The organised labour yesterday protested nationwide against what it termed anti-masses policies of the federal government, especially the removal of the petrol subsidy.
However, apparently worried by the turn of events, President Bola Tinubu last night met with the leadership of the labour unions at the State House in Abuja.
This is even as a Federal High Court in Abuja has summoned the labour leaders over alleged contempt.
President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Joe Ajaero, who disclosed this in Abuja, last night, said they were currently in possession of a court summons charging them for contempt of the court for convening Wednesday’s protest across 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
But Ajaero said they would remain resolute despite the development, urging Nigerians who stood behind them during the nationwide demonstration to also besiege various courts the day leadership of the organised labour would appear in court.
He said, “We urge all Nigerians to be vigilant because it appears that the days of long knives are here with us again.
“The leadership remains resolute in its commitment to the protection of the interests and welfare of the Nigerian people and nothing whatsoever can take our eyes away from this focus nor shake this belief.
“Having demonstrated our collective resolve through the strong signal we sent today across Nigeria, we urge vigilance on the part of all workers and masses to protect our nation and our decisions while we await the response of the government through the National Assembly as was assured by their representatives during the protest.
“To further show our collective resolve, all Nigerian workers will resume at the courts wherever they may be across the nation on the days of the court sittings to hear the contempt proceedings against the leaders of trade unions.”
According to him, workers from the airports, the seaports, the hospitals, the schools as well as all public and private sector workers will appear in court across the nation in response to the contempt charges.
The labour leader added, “Once again, we look forward to the continuing support of all Nigerians and workers around the country as we continue in this struggle for freedom from the clutches of oppression and impoverishment.
“We must remain unwavering and together refuse to allow them to divide us so that collectively, we will build a nation where no one will be considered too small to be left behind.”
‘What Tinubu told us’
Speaking earlier after their meeting with President Tinubu, Ajaero told reporters that the president assured them that the Port Harcourt Refinery would resume operations by December.
He said Tinubu also pledged to ensure that an agreement is reached on the wage award for Nigerian workers immediately.
He said the president also promised to unveil a workable roadmap to the CNG alternative next week.
Ajaero said: “It is pertinent to inform Nigerians that the extent of the success of the protest is underlined by the request of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Senator Ahmed Bola Tinubu to meet with the leadership of the NLC and TUC in a closed-door session.
“The engagement was fruitful that immense mileage was gotten with regards to the issues that bogged down the work of the Presidential Committee on Subsidy Removal and necessitated the protest viz:
“He committed to an immediate restructuring of the framework for engagement in line with the input of the labour leaders.
“He let out a certainty that the Port Harcourt Refinery will commence production by December this year. He pledged to ensure that agreement is reached on the Wage Award for Nigerian workers immediately.
“He promised to unveil a workable roadmap to the CNG alternative next week. On the strength of the president’s pledge and commitment, we have decided for a return to a new and reinvigorated dialogue process to allow for full implementation.”
Situation in FCT, states
Earlier yesterday, leaders and members of various labour unions were at the National Assembly Complex in Abuja and the government houses across the 36 states of the federation.
In their hundreds, the protesters convened at the Unity Fountain from where they marched to the National Assembly Complex led by Ajaero and Festus Osifo of the Trade Union Congress.
On getting to the first gate of the complex, the labour leaders asked security operatives stationed there to open the gate to allow the workers to express their displeasure.
Following the failure of the security officials to comply, the protesters pulled down the gate and moved to the second gate of the Assembly Complex.
The workers carried placards such as “Incessant increase in fuel prices responsible for inflation, hunger and poverty”, “Let the poor breathe”, “Don’t suffocate the poor”, “End fuel price increase”, “Education is our right” and “No money for transport” among others.
The protesters complained that they could no longer feed their families, transport themselves to their various workplaces and that the rate of poverty in the country is getting worse.
They demanded that the government reverse the removal of petroleum subsidy for them to have a meaningful life.
Ajaero, who spoke, countered President Tinubu over the claim, in a national broadcast on Monday that N1trn had been saved since his government stopped the payment of fuel subsidy.
He said the committee the government set up to negotiate with the unions disclosed that not a single kobo had been saved since the subsidy was removed.
“Mr President talked about N1trn saved. The committee where we met, they told us that no one kobo has been saved so far,” he said.
We’ll address your demands in 7days, Senate tells labour
Responding during yesterday’s protests, the Senate assured the labour unions of addressing their demands within the next one week.
The Senate Chief Whip, Ali Ndume, who addressed the protesters on behalf of Senate President Godswill Akpabio, said a committee had been set up to dialogue with the NLC and TUC leadership to find an amicable resolution to the current impasse.
He said: “I want to assure you that we’ll find a permanent solution to this. Please, give us one week and we will make progress and if you are not satisfied with the progress we are making, then you can take further action.”
In Kaduna State, NLC and TUC chairmen, Suleiman Ayuba and Abdullahi Danfulani, described the N8, 000 palliative as announced by President Tinubu as an insult to Nigerians. Protesters marched from the state secretariat to the state House of Assembly complex.
Protesting workers in Ekiti complained about the high cost of living, asking the federal government to abolish all anti-people policies. The Secretary to the State Government, Habitat Adubiaro, who addressed them, said the state government was sensitive to the plight of the people.
At the protest in Akure, Ondo State, the organised labour asked the federal government to reduce the cost of governance to cushion the effects of the fuel subsidy removal on the masses.
In Ilorin, Kwara State, protesters were at the Government House where the NLC chairman, Ahmed Olayinka, urged unity against “obnoxious policies” of the federal government.
Deputy governor, Kayode Alabi said the state government had rolled out several interventions to cushion the effect of the subsidy removal and was willing to do more to help the masses.
At the protest in Birnin Kebbi, labour leaders urged the federal government to reverse its “harsh economic policies”.
Protesters in Makurdi, Benue State, were at the Government House where the NLC chairman, Terungwa Igbe, said: “Benue workers are under intensive care, you came and paid two months salaries, let me tell you (Governor Alia) that because of the removal of fuel subsidy, this two-month salary is taking us beyond intensive care.”
Protesters shut down major roads in Abeokuta, the state capital, in protest of removal of the fuel subsidy. The TUC chairman, Akeem Lasisi, said: “Subsidy is the constitutional responsibility of any government, subsidy is a global practice, so it is unfortunate in this country that our own subsidy is marred with corruption. Instead of the government removing the corruption in subsidy, they removed subsidy itself.”
Protesters in Yenagoa urged the federal government to implement people-centred agreements reached with organised labour.
In Awka, only labour leaders participated in the protest as many people refused to turn up for fear of insecurity in the state.
NLC chairman, Humphrey Nwafor, said the workers were opposed to “Anti-people policies, increase in fuel, and increase in poverty and criminalities in the country.”
In Asaba, protesters led by the NLC chairman, Goodluck Ofobruku, accused the federal government of insensitivity to the plight of Nigerians. They expressed dismay over the fuel subsidy removal.
During the protest in Lokoja, the NLC chairman, Gabriel Amari, said the removal of fuel subsidy might lead to chaos in the country if urgent measures were not put in place. He said the policy was gradually squeezing Nigerians out of existence.
The NLC chairman in Edo State, Odion Olaye, during the protest in Benin, urged the federal government to fix the three refineries.
Governor Godwin Obaseki charged the labour unions to “Reject the so-called palliatives they want to give you. The so-called money for the palliatives should be given to the local government areas to take care of people.”
Obaseki pledged to support the poor residents in the state with N500m to relieve them of the effects of the fuel subsidy removal.
In Bauchi State, protesters were at the palace of the Emir of Bauchi, Dr Rilwanu Suleiman Adamu, and asked him to prevail on President Tinubu to retract his decision on the removal of petrol subsidy.
The emir, represented by Galadiman Bauchi, Alhaji Saidu Ibrahim Jahun, commended the organised labour for the peaceful protest.
The NLC chairman in Ebonyi State, Ogugua Egwu, while addressing protesting workers in Abakaliki, said, “If Mr. President is sincere, he would have cut the salaries of politicians which are higher than workers’, arrest and persecute subsidy fraudsters, fix the refineries in this nation.”
The NLC chairman in Kano, Kabiru Inuwa, who led protesters to the Government House, said the aim was to request the federal government to fulfil the promises it made during the first meeting with labour. “When you talk about palliative, has it commenced? It’s part of the resolutions reached. None of the seven agreed resolutions has commenced.”
Governor Abba Kabir Yusuf, represented by the Secretary to the State Government, Baffa Bichi, assured that the government would bring out an effective model and plans for distribution of the palliatives. He promised to transmit the workers’ message to the federal government.
Like their counterparts in other states, workers in Gombe State protested against the removal of fuel subsidy, with the NLC chairman, Yusuf Bello, saying the government must be forced to suspend all its anti-poor policies and have regard for the welfare and of the citizenry.
Deputy Governor Manasseh Daniel Jatau, assured the labour that “We will do the needful and get back to you whenever a response is received from the federal government, we will call you to tell the response we get as they come.”
Workers in Borno State also protested against the removal of fuel subsidy, with the NLC vice chairman, Mamman Bukar, decrying that some civil servants in the state were being underpaid amidst the harsh economic realities in the country.
Contributions by Idowu Isamotu, Seun Adeuyi, Abdullateef Salau (Abuja), Maryam Ahmadu-Suka (Kaduna), Raphael Ogbonnaiye (Ado-Ekiti), Tosin Tope (Akure), Mumini Abdulkareem (Ilorin), Ismail Adebayo (Birnin Kebbi), Hope A. Emmanuel (Makurdi), Peter Moses (Abeokuta), Bassey Willie (Yenagoa), Titus Eleweke (Awka), Kelvin Meluwa (Asaba), Tijani Labaran (Lokoja), Usman Bello (Benin), Hassan Ibrahim (Bauchi), Nabob Ogbonna (Abakaliki), Salim U. Ibrahim (Kano), Haruna G. Yaya (Gombe) & Olatunji Omirin (Maiduguri)