By Victor Young & Chioma Onuegbu
Barring a last minute change of mind, organised labour, last night, insisted it will go on strike to protest the increase in the price of fuel and electricity tariff.
This vow followed speculations that there were attempts to break their ranks.
The government is meeting with organized labour and civil society organizations, CSOs, tomorrow to prevail on them stop any protest against the hikes.
Meanwhile, ahead of government meeting with organized labour and some civil society groups tomorrow, the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, has fixed a meeting of one of its highest decision making organs, the Central Working Committee, CWC, for Wednesday to decide on how to react to government increases in prices of vital utility services especially petrol and electricity
Already, pro-labour civil society groups, under the umbrella of the Joint Action Front, JAF, have said they would begin a nationwide mass protest against the hike in the pump price of petrol and electricity tariff.
Vanguard gathered that the only thing that will stop organized labour’s resolve to embark on protest will be for government to inform labour leaders at tomorrow’s meeting that it is reverting to the old prices of petrol and electricity.
One of the public sector union leader who confided in Vanguard, picked holes in the joint meeting with what he described as pro-government civil society organizations.
‘Govt’ll be disappointed’
He said: “This is the first time government is inviting labour leaders and civil society organizations to a meeting at the same time on social issues, such as a hike in electricity tariff and petrol pump price. If the aim is to help government pass their message through, the government will be disappointed.
“Most of these civil society groups have no members, but make the loudest noise. They can afford to defend and propagate government’s position. We are currently under pressure from our members and the masses to fight for them and lessen their burden.
“But the government is doing everything to have its way. I can tell you that some of the government agents are already reaching out to some of us to soften our hard line posture over these outrageous hikes in pump price of fuel and electricity tariff.
“Well, we will attend the meeting and listen to their message. We want to hear if there is any new message they want to tell us outside what we have heard over and over again. We are closer to the people than the government.
“We know the pains and suffering workers and their families are passing through. We know that even the N30,000 new minimum wage has lost its value and the woes of workers and their families have been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If the government with powers and sources of revenue can feel the pains of COVID-19 and lament lack of funds, what will the ordinary workers who earn just N30,000 a month do? We are determined to ensure that our members and the Nigerian masses do not bear unnecessary and avoidable pains, such as this additional burden government is imposing on them through the new pump price of fuel in the name of deregulation and hike in electricity tariff.
“This is not the time to further impoverish the people and workers. After the meeting with government on Tuesday, we will hold our CWC meeting on Wednesday to decide how best to react to the development.
“So, we will brief NEC members of our meeting with government and civil society groups, while CWC members will brief on the situations in their states, industries among others.
“One thing I can tell you is that the CWC meeting will be very stormy because we are aware that some agents of government have been reaching out to some of our colleagues to soften our position, but I can tell you that we are determined to ensure that the burden of Nigerian workers and, indeed, the masses are lessened. So, we are determined to fight the hike in the pump price and electricity tariff.
Aremu hails govt, labour parley
However, Vice President, IndustriALL Global Union, and immediate past General Secretary of the National Union of Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria, NUTWTN, Comrade Issa Aremu, has said the Federal Government’s rescheduled meeting with organized labour and civil society slated for tomorrow offers an opportunity for continuous proactive, constant engagement with organized labour and citizens on all policy reforms and socio- economic issues in the country.
President Muhammadu Buhari had last Friday, after a meeting with Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, gave approval for the relevant government agencies to meet with organized labour to present the books on the nation’s economy.
Recall that NLC, Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, and many civil society organizations had condemned the recent increase in petrol pump price, occasioned by the removal of fuel subsidy, and electricity tariff hike and called for a reversal to avoid unpleasant conseq-uences, including nation-wide protest and strike.
Reacting to the development, Aremu, who is also a member of NLC’s NEC and a former Vice President of NLC, while welcoming the proposed parley, observed that policy dialogue in place of policy dictatorship was necessary to prevent incessant stoppages and protests.
“In line with relevant International Labour Organisation, ILO, conventions dealing with tripartite consultation and social dialogue, people are not just means and tools of development but the end beneficiaries whose inputs are needed to compliment government’s efforts.
“This is the time to revive the statutory Labour Advisory Council under the Federal Ministry of Labour to ensure regular engagement among organized labour, business and government on critical labour market issues.
“In Tuesday’s meeting, I urge the Federal Government to have an open mind to appreciate that issues at hand go beyond public revenue and pricing for petroleum and electricity to include revival of energy and petroleum industry, decent jobs for sector workers as well as public welfare in an era of COVID-19 pandemic . There must be a proactive engagement in policy formulation on the part of government,” he said.
JAF plans mass protest for Wednesday
Meanwhile, the umbrella body for pro-labour civil society group, the Joint Action Front, JAF, has threatened to begin a nationwide mass protest from Wednesday to force govern to revert to the old price of petrol and electricity tariff.
The group in a statement by Dr. Dipo Fashina and Abiodun Aremu, Chairman and Secretary, respectively, recalled that fuel price was increased from N86.50 to N145 on May 11, 2016 and condemned the latest increase from N145 to N162 , in prices of fuel, electricity tariffs and value added tax, VAT.
It described theses increases as a product of the capitalist neo-liberal policies of privatization and deregulation.
“JAF calls on the Nigerian working people, the oppressed poor masses, students, traders, professionals, women, unemployed youth, farmers, artisans, Muslims, Christians and faith-based organisations to prepare to use mass actions to reject , resist and defeat the latest imposition of hardships by the anti-poor people Buhari regime on Nigerians.
“If not resisted and defeated, these increases will compound the miserable existence of the vast majority of Nigerians who are still groaning with the attacks of the coronavirus pandemic.
“JAF urges Nigerians across the country to hold mass meetings and sensitisation rallies to reject the latest hikes and to struggle to defeat it, preparatory to the commencement of mass actions, which we agreed should commence Wednesday, September 16, 2020, to demand immediate and unconditional reversal of the hike in petrol price from the N160 to the N86.50.
“Government has a responsibility to make our refineries to work and build new ones to ensure that availability of petroleum products (petrol, diesel, kerosene, aviation fuel, etc) at cheaper and affordable prices to all.
“We want total reversal of the capitalist policies of privatization and deregulation, which have been responsible for improper functioning of the local refineries, looting by government officials and fuel marketers through fuel importation and subsidies; and the collapse and fraudulent hand-over to private profiteers of public enterprises, such as PHCN, NITEL, Nigeria Airways, Nigerian Ports Authority, Ajaokuta Steel, Osogbo Steel Rolling Mill, Itakpe Iron and Ore, Tafawa Balewa Square, National Arts Theatre, Trade Fair Complex, ALSCON, Nigerian Newsprint Manufacturing Company (NNMC), Daily Times, etc.”
Government is insensitive — PANDEF
Similarly, the Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, said the removal of subsidy on petrol by President Muhammadu Buhari’s, which led to increase in the pump price of petrol, was an indication of government’s insensitivity to the sufferings of Nigerians.
National Chairman of PANDEF, and former military administrator of Akwa Ibom State, Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga, who stated this in an interview in Uyo yesterrday, pointed out that the timing for removing the subsidy was wrong, considering what Nigerians were going through currently as a result of the increase in VAT, and electricity tariff.
He said: “Too many stories have been told about this petrol subsidy removal in the past, but what is bad in this one particularly is the timing. The timing is very wrong and the way it has been done is highly insensitive.
“The timing is wrong, considering what Nigerians are going through today, with the increase in VAT, and electricity tariff, and you also increase the price of fuel, so many things happening at the same time.
“I am sure that as we speak, Nigerians are already waiting for the next surprise that is going to come and the attendant hardship. A policy could be right but the manner you bring out that policy and implement it might become something else. People are feeling very bad and it is painful because government has shown insensitivity to their sufferings.
“All this while, this government has been saying there is no subsidy, so when they now said last week that they are removing petrol subsidy, I could not understand it. I think there is some kind of dishonesty in the whole thing.”
Nkanga queried why the Federal Government could not make laws that would encourage private investors to establish refineries in states, paying for the labour of the people in the countries refining its crude.
He wondered why the government was not considering the quick passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, in order to address the abnormalities in the oil and gas sector of the nation’s economy.
“As long as we continue importing fuel, so will this price hike continue. If you are importing the fuel from somewhere else, how would you be able to control the price? Other countries that have helped themselves out of his kind of situation built refineries, but the policy in the sector in this country has not encouraged people to build refineries.
“This one Dangote is building, God bless him, maybe he has a way of convincing them otherwise, our refineries are not working. The subsidy was all because we don’t have refineries.
“So how come government has not made laws to make it possible for private investors to build refineries in the country. They are saying they have removed subsidy, but all that will eventually pass, and we will still find ourselves worse off.
“I don’t see how the removal of fuel subsidy is going to change the lives of Nigerians, instead it is going to increase inflation. That is why they should go ahead and pass the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB.
“A sensitive government should have made efforts to see it is quickly passed. This is because if that bill is passed, it will address a lot of abnormalities in the oil sector, but they kept that aside and nobody is even talking about that,” the PANDEF leader lamented.