Following the expiration of the deadline issued by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) to the federal government over the alleged brutalisation of the NLC president Joe Ajaero, the two labour centres have resolved to begin an indefinite nationwide industrial action from Tuesday.
But reacting to the planned nationwide strike, the Presidency in a statement by the Special Adviser to the President on Information and Strategy, Mr. Bayo Onanuga, expressed concern over the decision by the NLC and TUC to call out workers to commence a strike action despite a restraining order issued last week by Justice Benedict Backwash Kanyip of the National Industrial Court.
Also, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi, yesterday, reminded the organised labour of the need to respect a subsisting court order which restrained it from embarking on the nationwide indefinite strike.
However, the NLC has said it was unaware of any subsisting court order restraining it from embarking on the nationwide strike.
Addressing a press conference at Labour House in Abuja, on Monday, President of the TUC, Festus Osifo, said the strike was necessitated by lack of response by the federal government to the demands of organised labour to bring to justice all those involved in the molestation and brutalisation of the NLC president and workers during the ill-fated protest in Imo state.
Speaking on the unfulfilled demands by labour, Osifo said: “We want the government to meet some key demands regarding the brutalisation of the President of the Nigerian Labour Congress. So we set some conditions and those conditions were very clear without ambiguity whatsoever.
“We said, those people that brutalised our President must be arrested, and they must be prosecuted. We also stated that the Area Commandant of Police that led his men to carry out the brutalisation should be relieved of his duty and he should be prosecuted.
“Then, one Chinasa, who everybody knew, that led the thugs should also be arrested and prosecuted and so for and so on
“So, the two Labour centers have resolved to stand firmly by the decision of the joint NEC that was held last week Tuesday. That effective, 00:1 hours, on the 14th November we shall declare a nationwide strike.
“So, effective tomorrow, or midnight today, a nationwide strike is going to commence. All affiliates of TUC, all affiliates of NLC, all state councils of the two labour centers have been mobilised adequately and this is going to be indefinite until governments at all levels wake up to their responsibilities.
“This is the decision of the joint NEC of NLC and TUC and we are going to carry out to the latter.”
Labour had earlier declared trade dispute with the Imo state government, accusing the state government of violating workers’ rights by illegally sacking over 600 workers.
The labour union also accused the state government of owing workers and pensioners over 42 months arrears; declaring thousands of workers/pensioners ghost workers/pensioners; not properly implementinh the national minimum wage.
He also accused state government of trying to use the courts to stifle a lawful protest and attempting to the break the ranks of the unions in the State;
It said the authorities were undermining the NLC in the state by foisting on the state council a leadership not constituted in accordance with the provisions of the Congress constitution.
Other allegations include interfering in the affairs of the state council; hiring thugs to vandalise congress state secretariat and observing in breach agreements government voluntarily entered into with Congress as far back as 2021.
The latest nationwide strike was precipitated by the labour dispute in Imo state which snowballed into a fracas during a protest rally called by the NLC national leadership in Owerri.
While narrating his ordeal at a press conference in Abuja last Friday, Ajaero who wore a neck collar said policemen arrested and hit him with all manner of objects at the NLC Secretariat in Imo state.
He said, “The policeman that arrested me, came with all manner of documents and they were asking me why I was challenging Hope, that I should say my last prayer, and that they were taking me to where they called Nja-aba River, and that’s where they will throw me.
“That was in the process, i don’t know how the same people carried me to police headquarters, to talk with their boss, and brought me down there. And the police people were standing outside as if they were waiting for a common criminal.”
Presidency: NLC/TUC Nation-wide Strike Not in National Interest
According to the Presidency, the decision by the NLC and TUC other than being an ego tripping move was clearly unacceptable, unwarranted and an attempt to blackmail the government by the leadership of the NLC.
It also described the move by the labour unions as abuse of privilege, illegal, immoral, unjustifiable and irresponsible.
The Presidency, in the release stated, inter alia: “We are still at a loss as to why the NLC and TUC decided to punish a whole country of over 200million people over a personal matter involving the NLC President, Mr. Joe Ajaero, whose error of judgment led to assault on him in Owerri while he was planning to incite the workers in Imo State into a needless strike.
“While the federal government does not condone any form of violence and assault on any citizen of Nigeria regardless of his or her social and economic status, it is on record that the Inspector General of Police has ordered investigation into what happened to Mr. Ajaero while the Commissioner of Police in Imo State under whose watch the incident happened has been transferred out of the state.
“Calling out workers on a national strike over a personal issue of a labour leader despite a clear court order against any industrial action amounts to an abuse of privilege. Power at any level should never be used to settle personal scores. Rather, it should be used to promote collective progress and advance national interest.
“Our national economy and social activities should not suffer because of the personal interest of any labour leader.
“This flagrant disobedience to court order and lack of respect for the judiciary should not be what the organised Labour would champion.
“The labour movement has always been a champion of rule of law and respect for the judiciary. It is a sad irony that the current labour leaders have shown disdain and utter disregard for court order.
“We reiterate that this strike action is illegal, immoral, unjustifiable and irresponsible. What the strike notice issued Monday night after official hours suggests is it’s designed for a sinister and hidden agenda to cause undue hardship and cause civil disturbance in our country. This is unacceptable.”
AGF to Labour: Respect Subsisting Court Order against Strike
The AGF and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi, reminded the organiSed labour of the need to respect a subsisting court order which restrained it from embarking on a nationwide indefinite strike.
Fagbemi in a statement issued to journalists, insisted that the unions had been served the court order and, therefore, must surrender themselves to the authority of the court which is already seized with the facts of the case.
President of the National Industrial Court, Justice Benedict Kanyip had in a ruling, last Friday, issued a temporary order restraining labour from proceeding with the proposed strike from today.
The AGF through his Special Assistant on Communication & Publicity, Kamarudeen Ogundele, warned that any action taken contrary to the order would be tantamount to contempt of court.
“We wish to remind the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress that there is a subsisting court order stopping the unions and their affiliates from embarking on the strike.
“The interim order was granted on November 10 by the President of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria, Justice B. B. Kanyip.
“We use this medium to urge the unions to respect the court order and adhere to the principle of the rule of law. There is no need to resort to self-help.
“We urge workers to report for duties and not to entertain any fear as their safety is guaranteed and will be protected within the ambit of law”, he stated.
We’re Not Aware of Suit Against Us in Court, Says Labour
Meanwhile, the NLC has said that it was unaware of any subsisting court order restraining it from embarking on the nationwide strike.
A highly placed source at the NLC told THISDAY last night that as far the labour movement was concerned, it had not been properly notified of any court case file against it by the federal government or any other party.
” We are not aware of any case in court yet not to talk of injunction and if the government want to drag us to court, it should duly notify us. For us, we believe in social dialogue not court adjudication for trade dispute. So we are ready for such dialogue if invited,” the source added.
Deji Elumoye, Onyebuchi Ezigbo and Alex Enumah in Abuja