Thursday, 30th November 2023

After Tinubu’s parley, Labour, FG in fresh legal tango over protests

By Collins Olayinka, Terhemba Daka (Abuja) and Gloria Nwafor (Lagos)  
03 August 2023   |   3:43 am
President Bola Tinubu, yesterday, met with leaders of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) in a desperate bid to halt the ongoing nationwide protest.

NLC and TUC led, during a protest against Subsidy removal and other issues on Wednesday.

• FG files contempt proceeding against NLC, TUC
• Labour direct members to shut economic activities to attend court proceedings
• We’ll decide today whether to suspend or continue subsidy protest —Ajaero 

President Bola Tinubu, yesterday, met with leaders of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) in a desperate bid to halt the ongoing nationwide protest.

The meeting, which took place in the president’s office, was the first encounter he would personally have with Organised Labour since they declared their intention to embark on a protest over the removal of subsidy and increase in the pump price of petrol immediately after his inauguration on May 29.

Both presidents of NLC and TUC, Joe Ajaero and Festus Osifo, respectively, led the labour delegations.

After the meeting, Ajaero disclosed that the president addressed the issues already presented in his national broadcast but delved into more details. He said labour has decided to take back to their members the issues the president presented at the meeting.

“We met with him. The issues we discussed are the same issues that led to the protest today. He has expressed his position, made some commitments, which were taken side-by-side with what the Senate said, and we’re taking it back to the office with our colleagues to review it and release a document on our next line of action,” the NLC president said.

On whether what was presented was any different from the content of Monday’s presidential broadcast, Ajaero said: “We have gone deeper into them. The broadcast has broader issues, but there are one or two things that need immediate attention.”

He maintained that the protest will not be called off until the leadership of labour confers with the National Executive Council (NEC).

“No one person can call it off. That’s why I say we’ll have to go back to the office. So that the Exco can look at it and consider the President’s proposal. And by tomorrow (Thursday), NLC will equally have their NEC meeting, to look at the bigger picture,” he said.

On whether the president requested them to call off the protest, Ajaero declared: “The President is a pro-democracy activist. So, he understands protests.”

But sooner had the meeting ended when indications emerged that the Federal Government had filed a contempt proceeding against NLC and TUC for allegedly embarking on an industrial action contrary to a June 5, 2023, ex parte order by the National Industrial Court (NIC).

The “notice of consequences of disobedience to order of court” filed before NIC in Abuja, was addressed to NLC President, Ajaero; Deputy Presidents, Audu Aruba, Prince Adeyanju Adewale and Kabiru Sani; General Secretary, Emmanuel Ugboaja; TUC President, Usifo; Scribe/Chief Executive, Nuhu Toro.

The contempt notice signed by Senior Registrar, Balogun Olajide, reads: “Take notice that unless you obey the directions contained in the order of the National Industrial Court, Abuja, delivered by Justice Y. Anuwe on June 5, 2023, as per the attached enrolled order, you will be guilty of contempt of court and will be liable to be committed to Prison.”

Popular Lawyer, Femi Falana addressed NLC and TUC during Wednesday protest.

FG also attached a copy of the ex parte order made by Justice Anuwe on June 5, to the notice of contempt proceeding forwarded to the NLC and TUC officials.

The order reads in part: “Having therefore considered the totality of this application, I make the following orders: The defendants/respondents are hereby restrained from embarking on the planned industrial action/or strike of any nature pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice.

“It is ordered that the defendant/respondents be immediately served with the originating processes in this suit, the motion on notice and the order of this court hereby made.

In a swift reaction, Labour has directed that all affiliate unions and their members from all sectors of the country’s economy, including the air, land, and sea transport sector, to ensure they shut down operations and be in court during all the days and periods of the court sessions.

President Tinubu and NLC Joe-Ajearo

Ajaero and Osifo, in a statement jointly signed yesterday in Abuja, reaffirmed Congress’ commitment to protecting the interests and welfare of Nigerian workers and the masses even in the face of a purported contempt of court charge.

They said: “It is also important that we inform Nigerians that we have just received a court summons purporting to charge us with contempt of court. We urge all Nigerians to be vigilant because it appears that the days of long knives are here with us again. The leadership remains resolute in its commitment to the protection of the interests and welfare of the Nigerian people, and nothing whatsoever can take our eyes away from this focus nor shake this belief.

“Having demonstrated our collective resolve through the strong signal we sent today across Nigeria, we urge vigilance on the part of all workers and masses to protect our nation and our decisions while we await the response of the Government through the National Assembly, as was assured by their representatives during the protest.

“To further show our collective resolve, all Nigerian workers will resume at the courts wherever they may be across the nation on the days of the court sessions to hear the contempt proceedings against the leaders of trade unions. The airports, seaports, hospitals, schools, and all public and private sector workers will appear in court across the nation in response to the contempt charges.”

The labour leaders, who showed appreciation for the support from workers and Nigerians who came out to protest the hardship and difficulties policies of the present administration has thrown at them, noted that their voice has been heard as an audience with President Tinubu at the end of the protest has open the door for a new dialogue, which would hopefully allow for full implementation of all promises.

The statement said Tinubu let out a certainty that the Port Harcourt Refinery will commence production by December this year, even as he pledged to ensure that an agreement is reached on the wage award for Nigerian workers immediately. He also promised to unveil a workable roadmap to the CNG alternative next week.

In Lagos, the protest, which was led by NLC’s first Deputy President, Adewale Adeyanju, saw its affiliates and members walk from Ikeja under-bridge to the State House of Assembly, Alausa.

The Deputy Governor of Lagos, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat, and members of the state’s legislative arm received them.

Chanting solidarity songs and carrying placards, Adeyanju, who noted that things were not moving well in the country, demanded that the government give Nigerians palliatives that would cushion the effect of subsidy removal and the sufferings of the masses.

Chairperson, NLC Lagos Council, Funmi Sessi, said the body commenced a nationwide protest to express their dissatisfaction with the removal of fuel subsidies resulting in hardship for the citizens.

Sessi, who presented the protest letter to Hamzat, who stood in for Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, noted that the current situation in the country is unpalatable for the average citizens urging the government to respect the people who voted them in.

“You came to us to beg us to vote you in, your responsibility as a representative of the people you govern is to protect their welfare.

“We are protesting because we have the right to protest and table our issues before the government. Our cry is that we want to be able to commute from one place to another freely to our respective places.

“However, that has become practically impossible. As Congress, we have been engaging the government but the engagement hasn’t been productive and fruitful enough.

Secretary of TUC, Lagos Council, Abiodun Aladetan, said Nigerians have come together to take the bull by the horn and speak truth to power.

“What we have witnessed is a clear case of insensitivity of the ruling class. It shows that they are immune to suffering and enjoy all the retinues of public offices. The time has come for everybody to make sacrifices by reducing the cost of governance.

“We pass our message very loud and clear. Government must come out with realistic plans. We need a concrete implementation plan, timeline, timeframe and strategies. The issue of cash as palliative is condemnable. Funds should be channeled into the health insurance of vulnerable Nigerians and not putting money into people’s pockets that will be taken over by transportation costs.

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, who showed solidarity and joined in the protest, lamented the hardship faced by citizens, adding: “We are here to tell the Federal Government through the Lagos State Government that our country is not poor; we are blessed with so many natural resources to be suffering this way.

“What this rally has meant to do is to get this government on its toes to address the problems confronting the country and to meet organised labour. A committee was set up between the government and labour and as soon as they got an ex parte order to tie the hands of workers, unfortunately, the government went to sleep.

“There is no way Nigeria can recover with the religious implementation of neo-liberal policies, we have had them before when we had the Structural Adjustment Programme. The country became poorer, poverty increased and we shouldn’t go that route in the interest of our country.”