Vanguard (Lagos)

Nigeria: Strike - No Deal Between N-Delta, Labour --Eselemo

press conference

PRINCE Collins Eselemo, the national president of the Warri National Congress (WNC), a non-governmental organization and grand patron of the Ijaw Youths Congress (IYC) in the Niger Delta, is not new to controversy. Some two years ago, he led a protest against the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) over a strike action by the then leadership of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole on the grounds that it was of no benefit to the people of the Niger-Delta. Today, he is up in arms again against the NLC, now led by Comrade Omar, insisting again that the planned strike action over the increase in the price of petrol and Value Added Tax, VAT, would not benefit the Niger-Delta people. Excerpts:

HOW would you react to the intended strike action by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to force government to reverse the increase in VAT from five per cent to 10 per cent, increase salary of workers by 15% and reverse the sale of refineries and other national assets?

It has been conventional for the NLC to embark on strike for their selfish benefit. As the president of Warri National Congress (WNC), we consider the NLC as a deceitful entity. The NLC is a non-governmental organization (NGO) that is seriously begging for recognition. This is not the first time the WNC has gone against their strike for the fundamental reason that the undertaking of the Niger-Delta people was and is not a reason for their strike action, so there can be no deal between the Niger-Delta and the NLC. We have discovered that they don't fly straight.

The issues of the VAT and the sale of refineries are beyond their concern. The members of the NLC are predominantly stakeholders in the oil industry. But the oil is found in our soil in the Niger Delta. So, I can't see how others should cry more than we the bereaved. In essence, if they don't take our problems, our ecological life that has been killed by their nefarious activities, into consideration for strike in this country, we are not going to support them.

In fact, we are going to lead protest against their protest. We are waiting for them to act as they said on the 18th of June. Before then we would be ready to make a counter-move to tell the whole world that the Niger Delta problem is fundamental and should be a priority and basis for strike. If the NLC or any other body for that matter is not ready to join the government to make sure that the Niger Delta area is developed, to redress the problem of neglect for the past 40 years, we are not ready to be part of that strike. Niger Delta should not be a political bait for any NGO to take advantage of for strike action that would cripple the economy of this nation.

The mind set of the Yar'Adua /Jonathan government is to give attention to the Niger Delta problem. The increase in VAT is not a Niger Delta problem, the increase in fuel price is not a Niger Delta problem. The Niger Delta problem is known and we have attracted the sympathy of the international community and we expect the NLC to direct their wisdom, strength, force and cohesiveness to support the Federal Government (FG) to find a solution to the development of this region. Luckily, there is already a master plan to be executed to take care of the security problem in the Niger Delta. The issue of fuel price increase is no news.

Are you suggesting that it is only when the fundamental issues agitating the Niger Delta form the basis that you would support NLC strike?

The NLC strike is not fundamental and legitimate. They can derive some legitimacy only when they consider the problems of the Niger Delta and work in partnership with the Federal Government to see that the development and security problem of the region is solved. The NLC strike is not a fundamental reason or issue or solution to equal distribution of wealth in this country.

We don't need it! I've said that they should direct the strength, with which they intend to cripple the economy, in helping the Federal Government, which appears determined to develop the Niger Delta. That doesn't necessarily mean that they must go on strike. In other words, they can say, "we're going to embark on strike if the Federal Government does not develop the Niger Delta".

I'm afraid you are missing the point. The NLC is said to be protesting a scenario that has increased the poverty of the Nigerian people. What is wrong about the NLC championing a cause that will reduce the burden the VAT and fuel price hike has brought on the poor?

That is the perception and impression that the NLC is trying to create and it is deceitful. The NLC is not a legal entity to agitate for us. We know we are poor but we don't need the NLC to champion our cause. What is poverty and what is development? Infrastructural development will alleviate poverty in the Niger Delta region and the struggle towards that is not the exclusive preserve of the NLC. It is the combined effort of the international community in support of the Federal Government to make sure there is infrastructural development in the region.

This has nothing to do with the NLC. The NLC did not solicit for the 13% derivation fund, the NLC did not agitate that the minimum of 13% derivation now be entrenched in the constitution; it was as a result of the agitation of the Niger Delta people.

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