NLC open to dialogue, may adopt sectoral strike option
• Labour group warns against members’ arrest, Senate intervenes
• NANS backs total deregulation, seeks trust fund for indigent students
As the strike by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to protest against the increase in fuel price continued yesterday, the workers’ organisation expressed its readiness for dialogue when the Federal Government makes such an offer.
But the labour group may adopt sectoral strike as an option to enforce the effectiveness of the industrial action as it enters its third day. By the sectoral option, the NLC means each of the units that make up the association would embark on strike at different times.
There was not much change in the low level of compliance by workers in the major cities of Abuja, Lagos, Kaduna and Port Harcourt as government workers dutifully reported for work, while banks, schools and other public in the three cities were open for business.
The Guardian learnt that the readiness for talks is influenced by the determination of the congress leadership to force government into entering real negotiation with it over the increase in the pump price of petrol.
The NLC had always insisted that the so-called negotiation being carried out with them by government was a mere reinforcement of government position and what it was willing to offer.
Indeed, the President of NLC, Ayuba Wabba, has continued to insist that the congress is willing to engage in genuine dialogue with government but will resist any attempt at engaging in a monologue in which government would determine the outcome of negotiations.
Besides, the Senate has pledged to accelerate the dialogue between the Federal Government and NLC. And a pro-democracy and Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), has suggested to the Federal Government a modified fuel subsidy especially for poor Nigerians.
It also condemned the purported court order from the National Industrial Court (NIC) stopping the NLC and the civil society community from going on strike, stressing that the government should emulate the United States and United Kingdom where their farmers are paid subsidies by way of vouchers.
Speaking at the day two of the strike in Abuja, Wabba explained that history would be kind to NLC for supporting poor Nigerians who cannot afford the N145 per litre for petrol, saying: “As we have continued to say, Nigerians cannot afford this increment. Nigerians are already over-stretched by many bills such as the recent increment of the electricity tariffs.
“Even the so-called negotiation held with us was to lay on the table what government was offering. It was never a platform for us to say what we wanted and what our fears are and assurance that the price will not further go up when the scenario changes.
“Today, comrades, how are we sure that the price will not top N200 per litre as the exchange rate goes up and if the price of crude oil in the international market goes up? Is any assurance given in case any of these scenarios happen? What are the safety nets put in place? So comrades, the issue is far more complicated than reducing it simply to price only. We are not averse to discussing. Whenever government invites us, we will honour such an invitation that offers genuine dialogue.”
The NLC also cautioned the police who arrested and detained some of its members in Ebonyi State to unconditionally release them immediately.
A statement by the General Secretary of Congress, Peter Ozo-Eson said: “We would use this opportunity to sound a note of warning to all overzealous security personnel. This has been a peaceful protest and we intend to keep it so. They should do nothing reckless to escalate it.”
NLC said the protest continues today with Berger roundabout, Abuja serving as the takeoff point at 7:00a.m.
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Employment Labour and Productivity, Suleiman Nazif, who yesterday disclosed Senate’s resolve to intervene when he paid a visit to Labour House, said the upper chamber, worried about happenings in the country, was willing to play a stabilising role in order to resolve the industrial dispute.
His words: “I am here on behalf of the Senate to express our concerns about the ongoing strike by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC). The Senate has been extremely worried about the happenings in Nigeria.
“The Senate is also very worried about the plight of Nigerians and we also sympathise with the position you have taken. We know your concerns because you are true representatives of the people and we believe that we can resolve the matter within the next few days.”
Nazif said the Senate would also be meeting with government officials in due course in order to find a solution to the labour unrest occasioned by the increase in the pump price of petrol.
Meanwhile, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) has urged the Federal Government to establish Students Trust Fund that would be empowered to provide funds for indigent students as part of the palliatives for the price increase.
The students, through their national body, also backed total deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry.
NANS President, Tijani Shehu, noted yesterday in Abuja that there was no reason for government to continue to subsidise imported petrol.
He said: “NANS recognises that Nigeria is faced with the crisis of deciding its future from present realities of economic challenges and this justifies the reasons for the agitation for the reversal of the pump price to N86.50 by some members of the public. NANS recognises that the economy is sinking, however, blames the government for allowing the situation to degenerate to a position where labour unions will find it difficult to appreciate and accommodate official policies.”
At a press briefing in Abuja, yesterday, National Coordinator of HURIWA, Emmanuel Onwubiko and the National Media Affairs Director, Miss Zainab Yusuf said it was criminal for government to impose higher pump price and still claim to have deregulated the downstream sector of the petroleum industry, adding that the decision of government to do the bidding of fuel importers as against reviving existing refineries and building newer refineries to produce petrol in Nigeria is mercantilist, which is driven by excessive quest for profits.
HURIWA said: “We are totally against this price hike because the purchasing power of nearly 98 per cent of Nigerians is so weak that it would amount to death penalty should the new price regime be allowed.
“We urge government to borrow the practices of the United States of America and the United Kingdom whereby farmers are paid subsidies by way of vouchers.
“Let the Nigerian government introduce a modified way of administering the fuel subsidy by sending fuel purchase vouchers to the poorest of the poor.”
And following the division in the ranks of the labour leadership which threatens the success of the strike, labour chieftain, Issa Aremu, has called for a truce among the warring factions.
Aremu who is the Secretary General of the National Union of Textile Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria (NUTGTWN) said, in a statement that “Textile workers hereby call on all labour unions affiliated to Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to learn from the recent developments following the prohibitive increase in the price of fuel to get united for a vibrant labour movement rather than undermining each other.
“If we operate separately, we will be defeated separately. But if we operate in unity, we will triumph as one. The recent 70 per cent fuel increase is indiscriminate in its impact on transport cost and cost of living in general. The response of organised labour must therefore be inclusive and uniform, not disjointed as we recently witnessed.
“The worsening poverty, rising inflation, job losses and bad governance must task our imaginations as labour leaders to work as one instead of seeking positions for recognitions from governments and employers that do not deliver tangible results for the working men and women.”