By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
ABUJA—The Federal Government and Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, may be on collision course over the nationwide protest slated for next Tuesday and Wednesday by the labour movement over the five months old strike embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, and other university unions over federal government’s failure to meet their demands.
While the government declared the proposed nationwide protest by NLC, in solidarity with the striking members of the university-based unions as illegal, NLC said no law in the country barred it from embarking on protest without permission.
In fact, government also said civil aviation worker, should not be part of the proposed two-day nationwide protest, even as NLC told the government that the right to peaceful assembly and protest was a fundamental right guaranteed by the Nigerian constitution and the UN charter on human and peoples right.
Recall that the NLC had announced that it would embark on a nationwide protest on July 26 and 27 to press home the need to resolve the over five-months old strike embarked upon by the four university-based unions in the country.
The four unions are the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, the Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities, SSANU, the Non-Academic Staff Union of Allied and Educational Institutions, NASU and the National Association of Academic Technologists, NAAT.
Briefing State House correspondents at the end of the weekly Federal Executive Council, FEC, meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari, at the Council Chamber, Abuja yesterday, the Minister of information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, said since the NLC had no dispute with government, its planned street protest was illegal.
The Minister observed that what the NLC was doing was about interest, noting that it should insulate itself completely from politics.
Fielding questions on the proposed strike by organized labour, Mohammed said: “While we’re still on
Labour, I think we should also start to interrogate what labour is doing. The NLC is not a political party. The NLC can go on strike or protest if the rights of NLC members are involved.
“What the NLC is planning in the next two days is about interest. There’s no dispute whatsoever between NLC as a body and the federal government. Well, yes, there is a dispute between some members of NLC, ASUU, whatever and the federal government which is being looked into and NLC itself is a party to the committee that is looking into the solution.
“So calling out people on street protest you begin to wonder, what is the motive of NLC in this matter? But you see here, we do not interrogate what NLC is doing. NLC, by its own laws, cannot even give out pamphlets. NLC is supposed to be completely insulated from politics. Now, if you declare dispute with us, yes you can go on strike.
“Even that one would depend on whether certain steps have been taken or not. But this particular NLC, you know, asking and mobilizing people to come out on strike on July 26 and 27 is clearly on nothing.”
Reminded that NLC was worried about the prolonged strike which is affecting their children as well, he said: “The federal government is as worried as NLC and everybody, but the law is the law. What we are saying is that rather than protest, what I expect NLC to do as umbrella body is to join the federal government in finding solution.
‘’They are part of the tripartite agreement that has been negotiating with the federal government on this ASUU issue. So why are they now going out to take sides? I think you also interrogate it yourselves. I think it is popular to get NLC out and support but ask yourselves how does that solve the problem?
“What you are going to create is more anarchy. And I think the NLC should think twice about their proposed strike in solidarity with ASUU. It’s as if the federal government is doing nothing about ASUU. No. And they’ve been involved in this negotiation all along, so why now?”
On his part, the Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, while responding to the question on how concerned he was on the threat by aviation union joining ASUU strike, said: “I’m naturally concerned about this if the aviation union will shut down in support of ASUU.
‘’I would say they have no need to. I will say also that we should begin to look at civil aviation as a critical national security enterprise. It has all the implications.
“We should not contemplate or think about an aviation disaster. We should also think about the general activity on the economy of Nigeria without civilization. It’s okay. This is democracy, you can push for demands, but in pressing for demands, you should be reasonable in doing so.”
“So, civil aviation workers, I think should not be part of this. Yes I am concerned and yes we’ve spoken to them and I don’t think they will join because they know that there’s huge responsibility of lives on their heads.
“If you’re an air traffic controller, it involves national security. It involves the capability of preventing external aggression and so on and so forth. I believe that they are very aware of the enormous responsibility upon them in civil aviation and should continue to see it so and continue to be as law abiding as we want them to be.”
Asked if he had had any conversation with the aviation union, Senator Sirika said: “Yes, it is an ongoing thing. So in civil aviation, we speak to them almost on a daily basis. They are part of us. They are workers like every other person is and we interact with them.
“ In the ministry, we have their own representatives who speak to me time and again, probably on daily basis. Yes, we have spoken and I don’t think they will join and yes, we are concerned, but yes also reminding them of the enormous responsibility upon their necks and our own necks.”
Asked if the two weeks directive by the President to resolve the issue was achievable, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senato4r Chris Ngige, said he proposed one week to resolve the issue but noted that the Minister of Education Adamu Adamu, volunteered to resolve the issues with ASUU in two weeks, adding that he hoped the issue would be resolved at the stipulated time.
He advised the unions to table their case before the Ministry of Education whom the President had directed to resolve the issue.
Meanwhile, Ngige has told journalists that there was no veracity in the media report that President Buhari ordered him on Tuesday to hands off renegotiations with the striking unions.
Describing the report as false, Ngige said: “Anyway I saw one of the dailies writing something like that today (Wednesday), but the truth of the matter is there is no such thing, it’s just a categorical untruth, there is nothing like handsoff.”
But organized labour said it would not fold its arms when some of its affiliate unions were having issues with the government.
It also said the law provides that no permission was required for any peaceful assembly and protest.
President of the NLC, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, while reacting to the position of the federal government on labour’s involvement in the proposed solidarity protest, said,: “Its elementary knowledge that the right to peaceful assembly and protest is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Nigerian constitution, the UN Charter on human and peoples right.
“The current crop of our political elites have excised this right. Secondly NLC is directly involved in the current dispute affecting four of its affiliates trade unions in the university education system, namely SANNU,NASU,NAAT and ASUU, Lai Mohammed is economically with the truth.
“As citizens, our children have been out of school for five months, and their destinies being destroyed. Its enough reason for a national protest The law provides that no permission is required for any peaceful assembly and protest. Lai Mohammed’s statement is unlawful and lacks legal basis in a democratic society.”