Workers in most states of the federation on Wednesday shunned a directive of a faction of the Nigeria Labour Congress to embark on an indefinite strike due to the increase in the pump price of petrol from N86.50 to N145 by the Federal Government.
Despite this, however, labour and civil society organisations held rallies in most states to press home their demand that the Federal Government should reverse the price hike.
There were protests on Wednesday in Lagos, Abuja, Osun, Benin and Kwara among other states in compliance with the directive of the NLC, which declared a nationwide on Tuesday
Talks between the government and organised labour collapsed on Tuesday night as representatives of the Nigeria Labour Congress walked out of a meeting with a Federal Government’s delegation, led by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Babachir Lawal.
President of a faction of the NLC, Ayuba Wabba, had given the go ahead for the strike to commence on Wednesday after the parties in the negotiation failed to reach an amicable settlement.
The Joe Ajaero-led NLC faction and the Trade Union Congress, led by Mr. Bobboi Kaigama, had distanced themselves from the strike while the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers as well as the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Association of Nigeria had last week also said the unions would not join the strike.
The Ajaero faction had earlier in the afternoon on Tuesday attended a separate meeting with the government and indicated that it would not participate in the strike.
In the Federal Capital Territory on Wednesday, civil servants turned up for work at different ministries, departments and agencies.
Our correspondents, who went round the FCT, observed that the Federal Secretariat was a beehive of activities, contrary to the directive of the Wabba-led NLC.
At the ministries of finance, budget and national planning as well as that of industry, trade and investment, workers reported for work.
Apart from civil servants, banks and other offices were opened for business as early as 8am when one of our correspondents visited the places.
Deposit money banks, located in the Central Business District, such as Guaranty Trust Bank, United Bank for Africa, First City Monument Bank, First Bank of Nigeria Plc, Zenith Bank Plc and Skye Bank Plc recorded huge number of patronage from customers.
An official in the ministry of finance, who spoke to The PUNCH said some of her colleagues at the ministry as of Tuesday night had been discussing on the telephone on whether to obey the directive to go on strike or not.
She said, “You know that there has been this division among the labour unions as to what the direction of the industrial action would take.
‘‘Apart from this, there was a court order stopping the strike; so, no one was fully sure of what to do.
“As a result of this division, we don’t know what to do and since it is the government that gave me job and not the NLC, I have to obey the directive to report to duty because we now have a government that does not tolerate nonsense.”
The Director, Information, Federal Ministry of Finance, Mr. Salisu Dambatta, told one of our correspondents on the telephone that workers at the ministry boycotted the NLC’s directive.
He said, “We didn’t join the strike that was called by the NLC. In fact, if you come to the ministry now, you will think today is Monday owing to the level of activities going on.”
Attempts to get the comment of the spokesperson for the ministry, Mr Charles Dafe, were not successful as calls and a text message sent to his mobile did not connect as of the time of filing this report.
At the aviation ministry under the Federal Ministry of Transportation, most workers of the organisation turned up for work.
The spokesperson for the ministry, Mr. James Odaudu, said the ministry’s workers did not join any industrial action.
“We are all here. Work is going on here and there’s nothing like strike,” he said.
Workers also resumed for work in large numbers at the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources and at the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission.
At health institutions and hospitals in the FCT, including the Federal Medical Centre, National Hospital and General Hospitals in Asokoro and Garki, workers were busy attending to patients.
No strike in Lagos, Kaduna, Bauchi, Niger, Rivers, Anambra, Bayelsa, Niger
In the Lagos State Government secretariat in Alausa, Ikeja, workers seemed oblivious of the call to embark on strike by the NLC.
The secretariat was full of activities on Wednesday as many civil servants went about their normal business.
One of them, who chose to be identified simply as Dare, told our correspondent that it was the feeling of many of the workers that the labour unions were polarised and would not be able to save any worker who obeyed from government’s wrath.
He said, “Government had bought all of them. We don’t want more trouble; that is why many of us came.”
In Kaduna State on Wednesday, workers shunned the strike order by the NLC while the labour in the state did not hold any rally.
Also, the northern socio-cultural organisation, the Arewa Consultative Forum, said the Federal Government’s deregulation policy was in order.
Banks, financial institutions, schools as well as offices of the Kaduna Electricity Distribution Company were opened for business.
The state secretariat, housing all ministries in the state, was opened to workers.
One of our correspondents observed that workers were working in various offices at the secretariat.
However, the Chairman of the Kaduna State Chapter of the NLC, Adamu Ango, said they avoided demonstration to avert bloodshed.
He said there was a plan by some faceless people to infiltrate the movement to attack the protesters.
He added, “Why we did not lead a procession is to avoid bloodshed because a violent group has been hired to throw stones at us and cause a semblance of a fight.
The ACF in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Muhammad Ibrahim, in Kaduna, said the deregulation of the downstream oil sector was a progressive policy.
It called on the Federal Government not only to provide palliative measures that would cushion the effect of the sudden withdrawal of fuel subsidy, but also channel the gains of the deregulation into infrastructural development.
The statement read, “That the Federal Government’s new fuel pricing and supply framework, which allows independent marketers and any Nigerian entity to source their own foreign exchange and import petrol is a welcome progressive policy.
“ACF wholly supports the total deregulation of the downstream petroleum sector which will promote competition and private participation.”
The PUNCH gathered that members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities met last night at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, in Kaduna State to take a decision on whether to comply with the NLC order or shun it.
In his reaction, the Public Relations Officer of a Kaduna-based non-governmental organisation, the Southern Kaduna Indigene Progressives Forum, Luka Binniyat, said the strike in the state might not be successful because of poor mobilisation by the NLC.
Also, civil servants in Bauchi State on Wednesday defied the directive of the NLC for all workers to remain at home.
One of our correspondents, who went round to several government ministries, departments and agencies within the state metropolis, observed that civil servants in the state resumed in the offices as usual.
At the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Budget and Planning, Bauchi Radio Corporation, Bauchi State Internal Revenue Service, and many ministries located at the state secretariat, most workers were seen at their duty posts.
Banks, motor parks, shops and many business offices within the metropolis opened for activities.
Residents of Bauchi were also seen going about their normal activities.
A civil servant at the Bauchi State Internal Revenue Service, who spoke on condition of anonymity with one of our correspondents, said the strike would fail.
That strike will not work whether in Bauchi or elsewhere in Nigeria.”
Speaking on the matter, the Chairman, Joint Negotiation Council of the NLC in Bauchi State, Aliyu Mohammed, told The PUNCH in a telephone interview that the union in the state had complied with the directive of the national body and had joined the strike.
He alleged that thugs were sponsored to disrupt the peace in the state.
Mohammed added, “You saw what happened yesterday (Tuesday) when thugs were sponsored and sent out to disrupt the peace in the state.
“Labour, as a responsible organisation, has to consider the fragile nature of our state and take actions that will not compound what happened yesterday.”
In Anambra State, banks, schools, judiciary workers and some tertiary institutions shunned the strike.
The state chairman of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria, Mr Mark Ifezue, said it was improper to embark on strike when a court in the land had granted an injunction stopping the strike.
Banks in the state, as early as 8am, had started attending to customers as if nothing was at stake.
A bank official, who did not want to be named, said they did not have any signal from their union about any strike.
“We don’t know anything about the strike. We didn’t get any signal from our union directing any strike,” the banker added.
Both public and private schools in the state opened for business.
Mrs Chigozie Eze at the Community School, Agulu, said, “Nobody has informed us officially about any strike. Maybe by tomorrow (Thursday) things may change; but today, we are busy with class work. Everybody is busy conducting continuous assessment tests.”
At the Nnamdi Azikiwe University and the Federal College of Education, Umunze, normal academic activities were going on when our correspondent visited.
Immediate Past Chairman of ASUU, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Prof. Ike Odimegwu, told one of our correspondents that ASUU had joined the strike.
He expressed surprise that academic activities were going on, on campus.
At the Federal Polytechnic, Oko, there was partial compliance with the industrial action.
While some workers attended to work, others did not in compliance with the NLC strike.
At the state secretariat, workers had assembled as early as 9am but were not working.
They were seen in clusters discussing the strike.
Addressing some of the workers at the NULGE secretariat, the NLC chairman in the state, Mr Jerry Nnubia, urged the workers to persevere in their struggle to ensure that the Federal Government reverted petrol pump price to N86 per litre.
He said no worker should be afraid of the government’s threat of “no work, no pay.”
Nnubia stated, “We are used to such threat; so, nobody should panic over it.
The TUC in the state had dissociated itself from the strike.
In a circular, signed by its state chairman, Ifeanyi Okechukwu, the congress directed workers from Level 7 and above to ignore the strike and be at their respective duty posts as required.
In Bayelsa State, workers defied the strike order and reported for work as usual.
The main secretariat and offices in Yenegoa, the state capital, opened for work as civil servants reported early to work.
Banks also opened for business.
Some of the workers, who turned up for work, said they were not sure if the strike was still holding, stating that they were yet to get an update on the strike from the NLC.
However, courts in the state capital did not open just as the state House of Assembly reportedly did not sit.
A civil servant in the state Ministry of Women Affairs, Mr. Tonye Ayama, said his office was open for work.
He said, “Yes, we are here to work but just few persons have reported due to the NLC strike over the removal of fuel subsidy and hike in price of petroleum product.
“Though right now, we are in the office, nothing serious is going on, we are just hanging on.
“The NLC in the state has yet to address us; so, we are still waiting to hear from the labour union. If they say there is strike, then we can go back to our houses.”
Another civil servant, Mr William Agama, in the Ministry of Works, also said his office was opened for work but said they would vacate office if the labour said the strike was holding.
The state TUC Chairman, Mr. Tari Dounana, said the union was still fighting the good and just fight on the fuel price increase.
Dounana, however, urged organised labour to be more united on the issue that touched workers.
In Niger State, one of our correspondents, who went round Minna, the state capital, observed that workers in the state High Court complex, the state secretariat and banks were in their offices despite the indefinite strike order.
One of the civil servants in the state, Dikko Isah, told The PUNCH that the national leadership of the NLC were “seriously unserious”, decrying the inability of the labour leaders to agree at the national level.
Isah said, “The national body is not telling the state the truth and that is why the strike cannot work in some states especially in Niger State.”
“It is shameful that Labour of all people should allow itself to be used by those who do not know what industrial action is all about to destroy the good work they have started.”
The state Chairman of the NLC, Idris Ndako, said the strike would start on Thursday in the state.
He said, “You may see some people in their offices today but that does not mean that the strike has not started.”
Niger State Governor, Abubakar Bello, however, advised the state workers to be patient, bearing in mind that government was still negotiating with their leaders at the national level for their own betterment.
Bello, who spoke through his Senior Special Assistant on Media, Mr. Jide Orintunsin, said government had captured in the 2016 budget over N500bn to implement palliative measures.
Rivers workers stop labour from locking secretariat
There was a mild drama at the Rivers State secretariat on Wednesday as workers stopped the leadership of the NLC in the state from locking the entrance to the secretariat.
The state NLC chairman, Mrs. Beatrice Itubo, and some executive members of the union had stormed the secretariat at about 7.30am with the aim of locking up the main entrance to the place in protest against the increase in the pump price of petrol.
But some of the workers, who were at the secretariat as early as 7am, prevented her from locking the gate.
Supported by the Head of Civil Service in the state, Mr. Rufus Godwins, the civil servants made it clear that they were not going to join the strike declared by the NLC.
Godwins, who was with some security operatives, told the NLC leaders in the state that the workers would not subscribe to the directive on strike, adding that labour at the national level was still negotiating with the Federal Government.
He reminded the NLC team of the existence of a court injunction obtained by the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami, restraining labour union from embarking on the proposed strike.
“Anybody who wants to follow NLC should be aware that the state government will introduce ‘no-work-no-pay policy. So, anybody who follows the strike will not be paid,” he stated.
The NLC team had earlier visited Akpara Secondary School and Rumuokwuta Girls Secondary School in Obio/Akpor LGA.
However, the state Chairman of the TUC, Mr. Chika Onuegbu, had earlier issued a statement in Port Harcourt, indicating that the TUC in the state would not be part of the strike.
Oyo workers, hold rally, divided
Members of the organised labour in Oyo State have called on the Federal Government to reverse the price of petrol for the sake of the suffering Nigerians.
The NLC, ASUU, Nigeria Union of Pensioners, TUC, Joint Action Front, Joint Negotiating Council and others made the declaration during a rally organised in Ibadan to condemn the FG over the new price of the product.
At the state secretariat, our correspondent observed that civil servants in the state defied the nationwide strike by turning up for work as early as 7am.
Some of the workers cited the division among leaders of labour unions as reasons for their decision.
It was also gathered that some of the workers decided to shun the strike because they were paid one month salary out of the salary arrears owed them by the state government on Tuesday.
While addressing members of the unions, the NLC chairman in the state, Waheed Olojede, who led the rally round the city, said it was important for the FG to have a rethink over its decision to hike the price of the product, considering the hardship that Nigerians were already going through.
He said, “The position of the Nigerian people now, which is being conveyed by labour unions, is that the FG should go back to the drawing board to do a re-think and reverse the price of fuel from N145 to N86.”
The rally, which began at the state headquarters of the NLC, passed though places like Gate, Oje, Beere, Orita-Merin, Dugbe, J. Allen, Mokola Roundabout and the state secretariat.
Chairman of the Nigerian Union of Pensioners in the South-West, Lateef Adegoke, and Secretary of the union, Segun Abatan, said the kind of change Nigerians voted for was not the same that Buhari government had offered them.
Ebonyi civil servants
Civil servants in Ebonyi State on Wednesday embarked on a low-key strike in compliance with the directive of the NLC.
However, there was confusion among the workforce in the state following a counter-directive, urging public servants to disregard the NLC order to embark on strike.
The counter order was allegedly issued by a group tagged ‘Junior Workers Union of Nigeria, Ebonyi State chapter, that was said to have become noticeable in the state in June, 2015.
The situation resulted in some government offices opening for activities while few offices were locked.
One of our correspondents observed that the federal secretariat at Nnorom Street, Abakaliki, and other federal-owned offices were among the few offices that were locked while the workers were seen outside discussing in groups.
The counter directive was communicated to workers through a statement by the leader of the JWU, Uchenna Uguru, calling on workers to disregard the NLC directive.
At the Ebonyi State High Court premises, it was observed that the courts didn’t sit.
“We just received labour circular this morning, directing us to proceed on strike,” a worker said.
NLC paralyses Kwara civil service
The Kwara State chapter of the NLC on Wednesday morning locked the gates of the Kwara State secretariat and ministries, especially in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital, to enforce the strike called by the Wabba-led NLC.
The union members also barricaded the roads leading to the state secretariat while a detachment of police officers were stationed at a junction at Ahmadu Bello Way leading to the secretariat and the state Judiciary complex.
Many civil servants, who were taken unawares, by the development and had reported for work in the morning, were stranded while some of them parked their cars close to the gates of the secretariat and discussed the development in groups.
Our correspondent also gathered that some of the state owned tertiary institutions joined the strike. Our correspondent also sighted some of the union members as they stayed near the state NLC office at Lajorin Road, Ilorin while enforcing the strike.
The state NLC chairman, Mr. Yekini Agunbiade, while addressing the workers and journalists in Ilorin, said the state chapter was committed to sustaining the strike called by the national leadership of NLC.
Nigeria is broke –FG
But the Federal Government on Wednesday said the decision to increase the pump price of Premium Motor Spirit from N86 to N145 per litre was one of the painful adjustments and decisions that must be taken because Nigeria is broke.
The Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said this while briefing State House correspondents on the outcome of the Federal Executive Council’s meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Mohammed was joined at the briefing by the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola; Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige; and the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami.
The minister likened Nigeria’s situation to a case of a person, who got a pay cut and had to adjust to the current reality in terms of his spending.
The minister said, “The current problem is not really about subsidy removal. It is about that Nigeria is broke. Pure and simple!
“It is like somebody who has been earning N100,000 a month and he is faced with a situation where his employer says henceforth, he will be earning N10,000 a month. He would need to make some very painful decisions and some very painful adjustments.
Perms secs to ensure workers’ punctuality as Senate intervene
Meanwhile, the Federal Government, on Wednesday, directed permanent secretaries to ensure that all civil servants complied with the directive to report punctually to work daily and should not participate in the strike.
A statement by the Director of Communications in the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Haruna Imrana, said the directive was “in response to the pronouncement by the TUC calling off the industrial action” over the increase in the price of petrol.
Also, the Senate, on Wednesday, directed its committee on Labour to constantly interface with the Federal Government and the NLC team currently on the negotiation table over the hike in fuel price.
The upper chamber took the decision after a 35-minute closed-door session presided over by the Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu.
The committee on labour, headed by Senator Mohammed Nasif, was specifically directed to commence immediate dialogue with the negotiating team to ensure an early resolution of the crisis.
Ekweremadu, while reading the resolution of the Senate said, “We also mandated the committee on Labour, under the chairmanship of Mohammed Nasif, to continue to interface with both government and labour for an early resolution of all the matters.”
Fight corruption, make refineries work
However, the NLC has called on Buhari to address the problem of inherent corruption in the oil sector and reverse the decision to increase the fuel pump price.
The President of the NLC, Wabba, said, while addressing workers, who were protesting the increase of the fuel pump price from N86 and N86.50k to N145, in front of the Federal Secretariat, Abuja, that the government had a responsibility to make the four refineries in the country to work rather than opting for 90 per cent importation of fuel.
He also said that there was a high possibility for the refineries to be upgraded to produce refined products for domestic needs.
Even though the NLC organised a protest march from the Labour House through the Federal Secretariat to the popular Berger Round About, workers turned out in their offices for work contrary to the directive to stay at home.
Hundreds of air passengers were stranded on Wednesday after they were held up in traffic for hours by a train of protesters at the Airport Road, Ikeja, Lagos.
One of our correspondents observed that some of them, including foreigners, mounted motorcycles with their travelling bags, while others trekked from the FAAN roundabout to the international wing of the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Ikeja.
While some of them faulted the protest, others said they supported the cause of the protesting workers, asking the Federal Government to accede to their requests.
One of those who opposed the idea, Mr Gbolahan Thomas, who was trekking with his travelling bags, said there was no basis for the protest.
The state Commissioner of Police, Fatai Owoseni, was said to have urged the protesters to be peaceful and later deployed some officers of the state command to monitor the process to ensure it did not degenerate.
The President of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, Malachy Ugwumadu, said the protest was organised by civil rights organisations, adding that Nigerians had the rights to peaceful demonstration.
He said, “The vast majority of Nigerians are not members of the Nigeria Labour Congress. Today, as unemployment rate stands, I am sure not up to 30 per cent members of society belonged to labour. And so, Nigerians have the constitutional rights to freely assemble. And there is nothing to stop us. We have defied their propaganda and mischief that the Nigerian people are not united against oppression.”
The President of the ASUU, Biodun Ogunyemi, said the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration had said there was no subsidy, wondering how it suddenly came about.
The Secretary of the Joint Action Force, Abiodun Aremu, described the ex parte injunction, forbidding labour from going on strike as irresponsible.
Story by: Niyi Odebode, Fidelis Soriwei, Sesan Olufowobi, Olalekan Adetayo, Sunday Aborisade, Chukwudi Akasike, Olufemi Atoyebi, Friday Olokor, Simon Utebor, Ifeanyi Onuba, Success Nwogu, Okechukwu Nnodim, Samson Folarin, Godwin Isenyo, Tony Okafor, Armstrong Bakam, Enyioha Opara, Clement Nnachi and Friday Amobi.