Workers’ planned strike faces integrity test

THE GUARDIAN Newspaper- Kingsley Jeremiah, Collins Olayinka (Abuja)

• FG, workers’ parley adjourned
• Strike still on, says Labour
• Govt moves to stop NLC, TUC, affiliates
• Health workers declare support for labour
• Oil, gas suppliers back out

Less than 72 hours to the nationwide strike planned by Labour to commence on Monday, the proposed action is facing integrity test as stakeholders evaluate the need or otherwise of the action.

Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) have been mobilising members for the strike scheduled in protest against recent hike in fuelprice and electricity tariff.

TUC had written to all its affiliates and state councils urging them to take charge of the process. The letter, signed by its Secretary General, Musa-Lawal Ozigi, stated the TUC and NLC “have jointly resolved to commence a national industrial action from Monday, 28th September, 2020.”

It added that “no one is expected to go to work, but rather to gather at an agreed place in Lagos, Abuja and all state capitals.”

The Federal Government had earlier in the year opted out of payment of subsidies on petrol and electricity, citing dwindling revenue. The development increased prices of products by over 100 per cent.

Labour kicked against the hike and decided to go on strike to drive home its demand.

But some stakeholders in the energy and financial sector, yesterday, argued that labour unions were fighting for a wrong cause, saying it would have been better for workers to be questioning Federal Government on how proceeds from subsidy removal would be used for healthcare, education and other sectors to benefit the masses.

The National President of the Natural Oil and Gas Suppliers Association of Nigeria (NOGASA), Mr. Benneth Korie, urged labour unions to drop the strike, saying it would cause more harm.

Stakeholders told The Guardian that asking questions on the proposed Subsidy Recovery Fund set up for the three tiers of government was a critical topic that labour should focus on.

The Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) reportedly set up a National Fuel Support Fund, which as of 2018, had $3.5 billion. NNPC had, in 2018, told the Senate the fund had been jointly managed by the “NNPC, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the Federal Ministry of Finance, the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), Office of the Accountant General of the Federation (OGF), the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and the Petroleum Equalisation Fund (PEF).”

Spokesperson for the oil firm, Kennie Obateru, did not respond to questions raised on the current state of the fund and government’s plan on it.

The sum N8.94 trillion was spent between 2006 and 2015 on fuel subsidy, as Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) had said earlier in the week. Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo had also said almost N1.7 trillion was spent on electricity subsidy to supplement tariff shortfalls.

A professor of Economics, Segun Ajibola, observed that perennial problem in the energy sector had exposed the country to foreign exchange crisis.

“Labour strike would further worsen the already choked economic landscape,” Ajibola stated.

According to him, it might be difficult for government to back down on the issue of subsidy removal.

A professor of Energy Economics, Wunmi Iledare, accused trade unions of being myopic in their approach to the hike, stressing that moving proceeds from subsidy to education and health sector would create sustainable economic benefit for present and future generation.

“In 10 years, we have spent close to N10 trillion subsidising the burning of PMS for luxurious lifestyle at the expense of infrastructure, education and healthcare,” he noted.

He added that subsidising petroleum had increased social welfare loss, with unintended misery indices like high inflation, high exchange rate, unemployment and spikes in interest rate.

Founder, PowerUp Nigeria, Adetayo Adegbemle, claimed labour could not present alternative position or strong argument on why they wanted to strike and doubted if there would be any serious consequences from the strike.

“What labour should have done was to join us with all the engagements we have been having with the Federal Government and stakeholders on alternative positions to electricity tariff increase and to demand accountability in the running of the power sector,” Adegbemle said.

Pioneer Managing Director/CEO, Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Plc, Rumundaka Wonodi, described the position of labour as baseless.

NOGASA warned that if not properly handled, recent developments in the downstream sector of the petroleum industry would cause adverse effects on businesses, workers and the Nigerian economy at large.

Similarly, the Natural Oil and Gas suppliers Association of Nigeria (NOGASA), urged Labour to consider dialogue above strike.

NOGASA, in a statement signed by its Public Relations Officer, Ukadike Chinedu, and made available to The Guardian yesterday, urged labour unions to adopt other strategies.

“Further disruptions in the presently struggling economy will create far more problems for workers and businesses that employ them than it seeks to solve,” the association stated.

BUT the Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria (MHWUN) in Anambra State would not be deterred by any of such arguments as it declared its support for the action yesterday.

MHWUN’s chairman in Anambra State, Chinwe Orizu, in an interview at the just-concluded South-East zonal meeting of the union in Awka, confirmed that the union had been communicated on the Monday strike.

Orizu, who is also Anambra State vice chairman of NLC, said: “We have got the notice from the national body and we are not going back on that. Enough is enough.
“You cannot wake up one morning and increase pump prices of fuel and electricity tariff. What do they expect from the poor masses? We are not at war, but a war situation is better than what we are experiencing.

“People are not eating and now the burden of fuel and electricity tariff has been added. I appeal to the leaders of this nation to look into the plight of the poor masses. Nobody can eat good meal any longer. Prices of staple foods have gone up.”

THE Federal Government is not, however, leaving the strike threat to chance as it made frantic moves to halt the industrial strike yesterday.

Speaking at the National Executive Council (NEC) in Abuja, Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, said the meeting, which had the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, and Minster of Information and National Orientation, Lai Mohammed, in attendance, was expanded following the urgency of the strike notice the NLC served the Federal Government.

He added: “You can see that we have expanded the meeting to include the SGF and Minister of Information due to a letter we received from labour. It is incumbent on us in the ministry to initiate a dialogue process.”

He said there were specific issues listed in the communiqué issued by labour and government was already addressing some of those issues so that nobody would be in the mood to go on strike.

“All that will be discussed in a way that will show our commitment to the betterment of the country,” the minister said.

On his part, the SGF explained that the Federal Government did not have the intention of inflicting pains on Nigerians with its policies.

President of NLC, Ayuba Wabba, had said that labour often made itself available for dialogue when the need arose which explained why labour was attending meeting to listen to the government team.

He hinted that the decision to embark on strike from next week Monday was taken by relevant organs of the congress.

President of TUC, Quadri Olaleye, argued that Nigeria did not belong to all Nigerians equally, saying it belonged more to the ruling elite and their collaborators.

“I disagree with the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, that the country belongs to all of us. I think that the country belongs more to the politicians. It is better we build a country that can truly belong to all of us. The politicians have destroyed the middleclass. We must return the middle class if we want peace in this country.

The gift that government is giving us is to call on us to pay more for petrol and electricity.”


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