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Nigerian Labour Unions Suspend Nationwide Strike

There were crucial interventions by the National Assembly leadership and by National Security Adviser Nuhu Ribadu.

Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) suspended their indefinite nationwide strike Wednesday night, after reviewing their meeting with the federal government side.

The decision to suspend the strike followed an emergency extraordinary meeting by the national executive of the unions held last night in Abuja.

NLC had earlier listed six conditions it said must be met by the federal government before it could call off the strike. The conditions contained in a series of posts via its official X handle included the arrest and prosecution of Special Adviser to the Imo State Governor on Special Duties, Chinasa Nwaneri, police officers, as well as thugs involved in the attack on NLC President Joe Ajaero in Owerri, and arrest, prosecution and dismissal of Chief Security Officer in Imo State Government House, identified as SP Shaba.

Organised labour had also agreed to convene a meeting of its relevant organs to consider steps being taken by the federal government to address their grievances in the wake of the nationwide strike. This followed a meeting between the federal government and the leadership of NLC and TUC.

Labour, which said the plight of Nigerian workers remained the major concern in all of its undertakings, however, said it would not condone the desecration or humiliation of its leadership.

But National Security Adviser (NSA), Nuhu Ribadu, seemed to pre-empt the labour leadership, when he announced that those believed to have attacked Ajaero had been arrested and were already in custody.

There was also a crucial intervention by the National Assembly leadership, which stepped into the national impasse, pleading with the labour movement to review their stand and call off the nationwide strike.

But Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), a non-governmental organisation (NGO), called for vigilance by the hierarchy of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria to stave off encroachments on its independence and integrity by the executive arm of government.

THISDAY gathered that NLC and TUC held a joint National Executive Council (NEC) meeting, Tuesday evening, where they reviewed steps taken by the federal government and pledges made to address their demands, and eventually resolved to suspend the nationwide strike, already in its second day.

General Secretary of Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations, Civil Service Technical and Recreational Services Employees (AUPCTRE), Comrade Sikiru Waheed, confirmed the decision to suspend the national strike.

Waheed said last night, “Arising from the just concluded joint NEC session of NLC and TUC to give consideration to the plea of federal government at a meeting held today at the office of the National Security Adviser, Nuhu Ribadu, the meeting resolved that the ongoing national strike is hereby suspended.

“The labour movement appreciates you all for your commitments towards the success of the industrial action. You are hereby directed to resume your official functions from tomorrow, Thursday, 16th November 2023.”

Organised labour noted the commitment made by the federal government that those arrested for the physical assault on Ajaero would be prosecuted.

Moreover, as part of the resolutions reached at the meeting with the NSA, the federal government promised to bring both parties back to the dialogue table to iron out all issues in dispute.

In addition, the labour movement took note of the unreserved apology tendered by the NSA on behalf of the federal government for the brutalisation of NLC president and other members of the congress.

A top official of the union said last night, “We’ve just finished an extraordinary NEC meeting. We have considered all the appeals made to us by the NSA during our meeting in his office in the afternoon. We shall give him time to coordinate the investigations as promised.”

Before the strike was called off last night, NLC, in a post on X, said the special adviser to the Imo State governor on special duties, who allegedly led the attack on NLC president and other workers in state, must be arrested and prosecuted.

The union further demanded that all police officers as well as thugs involved in the attack on the labour leader should be arrested, prosecuted and dismissed. It also demanded the arrest, prosecution and dismissal of the chief security officer in the Imo State Government House, identified simply as SP Shaba.

“He led, participated and provided cover for thugs to brutalise workers in Imo State,” NLC alleged about Shaba.

Another condition given by the labour union was the arrest, persecution and dismissal of the Police Area Commander, whom it said supervised the brutalisation of the NLC president and other workers in the state.

The sixth condition given by NLC for peace was that the former Commissioner of Police in Imo State, Ahmed Barde, must be investigated and prosecuted for his alleged involvement in the assault on the NLC leader.

“Our demands are simple. We want justice,” the labour movement wrote in the X post.

However, the federal government and labour leadership had earlier met behind closed doors at the office of the NSA.

A statement by Special Adviser (Media) to Honourable Minister of Labour and Employment, Makut Simon Macham, said the meeting was attended by Ribadu; Minister of Labour, Simon Bako Lalong; Minister of State, Hon. Nkeiruka Onyeajeocha; and  Acting Permanent Secretary in the NSA’s office and Director, Trade Union Services, Ministry Labour and Employment, Mr. Emmanuel Igbinosa.

The labour leaders were led to the meeting by TUC President, Comrade Festus Osifo; NLC Secretary General, Emmanuel Ugboaja; TUC Secretary General, Nuhu Toro; and other Labour leaders.

Speaking on the agenda of meeting, Lalong said the meeting was held at the office of the NSA because of the security considerations associated with the strike and its genesis. He said the two sides had frank, fruitful and genuine discussions on steps that had been taken by the government to address the concerns of labour over the incident in Imo State.

Lalong said the union leaders agreed to take the outcome back to their members and consider the plea of government to call off the strike in the interest of the nation.

Osifo said the meeting was robust and with a lot of assurances given by the government team that some suspects had been apprehended on the Imo incident. He said they were also informed about other actions that the government had taken and others it would take to address the grievances of labour.

The TUC president said labour would go back, appraise the outcome of the meeting and communicate to its members appropriately with a view to taking a decision on the way forward.

Earlier, while giving an update on the strike, NLC’s Head of Information and Public Relations, Comrade Benson Upah, said the labour movement would not call off the two-day old nationwide strike unless their demands were met. Upah restated labour’s position that the strike was a protest against an emerging culture of state violence and impunity

He said, “We demand that the government of President Bola Tinubu nips in the bud this burgeoning culture of harassment, intimidation, violence and terror. We will not back down until we secure a commitment from government to govern by the prescribed laws of the land.

“We are clear about our objectives and we are not in need of approval ratings from agents of government passing themselves off as our friends.”

Upah added that “the gradual closing of democratic space is a clear and present danger or tendency we can ill-afford to ignore”.

Apart from demanding that government arrests all those involved in the brutality against Ajaero during a protest in Imo State, organised labour also accused the Imo State government of violating workers’ rights by illegally sacking over 600 workers.

The labour union further accused the state government of owing workers and pensioners over 42 months arrears, declaring thousands of workers/pensioners ghost workers/pensioners, and not properly implementing the national minimum wage.

It accused Imo State Government of trying to use the courts to stifle a lawful protest and attempting to 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 constitution of the congress.

NLC, which also dismissed insinuations about the motive of the strike, said organised labour was sensitive to the sufferings of Nigerian workers, occasioned by fuel subsidy removal, hence, the need for a nationwide strike to express the grievances of workers.

Public Relations Officer of NLC, Lagos State Chapter, Comrade Ismail Adejumo, who spoke yesterday on the Morning Show of ARISE NEWS Channels, said the labour union remained sensitive to workers’ challenges. Adejumo said labour will not tolerate assault on the NLC president, describing the incident as an attempt to desecrate the NLC and its leadership.

He called on all workers across the country to join the nationwide strike, saying an assault on NLC president is an assault on the generality of Nigerian workers.

Defending labour’s failure to embark on a nationwide strike when petrol subsidy was removed by the federal government, Adejumo said organised labour understood the sufferings of the people and the hardship they were experiencing as a result of fuel subsidy removal.

But he said labour decided to shelve its planned nationwide strike over fuel subsidy removal to give the federal government enough time to implement some of the agreements reached with labour and to provide solutions that would cushion the effect of the subsidy removal.

Adejumo stated, “The National Assembly members have been compromised and the judiciary is neither here nor there in defending justice. So it is only the labour union and the media that are currently upright in defending the masses, the more reason why the entire workers must support labour in the nationwide strike.”

Adejumo also addressed comments by a former labour leader, Adams Oshiomhole, who openly condemned the nationwide strike and called on labour to remain focused on its role and responsibilities.

He said, “With due respect to Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, an injury to one is injury to all. Labour, under the leadership of Oshiomhole, was never ridiculed by anyone the way it is being ridiculed today, and we must resist further ridicule. We struggled together with Oshiomhole to oppose the military, and labour has never had it this bad.”

Speaking on the issue of court injunction restraining labour from embarking on a nationwide strike, Adejumo said organised labour had always been a respecter of law, and would not disobey court orders, when duly served. He explained that organised labour was not duly served with any court injunction, but got to know of it from the pages of newspapers, just like every other Nigerian.

Ribadu: Ajaero’s Attackers Are Already in Custody

National Security Adviser (NSA) Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, yesterday, disclosed that attackers of the president of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Joe Ajaero, were already in custody, with investigation in progress.

Ribadu, therefore, called on NLC and TUC to call off the two-day old strike, expressing worries over the effect of the industrial action on the livelihood of Nigerians and the country’s economic security.

A statement by Head of Strategic Communications, in the Office of the NSA, Zakari Mijinyawa, said the President Bola Tinubu administration would not condone lawlessness, as depicted in the attack on Ajaero during a recent protest in Owerri, the Imo State capital.

Ribadu called on the labour leaders to call off the strike, as investigation into the assault on the NLC president was ongoing. He also appealed to the unions to allow ongoing dialogues to be exhausted.

The NSA assured the labour leadership that the result of the ongoing investigation into the attack would be made public as soon as it was concluded.

The release stated, “The NSA is particularly worried about the implications of the strike action on the livelihood of ordinary Nigerians and its potential impact on economic security and other strategic national interests.

“As attested by the NLC leadership, the NSA immediately intervened on learning about the travails of the president of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Joseph Ajaero, who was assaulted in Owerri, Imo State.

“The NSA regrets the incident and condemns it in its entirety, as it was against the rule of law and the principles of freedom of association and expression, subscribed to by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and his administration.

“The federal government will never condone such an act. As a fallout of the incident, relevant authorities were directed to conduct thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding the assault and bring to book the culprits.

“Available update indicates that some arrests have already been made in this regard. The outcome of the investigation will be made public as soon as it is concluded.

“The federal government, through the Office of the NSA, therefore, appeals to the labour leadership to call off the current strike action and allow the dialogue process underway to be exhausted.”

National Assembly Pleads With Labour to Call off Strike

The leaderships of the Senate and House of Representatives, yesterday, appealed to organised labour to call off their strike and embrace dialogue.

The senate mandated its leadership to immediately summon an emergency meeting with the labour leaders to address the issue. The resolution followed a motion by Senator Abdul Ningi (PDP, Bauchi) during plenary.

Ningi’s motion was presented by the Senate Leader, Opeyemi Bamidele.

The Bauchi lawmaker condemned the attack on Ajaero, describing it as unfortunate. He said the NLC president had the constitutional rights, as a Nigerian and an indigene of Imo State, to be involved in the electioneering in the state.

While insisting that it was wrong to brutalise him for participating in the process, Ningi said, “The Senate is aware that the strike, which has commenced since 14th of November 2023, was not unconnected with the alleged assault on the president of the Nigeria Labour Congress during the electioneering campaign that took place in Imo State.

“The Senate worries that most of the demands of the NLC are not targeted towards just the welfare of the Nigerian workers but essentially targeted most essentially at issues arising from the alleged political involvement of the president of the NLC, who also is an indigene and also has a right to be part of the campaign process in Imo State.”

At the House of Representative, the leadership of the lower chamber resolved to interface with the Senate as part of efforts to bring to an end the industrial action called by organised labour. The decision of the House was sequel to the adoption of a motion moved at plenary by Deputy Speaker of the House, Hon. Benjamin Okezie Kalu.

The motion came on the heels of the decision of the Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN) to shut all the gates leading into the National Assembly complex, Abuja, in compliance with the directive of NLC and TUC.

Presenting the motion, Kalu called on the House leadership to engage with the counterpart and the leadership of organised labour to find a lasting solution to the problem.

The deputy speaker said since the 10th House had been dubbed the people’s House, it would be unworthy of them to feign ignorance of what was happening in the country at the moment.

Kalu stated, “Today, we were called early in the morning not to come for sitting, that the rooms are going to be locked and those that put on lights will not be there. But on a second call, I was told that you braved it and said we cannot engage our people from our homse. We will engage them when we sit together and I commend you, Mr Speaker. Your decision to step into the National Assembly motivated a whole lot of us to come to the parliament.

“We came because there’s a burning issue in Nigeria with the NLC, who had threatened yesterday (Tuesday) about going on a massive national strike. It will be unworthy of us to leave this House today without looking into this issue. I pray that the NLC and all the unions in Nigeria should trust us once again.

“That we will use diplomacy, where necessary, to engage as usual. They should trust us again to come together to find lasting solutions for their pain. We can dialogue. I pray for the House leadership and that of the Senate to sit with this aggrieved NLC, as soon as possible to enable us to find lasting solutions to their needs.”

After moving the motion, several lawmakers took turns to contribute to the debate, with many lamenting the hardship caused to Nigerians by the strike, and appealing to labour to call it off.

Speaker, Hon. Abbas Tajudeen, who presided over the session, said the leadership of the House would proceed on a meeting with that of the Senate to ensure that urgent steps were taken to end the impasse.

HURIWA Urges Industrial Court to Maintain Integrity

Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) called for vigilance by the National Industrial Court of Nigeria to fend off encroachments on its independence and integrity by the executive arm of government.

HURIWA spoke against the backdrop of what it called incessant ex parte injunctions purportedly meant to restrain NLC and TUC from declaring Industrial dispute since the emergence of the President Bola Tinubu government on May 29.

The rights group, in a statement by its national coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko, wondered how else workers could bargain collectively for improved conditions of service since the current government removed subsidy on petroleum products, if the National Industrial Court now constituted itself into a cog in the wheel of progressive and constructive dialogues between workers and government.

Reminding the court system in Nigeria the need to safeguard judicial integrity and push back vigorously against the massive incursions and interference of the executive arm of government, HURIWA said, “In the immortal words of the late jurist, Justice Niki Tobi (1992) Justice of the Supreme Court, as he then was, ‘ex parte in our adjectival laws means proceeding brought on behalf of one interested party without notice to and in the absence of the other party’.

“This means that the application for interim ‘injunction brought ex-parte is heard by trial judges in the absence of the adverse party’. HURIWA believes that the granting of ex parte orders of injunction seems to be totally inconsistent with the principles of fair hearing.”

The group lamented that the emerging trend from the National Industrial Court was dangerously pointing towards the erroneous impression that this specialised court system was established for the sole purpose of intimidating, harassing and muzzling organised labour unions in the country from exercising their constitutionally guaranteed rights as workers and impede the use of collective bargaining, which is a global best practice.

HURIWA called for caution on the part of the National Industrial Court, saying if the negative and obstructive trend continues, the people may lose confidence in that specialised court, and would mean that the National Industrial Court has made workers to embrace armed struggles, which would not augur well for Industrial harmony.

Labour Stops Edo LG Election Petitions Tribunal Sitting

Organised labour, yesterday, in Benin City, the Edo State capital, disrupted the inaugural sitting of the state local government election petitions tribunal due to the national strike. Labour ensured that the court did not sit to begin hearing of petitions arising from the recently held local government election in the state.

The tribunal was constituted by the state Chief Judge and notice was given to concerned petitioners that sitting would commence yesterday.

However, sitting had barely begun when officials of organised Labour stormed the venue, ordered everybody out, and shut the doors of the building.

It was gathered that the tribunal had 18 petitions before it and a limited time frame.

The immediate past President of the Nigerian Bar association (NBA), Mr  Olumide Akpata, was among those at the court to watch proceedings.

Commercial Banks Defy NLC Order, Open to Customers

Commercial banks in Niger State continued to defy the order to shut down as the strike declared by NLC and TUC entered its second day.

All the commercial banks were open to customers.

However, virtually all public institutions, including the state and federal secretariats, House of Assembly Complex, the high court and Sharia court complexes were not open for business yesterday.

Similarly public educational institutions, including the Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida University, Lapai, staff also complied with the directive by withdrawing their services.

“We are part of the strike,” the university’s Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) branch chairman, Alhaji Kudu Dangana, told THISDAY.

The state chairman of NLC, Comrade Idris Lafene, in an interview, expressed satisfaction with the level of compliance with the strike directive.

JUAC Shuts Outs Workers from FCTA

The Joint Union Action Committee (JUAC), yesterday, enforced compliance with the nationwide strike ordered by NLC and TUC by shutting the main gate to the FCT Administration secretariat.

The union leaders locked the FCTA gates as early as 5.30am and used as many as eight vehicles to prevent workers from driving into the premises.

JUAC chairman, Korede Matilukoro, vowed that the action would continue till their demands, including condemnation of the brutalisation of NLC president, Joe Ajaero, in Imo State, were met.

The union leader condemned fuel subsidy removal and urged President Bola Tinubu to return from his foreign trips and re-strategise.

He said, “We are still singing the same song, ‘meet labour’s demand’. The brutalisation of the NLC president should be condemned in its entirety and the culprits be arrested and prosecuted, particularly the police officers involved and other individuals. The hardship in the land has become unbearable, the fuel price hike is uncalled for.  Right now, Nigerians are in pain.

“They are paying someone N30,000 as a minimum wage and he is going to spend between N60,000 and N70,000 for transportation only from where he lives to the office. How does he survive? The mathematics is no longer adding up.”

Matilukoro called on the federal government to look at the challenges from another angle, insisting they believe in the country.

According to him, “Here in the FCT, we believe in our own minister, but we are not going to keep quiet. Here, we will ensure that the gate remains under lock and key.

I know our other colleagues across the country are doing the same. We will not stop till the federal government sees reason to act otherwise.

“The president is not in the country. If we are important to him, he should cut short his trip and return home. He is out there because Nigerians voted for him to be president. Your house cannot be on fire and you are comfortable somewhere. The president should return and do the needful. He shouldn’t make us regret our voting him.”

Deji Elumoye, Chuks Okocha, Kingsley Nwezeh, Onyebuchi Ezigbo, Olawale Ajimotokan, Adedayo Akinwale, Sunday Aborisade in Abuja, Emma Okonji in Lagos, Adibe Emenyonu in Benin City and Laleye Dipo in Minna

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