Abuja, NIGERIA — Time is running out for negotiations to avert the largest strike in Nigeria slated for August 2, following the Federal Government removal of fuel subsidy which tightened the economy and amplified hardship amidst apparent hypersonic-inflation.
Though the Federal Government promised to meet with the representatives of the organised labour tomorrow (Monday) to prevent the nationwide strike, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has advised citizens to stock their homes with food items, medicines and other essential because there is no going back on the proposed seven-day strike to protest the removal of fuel subsidies and the escalating cost of living in the country.
NLC the advise to the citizens, had become necessary because the strike would cripple the country as movement would be severely curtailed as commercial transport operators would withdraw their services, while markets, schools and healthcare facilities would be forced to shut down.
The Assistant General Secretary, NLC, Chris Onyeka, said in an interview with one of our correspondents that the citizens should also minimise their movements so as to avoid being stranded.
NLC had given the government a seven-day ultimatum with threats of a nationwide strike scheduled to commence on Wednesday, August 2, 2023. The labour movement in a statement signed by its National President, Joe Ajaero, accused the Tinubu-led Federal Government of failing to meet up with the demands it presented to it following the removal of the subsidy on Premium Motor Spirit, popularly known as petrol, which caused an astronomical rise in the pump price of the commodity.
Following the announcement of the strike by the NLC, the government team immediately called for an emergency meeting with the organised labour comprising the NLC and Trade Union Congress with a follow-up meeting on Friday at the State House.
However, officials of the organised labour angrily stormed out of the meeting following the alleged failure of the government team to show up.
Onyeka noted that the labour team would meet with the government on Monday, adding that the outcome of the meeting would determine the next step.
He said, “Nigerians should be prepared. That’s what we are saying. Being prepared means you have to stock food in your house and be economical with your movement at this particular point in time so as to avoid being stranded. It is going to be a nationwide mass protest and we are sure that it will affect every corner of the country. We are seriously mobilising across the nation. We are currently at work at the secretariat alongside the CSOs.
“We may not shut down the power supply system, but as the protest goes on, we may shut down other places depending on the response of the government. The (Friday) meeting didn’t hold at all. The government side was not prepared. The representatives were not available. They didn’t show any seriousness towards what they were doing. One of the things we do is hold dialogues. We don’t run away from the table anytime they call us. We are having another meeting with them on Monday.”
The Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas workers, and the National Union of Electricity Employees, on Saturday, confirmed that they were mobilising their members to ground the supply of fuel and the national electricity grid from Wednesday in response to the planned mass protest called by the NLC.
The General Secretary, NUPENG, Afolabi Olawale, told PUNCH correspondent, “The congress has taken a unanimous decision and it is mandatory that every affiliate should obey the directive of the Nigeria Labour Congress.”
When probed further to confirm if NUPENG was mobilising its members to halt the lifting of petroleum products, Olawale replied, “That’s it. I’ve given you an answer.”
On their part, electricity workers stated that they would shut the national power grid as it was binding on all employees in the sector to join the mass protest.
The acting General Secretary, NUEE, Dominic Igwebuike, stated, “The NUEE is an affiliate of the NLC and I’ve told you that we will join the strike action.
“The issue is that if there’s a deadlock between labour and the government; that means that the mass protest is still going on, and definitely electricity workers, as an affiliate of the NLC, will partake in the mass protest.
“So, all workers in the power sector will join the mass protest on Wednesday, August 2, 2023. It is binding on every staff member to join the strike action. So, if it results in a blackout, the only option is for the government to listen to us if it wants power to return.
“The government should listen to the Nigerian masses who are going through serious suffering right now. That is the only thing we are asking for. So, for now, the protest is going to hold, unless there is a further directive from the NLC.”
The National Deputy President, TUC, Tommy Etim, blasted the government over the lack of seriousness shown so far with regard to the negotiations.
“When we got to the Villa on Friday, we waited for almost two hours at the gate for clearance with no intervention. It was after two hours that we were allowed in. By the time we got to the point of the meeting, we realised that the team representing the government failed to show up. So, it is wrong to actually say labour stormed out of the meeting. How can labour storm out of a meeting that did not hold? We felt very disappointed because we did not expect this from the government,” he said.
The National Executive Council of the NLC had on Friday endorsed the August 2 nationwide strike and mass protests proposed by the body over the recent hike in the pump price of petrol.
However, the Federal Government had told the NLC that it was legally restrained from embarking on the planned nationwide strike due to the ruling of the National Industrial Court, which restrained organised labour from embarking on the strike.
The steering committee members met the government delegation on Wednesday, where the two parties agreed to reconvene on Friday to get a brief from the government’s subcommittees on mass transit, compressed natural gas and cash transfer.
The steering committee was set up by the Federal Government to draw up intervention plans to cushion the effects of fuel subsidy removal on Nigerians.