…Issues 11-day ultimatum, gives government till Sept 28 to reverse hikes
…Says cost of electricity more than minimum wage in some places
…NLC’s CWC resolved to issue ultimatum — WABBA
…Lagos police arrest, release 50 protesters, including Vanguard’s photo-journalist
…TUC ultimatum misplaced — Ngige
By Victor Young, Johnbosco Agbakwuru, Bose Adelaja & Dirisu Yakubu
The stage appears set for a showdown over the recent hikes in the pump price of petrol and electricity tariff, as the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, yesterday gave the Federal Government an 11-day deadline to reverse its decision or face a nationwide indefinite strike and mass protest from September 28.
This came on a day protesters, under the aegis of Joint Action Front, JAF, for the second time in one week stormed the streets of Lagos to protest the hikes, a development that led to the arrest of about 50 persons, including a Vanguard photo-journalist.
This is even as the Minister of Labour and Employment yesterday described the 7-day ultimatum given by the Trade Union Congress, TUC, to reverse the petrol price and electricity tariff increase as misplaced.
However, at its National Administrative Council, NAC, and Central Working Committee, CWC, meetings yesterday, NLC leaders argued that Nigerians can no longer cope with sufferings occasioned by the recent hikes, among other unfriendly government policies. In a communiqué read by NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, Congress contended that the hikes had rendered the new minimum wage of N30, 000 worthless as a result of rising inflation.
NLC’s CWC resolved to issue ultimatum
Wabba said: “The National Administrative Council as well as the Central Working Committee of the NLC have just ended their meeting. The meeting was convened to look at the twin issue of the hike in electricity tariff and also the fuel price increase.
“The CWC has noted that these twin increases, despite being ill-timed because of COVID-19, is also bad because of the socio-economic situation of the country.
“The CWC also identified the fact that the policy has reduced the purchasing power of Nigerians as well as Nigerian workers. Also, it has brought about high cost of goods and services, and importantly, has eroded completely the gains of the N30,000 minimum wage.
“The CWC also looked at the report of the meeting that took place between the Federal Government and Organized Labour where NLC was represented by 14 of its leaders and, therefore, resolved as follows: “The CWC resolved to issue a 2-week (11 days from Wednesday) ultimatum to the Federal Government to reverse or face industrial action and peaceful assembly
“In furtherance to this, CWC resolved also to convene a meeting of National Executive Council in line with our constitution on September 22, 2020, to give effect to this decision because the proposal for the action is to commence on Monday, September 28, 2020, if those issues are not addressed.
“NLC Central Working Committee also will mobilise its members, our civil society allies and other social partners to try to resist this policy because it has driven many into poverty.”
Cost of electricity more than minimum wage in some places
Lamenting the sorry state of affairs in the country, Wabba added that there were instances where the cost of electricity had been established to be more than the minimum wage.
“This afternoon (yesterday), CWC members were sharing their experiences arising from the exploitative nature of these policies, where it is very evident that in some cases, even the N30,000 minimum wage cannot even pay for electricity bill.
“In fact, the experience we have here is that somebody loaded credit of N30,000 but it didn’t take him up to two weeks. This has been the experience all over the country. So, it is a decision that is biting at every worker, every family and I think it is a decision that certainly requires reversal,” he added.
Police disrupt protests in Lagos
Also yesterday, the operatives of Lagos State Police Command disrupted the protest against the increase in the price of fuel and electricity tariff, arresting no fewer than 50 of the protesters, including a Vanguard photo-journalist, Kehinde Shonola
They were arrested at Ishaga Road, Surulere, during a peaceful protest organized by the Joint Action Front, JAF.
Vanguard gathered that as the police intercepted the protest which started from Labour House, Tejuosho, Yaba, Lagos, they demanded to see the leader of the protesters.
The Secretary of JAF, Abiodun Aremu, who led the protest, presented himself and was asked by the policemen to follow them to Area C Police Headquarters. The protesters insisted that they all should be arrested.
According to source, the police brought in three vans that couldn’t accommodate those who offered themselves for arrest, about 50 in number.
On getting to area C, an eyewitness told Vanguard that because of the commotion generated by their presence at the police station, they were immediately released.
It was learned that the protesters who had their banners, posters, leaflets and handbills seized, insisted they would not leave the station without those items.
A witness told Vanguard that after much arguments and counter-arguments, the protesters were released with their seized protest materials.
Recall that last Thursday, the Police arrested 14 protesters and four journalists during a similar protest at the same Ojuelegba
Speaking with Vanguard, Aremu said aside from those arrested, 50 other protesters voluntarily surrendered themselves to the Police in solidarity.
He said: “About 50 protesters surrendered themselves to be arrested when the Police wanted to single out Comrade Abiodun Aremu for arrest,”
According to him, those arrested were JAF Deputy Chairperson, Achike Chude, and immediate past President, Malachy Ugwumadu, of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, CDHR.
Others were committee members, including Shina Odugbemi, Hassan Soweto and Daga Tolar among others. Aremu requested the federal government to take urgent steps towards ameliorating the sufferings of Nigerians, especially the downtrodden.
He said Nigerians should prepare for a long drawn struggle to resist and defeat the anti-poor increase in fuel prices, electricity tariff, Value Added Tax, VAT, and all other inimical policies making life unbearable for Nigerians.
Also, JAF Chairperson, Dr. Dipo Fasina, among others, said the suffering of Nigerians was much, lamenting that the ruling government still added more to their pains by increasing arbitrarily the pump price of fuel and electricity tariff.
Fashina said: “The wealth belongs to the people. Most Nigerians are hungry, have no jobs, no good education no healthcare, no potable water, no electricity supply and no affordable transportation.
“Most cannot feed their families or educate their children. Those who are lucky to have jobs are not much different. They also cannot afford a decent living for their families. On the other hand, there is a very tiny group of Nigerians who have cornered the wealth that belongs to the working people and the poor, who are in the majority.
“They loot the treasury and use their stolen wealth to sustain themselves in power through their political parties. They use their power to get richer and richer when the poor get poorer and poorer.
“This is the system of exploitation and oppression. It is the system that brings out the army and the police to kill poor people when they protest against oppression and exploitation.
“We want to change that system and replace it with a system where the working people and the millions of people who are sufferings under the system of exploitation will win power and ensure that the wealth of Nigeria is used to ensure a good life for the majority of the people who are now exploited and oppressed.
“System change is not replacing one exploiter’s government by another. It is replacing an exploiter’s government by a people’s government to reorganize Nigeria and put an end to exploitation and oppression.
Protesters dispersed peaceably — Lagos Police PRO
However, spokesman of the Lagos state Police Command, SP Olumuyiwa Adejobi, said “no one was arrested. The protesters were talked to and dispersed peaceably. They were neither attacked nor harassed. We always urge protesters to inform the Police in order to provide adequate security for them anytime they want to protest. They have their right to protest but such must be guided, and not be hijacked by hoodlums to foment trouble or extort innocent Lagosians.”
TUC ultimatum misplaced — Ngige
Meanwhile, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, has faulted the Trade Union Congress, TUC, on the seven-day ultimatum given the Federal Government to revert to the old prices of petrol and electricity tariff or the union would embark on strike.
Senator Ngige said the ultimatum was misplaced as, according to him, it was addressed to the President of Nigeria which he said contravened labour laws.
Ngige spoke as the Federal Executive Council, FEC, approved a new national policy on occupational safety and health, tagged National Policy on Occupational Safety 2020.
Briefing State House correspondents at the end of the virtual FEC meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari at the Council Chamber, Presidential Villa, Abuja, the Minister contended that the President who the letter was addressed to was not recognized by the International Labour Organization, ILO, law. He said: “The TUC issue, the seven-day ultimatum was misplaced because they were writing the President and issuing ultimatum to him. The President is not recognised by ILO. The competent authority for this nature of dispute in Nigeria resides in the man who oversees them, which is, whoever is the Minister of Labour and Employment.”
On the new national policy on occupational safety and health, the Minister said it was aimed at ensuring that all workers were safe at their work places across the country and that it was derived from provisions of the Nigerian constitution and the International Labour Organisations, ILO, convention.
“The Federal Executive Council today (Wednesday) approved a new policy on Occupational Safety and Health-2020. This policy is designed for safety and health of workers at work places.
“It derives from the main grundnorm law of the 1999 constitution as amended, which in section 17 (3c) prescribes that the Nigerian State shall make laws and bye-laws for preservation of the health and well-being of workers in the work places; men and women at work.
“It also derives from the ILO convention 155, which Nigeria has also domesticated. Again, that talks about making the work place conducive and ensuring the health and well-being of workers.”
He explained that the last time the policy was reviewed was fourteen years ago, adding that the new one had a review period of three years.
“The last policy we have was approved in 2006 which makes it exactly 14 years since that was approved by the Federal Executive Council and that is the policy we have been working on.
‘’But you know that 14 years is a long span in the life of any law so in the course of operation, certain issues have been thrown up, the world has gone digital, work place mechanism and hazards have been changing and it was therefore necessary that we do a new policy.
“This policy we did now is what you call repeal and replace and it takes care of all that is needed for now, for the health of Nigerian workers. It gives specific roles to agencies, such as National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency, NESREA, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, Standards Organisation of Nigeria, SON, and the Federal Ministry of Health.
“Everybody has his own role now because it’s a cross-cutting situation as most Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government are involved.”Fuel, electricity: NLC draws battle line with FG