The Federal Government on Thursday disagreed with the organised Labour on its threat to declare a nationwide strike in the next 14 days over the alleged failure of the government to implement the memorandum of understanding reached with the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress in October 2023.
The Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, in an interview with The PUNCH, asked the unions to exercise restraint and allow the government to address their grievances.
He said, “We are calling on Labour to exercise patience. We will look at the grey area. Let them come and speak with us in the interest of our nation.
“We cannot afford to go on strike at this time. So we call on them and we are always to partner Labour for the progress and development of our country.”
Idris, however, declined to comment on whether the government would seek a court injunction to stop the strike.
After the removal of the fuel subsidy by President Bola Tinubu on May 29, 2023, the labour unions reached a 16-point agreement with the Federal Government on measures to cushion the pains of the subsidy removal on workers.
Among other things, the government agreed to pay N35,000 to all federal workers beginning from last September pending when a new national minimum wage is expected to have been signed into law.
The resolution provided that the wage award would be paid to the federal workers for six months while states were encouraged to extend the same benefit to their workers.
The Federal Government also pledged to provide 100 CNG buses nationwide to ease the high transportation costs.
The unions had threatened to declare a nationwide strike on October 3 but the move was suspended on the condition that the wage award, cash transfer, and some other resolutions must be implemented within 30 days effective from the day the MoU was signed.
However, the NLC and TUC in a joint statement on Thursday, accused the government of failing to fulfil its promises five months after the MoU was inked.
Labour faults govt
In a statement signed by the leaders of the two labour unions, Joe Ajaero and Festus Usifo, the organised labour expressed sadness that despite the passage of time, “The majority of these crucial agreements remain unmet or negligibly addressed, indicating a blatant disregard for the principles of good faith, welfare and rights of Nigerian workers and Nigerians.”
The organised Labour said it was giving the Federal Government 14 days from February 9 to February 14, 2024, to fulfil its part of the MoU with the unions.
The labour unions said that the agreement reached with the Federal Government was focused on addressing the massive suffering and the general harsh socioeconomic consequences of “the ill-conceived and ill-executed IMF/World Bank-induced hike in the price of PMS and the devaluation of the naira.’’
The movement said the dual policies had dire economic consequences for the masses and workers of Nigeria.
The statement read in part, “Widespread hunger is now ravishing millions of Nigerians, with the workers purchasing power significantly eroded, while insecurity has assumed an increasing dimension.
“Nigerians are left wondering where their next meals will come from and what tomorrow might bring. The level of panic and anxiety amongst the populace has become nightmarish unfortunately, in the midst of all these, it appears our government is bereft of appropriate measures to ameliorate the huge burden it has foisted on the citizenry.
“We wish to state that these agreements, which encompass a wide range of issues crucial to the well-being of Nigerian masses and workers, have not been honoured as pledged by the Federal Government.
“From wage awards, palliative adjustments to improved access to public utilities; to the meddlesomeness in the internal affairs of the National Union of Road Transport Workers and the interference by the Lagos State Government in union activities, the case of illegal and unlawful proscription of Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria.
“The government’s failure to uphold its end of the bargain is deeply regrettable and unacceptable to the Working people and the citizenry.”
The unions added, “Constrained by this development and recognizing the urgency of the situation and the imperative of ensuring the protection and defence of the rights and dignity of Nigerian workers and citizens, the NLC and TUC hereby issue a stern ultimatum to the Federal Government, to honour their part of the understanding within 14 days from tomorrow (today) the 9th day of February 2024.”
The Deputy General Secretary of the Nigerian Union of Banks, Insurance and Finance Institution Employees, Shola Aboderin, said his union members would join the industrial action.
“We are an affiliate of Nigeria Labour Congress, and it would sound irresponsible of NUBIFIE if we don’t join the strike after the 14-day ultimatum,” he said.
According to Aboderin, the members of the union have been lamenting the hardship in the country.
He said, “Recently, NUBIFIE issued a 14-day ultimatum to Heritage Bank that if they don’t add anything to the salaries of our members, NUBIFIE cannot guarantee our members would continue to work for them especially coming to work every day again which was on last week Thursday.”
Aboderin added that NUBIFIE was going to review the activities and the situation of things on Friday (today).
“We are going to join the strike, no doubt about that. The hardship is more on our members, they close late, and they are spending between 60 t0 70 per cent of their salaries on transportation.
“Banks will be the first union to down tools after the 14-day ultimatum,” he added.
Also, the President of the Air Transport Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, Illitrus Ahmadu, hinted that the union members would comply with the decision of the TUC leadership.
“Our union is affiliated with TUC, so they must have decided on an important national issue. The leadership of NLC and TUC must have agreed on that before issuing such an ultimatum.
“But the truth is once they make a decision, it is binding on the affiliates like us. As of now, we have not been informed, and the secretariat has not been informed. Once they make decisions like this they get us informed.
“I guess they are just reacting to the hardship in the land. It’s a natural thing and most especially now that agencies are struggling financially,’’ Ahmadu noted.
The Executive Secretary of the National Association of Liquefied Petroleum Gas Marketers, Mr Bassey Essien, said the union would not join the strike.
However, Essien explained that the association’s LPG drivers would participate in the strike as members of the Petroleum Tanker Drivers, an arm of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers.
Essien also complained about the situation of things in the country as it affects the gas business.
“We have done our own share extensively nationwide to tell those in government, presidency, relevant authorities, the legislators, the press and all who care about the country that all is not well, especially the pains people are going through with cooking gas affordability,” he said.
The Nigerian Association of Road Transport Owners said they would soon park their trucks if the government fails to address the hardship they are facing in doing their business.
NARTO National President, Lawal Othman, said though the association is not part of the NLC, the hardship facing its members would soon push them out of jobs.
NARTO is the umbrella organisation for all commercial vehicle owners in Nigeria engaged in the haulage of petroleum products, general cargoes, and the movement of passengers.
Othman said, “We are not members of NLC, but we have our own problems too. The hardship is much and that may force us to park our trucks. Everything is expensive, including spare parts and diesel. We are not making any profit, we will park our trucks.”
The Vice President of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, Mr Nnadi Ugochukwu, “We have not been notified but I assure you that we would join the strike if we are notified about it because everybody is feeling the pain, there is nobody in the country that is not feeling the hardship.”
The founder of the National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents, Mr Lucky Amiwero, complained about the economy which he said is in a bad state.
He admonished the government to find robust solutions, noting that an industrial action would have grave repercussions for the nation.
“The country is in a very bad state. So, the government should try and see how things could be done properly. A lot of things have gone bad. What the labor is saying is that the government should look into this holistically and find lasting solutions.
“Once labour goes on strike, it would affect everyone. You know my members are not under NLC but some maritime workers are under labour,’’ Amiwero said.
Meanwhile, Nigerian Muslims under the aegis of the Jama’atu Nasril Islam, have warned President Bola Tinubu against treating the economic hardship in the country with levity, declaring that Nigerians are truly hungry.
The JNI is led by the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar lll, who is also the spiritual leader of Nigerian Muslims.
On Monday through Tuesday, angry youths and women took to the streets of Minna, the Niger State capital, and Kano to protest what they described as the rising cost of living.
Similar protests also erupted in Kogi and Ondo States.
Commenting on the economic situation, the organization in a statement issued by its Secretary-General, Prof. Khalid Abubakar-Aliyu on Thursday in Kaduna, asked the Federal Government to urgently address the challenges.
According to the JNI scribe, both the Federal and state governments needed to intervene before the situation worsened while demanding the immediate and unconditional release of those arrested during the Minna protest so as not to provoke Nigerians further.
The organization also frowned on hoarding and hiking the costs of essential goods and services, especially foodstuffs, especially as the Muslim Ramadan fast period was fast approaching.
The statement titled, ‘The need to address the inflation crisis in Nigeria,’ stated, “The current trying-time ordinary Nigerians are experiencing, occasioned by food insecurity, inflation, abject poverty and insecurity is distressing and calls for serious redress.
“The JNI under the leadership of His Eminence, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, with all sense of responsibility calls on the Federal Government of Nigeria to urgently intervene over the difficulties Nigerians are passing through.
“This call is made over the excruciating pains citizens are airing in both print and electronic media, inclusive of social media, where in Minna, Niger State and Lokoja, Kogi State protests and other dissenting concerns were being raised.
“In the light of the troubling impact of hoarding and inflation on the availability and affordability of essential goods and services, particularly food items, the JNI is, therefore, compelled to raise its voice on the matter.
“We have been inundated with reports and pleas from ordinary Nigerians, expressing their anguish over the soaring prices of necessities.”
It added, “We urgently call on the FGN and state governments to intervene before the situation worsens. Likewise, all those arrested during the protests should be released and future recurrence be avoided through synergy and prompt interventions. This call has become necessary such that citizens would not be further provoked.’’
In a related development, the Niger State House of Assembly has commenced moves to establish the Price Control Board to regulate the price of essential commodities.
A bill for the PCB scaled first reading on Thursday following the presentation of the general principles of the bill by its sponsor, Alhaji Isa Etsugaie (APC-Agaie) at Thursday’s plenary.
Presenting the bill, Etsugaie said the board would the study market situation in the state to restructure the deteriorating supply and demand mechanism.
He added that the board would assess the delivery and distribution pattern of essential commodities to ensure that the people had a fair share of the commodities.
He said the board would also regulate the mode of distribution of essential commodities and monitor activities of the state supply company and other commercial organisations.
The lawmaker said the board would help to keep prices under continuous surveillance, interpret price movements, and relate them to other developments in the state economy.
He said the board would submit a report directly to the governor on the market situation all over the state among others.
The News Agency of Nigeria reports that the bill was thereafter, adopted by the house and passed through first reading.
Also, human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, SAN, on Thursday explained the rationale behind his suit against the Federal Government over the rising prices of commodities in the country.
Falana said the explanation became necessary following a move to challenge the order by the Federal High Court which directed the Federal Government to fix essential commodities by some lawyers.
A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos on Wednesday ordered the Federal Government to fix the prices of goods and petroleum products within seven days.
Justice Ambrose Lewis-Allagoa specifically ordered the government to fix the price of milk, flour, salt, sugar, bicycles, and their spare parts, matches, motorcycles and their spare parts, motor vehicles and their spare parts as well as petroleum products, which includes diesel, Premium Motor Spirit and kerosene.
Falana in a statement said in justifying the exploitative status quo, some lawyers have said that the court order is not enforceable.
The senior lawyer explained that he approached the court to enforce the provisions of the Price Control Act.
He noted that the Price Control Act was enacted in 1977 by the ruling class based on the demand of the Nigerian people.
He stated, “The Price Control Act is an existing law that regulates and controls the prices of certain goods in Nigeria. The main purpose of this Act is to ensure that prices of essential goods remain affordable and accessible to the general public.
‘’It aims to prevent price exploitation and promote fair pricing practices. To control the prices of goods, the Federal Government established the Price Control Board, an agency under the Federal Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
‘’The Federal Government has also set up the Federal Consumer Protection Commission with the mandate of addressing consumers’ complaints, providing consumer education, and encouraging trade, industry, and professional associations to develop and enforce quality standards designed to safeguard the interests of consumers.”
Speaking further, the social crusader noted that in recent times, the Federal Government has stopped hiking electricity tariffs and telecom charges.
“Why has the NNPCL not controlling the prices of diesel and kerosene like the PMS (petrol)?” he questioned.
Speaking further, he noted, “If the FG could grant duty waivers of N16 trillion to Dangote, Honeywell, and co in five years, why is it difficult to control the prices of the goods imported into the country by the captains of industry?’’
“While lawyers and other privileged citizens can afford the rising cost of essential goods and services, the majority of poor people have been priced out of the market. Therefore, the Federal Government must intervene to control the prices of essential commodities in Nigeria,’’ Falana insisted.