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NLC proposed protest unconstitutional, a recipe for anarchy — FG

The federal government has declared the proposed protest by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in solidarity with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and…

The federal government has declared the proposed protest by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in solidarity with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and other unions in the university as illegal.

The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who spoke on the issue on Wednesday while briefing State House reporters at the end of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, said it was a recipe for anarchy.

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The NLC had announced that it would embark on a nationwide protest on July 26 and 27 to press home the need to resolve the over five-month-old ASUU strike.

Mohammed, however, said such street protest would be illegal because the NLC had no dispute with the government, adding that the action would be an attempt to instigate anarchy in the country.

He said, “While we’re still on labour, I think we should also start to interrogate what labour is doing. The NLC is not a political party. The NLC can go on strike or protest if the rights of NLC members are involved. What the NLC is planning in the next two days is about interest. There’s no dispute whatsoever between NLC as a body with the federal government.

“Well yes, that’s a dispute between some members of NLC, ASUU whatever, and the federal government which is being looked into. And NLC itself is a party to the committee that is looking into the solution.

“So, calling out people on a street protest, you begin to wonder, what the motive of NLC in this matter is.

“But you see here, we do not interrogate what NLC is doing. NLC by its own laws cannot even give out pamphlets. And NLC is supposed to be completely insulated from politics.

“Now, if you declare dispute with us, yes you can go on strike. Even that one would depend on whether certain steps have been taken or not. But this particular, NLC, you know, asking and mobilising people to come out on strike on July 26 and 27, is clearly on nothing,” Lai stated.

When told that NLC was worried about the prolonged strike which had been affecting their children as well, the minister said the federal government was worried as NLC and everybody.

“But the law is the law. What we are saying is that rather than…what I expect NLC to do as umbrella body to find solution, to join the federal government in finding solution. They are part of the tripartite team negotiating with federal government on this ASUU issue. So, why are they now going out to take sides?

“And I think the NLC should think twice about their proposed strike in solidarity with ASUU. It is as if the federal government is doing nothing about ASUU. No. And they’ve been involved in this negotiation all along, so, why now?”

Meanwhile, the Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, has appealed to aviation workers not to join the planned NLC protest because of its security, economic and other implications.

Sirika, while responding to a question on the threats by aviation unions to shut down airports, said, “I’m naturally concerned about this if the aviation union will shut down in support of ASUU. I would say they have no need to.”

Asked whether he had had that conversation with them, Sirika said: “Yes, it is an ongoing thing. Yes, we have spoken and I don’t think they will join and yes, we are concerned, but yes also reminding them of the enormous responsibility upon their necks and our own necks.”

No going back, NLC replies FG

But, in a swift reaction yesterday, the NLC said the federal government lacked the power to stop its proposed nationwide strike.

The President of NLC, Ayuba Wabba, counselled the minister to understand that labour was directly involved because all four trade unions in the dispute were its affiliates and had demanded support.

Wabba, in an interview with our correspondent, maintained that the right to peaceful assembly is a fundamental right guaranteed by the UN Charter on Human and People Right and the Nigerian constitution.

He said all the proactive early warnings from NLC to address the issues in the last five months had not yielded any solution.

The labour leader said, ‘’As citizens, it should be a matter of serious and urgent concern that our children in millions are out of school for five months. It’s enough reason for citizens to protest.

‘‘The law is very explicit, that no permission is required for citizens to assemble peacefully and protest. Our current political elite exercised this fundamental right.

‘‘Lastly, to add salt to injury, salaries of all the workers are being withheld, some for five months, hoping that they will starve to death. It is, therefore, critically clear that our action as usual is lawful in any democratic society.

‘‘They are the ones to stop playing politics with the future of Nigerian children, who are the leaders of tomorrow. We expected the minister to know this elementary fact and speak to real issues.’’

 Strike could be called off before 2 weeks – Presidency

However, the Presidency has expressed optimism that the dispute with ASUU could be resolved earlier than the two weeks being projected.

It also dismissed media reports quoting President Muhammadu Buhari as giving a two-week ultimatum to the Minister of Education, Malam Adamu Adamu, to resolve the dispute.

Malam Garba Shehu, the president’s media aide, said this in a statement on Wednesday in Abuja, while also appealing to the media not to spread misinformation over the ongoing strike by ASUU.

There were media reports on Wednesday quoting Buhari as directing the minister to resolve all industrial disputes in the nation’s tertiary institutions within two weeks.

Shehu said the Presidency was optimistic that agreements could be reached in an even shorter period if all parties were not unrealistically obstinate.

He said the outcome of the meeting held by the president on Tuesday with relevant ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) to end the agitations by university unions ought to be beyond spin-doctoring and conjecture.

Shehu said, “Neither during nor after the meeting was any ultimatum given to the minister of education.

“During the meeting, the minister of education requested that the minister of labour (Senator Chris Ngige) hands off the negotiation to allow him to lead and conclude what he had earlier started with the ASUU.

“And he promised that he could get an agreement within the shortest possible time, possibly two to three weeks.

“In carrying out this assignment, the minister will carry along all relevant ministries and agencies with statutory functions and duties relating to the issues involved.

“On the part of the administration, all doors remain open for dialogue and the resolution of the issues.

“We appeal to the media not to spread misinformation. The orchestrated media narratives seeking to present an entirely different picture, attributed to sources, in the last 24 hours are not helpful at all,’’ he advised.

Table your case before education minister, Ngige tells unions

Meanwhile, Ngige has advised unions to table their case before the education minister for resolution.

He also dismissed media reports insinuating that the president ordered him to hands off negotiations with the striking university lecturers.

He made the clarification on Wednesday while speaking with State House reporters.

Ngige said, “The truth of the matter is, there is no such thing. It’s just a categorical untruth. There is nothing like hands off.”

On whether the two weeks’ directive by the president to resolve the issue was realistic, the labour minister said he proposed one week to resolve the issue but the minister of education volunteered to resolve the issues with ASUU in two weeks.

 

By Muideen Olaniyi & Idowu Isamotu