Labour on Tuesday set Monday for “unprecedented mass action” and “total strike” to get the government to reverse the hike in petrol pump price and the increased electricity tariffs.
By Joseph Jibueze and Frank Ikpefan, Abuja
The Nigeria Labour Congress National Executive Council (NEC) took the decision at a meeting with members of the National Administrative Council, Presidents and General Secretaries of affiliate unions and state council chairpersons and secretaries.
The Trade Union Congress (TUC) whose ultimatum to the government ought to have expired yesterday, shifted it till Monday to concur with the NLC on the commencement of industrial action.
Following the withdrawal of subsidy, the price of petrol rose to between N159 and N162 per litre at the pump at the beginning of this month.
The Electricity Distribution Companies (DisCos) raised their tariffs two days later, having been prevented twice by the government on April 1 and July 1.
The government said it played no role in the new price regime because market forces are now determining the rates.
But labour rejected the new rates and threatened to call out workers on strike. A government delegation led by Minister of Labour and Employment Dr. Chris Ngige, met with Labour leaders last Tuesday.
The meeting agreed to reconvene Thursday to resolve the issues and agree on sucour for Nigerians.
But the NLC and the TUC are not persuaded that Thursday’s meeting would address the issues, given their resolution on Tuesday.
NLC President Ayuba Wabba, who read the communique of the meeting, said: “NEC resolved to reject in its entirety the issue of hike in electricity tariffs by almost 100 per cent as well as the fuel price increase in the name of full deregulation.
“This decision is premised on the fact that these twin decisions alongside other decisions of government including the increase of VAT by 7.5 per cent, numerous charges by commercial banks on depositors without any explanations will further impoverish Nigerian workers and citizens.
“Therefore, this increase, coming in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, is not only ill-timed but counter-productive.
“NEC also observed that the privatisation of the electricity sub-sector seven years down the line has not yielded any positive result. Whereas, the entire privatisation process, the entire sector was sold at about N400 billion, we are surprised that government within the last four years injected N1.5 trillion over and above the amount that accrued from this important asset.
“Therefore, NEC came to the conclusion that the entire privatisation process has failed and the electricity hike is actually a process of continuous exploitation of Nigerians.
“On the issue of the refineries and also the increase in the pump price of PMS, this particular issue had been on the table for more than three decades and the argument has not changed.
“Whether it is the name of full deregulation or subsidy removal, what is obvious is that it is fuel price hike and this has further eroded the gains of the N30,000 minimum wage because it has spiral effects which include the high cost of food and services and the reduction in the purchasing power of ordinary Nigerians.
“While demanding that our three refineries should be made to work optimally, NEC also concluded that government has business in doing business because the primary purpose of governance is about the security and welfare of the people and if in other countries, governments are maintaining refineries, and they are working optimally for the benefit of the people, Nigeria cannot be an exception.
“In the light of these, NEC decided to endorse the two-week ultimatum given to the Federal Government to reverse those obnoxious decisions and also pronounce that the action proposed by the Central Working Committee is hereby endorsed by the NEC that 28th of September should be the date that those decisions should be challenged by the Nigerian workers, our civil society allies and other labour centres.”
Dr Ngige said the Federal Government would meet again with Labour on Thursday as talks to avert a strike continues.
He said: “We are engaging with them. We’re going to engage further by Thursday with the NLC and TUC.
“The government opened the books to them during our meeting last Tuesday. They agreed to brief their members, but if they are not satisfied, we’ll continue to engage them.”
Ngige said a nationwide strike would hurt all Nigerians, including members of the Organised Labour.
“If the economy is shut down, all of us will lose. Nigeria is not Chris Ngige’s or President Buhari’s country. It belongs to all of us. We’ll continue to explain it to them.”
On the hike in pump price, which is one of the bases for the proposed strike, Ngige said the new rates were dictated by global oil prices.
He said: “Petrol is already on modulation. The price will fall as it did in March. It is on modulation, which is part of deregulation.
“We’ll meet. We don’t want anything that will cause more financial pain to workers.”
Reaffirming their commitment to the strike plan, TUC President Quadri Olaleye and Secretary-General Comrade Musa-Lawal Ozigi, appealed to Nigerians to get ready for the “unprecedented mass action”.
It resolved to work with the NLC and civil society allies to execute the strike rather than doing it alone as previously planned.
“Consequent upon this, the ultimatum which should expire by midnight of today (yesterday) has been shifted to 28th September 2020 for effective and maximum effect.
“We want to use this opportunity to call on Nigerians, especially those in the informal sector, to bear with us while the industrial action lasts.
“There is no need for the pains we bear. It is a needless one. They ask us to tighten our belts while they loosen theirs. Services are not rendered yet we are compelled to pay estimated bills.
“You will recall that this government during its electioneering campaigns in 2014 told the world there is nothing like subsidy. We were told that they will build refineries. All that is history now.
“We run a mono-economy and any hike in fuel automatically will have an adverse effect on us, yet successive governments tow that path because they are not creative.
“As at today, about eight states are yet to commence the payment of new minimum wage and its consequential adjustment even though the President signed it into law on April 18, 2019. We have written letters to the governors and also engaged them in dialogue but all to no avail. Sometimes we wonder if these people have a conscience at all.
“The Congress hereby appeals to all Nigerians to get ready for the unprecedented mass action against corruption, obnoxious policies, rape and other violent offences, breach of the collective agreement, unemployment, etc.
“We also call on the USA, UK, Germany, Spain, etc to support our struggle by placing indefinite visa ban on our political leaders whose stock in trade is to loot and impoverish the masses and the country. We can no longer take it. Enough is enough!”