FILTHY RAGS OF TREACHERY, Nigeran Labour Congress, NLC, its counterpart, Trade Union Congress, TUC, seemed to have become, according to Nigerians. Organised labour gave Nigerian government, 14-days ultimatum, to unconditionally, reverse recent increases in petrol pump price and electricity tariff. Otherwise, total nationwide, indefinite strike, will be declared to protest the hardship the increases in petrol pump price and electricity tariff are exacting on the citizens.
LABOUR vowed to bring the government to its knees, cripple the economy, if government fails to reverse the increases. It drummed support across the nation. Nigerian Civil Society Groups, and other stakeholders, took a cue and warmed up as backup for the strike. SUDDENTLY, the night before the strike action, government engaged labour in last minutes negotiation. NLC and TUC crumbled.
CYNICAL NIGERIANS, who seemed not to have confidence, in the present leadership of Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, and its counterpart, Trade Union Congress, TUC, are justified. Nigerian Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress, jointly, declared readiness to embark on nationwide strike and protests, to force President Buhari’s government to, unconditionally, reverse recent increases in petrol pump price and electricity tariff. The increases had generated nationwide criticism and condemnation.
Build up to the commencement of the strike, scheduled for Monday, September 28, Nigerian government met twice to negotiate labour’s demand for, unconditional reversal of the increases in petrol pump price and electricity tariff, and restoration of subsidy on petrol, to avert the strike. Labour had, consistently, insisted, that without the reversal of the increases, the strike must go on. Nigerians took labour for its words. Which likely, led to the deadlock the negotiations.
Government, however, was on relenting to get labour to reconsider its position and bend backward. It continued to insist that negotiation was the way to go, rather than labour embarking on nationwide strike, that could damage the economy. Perhaps, also, the strike could nationally and internationally, embarrass government, prelude to the celebration of the nation’s 60th Independent Anniversary, commencing October 1st.
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 27, less than 24 hours, to the commencement of strike, government scheduled a third meeting with labour, to continue its dialogue and negotiation, to avert the planned strike, on Monday, September 28. The meeting was scheduled for 7:00pm, at the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja. Eventually, the meeting began 8:30pm and ended at 2:50 am, Monday morning.
Rising from the meeting, Chris Ngige, Minister of Labour and Employment, read five-page communique, signed by representatives of government and labour. To the effect that the meeting agreed that the application of the “cost-reflective electricity tariff adjustments” should be suspended for two weeks; along with other concession by government to labour. But the increase in petrol pump price remains. As such, Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and Trade Union Congress, TUC, agreed to suspend the strike.
Nigerians, civil society and concerned stakeholders in the planned strike and protest were shocked. What has changed? What did government offer to Nigerians, who are already groaning in the effect of the increases petrol and electricity tariff, and who labour represent? Did government meet labour’s averred position, that it must first, unconditionally, reverse the increases, or else, no going back on the strike?
Was it the power of persuasion of government that labour conceded to call off the strike? Was it the gullibility of the present leadership of labour? Who, perhaps, lacked the depth of what was at stake on the negotiation table? Was it, the usual, last minutes, trump card and antics by government to upstage labour. Many questions.
THE READ COMMUNIQUE, by Chris Ngige, Minister of Labour, was empty. It stated in parts: “The parties agreed to set up a Technical Committee comprising Ministries, Departments, Agencies, NLC and TUC, which will work for two weeks, effective Monday, September 28. The committee will examine the justifications for the new policy, metering deployment, challenges and timeline for massive rollout.
“The Technical Committee membership are Festus Keyamo, Minister of State Labour & Employment, Chairman; Godwin Jedy-Agba, Minister of State Power, member; James Momoh, Chairman, National Electricity Regulatory Commission, member; Ahmad Rufai Zakari, SA to President Buhari on Infrastructure, member/Secretary; Onoho Omhen Ebhohimhen, member, NLC; Joe Ajaero, member, NLC; Chris Okonkwo, member, TUC, and a representative of DISCOs, member.
The Terms of Reference. “To examine the justification for the new policy on cost-reflective Electricity Tariff adjustments. Look at the different Electricity Distribution Company (DISCOs) and their different electricity tariff vis-à-vis NERC order and mandate.
“Examine and advise the government on the issues that have hindered the deployment of the six million meters. To look into the NERC Act under review to expand its representation to include organised Labour. The Technical sub-committee is to submit its report within two weeks.
“During the two weeks, the DISCOs shall suspend the application of the cost-reflective electricity tariff adjustments. The meeting also resolved that the following issues of concern to Labour should be treated as stand-alone items. The 40% stake of government in the DISCO and the stake of workers to be reflected in the composition of the DISCOs Boards.
“An all-inclusive and independent review of the power sector operations as provided in the privatisation MOU to be undertaken before the end of the year 2020, with Labour represented. That going forward, the moribund National Labour Advisory Council, NLAC, be inaugurated before the end of the year 2020 to institutionalise the process of tripartism and social dialogue on socio-economic and major labour matters to forestall the crisis.”
Ayuba Wabba, NLC President; Quadri Olaleye, Trade Union Congress, TUC, counterpart, led labour team that signed on behalf of Organised Labour. Chris Ngige, Minister of Labour; Timipre Silva, Minister of State Petroleum; Festus Keyamo, Minister of State Labour and Employment; Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information; and Boss Mustapha, Secretary to Government of Nigeria, signed on behalf of the government.
THE NATION WATCHES IN DISBELIEF, as labour compromised to government actions, that have been various described as “callous, insensitive and wicked”, and attempts to further impoverished the citizens. The citizens are angry. While Nigerian government celebrates the arm-twisting of labour. Labour has been under fierce attack. Nigerians felt betrayed by labour. Different groups – ethnic nationalities, civil society, political interest groups, took labour to the dust bin.
DESPITE labour suspending he strike, Nigerian southwest Ibadan, Oyo State, and south-south Benin City, Edo State, on Monday, embarked on protests in the capitals, over the increases in petrol pump price and electricity tariff. Some bodies, Alliance on Surviving Covid-19 And Beyond, ASCAB; Joint Action Front, JAF; and civil society, staged peaceful protests across streets in Ibadan and Benin City, demanding the reversal of the increases in electricity and petrol hikes.
ASCAB has its members from Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC; Trade Union Congress, TUC; Nigerian Union of Teachers, NUT; Joint Health Sector Unions, JOHESU; Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria, MHWUN; and others. Leaders of the bodies led the protests, and were joined by market women, students and youths. They chant solidarity songs in major streets of Ibadan, condemning Buhari’s government for worsening poverty in the country.
YINKA ODUMAKIN, Spokesman for Afenifere, Yoruba Socio-Cultural group, carpets labour for suspending the strike action. Labour, he said, has never acted in the best interest of Nigerians and the union 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? 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,” Odumakin said.
Tanko Yusuf, Spokesman, National Consultative Front, NC Front; regretted NLC shelving strikes, 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.”
Ken Robinson, National Publicity Secretary, Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF; said much was not expected from labour. He said the present leadership of NLC and TUC did not have the capacity to mobilise Nigerians to a strike. It takes strength and character to stand against inducement and undercurrent in labour activities.
He said: “We have seen the trend of the leading Nigerian labour unions, even civil society organizations. You know that most of them are politicians. 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.
Robinson added: “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”.
PRESIDENT BUHARI, seems to be missing great opportunity, to go down as a well-meaning leader in Nigeria. He rode to power on popular support and general goodwill from Nigerians. The previous administration before his election in 2015, was considered “inept” and “corrupt leadership”. During his electioneering campaign and inaugural address to the world, after his election, Buhari promised Nigerians “wonders”— in the fight against corruption, fixing the economy, and ending Boko Haram insurgency within months.
Nigerians say, they have been seeing “wonders” in Buhari’s government, that have been taking grave toll on the wellbeing and existence of the citizens. Such “wonders” may not be ending soon. There is mixed bag of despair, indifference and hope about the future of the country. Public outcry is that the nation is fast drifting and the sun may be setting in the country, considering various facts of government’s actions and inaction.
Olusegun Obasanjo, former Nigerian President, and Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, among others, recently, re-echoed that the country is dangerously drifting. Where Nigerians gather in twos or more, today, they are pondering the direction of Buhari’s government. They are in pains and conquered, by what they described as “insensitive and callous” government, through unpopular policies inflicting “punitive measures” that are worsening the plight of the citizens.
IRONICALLY, with the present state of affairs in the country, Buhari’s government continued to claim and insist that it is friends of Nigerians – working for their best interest and welfare. With such friends, Nigerians are worried, who needs an enemy?