The organised labour comprising the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trace Union Congress, Nigeria, on Friday, boycotted an emergency meeting with the Federal Government that was scheduled for 3pm at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The Federal Government had called an emergency meeting with the leaders of the organised labour at the Conference Room of the Office of the President’s Chief of Staff.
Among other goals, Friday’s meeting was meant to talk the labour movement out of its planned nationwide strike from Tuesday, October 3, 2023.
On September 26, the NLC and TUC disclosed plans to commence an indefinite strike on October 3 to protest the cost-of-living crisis after the scrapping of petrol subsidy by President Bola Tinubu during his inauguration on May 29, 2023.
The unions also directed their state chapters and affiliates to mobilise for the shutdown of critical facilities and infrastructure such as airports, seaports, electricity grids and fuel supply nationwide.
“It’s going to be a total shutdown…until the government meets the demand of Nigerian workers, and in fact, Nigerian masses,” the union leaders affirmed in a joint statement on Tuesday.
They accused the Federal Government of refusing to “meaningfully engage and reach agreements with organised labour on critical issues of the consequences of the unfortunate hike in the price of petrol, which has unleashed massive suffering on Nigeria workers and masses.”
Despite several deadlocked talks, the Federal Government, after Thursday’s National Economic Council meeting, appealed to the unions to continue negotiations, warning that an indefinite strike could devastate the economy at this time.
Although the government fixed Friday’s meeting for noon, it postponed the gathering around 3pm to enable labour to contact its leaders outside Abuja.
Saturday PUNCH gathered that the government sent the invitation to the meeting through the Ministry of Labour and Employment on Friday morning.
However, one of our correspondents observed that although light refreshment was positioned on the table, signalling an expected meeting, the Conference Room was empty by 4pm as the labour representatives had yet to arrive.
It was also gathered that the Minister of Labour, Simon Lalong, was in the office of the Chief of Staff to the President, Femi Gbajabiamila.
A source, who spoke to Saturday PUNCH in confidence said, “They (representatives of labour) are supposed to be here by now. We have been expecting them since. The place is set and the Chief Of Staff and Labour minister are upstairs waiting.”
Around 5pm, Gbajabiamila was seen exiting the Villa premises. He was said to be headed for the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport to await the arrival of President Tinubu from Paris.
The PUNCH reported on Friday that the National Deputy President of the TUC, Tommy Etim, criticized alleged moves by the Federal Government to arm-twist the organized labour from embarking on an indefinite nationwide strike from Tuesday, using the courts.
He affirmed that labour leaders would not succumb to any threat by the government, noting that they were ready to go to prison in their fight for better lives for Nigerian workers.
Etim’s outburst comes against the backdrop of the warning by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, that the proposed strike contravenes a subsisting court order restraining the unions from declaring an industrial action.
However, attempts to get from labour leaders the reasons why they boycotted the meeting with the government officials were not successful as they could not be reached on the telephone.
Since the start of his administration, labour unions have protested Tinubu’s decision to scrap the decades-old subsidy that kept fuel prices low but drained government funds.
The Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, told one of our correspondents in an interview on Thursday that the government was making efforts to resolve the issues raised by organised labour.
“We are engaging labour and we are hopeful that our engagements with them will lead to a fruitful resolution of the issues so that the strike can be averted. A strike action will not be in anyone’s interest,” he stated.
Aviation unions, NUBIFIE join strike
The Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers, and the Association of Nigerian Aviation Professionals have indicated an interest in participating in Tuesday’s strike by organised labour.
A joint notification of the impending strike was issued by the unions on Friday, emphasizing the dire circumstances that necessitated the drastic step.
The letter, signed by representatives of the unions, including Frances Akinjole of ATSSSAN, Umoh Ofonime of NAAPE and Abdulrasaq Saidu of ANAP, outlined the collective decision of the labour organisations.
“The NLC and the TUC have directed all Nigerian workers to embark on an indefinite nationwide strike as a result of massive suffering, impoverishment and hunger in the land due to the hike in the price of petrol,” it read in part.
The unions further called on their members to mobilise effectively for the nationwide strike and directed all branches of their respective organisations to collaborate with the Joint Action Committee and coordinate with the state councils of the NLC and TUC.
Similarly, the National Union of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions’ Employees on Friday advised financial institutions not to prevent their workers from taking part in the strike.
A communiqué signed by the General Secretary, NUBIFIE, Mohammed Sheikh, stated that the strike action was to draw the attention of the government to the perilous survival condition of the generality of Nigerians whose basic survival was becoming a nightmare.
NUBIFIE said the National Executive Council meeting held on September 26, 2023, deliberated extensively on the current state of the nation, especially the excruciating economic hardship being faced by the citizens and the apparent scornful disregard and disdain of the Federal Government to the plight of its citizens.
It noted that it was unanimously agreed by the two NEC-in-session to embark on a total strike from Tuesday, October 3, 2023.
The communiqué noted that the NLC and TUC arrived at the decision as a last resort, as the government had continued to show disdain for all the peaceful overtures offered by the two unions.
The communiqué added, “The Federal Government thus far has shown no inclination for amicable resolution of the socio-economic issues that require urgent attention. Rather unfortunately, it appears to be preparing to act like a wild bull in a China shop, ready to intimidate and silence the legitimate cries of a pauperised citizenry.
“Monitoring team will move around to ensure compliance; so, be guided accordingly.”
ASUP mobilises members
The Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics, on Friday, said it would mobilise its members across the country for the strike.
The National President, ASUP, Dr Anderson Ezeibe, made this known in an interview with one of our correspondents in Abuja.
When asked if the union would mobilise its members for the strike, he said, “Yes, we are an affiliate of the NLC. Our members have been instructed to mobilise for the strike in line with the directive of the NLC.”
Falana, Agbakoba advise FG
Human rights lawyer and counsel for the NLC and the TUC, Femi Falana, SAN, has written the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, and advised him to tell the Federal Government to resume negotiations with the labour unions in the interest of industrial harmony.
Falana’s letter dated September 29, 2023, was in response to a letter warning the NLC and TUC against embarking on the proposed nationwide strike or risk being in contempt of court.
He wrote, “Your letter dated 26th of September, 2023 in respect of the above subject matter refers. You will agree with us that since the ex parte order was procured by the Federal Government at the National Industrial Court on June 5, 2023, negotiations in respect of the subject matter of the proposed strike by the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress ought to have been concluded.
“However, while we are not inclined to join issues with you over the alleged disobedience of the court order by Nigerian workers, we are compelled to advise the Federal Government to resume negotiations with the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress in the interest of industrial peace in the country.
“Please accept the assurances of our highest esteem and professional regards.”
Meanwhile, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Olisa Agbakoba, has advised President Tinubu to consider addressing the demands of the labour unions so that the planned strike will be called off.
Agbakoba suggested that the Federal Government should consider free tuition for students from primary to tertiary levels of education.
He said, “What I think is the best way to go in order to avoid the strike from having great consequences on Nigerians is for the government to accommodate a number of concerns raised by labour.
“I suggest that from what was realised from the removal of subsidy, rather than give rice to people and keep coming back, the government could deal with the cost-of-living challenge by making school free from the primary school to tertiary level. It will give a big relief to all Nigerians.
“If you ask Nigerians on the street if they are interested in the strike, they will tell you that they are not interested; but if you ask them if they are interested in how their suffering will be alleviated, of course, they will be interested in that.
“Secondly, can the government consider creating a crude oil scheme for Nigerians’ consumption and sell the crude oil to some modular refineries for it to be sold to people at a reduced cost? They should also look at any other way to assist Nigerians in reducing the present suffering.”
Saturday PUNCH reports that despite a general indifference by many citizens to the planned strike by the organised labour, some besieged banking halls and Automated Teller Machine galleries to make cash withdrawals for the weekend and the Independence anniversary public holiday on Monday.
At a First Bank branch in Ikoyi, Lagos, the banking hall was rowdy around 10.40am on Friday when one of our correspondents visited. Many customers complained that the ATMs outside were not dispensing cash.
A customer, Moses Fola, stated that he had been at the banking hall since 8am to get a new ATM card so that he could withdraw enough cash to last him the period of the proposed strike.
Another customer, who identified herself only as Alhaja Aishatu, said she operated a Point of Sales business and had come to stock up cash, adding that she knew the banks might have issues if the strike was to go ahead.
Aishatu, who said she had five shops on Lagos Island, said she first withdrew cash with her ATM card outside but the machine stopped dispensing, as it had run out of cash.
At the Access Bank, Awolowo Road 2 branch, Ikoyi, there was a crowd at the ATM gallery.
A bank customer, who refused to give his name because he did not want it in print, said he had come to withdraw enough cash to last him throughout the period of the strike.
An aged woman, who had a child with her, Mrs Mayen Kuti, said she had also come to withdraw some cash so that she could stock her home with food for the period of the strike.
“I learnt the strike is a shutdown. I just need to prepare. I have a large family,” she said.
A bank worker, who did not want to give his name because he was not authorised to speak on the matter, said the ATMs had been loaded with cash more than usual between Thursday and Friday.
Although he could not say whether that was connected to the strike, he said, “It could be. People have just been taking a lot of money in the last two days and it could be because of the labour strike. I will also prepare myself for the strike by withdrawing cash.”
At the Access Bank branch in the Phase 4 area of Kubwa, Abuja, there was no unusual increase in activities at the ATM gallery and the banking hall.
At the Guaranty Trust Bank branch in the same area, there was a little more activity as many customers sought to enter the banking hall for various transactions. However, this might have been a result of the slow working of the ATMs on the premises.
A customer, John Nduka, told one of our correspondents that although he was at the bank to make withdrawals, he was not worried about the impending strike.
“I doubt if the strike will happen. After all, how many times have they threatened a total strike and then reached a deal with the government? But even if they go on strike, I’m not bothered. At least, there are PoS everywhere now,” he stated.
Inside and outside of the First Bank, GTBank, UBA, Polaris Bank and Access Bank branches on Yakubu Gowon Crescent, Asokoro, Abuja, there were no crowds when one of our correspondents visited around 1.15pm.
In the city centre, it was observed that the Union Bank and Zenith Bank located around the Federal Secretariat had a scanty number of customers.
Despite it being that only one Automated Teller Machine was dispensing cash in the Magboro-Akeran area of Ogun State, only a few customers were seen waiting to withdraw cash.
The customers said they were not bothered about the strike and were not making panic withdrawals for that purpose.
At the Magboro Market, traders said buying and selling activities had not increased.
On a visit to the Sterling Bank at Magboro, there were not many customers at the ATM gallery and inside the banking hall.
In Edo State, there were queues at First Bank, Globus Bank and UBA branches on the Ring Road, Benin.
Customers were seen lining up to use the ATM, while there were also lots of people in the banking hall of First Bank.
However, some of the customers explained that the queues were a result of the public holiday on Monday rather than the planned strike.
A similar situation was observed in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, as there were no queues at most of the banks visited by Saturday PUNCH.
The same thing was observed in Katsina, Kwara and Osun states.