Nigeria: El-Rufai, Labour Set for Showdown As Workers Ground Kaduna

The Kaduna State Government and the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) are gearing up for a showdown following a directive by the labour union to all its affiliates to join a five-day warning strike that would lead to a total shutdown of economic activities, including aviation, power, banking and petroleum sectors in Kaduna State.

Daily Trust reports that the president of the NLC, Comrade Ayuba Wabba and other national presidents, with general secretaries of affiliates, are expected to arrive in Kaduna today to ensure full enforcement of the industrial action, scheduled to take effect by midnight.

At the last count, 14 labour unions had written to their members, directing them to join the shutdown.

The warning strike is a last resort to pressure the government to rescind its decision over the recent mass sack of workers.

Earlier, sources had informed our correspondent that government officials and labour leaders had been in talks on how to avert the strike action.

The talks apparently fell apart, with the Kaduna State Government on Saturday warning that it would not be blackmailed by a proposed strike action, and directed civil servants to report for work on Monday.

We'll not succumb to blackmail - Govt

The government had argued that it was not sustainable to continue spending 84 per cent to 96 per cent of its federal allocations on salaries and personnel costs, adding that it had been subjected to campaign of lies, misrepresentation and false claims that its rightsizing exercise affected over 4,000 workers and that it had stopped paying minimum wage.

Addressing a joint press conference, the state Commissioner for Local Government and the state's Head of Service, Jafaru Ibrahim Sani and Hajiya Bari'atu Mohammed respectively, said the state government would not be blackmailed by "the criminal plans to attack and shut down power transmission stations, hospitals, government offices and infrastructure, such as waterworks and streetlights."

It described the planned strike action as a "futile gestures," saying it will protect its facilities and the right of its staff to access and work in their offices. "It is unlawful for anyone to try to deny them access or exit. Government offices are not the property of any trade unionist, and none of them should entertain thoughts of locking up or vandalising any facility," government officials said on Saturday.

The state government further stated that the strike action led by the NLC president was aimed at reprising the "mayhem they visited on Kaduna during their rampage of November 8, 2017," adding that there is a subsisting warrant for the arrest of Wabba for the vandalisation of government facilities in 2017 and that security agencies have been notified to take steps to thwart any violent intent of the organisers.

"Apart from the restrictions imposed by COVID-19 protocols, a ban on public processions subsists in this state. This was imposed precisely because of the violence that has frequently broken out from such processions even when they began with innocent intent.

"The Trade Union Act is clear in prohibiting strike action by workers that are engaged in the provision of essential services. The law also forbids subjecting any other person to any kind of constraint or restriction of his personal freedom in the course of persuasion for strike action," they stated.

While drawing a comparison with the strike action of 2017, the state government said it would not subject its policy to the veto of a mob, adding that the government did not campaign on a platform of tired populism and it was not elected to practise timidity as public policy.

But the Kaduna State secretary of NLC, Comrade Christiana John Bawa, in a press release, stated that no employer of the state government under the present leadership of Governor Nasir el'Rufai had job security nor is safe from disengagement, and stressed that all the affiliates of the NLC in the state had already directed their members to join the strike.

According to her, the unions include the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), National Union of Electricity Employees of Nigeria (NUEE), National Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institution Employees (NUBIFIE) and the Nigeria Union of Railway.

Others include the National Association of Nurses and Midwives, Aviation workers Union, Construction Union, National Union of Local Government Employees.

Airport, train services, banks, electricity affected

The unions have directed all members at the Kaduna airport to withdraw all services for the five days the strike is expected to last.

Electricity and airport workers have vowed to cripple activities in Kaduna following the industrial action declared by the NLC.

Foremost aviation unions - the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Association of Nigerian Aviation Professionals (ANAP) and the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE) have issued a joint notice to join the strike in compliance with the NLC directive.

Many trade unions have also pledged their resolve to join the strike.

Among them is the Nigerian Union of Railway Workers (NUR), the Nigerian Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE), the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT), which had issued separate notices to join the one-week strike.

While the aviation unions are vowing to shut down the airport, the NUR also said it would shut down the Abuja-Kaduna Train Service (AKTS).

In a letter dated May 14, 2021, to the managing director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), the aviation unions informed that they would proceed on the action in compliance with NLC's directive with effect from midnight of Sunday, May 16, 2021, to midnight of Friday, May 21.

"Accordingly, all workers at the Kaduna Airport have been directed to withdraw all services within the stipulated period.

"In effect, there will be no operation of any kind into, at or out of the airport within the period.

"This information is provided to enable your management take steps to safeguard valuable property within the airport vicinity during the period of the industrial action," the letter signed by the general secretary of the NUATE, Aba Ocheme; deputy general secretary of the NAAPE, Umoh Ofonime and secretary-general of the ANAP, Abdulrazaq Saidu, read.

No going back - NLC

Also, the NUR general secretary, Comrade Segun Esan, in a letter to the union, AKTS branch, directed mass mobilisation of members ahead of the strike.

"By the strength of this letter and the circular of the congress herewith attached, you are directed to commence mass mobilisation of our members and the entire workers of the AKTS and other railway premises within and around Kaduna State for industrial action against the government of Kaduna State, with a resolve to shut down all train stations within AKTS and environs with effect from 00 hours of Sunday, May 16, 2021 until otherwise directed," the letter dated May 11, 2021 reads.

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