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Nigerian Government Appeals To NLC As Labour Declares 2-Day Nationwide Protest Over Growing Economic Hardship, Insecurity

The labour union charged the government to introduce policies to address workers’ suffering.

The federal government on Friday appealed to the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to shelve its planned two-day national protest against alleged government’s non implementation of the agreement reached on palliatives to cushion the effects of the removal of fuel subsidy on workers and general public, which labour had argued was fueling economic hardship in the country.

Responding to THISDAY’s enquiry, the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Hon. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, was quoted by her Special Adviser on Media to have said: ” We are reaching out to NLC and TUC to ensure that the issues are resolved and that the situation is not allowed to escalate. Federal government is giving them assurances that it is working hard see that it does not renege on the agreement reached with organised labour.”

Earlier on Friday, NLC President Comrade Joe Ajaero, who addressed journalists in Abuja, on Friday, on the resolutions of the National Executive Council meeting of the labour movement held on Friday morning, said organised labour was displeased by government’s continued delay in executing the agreement it reached with the workers since October, 2023.

This comes just as it appeared that impact of recent measures introduced by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to halt the slide of the naira exchange rate were yet to be felt as the nation’s currency weakened further to N1620 to a dollar on the parallel FX market. Nigeria’s inflation rose to a 21-year high of 29.9 percent in January 2024, which according to National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) data, was the highest since 2003, as prices of goods and services continued to skyrocket.

Speaking further, Ajaero said although organised labour was yet to formally propose an amount for the new minimum wage, but as long as the Naira continued its current free fall in the exchange market, the workers would demand for an upward review of the amount even above the N1 million he had been quoted to have said.

Apart from ratifying the February 23 deadline for commencement of actions in protest against federal government’s apparent foot dragging in the implementation of agreement with labour, Ajaero said the NEC meeting resolved that NLC would embark on a two-day national protest beginning from February 27.

In a communique jointly signed by Ajaero and the Acting NLC General Secretary, Ismail Bello, the labour movement said it’s, “NEC meeting unanimously noted its deep disappointment and condemned the actions of the federal government in refusing to implement the agreements.”

Ajaero said the NLC NEC also reaffirmed the 14 days-notice issued the federal government within which to implement the agreement and address the mounting crisis of survival in Nigeria.

According to him, the NEC meeting resolved, ‘that if the notice expires on the midnight of Thursday, the 22nd of February, 2024 and Congress is not satisfied with the level of government’s compliance with the conditions of the notice, it will be at liberty to take action that will compel government to implement the agreement.”

In addition, he said the NLC has therefore declared a two-day National Protest on 27th and 28th of February, to demonstrate outrage on the mounting hardship and insecurity around the nation.

 “If demands are not met after the nationwide protests to issue a seven-day notice that will expire on the 2nd day of March, 2024 to the federal government after which an indefinite nationwide strike will ensue,” he said. 

Earlier, Ajaero said, “NEC considered the unfortunate state of our nation; the huge suffering pervading the nation, the general crisis of living, the outrage expressed by the majority, and the increased attendant fears of the continued consequences of these policies and the persistent refusal of the government to implement the tenets of the October Agreement”.

He said NEC also took notice of the decision of the National Administrative Council (NAC) of the both Congresses of the NLC and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) to demand that the agreement be implemented.

The communique further stated: “That Nigerian workers and people are not interested in empty talk now but action so, calls on all of affiliates, state Councils and Civil Society Allies to start mobilising across the nation for effective action as the deadline approaches.

“As such, in light of the urgency of the situation and the continued suffering of the Nigerian people and Workers, the NEC-in-session calls for immediate action from the federal government to rectify these grievances and restore faith in the democratic process and social dialogue.”

Meanwhile, economic experts have attributed the rising hardship in the country to the pass through effects of the floating of the Naira in the foreign exchange market.

Commenting on the current economic hardship in the country, Professor of Economics at University of Uyo and former Director General of West African Institute of Financial and Economic Management, Professor Akpan Hogan Ekpo, said the federal government has to get back to subsidising basic things of life for Nigerians for one or two years.

“The money is available. All the money being stolen should be put into alleviating the hardship of the masses and the government should stop the security challenges so that farmers can go back to their farms.

“We have reached a stage where northern governors are telling their farmers not to send foods to the south, which is very dangerous,” he said.

Ekpo stressed that something must be done before it would be too late, warning that it might get to the point where people would not mind dying on the street.

He said: “I think that something has to be done, which is for the government to pump in money to reflate the economy in the short and medium term.

“It should pump in money into solving insecurity problem and subsidising basic things like health, education and transportation in the short to medium term while it works on the long term to make the economy productive.

“A country where more than two-third of its population are in poverty is very, very dangerous.”

Ekpo also said by now Nigerians should be showing their anger by mild demonstrations for government to take them serious.

“It should be led by the NLC and other groups because the hardship is too serious,” he added.

He advised government to return back to managed float and manage it very well.

According to him, “it is either it works on the demand side or it will have enough supply of foreign exchange (FX).  The FX rate is going up every day. Today it is N1,600 plus. I do not know what it will be tomorrow.”

He said: “I do not see the hardship abating. It will continue.  We cannot open the foreign exchange market the way we have done. Otherwise the inflation pass through via the exchange market will continue and that will bring more hardship to the citizens. So, I do not see hardship abating.”

Speaking in the same vein, the Chief Executive Officer of Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise (CPPE), Dr. Muda Yusuf, attributed the current economic hardship in the country to high and increasing cost of living faced by many citizens.

Yusuf identified the depreciating exchange rate, surging transportation costs, logistics challenges, forex market illiquidity, astronomical hike in diesel cost, insecurity in farming communities and structural bottlenecks to production as major drivers of the spiraling cost of living.

He noted that the experience of the past few months has underlined the need to interrogate the policy choice of complete floating of the Naira, especially in the light of the current inflationary pressures and price volatility.

According to him, “the weakening of the naira against the currency of our neighbouring countries [CFA], had continued to incentivise the outflow of agricultural products to these countries. This is complicating the supply side challenges, especially of food crops.”

He also said that “tackling the high cost of living requires urgent government intervention to address the challenges bedeviling production, productivity, logistics, foreign exchange and insecurity in the economy. The real sector of the economy needs to be incentivised to moderate operating and production costs.

“The government needs to grant tariff and tax concessions on intermediate products for agro allied industries and other industrialists.

“The same is true of investors in logistics sector. The exchange rate benchmark for the computation of import duty should be pegged at N950/dollar.

“This would reduce the escalating costs of cargo clearing, reduce cargo diversion and minimise uncertainty in the international trade processes. This would trickle down to the vulnerable segments of society in the form of lower prices.

Onyebuchi Ezigbo, Dike Onwuamaeze and Ugo

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