By Ukpono Ukpong, Henry Omunu & Joy Obakeye
Palpable tension has continued to trail the proposed nationwide strike and protest billed to commence today Monday, September 28.
While many are in a state of confusion following the two court orders barring the organized labour from embarking on the proposed nationwide strike, majority of Nigerians have resorted to panic buying due to uncertainty over what will be the fate of the country’s economy as a result of the industrial action.
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and its affiliate unions had called on workers to embark on an indefinite industrial action over the increase in the price of petrol as well as the hike in electricity tariff.
The proposed nationwide protest came as a welcomed development to many Nigerians following the hardship faced as a result of the simultaneous increment which according to labour has eroded the purchasing power of workers especially the gains of the N30,000 minimum wage which many workers have not even earned.
Recall, both Trade Centres had issued a 14-days ultimatum to FG to reverse the price hike, noting that failure to comply with their demands will leave them no choice than to ground the nation’s economy indefinitely till their demands are met.
Despite several efforts, the federal government and some public officers including the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, Speaker, House of Representatives, Femi Gbajiamiamila, the Nigeria Governors Forum, failed to convince the labour on the need to shelve the planned industrial action.
Gbajabiamila during the interface with NLC President, Ayuba Wabba and TUC President, Kadiri Olaleye appealed to labour to shelve the planned nationwide strike to leave room for more negotiations with the Federal Government to resolve the current impasse.
“I would love the Federal Government to reverse the hike, but rarely does government reverse policies even in advanced democracies.
“The agitation (strike) is not coming at the right time. On electricity tariff increase, the House had advised the Federal Government to defer the implementation to the first quarter of 2021.
“In the meantime, we want to appeal to you; let’s us tarry awhile even for a week,” Gbajabiamila said.
Daily Times gathered that while labour had insisted that before any meaningful discussion and possible agreement could be reached, the FG must first reverse to the previous price template, the FG on its part is proposing palliative measures for workers to help cushion the effect of the price increment.
Such palliative according to inside sources includes; plans for mass housing for workers, donation of busses to aid in transportation, increment of not more than N5,000 to workers on level 1 to 4, although such cadre of workers no longer exists in the Federal Civil Service.
During a meeting between the Federal Government and organized labour at the Presidential Villa last week to avert the planned nationwide strike as well as national protest, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, clearly said that there is no going back on the increment of fuel price as well as the hike in electricity tariff.
He insisted that the decision was taken in the utmost interest to all Nigerians especially the working class, just as he appealed to the labour to shelve the planned strike as it will further cripple the nation’s economy.
Also, over the weekend, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, at a meeting with the Nigerian Online Publishers in Lagos appealed to organised Labour to shelve its planned strike, saying it will only bring more hardship to ordinary Nigerians.
Mohammed, however, said the two necessary price adjustments in the petroleum and power sectors were inevitable because of dwindling resources as the country had lost 60 per cent of its revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He disclosed that the Federal Government spent N10.4 trillion on fuel subsidy from 2006 to 2009 and N1.7 trillion to supplement electricity tariff in less than five years The minister reiterated that the government can no longer afford the cost of the subsidies, especially under the prevailing economic conditions.
In a similar development, the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN), has directed all its members across the country to ignore the planned industrial strike scheduled to begin on today.
Yakubu Suleiman, IPMAN’s National Public Relations Officer, in a statement said the decision was taken by the organisation’s National Executive Council after an emergency meeting in Abuja.
Suleiman said the deregulation is the surest way to bring back our economy to its normal position to the benefit of all the citizens in the country.
In a move to counter the nationwide strike, the Federal Government has directed all federal civil servants on Salary Grade Level 12 and above, as well as those on essential services, to be at work from Monday despite the industrial action declared by labor unions.
The Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Folasade Yemi-Esan, in a circular dated September 25, 2020, and addressed to all Ministers, Permanent Secretaries, as well as heads of government’s agencies and parastatals, was titled “The Nigerian labor unions planned industrial action” directed civil servants Salary Grade Level 12 and above to shun the industrial action.
Meanwhile, organised labour has insisted that it will carry on with its proposed strike action until the federal government reverses the recent increase in electricity tariff and the removal of petrol subsidy.
This was disclosed by the National Deputy Vice President of Nigeria Labour Congress, (NLC) Comrade Amaechi Asogwuni, during a press conference with journalists in Lagos.
Asogwuni, stressed that the action is set to take effect from Monday to protest against the arbitrary increase of electricity and petrol without recourse to the sufferings of Nigerians.
“Labour has deliberated on this matter through the organs and have come to the conclusion that the best way to resist this action is to go on a nationwide strike, including protest and that we have come to emphasize that the action proposed to take effect from monday is still holding.”
“The Federal government has one option, and that is to reverse the decision that has been meted against Nigerians.”
“This action is a no-going back action; we have to engage in order for Nigerians to have hope.
The rule of law is where the government needs to listen to the voices of the people and consult before effecting a policy.”
“We are calling on all Nigerians to ensure that the action planned to take place tomorrow, holds.
I call on all affiliates here in Lagos and every part of the country on behalf of labour centres in Nigeria, we must act and we must be available to defend our right.”
“Nigerians are crying and this is the only way we must exchange our strength to that policy.”