Leaders of the organised labour on Sunday night staged a walk-out on a meeting with the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, and other Federal Government representatives over the recent increase in the price of Premium Motor Spirit, also known as petrol.
The labour unions’ delegation was led by the President of National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) and Deputy President of NLC, Joe Ajaero and the President of Trade Union Congress (TUC), Quadri Olaleye. The President of the NLC, Ayuba Wabba, was absent.
The labour leaders, who were visibly angry, said they could no longer bear any attack from the masses as government’s actions have put them at risk.
In his opening remarks, Quadri Olaleye raised the issue of the latest hike in fuel pump price from N160 to N170, adding that many leaders of labour unions missed the meeting because they were afraid of being attacked by the masses again when seen on camera.
“I cannot pretend to deceive myself. It has got to a stage – I don’t want to call it crisis – where we cannot pretend again.
“I want to say we are not happy and it is making us to lose courage with this government.
“Government is showing a high level of insincerity in discussions with us and it is also putting us at risk with the people we are leading, with the masses.
“We find it difficult to move freely but the people in government are moving freely,” the TUC President said.
They added that they were surprised government could be discussing palliatives when it had not acceded to their demands to revert to the old price of PMS.
Efforts by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) Boss Mustapha and the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, who led the government team, to persuade the labour leaders to listen to their presentation fell on deaf ears.
The parley, which was meant to take updates on the implementation of resolutions reached during the three previous meetings, ended abruptly, barely 15 minutes after it began at the Presidential Villa banquet hall.
The bone of contention
Addressing journalists after they stormed out of the meeting, NLC Secretary, Emmanuel Ugboaja, said “We’ve had several meetings about increment in petrol price and electricity tariffs.
“We have had some understanding overtime, but while these meetings were still ongoing, we were suddenly slammed with a new increase in petroleum prices and we felt that was beyond what we had as an understanding with the government.
“And we felt that should be the first item for understanding today, but surprisingly the government team felt otherwise.
“They felt the issue of imaginary palliatives should be discussed before what is causing the need for the palliatives, and we felt that was putting the cart before the horse.
“We want to address the issue of petroleum pricing before we begin to think of whether there is need for a palliative or not.
“On that strength, we felt we couldn’t continue with a meeting whose agenda was wrongly prioritised.
“When the government is willing to take it the way it is, we are ever ready to serve our country to engage and to have things properly determined.”
The next line of action
Speaking on their next line of action, he said, “We have to go back to our organs and agree on the way-forward because we have leadership, we are known and clearly with that position, we have to tell our members what the situation is.”
Corroborating what Ugboaja said, the TUC President said, “Like I mentioned at the beginning of the meeting, this is not going to be as usual, because we have seen the insincerity of the government, and it is putting us at risk, they are taking us for a ride which cannot continue.
“We were in the process of discussing for over three months now, and they made announcement increasing the fuel price again and [by] no other person than NNPC.
“When has authority been given to NNPC to increase the price of PMS? This is unacceptable.
“The meeting’s agenda was not well-prioritised and because of that, we are leaving the meeting, we won’t continue and we are going back to our organs.
“We are going to get back to you on the next line of action.
“Government is being insincere with all we have been discussing. They are going back and forth”.
Mr Ngige, however, promised to re-invite the labour leaders within 24 hours.