24 June 2007

Nigeria: Strike Suspension - How Yar'Adua, Northern Leaders Swayed Labour

Abuja — ON the fourth day of a nationwide strike which crippled socio-economic activities throughout the country, in protest against the hike in the prices of petroleum products, Labour, yesterday, called off the strike. The leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and the Trade Union Congress, TUC, resolved to call off the strike, last night, at a meeting in Abuja.

The decision followed the intervention of President Umar Musa Yar'Adua, who wrote the leadership of the two unions to accept the N70 per litre of petrol offered by government on the condition that there would be no more hike in the prices of petroleum products for the next one year, that is till June, 2008, no matter the market fundamentals that may warrant an increase. It was on the basis of the assurance by the president as well as pressure by some northern leaders and leadership of the National Assembly, Sunday Vanguard learnt, that the NLC and TUC decided to suspend the strike.

The leadership of both unions was scheduled to meet with the representatives of government to work out the modalities for the suspension of the strike, last night, even as Labour sources said that both unions were bent on proposing N67.50 to government as compromise price for petrol.

However, the sources said the meeting, last night, between government representatives and the Labour unions was a mere formality as the unions had resolved to suspend the action. The sources said it was after the meeting with government that Labour would formally announce the strike suspension.

The Obasanjo government had in the twilight of the administration raised the prices of petroleum products, an action which pushed the price of petrol (PMS) from N65 per litre to N75, forcing the NLC and TUC to give the Yar'Adua regime a 14-day ultimatum to reverse the decision. Other demands of the unions included the reversal of VAT rate from five per cent to 10 per cent as well as the privatization of the Kaduna and Port Harcourt refineries, and the payment of 15 per cent salary increase to civil servants from January 2007.

Before the strike commenced, last Wednesday, the government had met two of the demands but merely reduced petrol price from N75 per litre to N70. But the NLC and TUC insisted that petrol price must return to N65, a demand government ignored, leading to the strike. The government representatives led by the secretary to the government of the federation, SGF, Ambassador Baba Gana Kingibe and Labour officials refused to shift grounds during their meetings until the president's letter to the unions yesterday in which Yar'Adua made his promise to maintain current levels of petroleum product prices until June 2008, as government's further concession for the N70 per litre of petrol.

The President was said to have told the NLC and TUC in the letter that the nation may experience system collapse if the petrol price went below N70 per litre.

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