The Ayuba Wabba faction of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) is no doubt finding it difficult to drive home its rejection of the new price of fuel introduced by the Federal Government. This is so because most of the affiliate unions withdrew from the nationwide protest which the faction called across the country on Wednesday May 18.
The Joe Ajero led faction of the Congress washed its hand off the strike, just as the Trade Union Congress (TUC) as well as National Union of Petroleum, Energy and Gas Workers (NUPENG) and PENGASON did.
Addressing some protesters at the NLC headquarters in Abuja, Wabba said: the new pump price will further compound the hardship of workers.
“What used to be known as subsidy, we all agreed was a scam; but instead of addressing the scam which was established in 2012, government decided to shift the burden to the consumers. NLC had supported fully the issue of fighting corruption and promoting good governance to demonstrate our commitment to the intent that we will continue to response to issues that are detrimental to the generality of Nigerians.”
Our Abuja correspondents reported that stern looking security operatives were on Wednesday stationed at strategic areas of the Federal Capital Territory to ensure the protest did not get out of hand.
Calling on the Nigerian workers to refrain from taking part in the industrial action embarked upon by the Wabba-led NLC, Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige said that workers who engage in industrial action would be fined N100,000 or face six months jail sentence as prescribed by the labour law. Ngige expressed concern over the workers’ failure to abide by constitutional provisions by serving a 15 days notice before embarking on the strike. “Section 40 of the constitution said if you embark on a strike that is illegal, not giving the required 15 days notice, especially if you’re a member of essential service, you’ll be liable to a fine of N100,000 or six months in jail.”
Minister of Justice and Attorney-General, Abubakir Malami said the FG made efforts to halt the strike action by taking the case to court. “The move was aimed at preventing a possible breakdown of law and order.
The Senate had also directed its committee on labour on Tuesday to join the FG and NLC negotiating team on the hike in fuel price. The decision was taken after a closed door meeting headed by the deputy senate president, Ike Ekweremmadu. Headed by Muhammed Nasif, the committee was specifically directed to commence immediate dialogue with the negotiation team to commence an early resolution of the crisis.
Also in Lagos, the strike failed to gain the expected momentum as motorists, and commuters as well as students and traders went about their daily activities. Banks and social services opened to their customers; even the major traffic prone areas of the mega city had their usual traffic bottlenecks throughout the day.
The Labour Union and some Civil Societies had marched towards Ikeja from the Yaba office of NLC amidst tight security. The protesters, led by one of NLC’s deputy presidents, told our correspondents they were not disrupting movement of motorists or other road users. They stated that they were only out to sensitise Nigerians on the hardship being imposed on them by the present administration, promising to embark on mass action and pursue their goal to a logical conclusion.
Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode had on Tuesday barred NLC from proceeding with the industrial action, citing the ruling of the National Industrial Court. The Governor warned in a statement that it was unlawful for any person or group to disrupt free movement of people and vehicles or prevent people from going about their normal activities. He advised parents to warn their children and wards not to allow themselves be used or manipulated in any way.
In the Southern states, most offices and schools were opened in Ogun state and a majority of workers were at their duty posts. There was no restriction of vehicle or movements as workers were seen going about their normal duties.
Delta state recorded a total shut down as NLC members locked out workers in their main secretariat in Asaba and at government owned institutions.
Ekiti state also recorded a shutdown of both state and federal radio stations; major roads were closed so were all the schools and banks in Ekiti, leaving workers and other people demonstrating on the streets. Security was tight at Ado Ekiti to prevent hoodlums from hijacking the peaceful demonstration by the labour leaders there.
Normal activities continued in Abuja Thursday(yesterday), Bauchi, Yobe, Kano, Adamawa, Jigawa and Bayelsa States as residents ignored the call by the NLC to embark on strike action.
But the strike was largely successful in Gombe and Plateau States where schools, banks and government offices were closed.
In Abuja, all government offices, banks, schools and markets remained open with workers at their duty posts.
Amid tight security, labour leaders, who marched from the federal secretariat, did not force people to comply with the strike order.
In neighbouring Kaduna, schools, banks, offices and business were opened for business.
Petroleum Minister Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu defended FG move insisting that it would stabilise the market.
The NLC branded the price rise ‘criminal’ and called for an immediate reversal.
In 2012, the government was forced to back down from a similar price rise after nationwide protests.
Despite being the world’s fifth largest oil producer, Nigeria has been importing fuel to meet demand as its refineries are dilapidated.