The strike declared by the Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, and Trade Union Congress, TUC, against increase in the pump price of petrol and electricity tariff started this morning, despite last minute efforts by the Federal Government to stop it.
The Ministry of Labour and Employment had again invited Organized Labour to a meeting at 7pm in Abuja last night in a last-ditch effort to ward off the strike but the parley did not stop the Labour movement from going ahead with the strike.
At press time last night, the meeting was still on. Deputy President of the NLC, Amaechi Asogwuni said last night that "even if the government reverses the action by 9pm and meet with our demands, the strike will still hold until we address the people."
Not even the intervention of Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, could change the position of the two labour centres from continuing the strike.
At an earlier meeting with Gbajabiamila yesterday, the speaker appealed to the NLC to suspend its industrial action.
"We want to appeal to you to please let us tarry awhile, even if it is for a couple of weeks," the speaker pleaded with the NLC leadership.
He also promised to champion the interest of NLC through the next budget, saying "the needs of workers will be captured in the next budget."
Estimated billing, a big crime -- Gbaja
The speaker, who described estimated billing system by electricity distribution companies, as "the biggest crime committed anywhere in the world," also said that the "deficit of about eight million metres (electricity) can be provided in the (2021) budget."
He said: "This agitation is even coming at the right time, in the sense that in the next couple of weeks, the budget will be presented and most of these things,will be captured in the budget."
Gbajabiamila, who said the House leadership would engage the Executive on a possible reversal of the tariffs, however, warned that it might not be possible for government to change its policy.
"I would like government to reverse, if need be, but anywhere the world, rarely does government reverse a policy decision," he said.
He advised the workers' union to use some other means other than strike in pushing for their needs., adding that "there are more than one ways to skin a cat."
Replying the speaker, NLC President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, said the policy pronouncements on fuel and electricity were made without consultation with labour leaders, adding that the policy led to a lot of dislocation in the well-being of many Nigerians.
At a briefing after the meeting, the NLC leader insisted that the strike would go ahead unless the Federal Government reversed the increases before midnight yesterday.
Schools, airports, banks, others shut down from today -- Labour
At a separate briefing in Lagos yesterday, Organised Labour said schools, banks, aviation, transportation, among other sectors, would be shut from today, as workers begin an indefinite strike and mass protest against recent hikes in the pump price of petrol and electricity tariff.
The labour leaders lamented that the federal government chose to remain insensitive to the cries of Nigerians, even when some households in the country could hardly afford to carter for their daily bread due to the negative impact of COVID-19 pandemic.
Deputy President, Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Amaechi Asogwuni, who briefed the media after a meeting of labour leaders, said: "We demand the immediate reversal of the pump price of petrol, complete reversal of the increase in electricity tariff, immediate reduction in Value Added Tax, VAT, and immediate revamping of the existing four refineries to increase domestic refining capacity.
"We also demand establishment of new refineries, especially of the modular type, to stop importation of petroleum products, review of the electricity privatization in public interest, removal of all obstacles to food availability to the masses, setting up of new social safety nets for Nigerians to reduce mass poverty and hunger currently ravaging the land.
"The strike will commence tomorrow (today) and we are not going back. You cannot subject Nigerians to hardship as a result of your inefficiency. The increment was done without considering the state of Nigerian households. We cannot continue paying for darkness as a nation. You cannot advertise what does not exist.
"The rule of law entails government consulting before putting up action, we cannot encourage the reverse which the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government has done.
"Nigerians are crying and it is not a good thing. When we are united, things will be in place and for this, we are united to put things back in place. We are not going back on our planned strike.
"We shall commence our protest from 6am tomorrow (today), being Monday, September 28. We are using this medium to inform Nigerians that banks, flights, schools, among other sectors, are not going to open effective from tomorrow (today)."
Commenting on the stance of Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria, IPMAN, which directed filling stations to operate, Asogwuni said: "In actions as this, there are people that will like to sabotage your efforts. We are not new to it but, we are not going to allow filling station operate.
"We are going to shut down any filling station that will be be in operation, starting from tomorrow (today). We will resist whoever wants to be used as a scapegoat until the Federal Government meets our demands."
Strike still on even if govt reverses hikes -- Labour
On FG's meeting with organized labour at 7pm yesterday, Asugwuni said: "Even if the government reverses the action by 9pm and meet with our demands, the strike will still hold until we address the people.
"We will ensure that this action goes on tomorrow (today) to teach the Federal Government a lesson never to take Nigerians for granted."
Meanwhile, Vanguard gathered yesterday that the reason the Federal Government is insisting on the increase in fuel price and electricity tariff is to avoid incurring the wrath of the International Monetary Fund, IMF, the World Bank, and other international lending institutions to which Nigeria is indebted.
A source at the meeting of government's representatives and leaders of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, last weekend, told Vanguard that government's representatives confessed to Labour leaders that government's hands were tied by international financial institutions to which the country is indebted.
The source said: "The disclosure has confirmed the long held belief that the Bretton Woods institutions have been responsible for most of the anti-people economic policies of our government.
"They told us point-blank that Nigeria will incur the anger of IMF, the World Bank and other international leading institutions that the country is indebted to, if the new pump price and electricity tariff are reversed.
"In fact, they refused to discuss the issue of price reversal and rather, asked us to nominate representatives to discuss palliatives. It is obvious that they do not have mandate to discuss issue of price.
"We bluntly refused to nominate any person. This was the major cause of the stalemate of Thursday meeting.
"You could see that as against the usual practice where it was the Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency, PPPRA, that was announcing new prices of petroleum products, since the beginning of this so-called market-driven prices in March or thereabouts, it has been the Petroleum Products Marketing Company, PPMC, an arm of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, that has been announcing prices.
"Again, unlike the PPPRA where Labour and other stakeholders have representatives on the board, stakeholders are not on the board of PPMC. The PPMC is made up of only the Federal Government-appointed management team.
"As you are aware, NLC has two representatives on the board of PPPRA, National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW, Nigeria Association of Road Transport Owners, NARTO, oil marketers, NECA, Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG and its Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, PENGASSAN, counterpart, are among the stakeholders on the board of PPPRA.
"On the issue of electricity tariff, we have insisted that the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC, has become an agent of the government and private capital in the power sector. We demanded that Labour and other critical sectors must be members of the commission."
Meanwhile, as the indefinite general strike begins nationwide today, all critical sectors of the economy in both the public and private sectors, such as government offices and institutions, the oil industry, aviation, banking, maritime, railways, manufacturing, schools, among others, are to be shut.
This followed the directives by NLC and TUC to all their affiliates to fully comply with the strike.
'Critical unions ordered to shut down'
Some of the leaders of the critical sectors of the economy have told Vanguard that they have issued circulars to their members to fully comply.
President of NUPENG, Prince Williams Akporeha, told Vanguard: "As an affiliate of NLC, we have given directive to our members to fully comply. So, there will be no lifting and distribution of products and other services rendered by our members across the country till further notice.
"As NUPENG, we have been campaigning against import-driven deregulation because it adds no value to the country. It kills jobs, de-skills workers and limits the potential of industry to create wealth for national development."
Similarly, General Secretary of PENGASSAN, Lumumba Okwugbawa, said: "We will obey the directive of our umbrella body, the TUC, and we have directed our members to comply fully.
"There is no way PENGASSAN will support import-driven deregulation. We have continued to tell government to fix the four refineries, encourage the private sector to build more refineries, including modular refineries, before contemplating total deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry.
"That government has continued to expose Nigerians to vagaries of international market prices is unacceptable and not sustainable."
Ports shut down today -- MWUN
Also speaking, President-General of Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria, MWUN, Prince Adewale Adeyanju, told Vanguard that the ports would be shut from today.
He said: "In line with the directives of NLC, all port formations across the country will be closed down till we receive contrary directives from Congress."
Similarly, the National Union of Banks, Insurance and other Financial Institutions Employees, NUBIFIE, and its Association of Senior Staff of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions, ASSBIFI, have directed workers in the sector to fully comply and stay away from their offices.
Aviation sectors unions have also directed aviation workers to stay away from their offices during the duration of the strike.
Also, leaders of National Union of Textile Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria, NUTGTWN, directed their members across the country to join the indefinite strike as directed by NLC with effect from today.
In a circular dated September 25, 2020, addressed to all textile employers, a copy of which was sighted by Vanguard, the union's President, John Adaji and Acting General Secretary, Ali Baba, informed members as well as textile employers about the decision by the National Executive Council, NEC, of NLC "to commence an indefinite strike with effect from Monday, September 28, 2020, if the Federal Government fails to reverse the recent hike in the pump price of petrol and electricity tariff.
"As an affiliate of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, our members will participate in the strike and mass protests as directed by Congress."
The union mandated its branch union executives to enforce the strike directive, while soliciting full co-operation and understanding of textile employers.
"We call on the Federal Government, led by President Muhammdu Buhari, to listen to the voices of Nigerians and reverse the increase in the pump price of petrol and electricity tariff, given the hardship they imposed on the already impoverished masses of Nigeria," the union stated.
Return to old prices, engage Labour, NECA tells FG
Reacting to the development yesterday, the Nigeria Employers' Consultative Association, NECA, pleaded with the Federal Government to revert to old prices while engaging Organised Labour.
It warned that the economy could not afford another 'downing of tools' by workers as the little gains made as a result of the gradual easing of lock-down might be lost.
Director-General of NECA, Dr Timothy Olawale, told Vanguard that Nigeria could lose at least N2 trillion should the strike go ahead as planned.
He said: "With the planned strike by the Labour movements over the recent increase in the pump price of petrol and electricity tariff, we believe this is coming at a very wrong timing for the economy.
"Currently, the economy is bleeding, faced with looming recession, astronomical rise in unemployment rate, reduced purchasing power, rising inflationary rate, rising cost of living, unabated insecurity among others, making the country's misery index worrisome. The economy is just coming out of total lock down and businesses and individuals are not in the right place for survival.
"The estimated cost of any industrial strike to any economy is always devastating, not to mention the already challenging situation the economy is grappling with. This would further have serious negative challenge on every sector of the economy -- health, education, transportation, foreign investment, stock market, trade, etc.
"The country would be losing nothing less than N2trillion everyday through the strike. The teetering economy cannot afford another 'downing of tools' by workers as the little gains made as a result of the gradual ease of lockdown might be lost, leading to acceleration of job losses and others issues.
"We, therefore, call on both government and the Labour movements (NLC and TUC) to consider the survival of the economy and welfare of the workers at this time to reach an early compromise, as businesses are still struggling to come out of the negative impact of COVID-19.
"It is a known fact that the myriads of socio-economic issues arising from the pandemic are still with us. Government can revert to the old tariff, while engaging the unions.
"While we advocates total deregulation of the oil & gas sector, we enjoin wide consultation with critical stakeholders in reaching conclusions, as this will go a long way in resolving issues.
"This can best be achieved with good industrial relations. NECA calls on the Federal Government and Labour to observe the principle of social dialogue in resolving these issues.
"We hope Nigeria would not be made to pass through another national strike, which is avoidable and needless."
LCCI warns against strike
Also reacting yesterday, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, LCCI, warned labour against embarking on its planned strike today, arguing that the economy was already in a bad shape.
Director General, LCCI, Dr. Muda Yusuf, said in a statement: "The LCCI notes with concern the proposal by the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and the Trade Union Congress, TUC, to proceed on strike from Monday, September 28, 2020.
"The LCCI appreciates the perspective of the labour unions with regards to the pains and hardship that the recent price hikes in petrol and electricity will inflict on the citizens. But the chamber also recognizes that the government is faced with very difficult choices at this time.
"The Nigerian economy is currently stumbling, having suffered a significant contraction of 6.1% in the second quarter of this year. The economy is yet to recover from the devastating shocks wreaked by COVID-19 and now on the verge of recession.
"The economy needs to be urgently pulled back from the brink through the adoption of appropriate policy reform measures. The reversal of the current reforms would exacerbate the challenges of the faltering Nigerian economy.
"The reality is that fiscal space to sustain the humongous, corruption-prone and opaque subsidies no longer exists. It is not in the best interest of the citizens, the economy and future generations to encourage the perpetuation of corruption-ridden subsidy regimes.
"Besides, the country is grappling with a palpable fiscal sustainability challenge. There is mounting public debt which had grown from N12.6 trillion in December 2015 to N31 trillion as at June 2020. This is a n increase of 146%. Debt service to revenue ratio has also been skyrocketing, reaching unsustainable thresholds.
"Capital budget component of the budget has been diminishing rapidly over time to between 20-25%, fiscal deficit has been stretched to the limit statutorily allowed by the Fiscal Responsibility Act. We have seen large negative variances in revenue performance at all levels of government.
"The capacity to fund critical economic and social infrastructures had waned considerably. If the country continues with the current trend of monstrous and opaque subsidies, it could slip into bankruptcy.
"The economy should be managed in a way to bequeath a good economic legacy to future generations. Nigeria became an oil producing country over six decades ago. Yet there are no significant private sector investments in practically the entire value chain of the downstream petroleum sector.