- How TUC Backed Out of Warning Strike
- Uncertainty Over Next Action
- FG no Longer Negotiating With NLC
- Lalong Pleads For More Time
September 17, (THEWILL) – All through the better part of last week, attempts by THEWILL to verify the proposed indefinite strike by the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, hit a brick wall.
Some officials who asked not to be quoted, but volunteered information all the same said they were unaware of a “proposed indefinite strike coming up after the expiration of a 21 –Day ultimatum by September 22, 2023.”
The proposed indefinite strike ultimatum is however attributed to the National Assistant General Secretary of the NLC, Mr Christopher Onyeka. In a report that gained considerable traction last week, he was quoted as saying that the NLC has given a 21-day ultimatum to the Federal Government, with regards to the shoddy manner the stop-gap palliative measures are being carried out in the states nationwide, prompting the union to consider declaring an indefinite strike if it demands were unmet.
Lamenting the manner that government has so far conducted the distribution of the N5 billion allocation to each state and the failure of a series of talks between the government and organised labour, Onyeka disclosed, “We sent the letter to the Federal Government on September 1, 2023, so by September 22, 2023, the 21-day ultimatum will end.
“We have made it clear that the Federal Government has abandoned and absconded from the table for negotiation; that government is no longer negotiating with Nigerians and there is no good faith negotiation that is going on.
“President Bola Tinubu promised Nigerians on his own on the television with the President of NLC, Joe Ajaero, that he was going to restructure the committees, but he did not do that. Since then, the committees have not met and there has been no negotiation. As it is, the NLC is not negotiating with the government.”
THEWILL learnt that what a source, referring to Onyeka’s statement, described as “statements by a middle level official of the NLC, not the President or his Deputy or the General Secretary,” was not binding on the Congress, even though the September Tuesday 5 and Wednesday 6, two-day warning strike was described as warning strike, which paralysed social and economic activities in many states across the country.
The Trade Union Congress, TUC, for all senior staff associations in Nigeria, ally of the NLC, backed out of the warning strike, though its National President, Comrade Festus Usifoh, maintained support in principle.
Against the backdrop of uncertainty over the “21-day ultimatum,” by NUC’s Onyeka, a TUC official in Oyo State, Comrade Babatunde Balogun, said the NLC was yet to hold a National Executive Committee, NEC, meeting to ratify that position before the bearer popped it.
Even so, both the NLC and the TUC are preparing for a showdown with the Federal Government, depending on how the government reacts to their demands within the agreed time frame.
Comrade Balogun, who is Chairman of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria and TUC Secretary in Oyo State, told THEWILL that “According to the NLC, they have not held any NEC meeting to ratify that position taken by Onyeka.,” adding, ”As far as the TUC is concerned, the 14-days ultimatum that it gave the Federal Government to meet its demands will expire on Tuesday, September 19. It is after that day that the NLC and the TUC will meet to decide on the next line of action.”
In his reaction, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Simon Lalong, said he was unaware of any ultimatum as his ministry had not received any letter to the effect, even as he pleaded with the NLC to, “allow the new ministers settle into office and begin the work.”
However, pending the outcome of that meeting that is expected to hold during the week, organised Labour has lingering demands still awaiting the attention of the government.
The NLC and the Trade Union Congress are asking for “wage awards, implementation of palliatives following the unplanned removal of fuel subsidy, tax exemptions and allowances to workers in the public sector and a review of the minimum wage.”
Various attempts by the government to broker an agreement with labour since June 19 when it set up the presidential steering committee and sub-committees to discuss measures to address negative impact of petrol subsidy removal have yielded no tangible result.
Areas marked for the sub-committees to investigate, particularly after the closed-door meetings that the President held with labour leaders, include cash transfers, social investment programmes, cost of governance, energy, mass transit and housing.
“Even the issue of palliative distribution, it has gone nowhere near the envisaged plan, despite the N5 billion has given to the states,” said Comrade Balogun, adding, “What we are saying is that government should do something more concrete and substantial that would affect the lives of ordinary Nigerian. Why not distribute the palliatives through civil society-based organisations rather than state governors who are mostly doing so through their cronies.”
GROUNDS FOR STRIKE
With resumption of schools during the week and the days ahead, issues of increase in fees have added to the mounting cost of living crisis that Nigerians are experiencing under the impact of the petrol subsidy removal without commensurate palliatives.
Tertiary institutions, for example, have been taking turns to announce an increase in fees by almost 100 per cent, as new students prepare for resumption. Bayero University Kano, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, University of Ibadan and the University of Calabar, to mention a few, have announced high fees that the Academic Staff of Universities, ASSU and parents considered alarmingly prohibitive.
An example is the case of the University of Lagos, whose management jacked up fees beyond the reach of most students, prompting days of relentless protests. Students of the institution studying medicine who previously paid N19,000 are now required to pay the sum of N190,250. For courses that require a laboratory and studio, they are expected to pay N140,250, up from N64,000, including other administrative charges.
Last Friday, the university authority had to succumb to the relentless protests by the students and the intervention of the leadership of the National Association of Nigeria Students, NANS, and slashed the fees.
The President of NANS, Comrade Usman Umar Barambu, told THEWILL on Friday that the UNILAG intervention will be replicated across universities where fees had been increased.
Barambu said he had to intervene because UNILAG had no Student Union Government, SUG, which ordinarily should have carried out the negotiation on behalf of the students in line with the resolution of the national body against increase in fees until the government pays attention to their demands.
Barambu disclosed that although universities had planned to increase fees a long time ago, the removal of fuel subsidy forced them to go ahead with the implementation, adding that, if unchallenged, “it will affect people from poor backgrounds like us.”
More than a month after the Federal Government approved N5 billion each to the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, including five trucks of rice to cushion the impact of the petrol subsidy removal, cries of hunger and hardship are still reverberating across the country.
The complementary efforts of state governors with 100,000 bags of rice, 40,000 bags of maize and fertilizers, N10,000 approval to civil servants in states like Ogun, Kwara, Niger, Akwa Ibom and the reduction in working hours in many others to cut transportation costs is yet to bring the long-suffering masses some relief. Indeed, the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics’ Consumer Price Index released on Friday speaks volumes.
It said that Nigeria’s annual inflation rate rose from 24.08 per cent in July 2023 to 25.80 per cent in August 2023, soaring by 1.72 per cent.
The report attributed the rise in school fees to increases in food, fuel, gas and transportation costs.
On a year-on-year basis, the headline inflation rate was 5.27 per cent points higher, compared to the rate recorded in August 2022, which was 20.52 per cent.
This shows that the headline inflation rate (year-on-year basis) increased in August 2023 when compared to the same month in the preceding year (i.e., August 2022).
Similarly, on a month-on-month basis, the headline inflation rate in August 2023 was 3.18 per cent, which was 0.29 per cent points higher than the rate recorded in July 2023 (2.89 per cent). This means that in August 2023, on average, the general price level was 0.29 per cent higher relative to July 2023.
On food inflation, NBS said the rate in August 2023 was 29.34 per cent on a year-on-year basis, which was 6.2per cent points higher, compared to the rate recorded in August 2022 (23.12 per cent).
According to the data, the rise in inflation on a year-on-year basis was caused by increases in the prices of oil and fat, bread and cereals, fish, fruit, meat, vegetables and potatoes, yam and other tubers, vegetables, milk, cheese and eggs.
A common feature among the states that have been receiving the palliatives in batches so as not to increase inflationary pressures on the economy, according to Minister of Finance, Wale Edun, is distribution of the palliatives through appointed committees.
Random reports from THEWILL Correspondents paint a picture of insufficiency in the states, amidst lingering problems of insecurity, runaway foreign exchange Naira/Dollar parity currently standing at N950 to the dollar.
A trader, Nyong Effiom, told THEWILL in Calabar, the Cross River State capital, that the impact of palliative distribution was more felt in the air waves than in real life.
He said, “I heard that the Federal Government has released N5 billion naira to each state alongside foodstuffs.
“I am not aware of any distribution and no one either in our market union, church or neighbourhood has notified me.”
Still, Governor Bassey Otu has told the people to be patient, assuring them that the distribution of palliatives would go round systematically from one zone in the state to another.
Oyejide Sukanmi, a Peoples Democratic Party Youth leader in Ogun State, is full of praise for the N10,000 paid to workers in Ogun State, but he thinks that a better plan would be massive agricultural programmes that would make food abundant at affordable prices for Nigerians.
In Kano State, where Governor Abba Kabir Yusuf has spent about N1.6 billion on the purchase of millet, maize and rice for distribution to the people of the state, alongside the palliatives received from the Federal Government, a resident of the state capital, a widow, Talatu Ibrahim hail the “distribution of the rice and any other palliatives, please, have brought some relief from the poverty and hunger ravaging us.”
A poultry farmer in Lagos, Kayode Somerekun, told THEWILL that though the state government has intervened to bring down the cost of transportation by slashing fares on its public transport system, the cost of fueling his vehicles used for distribution was negatively impacting his business.
Somerekun lamented, “The cost of fuel is not just high, but the quality is questionable. In Ivory Coast, which our petroleum managers often cite in comparison, you have three types of fuel that are graded according to price there; that is low, medium and high types, all selling at the same petrol filling station. You buy according to your pocket. Here it is one type.
With the removal of fuel subsidy, the price has not only increased but also the fuel appears lighter and burns faster. Before the subsidy removal, I could use N5,000 worth of fuel for a week. Now I am expected to pay over almost N30,000 for the same period, but it burns out in three days.”
The Board of Trustees (BoT) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), last week warned that the level of poverty and anger in the country is capable of snowballing into a serious crisis, if not urgently addressed.
The Senator Adolphus Wabara led- BoT board, which met in Abuja, on Thursday, to review the pending election petition pending at the Supreme Court, following the unfavourable judgement by the Presidential Election Petition Court (PEPC), which upheld the election of President Bola Tinubu, noted the “excruciating hardship, worsening insecurity and general sense of apprehension and despondency across the country, caused by the hasty implementation of ill-planned policies of the APC administration.
For Angese John, the NLC’s secretary in Bayelsa state, “Government should reverse its policy because every family is feeling the pain of harsh policies … which has resulted in the astronomical increase in transportation, food, goods and services.”
The Director-General of the Nigerian Employers Consultative Association, NECA, Adewale-Smart Oyerinde, who during the week appealed to NLC to shelve the proposed strike because he thinks it will be counter-productive and hurt employers and employees alike, however appealed to the government to use the respite provided by the distribution of the palliatives to open serious negotiation with the workers.
He said, “The approval of N5 billion to each state is a step. If the money is well spent it will improve the economy in the states. We are also aware that the government is sharing rice. But, these efforts are not enough. There is an opportunity to renegotiate the terms that have been agreed upon, if you don’t have the capacity to implement. We are calling on the government to do all that is necessary to avoid the strike.”
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Lalong, has continued to appeal to organised labour to shelve the proposed strike. According to him, any strike will roll back some of the gains already made by the government. He promised to attend to the contending issues raised by the NLC holistically if given some time to settle into the office.
According to Lalong, , “It has become pertinent to appeal to the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to suspend its intended strike, as such action would be detrimental to the gains already being recorded on our course to securing a greater future for Nigerian workers and citizens at large.
“It should be realised that the cabinet of this administration was only recently sworn in by Mr. President and all cabinet members have hit the ground running by receiving briefings from their MDAs.
“Therefore, the issues raised by the leadership of the NLC are some issues that I and the Hon. Minister of State for Labour and Employment are being briefed upon. In the next few weeks, we intend to address them holistically.”
In an interview with THEWILL, NANS President, Barambu, disclosed that they told President Tinubu during a meeting in Aso Villa on the removal of fuel subsidy, that “the money saved from fuel subsidy removal should be channeled to fund education, health, security and agriculture, which is a major employer of labour.” He said the president assured his team that the government would grow the economy to the benefit of Nigerians.
Professor of Political Economy at the Lagos State University, Sylvester Akhaine, said strike is usually embarked upon by organized Labour as a last resort and urged the government to address in concrete terms all the challenges facing the economy and stop moving back and forth.
“If the refineries are fixed, for example, many of the issues dealing with subsidy removal will pale into insignificance,” said Akhaine, who is eyeing the Edo State governorship on the platform of the governing All Progressives Congress, APC.
Attempts to reach the General Secretary of the NLC, Comrade Emmanuel Ugboaja, failed. Phone calls made to his phone were unanswered while text messages were not replied. For Comrade Balogun, ASCSN Chairman, the NLC and TUC meeting this week after the expiration of the ultimatum will determine the way forward.
“Even so, we hope that the government would have agreed to our demands,” he added.