comes 24 hours after Justice Ibrahim Galadima of the National Industrial Court in Abuja issued a fresh restraining order against the unions, following an ex parte application by the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation.

Additional reporting by Alexander Davis

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