Nigeria: Labour to Govt - You Must Return to Old Fuel Price, Electricity Tariff

25 September 2020

The organised labour on Thursday insisted that there is no going back on its planned strike unless the federal government reverse the increase made on petrol price and electricity tariff.

Daily Trust reports the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) reiterated their position during a meeting with government representatives, which took place at the Old Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa in Abuja.

The NLC had given the federal government a two-week ultimatum to reverse the recent increase in electricity prices and the removal of fuel subsidy else it will embark on a nationwide strike.

This was after the meeting of its Central Working Committee (CWC).

The strike is expected to commence on Monday, September 28.

During Thursday's meeting, the federal government was expected to unfold its palliative plans, but credible sources said its officials did not bring something tangible to the table that will assuage the pains of workers and by extension Nigerians.

One of the sources said the President Muhammadu Buhari administration found itself in a difficult situation over the contentious issues and therefore working hard to find a way forward.

"The fact is that it is practically impossible to reverse the increase in petrol price because that will amount to reintroducing subsidy and our lenders, the international community will not take it lightly," he said.

Heated argument on way forward

It was gathered that there was a heated argument between representatives of the federal government and those of labour during the meeting that could be called "deadlocked".

While the federal government said it would deploy measures that will cushion the hardships brought by her recent decisions, union officials said the old price must return.

Those at the meeting included the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Boss Mustapha, the Minister of State for Petroleum, Timipre Sylva, the Minister of Power, Saleh Mamman, the Minister of Labour, Chris Ngige, the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo, SAN, among others.

NLC President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba and TUC President, Comrade Quadri Olaleye led Nigerian workers for the negotiation.

Wabba said that Labour was the only organisation that is pan-Nigeria and that the best way to address challenges, whether social economy or labour issues was to try to proactively engage labour and have its perspective.

He said, "We are here to continue with the dialogue that started last week.

"As you are aware, after the dialogue, we were able to update all our members.

"We are here to find a lasting solution to the perennial issue of the twin challenges of the increase in pump price in the name of deregulation and also the issue of electricity tariff increase, which we have explained the impact on Nigerian workers, but importantly the larger Nigerian society.

"The last time we were here, we also had a lot of discussion about what we expect that should have been done...

"All of us could recall that in the analogy we gave in the last meeting, this particular issue started in 1988 under Babangida under the name of deregulation or subsidy removal.

"I think the argument has been the same - people want to see a reduction in those prices, which will then improve the lives of Nigerians, particularly workers.

"Clearly, part of the challenges is that this new increase has also reduced our purchasing power and eroded the gains that we have been able to make with the minimum wage, whereas we speak, many states are yet to implement," he said.

It was learnt that during the meeting, SGF Mustapha reiterated that the President Buhari-led administration meant well for Nigerians and will not do anything that will subject them to hardship.

According to him, the deregulation of the petroleum sector was long overdue and something must be done to save the country.

He reiterated that the labour unions should allow them to chart a way of making palliatives available for Nigerians to cushion the effects of the increments rather than demanding "what is not obtainable".

The SGF said, "No government decision was intended to hurt the citizens.

"The price hike was taken in the interest of the people and the country.

2The decision to regulate the energy sector was recommended to the president during the transition programme in 2015.

"The decision has become imperative but painful to take.

"I hope the meeting would resolve the issues...

"The president has said that no government decision taken is intended to cause any pain or harm.

"Decisions that have been taken are in the utmost interest to all people and the working class.

"I have the privilege of working in the Presidential Transition Committee set up by President Buhari and I remember the decisions that were presented to him.

"One of the decisions by the team considered as low hanging fruit in 2015 was deregulation, and I think President Buhari objected to it.

"Thereafter the issue was reflected in the final report.

"There was the need to consider seriously the issues relating to deregulation of the petroleum sector, and the need to look at energy sufficiency and efficiency, within the power on what needed to be done.

"When the report was submitted to Buhari his reaction was that the Nigerian people elected him not to inflict pain on them.

"He said though he considers that economically as a low hanging fruit, he felt that the time was not yet ripe for it.

"That the important thing is to manage before such decision will ever be taken.

"Five years down the line, that decision has become imperative and cannot be escaped, it is a decision that must have been painfully considered.

"I am just sharing this reflection so that in order to put in perceptive the fact that the decision was never intended to cause great pain and erode the wellbeing of our people.

But the labour leaders insisted that their previous position, which was conveyed to the government that it should revert to the old prices before any discussion would continue still stand.

Sources said the TUC president in his speech insisted the FG must go back to the old pump price of petrol and direct DisCos to also revert to the old electricity tariff.

Comrade Olaleye said: "The most important thing to us today is that we are here, we are engaging with you.

"Like I mentioned in the last meeting we had here that if we have been having constructive engagement in the past, maybe we would have been able to solve some of these problems.

"But the government turned a deaf ear to us even before the arrival of the world enemy COVID-19, we have written to the government suggesting an alternative way to run the economy, but nobody ever listened.

"And I can send to you many communications from the labour movement suggesting solutions and now we have found ourselves in this situation but the truth of the matter is that Nigerians are suffering and it is our responsibility as labour centres to fight for their rights, to protect their interest.

"The N30, 000 minimum wage was agreed last year and now there is an increase in PMS price, increase in tariff of electricity, the introduction of stamp duty and some other hardship on the workers and their families.

"We live in a country where a worker is responsible for more than 12 people.

"At least eight from his family and the other six from the in-law's house; I wonder how N30, 000 will be able to cater for all these but instead of the government to look at a better way to increase our lot, we are the sacrificial animal to make the economy better for few people," he said.

Sources said the TUC president also had a verbal war with the Minister of Labour, Chris Ngige, over some utterances and it took the intervention of other people to calm frayed nerves.

The meeting was still ongoing as at 8:55 pm when this report was filed.

Our correspondents report that about two weeks ago, the federal government and the labour unions met but could not reach any consensus.

Thereafter, the NLC and TUC jointly agreed to embark on an indefinite strike from Tuesday next week.

The NLC chapters in all the 36 states of the federation have also endorsed the decision of the National Working Committee (NWC) of the union to go on strike.

Speaking on what transpired on Thursday, the Vice President of Industrial Global Union, Comrade Issa Aremu, said the dialogue between the federal government and the organised labour will continue.

Aremu who spoke to Daily Trust during a telephone interview said that the unions were not against reforms but the timing of taking decisions when the world is facing hardship as a result of the COVID- 19 pandemic.

"The problem of the petroleum sector is not just about pricing.

"Why are we not talking about refining the product at home?" he asked.

Court stops workers from going on strike

The National Industrial Court Thursday granted an interim injunction restraining the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) their officers, affiliates and privies from embarking on any strike.

The order was given by Justice Ibrahim Galadima, who said the directive must be respected pending the hearing and determination of the Motion on Notice.

He also granted an order of interim injunction restraining the unions, their officers, affiliates and privies from disrupting, restraining, picketing or preventing the workers or its affiliates or ordinary Nigerians from accessing their offices to carry out their legitimate duties.

Justice Galadima made the order in response to an ex-parte application filed by the Incorporated Trustees of Peace and Unity Ambassadors Association through their counsel, Sunusi Musa.

Governors meet to resolve impasse

An emergency Teleconference meeting of the Nigeria Governors' Forum (NGF) held Thursday to seek ways of settling the rift with the labour unions and finding a mutually agreed amicable ground to prevent the looming industrial action.

The outcome of the meeting held by the 36 governors was not released.

A source at the NGF secretariat said a communiqué on the meeting would be issued today in view of the decision of the National Industrial Court.

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