By Frank Ikpefan, Gbenga Omokhunu, Jide Orintunsin, Abuja; Adebisi Onanuga, Lagos; Adekunle Jimoh, Ilorin; Linus Oota, Lafia and Yinka Adeniran, Ibadan
- Ex-Labour chief, others back unions
- Panel on power tariffs review begins work
Labour leaders were chided on Monday for shelving the proposed strike.
They suspended the industrial action in the early hours of on Monday after a marathon meeting at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, with Federal Government officials.
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) had mobilised their members, Civil Society Organisations and other categories of Nigerians to protest the increase in the price of petrol and the hike in electricity tariffs.
Those who criticised Labour said the leaders should have reported to their members and their allies before shelving the planned action.
The Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP), a former Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Second Vice-President Monday Ubani, the Alliance for Surviving COVID-19 and Beyond (ASCAB) and the Join Action Force (JAF) are among stakeholders who expressed disappointment with Labour.
CNPP, in a statement by its Secretary-General, Chief Willy Ezugwu, said: “We expected that this would happen and that was why the CNPP opted to rally civil society movements across the country.
“We are monitoring the situation and rejigging our plans given the now obvious reality that the ordinary citizens who cannot travel to Abuja are on their own.
“In the last five years, the NLC and the TUC have remained toothless bulldogs and compromised arm of the Federal Government.
“The suffering masses who believed the labour unions can now continue to suffer, while all voices are shut.”
Ubani was of the view that the decision amounted to a betrayal of Nigerian workers.
He told reporters in Ikeja that what the labour unions did amounted to a sellout.
Ubani maintained that it is wrong to have mobilised Nigerians in preparations for the strike only to dash their expectations.
He said: “Clearly, this is a sell-out and I feel totally betrayed and personally alarmed at the quality of leadership at the NLC. We have lost it completely.
“I do not think Nigerians were initially interested in any strike and I knew it won’t hold, because the labour leaders are deceivers.
“I never hoped for anything about this particular proposed strike or protest before now, because I knew they will sell-out.
“I’m not surprised it happened. We do not have labour leaders in Nigeria. Nigerians must organise themselves to fight, to liberate this country. That’s what I will advise.
“Any time we feel aggrieved, and we feel the Nigerian government is not getting it right, we need to come together in the manner we did during the fuel subsidy protest under the Goodluck Jonathan administration with one spirit and one heart, not relying on labour.”
The Alliance for Surviving COVID-19 and Beyond (ASCAB) and the Join Action Force (JAF) led scores of members of civil society groups to protest against the hike in petrol price and increase in electricity tariffs in Ibadan, despite the suspension of strike.
They bore placards with the inscriptions: “Removal of fuel subsidy is a fraud”; “Never again, we say no to corruption”; Proper funds for education and health”, among others.
The protesters walked from the University of Ibadan main gate to Agodi Secretariat.
The organisers also protested against Labour’s decision to shelve the strike.
ASCAB Vice Chairman, Comrade Femi Aborisade, blasted the NLC and TUC for reaching a compromise that he said was not in the interest of the masses.
He said: “I oppose the compromise entered into by the NLC and TUC leaderships. I oppose the resolution of betrayal of the interest of the Nigerian masses.
“We must be governed by the rule of law. The Federal High Court had made an order as far back as 2013 that the regulation of petroleum products by which oil dealers can increase the prices of petroleum products at their whims and caprices is unconstitutional, illegal, null and void.
“In 2016, the Federal High Court ordered that the 45 per cent increase in electricity tariff was illegal, unconstitutional, null and void and that all DISCOs should revert to the old price.
“The Federal Government has not brought to book the DISCOs or oil dealers yet they are repressing the Nigerian people. I oppose an increase in fuel price and electricity tariffs. Our government should not be lawless but should be law-abiding.”
ASCAB Chief, Prof Adenike Ogunse, said the Federal Government inflicted more hardship on Nigerians with the hikes.
“In a country where people are dying of malaria because of lack of probably N500 to buy medication, this government is taking loans as if the more they borrow the longer they will live.
“All over the world, governments are planning and doing the best to cushion the effects of COVID-19 on their citizens, but our cushioning effects in Nigeria is to increase our electricity tariffs and fuel price.
“Mr President when he was contesting, told us that there was nothing like fuel subsidy.
“Five years down his reign, he is now removing subsidy, so who is fooling who? There will be a revolution for a new Nigeria.
“NLC, TUC can decide to suspend the strike and it is unfortunate. They went to the table to negotiate with the government and they could not come back to tell us.
“It is in our hands whether Nigeria will drown completely or will rise in its own best glory.”
JAF Chairman in Oyo state, Prof Ademola Aremu, said the Federal Government unleashed poverty on Nigerians in the guise of subsidy removal.
However, some stakeholders praised Labour for the decision to shelve the strike.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) believes the shelved strike is a victory for the masses.
National Publicity Secretary, Yekini Nabena, said in a statement: “The welcome and positive development is in line with the proven pro-people stance of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led APC administration which has always put the welfare and interest of the masses first in policy decisions and implementation.
“Indeed, the shelved strike is a victory for the Nigerian masses.
“The Federal Government in temporarily suspending the application of the cost-reflective electricity tariff adjustments by distribution companies (DISCOs) to allow for an all-inclusive and independent review of the power sector operations is evidence of government’s pro-people stance.”
Vice-President of Industrial Global Union, Isa Aremu, hailed the Federal Government and Labour for averting the strike.
The former NLC National Vice President believes the Federal Government would no longer take workers for granted.
He said: “What I find very useful is the plan to reactivate the National Labour Advisory Council. It used to be in place.
“That statutory body will always ensure regular engagement between the Federal Government and employers of labour.
“I want to say on the whole it is a win-win agreement. It is commendable. I commend the leadership of NLC, TUC as well as all the affiliate members of the two unions who had engaged in this tortuous negotiation to have an agreement.”
Immediate-past Nasarawa State Governor, Umaru Al-Makura, praised Labour for pulling the brake on the planned strike.
Al-Makura, who represents Nasarawa South Senatorial District, spoke in Lafia when the State Executive Council (SEC) members of Nasarawa State Council of Nigeria Union Journalists (NUJ) visited him.
He said: “This is not the best time to embark on strike given the challenges bedevilling the country. This is a time for all to ensure that we contribute towards addressing them.”
To him, the Labour leaders displayed patriotism by halting the planned industrial action.
The seven-man technical sub-committee set up to review the increase in electricity tariff began work yesterday.
The committee, chaired by Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo (SAN), met at the minister’s conference room.
It was set up at the end of a marathon meeting between the Federal Government and organised labour representatives to avert the strike.
Members include Minister of State Power, Mr Godwin Jedy-Agba; National Electricity Regulatory Commission Chairman Prof. James Momoh; and the Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Infrastructure, Ahmad Rufai Zakari (Secretary).
Others are Dr Onoho’Omhen Ebhohimhen, representing the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC); Nigeria Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) Secretary-General Comrade Joe Ajaero; Comrade Chris Okonkwo, representing the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and a representative of Power Distribution Companies (DisCos).
The Terms of Reference (ToR) of the committee include examination of the justification for the new policy on cost-reflective electricity tariff adjustments and to advise the government on the issues that have hindered the deployment of the six million meters, among others.
The sub-committee is to submit its report within two weeks, during which the DISCOs shall suspend the application of the cost-reflective tariff adjustments.
Keyamo said: “Nigerians should expect a very honest, a very frank and a very revealing exercise.
“I can balance all the interests and ensure that the people of Nigeria are not short-changed.
“My whole objective in this committee is to ensure that the Nigerian people get the best at the end of the day.”