The Organised Private Sector of Nigeria (OPSN) has called on the Federal Government and labour unions to work harder to avert the looming disruption of socio-economic activities across the country this week.
The appeal was made as members of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) meet tomorrow to agree on a date for an indefinite nationwide strike over petrol subsidy removal and associated matters. This would be the fourth proposed strike since June this year.
Head of Secretariat, OPSN, Segun Ajayi-Kadir, who expressed concern yesterday, said the economic indicators were not good, as the economy could not afford a nationwide strike at this time.
Worried that adequate consideration had not been given to the dire situation of the economy and the devastating impact that a nationwide strike would have on the country at this time, he said government and labour needed to understand that the economy is being de-marketed, and the livelihood of the average Nigerian is being diminished by the incessant bickering.
The threat of industrial action follows the expiration of Labour’s 21-day ultimatum for the government to address the mass suffering and the impoverishment experienced around the country, occasioned by the removal of fuel subsidy.
Already, members and affiliates of the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) planned to shut down commercial activities in Lagos today over an alleged illegal ban on Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN).
The face-off between TUC and the Lagos State government, The Guardian gathered, is over the lingering leadership crisis within the state chapter of RTEAN, which according to TUC President, Festus Osifo, the union had made several efforts to get the Lagos State government to obey the ruling of the court on the crisis in RTEAN, but to no avail.
A top NLC official told The Guardian yesterday that a circular, inviting members of the National Executive Council (NEC) to Tuesday’s meeting by noon, would decide on the day members would embark on the indefinite nationwide strike to give room for enough notice to the government.
He said the NEC would x-ray whether the government has met any significant portion of their demands, saying if nothing tangible is brought out, Nigerians should be ready for an indefinite nationwide strike.
“Every worker in Nigeria would go on strike. The only thing to make it stop is compliance with the demands that NLC issued to the Federal Government.”
He noted that the indefinite strike was issued based on two factors around the consequences of petroleum price hike and invasion/occupation of the headquarters of National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) and release of its officers.
According to him, the officers have been released but the police are still occupying the headquarters of the union in Abuja, imposing on the union their own cloned leadership, which is not only undemocratic but against the status and convention of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and laws of Nigeria.
Already, NLC President, Joe Ajaero, had complained that “none of the demands put before the Federal Government had been addressed.”
The OPSN, however, cautioned that adequate consideration should be given to the dire state of the economy and the possible unintended consequences of social unrest that may result from protests.
Ajayi-Kadir said while recognising the right of the labour unions to pursue the welfare of its members, he implored government to employ its best endeavours to reengage the leadership of the unions and find an amicable ground to avert the imminent disruption in business activities that would attend the protest and nationwide strike.
“One is beginning to wonder if the wellbeing of more than 200 million Nigerians is being factored into their negotiations as we have keenly watched the back and forth consultations between government on one hand and the NLC/TUC on the other,” he said.
Ajayi-Kadir, while appreciating the concerns of members about the imminent strike, urged businesses to be circumspect in their operations, “as we continue to intervene in last-minute attempts to avert the strike. Adequate measures should be taken to protect company assets and contingency plans be made to keep business afloat.
In his submission, Director-General of the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA), Adewale-Smatt Oyerinde, said the strike would not serve any positive purpose, rather, would further put pressure on citizens, escalate the cost of doing business and in the long run further impoverish workers.
He feared that any form of work disruption would deepen the despair of businesses, which he said, might lead to more job losses and outright closure of many more businesses.
The NECA chief urged the government to do the needful and save organised businesses and the economy at large the needless strike by addressing core workers’ demands as regards welfare and cost of living.
He lamented that organised businesses were already faced with multidimensional challenges and negative onslaught from different ad-hoc committees of the National Assembly.
“It is our strong belief that social dialogue should continue and both government and labour continue to demonstrate maturity in resolving the issues,” he said.
In a related development, the NLC leadership has been accused of a grand plot to destabilise the country through protests. The Civil Society Situation Room on Good Governance in Nigeria (CSSR-GGN) in collaboration with other civil society groups raised the alarm at a press conference on Sunday.
In a statement co-signed by Dr. Thomas Terna Uzah, Executive Director/ National Convener, the CSOs alleged that NLC is being sponsored by the opposition to cause chaos. The group further claimed that the labour body has already been mobilised with $5 million to carry out its agenda.
“It is shocking that despite these glaring realities and the dangers of reinstating subsidies, which will collapse the economy and create intractable distortions, NLC is leading and coordinating other groups to sabotage the Federal Government.
“It is of note that NLC’s insistence on the strike is despite the government’s engagement with its leadership to explore options for addressing its demands. This raised our suspicion that the union may not be upfront with Nigerians as to the true intent of its industrial action.
“Since we do not want to be caught unawares, we want to tell NLC in clear terms that we dare them to go on an indefinite strike, and the Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room will take all legitimate measures to protect Nigerians from the hardship they want to put the country through. We are acquiring more specific details about the NLC’s dealing with the opposition, and sadly, with some foreign interests. We will provide these details to Nigerians when the need arises.”
The CSOs, therefore, urged “all well-meaning Nigerians, particularly the youth, not to allow themselves to be used as cannon fodder for achieving some people’s narrow objective.”
On TUC’s protest, the body’s president said the union has written many times to the state government, appealing to it to respect the court judgment and to ensure a quick resolution of the dispute. “Till today, the judgment of the High Court was not complied with by the Lagos State government,” he said.
The face-off between TUC and the Lagos State government took a new dimension with the union declaring today (Monday) as a day of protest in Lagos.
Barring any last-minute intervention to resolve the dispute, TUC said its members and affiliates will shut down commercial activities in the former capital city of Nigeria.
When asked the level of intervention TUC had sought to resolve the dispute before embarking on the protest, Osifo said the union had written to the Minister of Labour and Employment who he said had reached out to the Lagos State government but without any resolution in sight.
Osifo said though Lagos State appealed the judgment but did not secure any stay of execution to warrant its continued refusal to implement the court ruling.
However, the Lagos State Parks and Garages Administrators (LASPGA), led by Musiliu Akinsanya, popularly known as MC Oluomo, has warned the state chapter of TUC against its planned protest in support of RTEAN, asking the union to abort the plan. This disclosure was contained in a press statement signed by the state secretary of LASPAGA, Mr Abdulrahman Amusan, at the weekend, where he stated that it is “disturbing, debasing and demeaning for the parent body to be relegated to chasing shadows.”
The association argued that the existence of LASPGA was in line with the pronouncement of the state government. It also cautioned the TUC president and his supporters to “abort their planned protest and not to allow itself to be dragged into the stormy water of the Transport Union by Alhaji Musa Muhammed, who is the national treasurer of the TUC.
“All the schemes to cause chaos and pandemonium in the state by the leadership of TUC in the guise of protest are not alien to us. We are familiar with the metrics of Alhaji Musa and his cohorts in the Trade Union. To us, the planned protest is a case of weeping more than the bereaved.”