NEC Urges Labour to Shelve Planned  Strike, NUPENG Threatens to Halt Fuel Supply

·      AGF says proposed strike gross violation of court order

· NLC: No agreement reached with FG to suspend planned industrial action

· CSO, activists vow to enforce sit-at-home

· Insist phantom fuel subsidy removal was self-serving policy of economic slavery

Deji Elumoye, Onyebuchi Ezigbo and Alex Enumah in Abuja

As the clock ticks towards October 3, the date Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) have scheduled to commence a nationwide indefinite strike, the federal government appears to be ramping up efforts to appease the trade union centres and try to prevent them from embarking on the industrial action.

National Economic Council (NEC), chaired by Vice President Kashim Shettima, yesterday, appealed to NLC and TUC to shelve the planned strike, pleading for more time for government to address labour’s demands.

Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, also yesterday, warned the organised labour against the planned nationwide industrial action, stating that going ahead with it would amount to  violation of a subsisting court order.

However, Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) directed its members to withdraw their services nationwide from Tuesday, in line with the indefinite strike called by NLC and TUC.

Amid the growing tension over the strike, NLC yesterday stressed that it had not reached any form of understanding with the federal government on suspension of the planned industrial action.

NLC’s clarification came as United Action Front of Civil Society, the organised platform of civil society groups and activists on matters of governance and democracy in Nigeria, yesterday, announced its endorsement of the planned industrial action.

NLC and TUC had on Monday directed all their affiliates to commence an indefinite strike by midnight, Tuesday, October 3. The decision was reached after the National Executive Council (NEC) meetings of the two labour centres held in Abuja. In a joint communiqué signed by NLC President, Joe Ajaero, and TUC President, Festus Osifo, the unions stated that they had deeply analysed the current situation in the country, taking into cognisance the extensive hardship and deprivation afflicting citizens across all states of the federation, and unanimously condemned the federal government’s apparent conscious lethargy and tardiness in handling the consequences of its petrol price hike on Nigerians.

But briefing newsmen at the end of the National Economic Council (NEC) meeting held at State House, Abuja, Governor of Plateau State, Caleb Mutfwang, disclosed NEC’s resolution on the proposed industrial action, and said the council had asked all the 36 state governors to resume negotiations with labour leaders in their respective states. Mutfwang said NEC was of the opinion that continuing on the path of dialogue would be the best option for the economy, especially at the state level.

The Plateau State governor stated, “Council noted the notice by the national leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress to proceed on an indefinite strike from October 3, 2023.

“The council noted further the implication of this strike for the economy and the nation and, thus, urged members to continue to engage with the leadership of their respective states and to appeal to them to shelve the action and continue on the path of dialogue with the federal government. This is the appeal of Council.”

Explaining further the grounds for the council’s appeal, the governor decried the situation of most of the states when the various governors took over on May 29. He stated that many of them were just coming out of prolonged industrial strikes, adding that enforcing a new strike at this time would further damage the economy.

Mutfwang pleaded for more time for government to address the concerns of labour, acknowledging that there are feelers that leaders at every level genuinely want the issues raised by labour addressed once and for all.According to him, “NEC actually expressed genuine concern on the situation in the country and appreciates the concern by labour to have those issues addressed.

“That is why NEC is appealing for patience, appealing for time to be able to address the concerns of labour. We also believe that Mr. President will be addressing the nation 1st of October and some of the concerns of labour will be appropriately addressed in the president’s speech.”

The governor said it was important to recognise that Nigeria was a federation, “So whatever happens, labour is represented in all the 36 states and the FCT and NEC is appealing that discussions should continue at the state levels because there will be peculiarities as to the issues to be addressed concerning the demands of labour. “Therefore, dialogue is the way to go.

“The nation is at a very critical moment at this time. Some of the states, when they took over on May 29, the workers were on strike, some of those issues have just been resolved, for the workers to return to work. To ask them to go back immediately, it’s going to further damage the economy.

“Therefore NEC, while expressing genuine concern about the situation in the country, appeals for calm and patience and I want to believe that the leadership across the nation at this point in time wants to truly address the issues that concern labour and the general populace and move the country forward.”
Speaking earlier, Shettima identified stability as one of the priorities in the economic agenda of the President BolaTinubu administration for 2024.

The vice president stated that government at the federal, state and local government levels must remain committed to re-evaluating their priorities, streamlining processes, and making bold decisions that would reflect key social issues, including social protection, social investment, and nutrition.

In his opening address at the meeting, titled, “Planning for Stability: Our Agenda for Economic Growth in 2024,” Shettima reminded the governors and other members of NEC that the weight of the tough decisions to rescue Nigeria’s economy depended on their cooperation and goodwill.

He noted that what set Tinubu apart as a Nigerian leader was the courage to embark on fixing the country’s economy through bold reforms.

Identifying stability as a major priority in next year’s economic agenda, the vice president said, “It took courage to embark on fixing an economy hindered by decades of political lip service. But that’s what has set President Tinubu apart: his bold reforms to reposition the economy and save it from further erosion.”
Responding to a question on the probability of the administration drawing up a supplementary budget, Governor Abdullahi Sule of Nasarawa State said there was no need for such yet, going by the presentations before the NEC.

Speaking to a question around the $3 billion loan taken by the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) to stabilise the naira exchange rate, Sule said the new team at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) would require some time to put their acts together and take steps to achieve the stabilisation.Equally speaking at the briefing, Minister of Budget and Economic Planning, Atiku Bagudu, said the council supported Tinubu’s eight-point agenda, stressing that it holds the key to Nigeria’s development.

“The meeting appreciates all the eight-point agenda of President Bola Tinubu and his investment drive around the world and measures he has taken so far,” Bagudu said.

The minister said the council was satisfied with the collaboration between the federal and state governments, and advised the sub-nationals to explore the abundant opportunities in the energy sector, in line with the new Electricity Act.

Bagudu stated, “In particular, the meeting agreed that there should be vigorous implementation of key resolutions in collaboration between the states and the federal government.

“One of the resolutions highlighted is the energy sufficiency for sustainable economic development. Government at all levels should promote the migration of heavy duty industry system from fossil fuel to gas infrastructure as well as acknowledge that the new Electricity Act empowers states and individuals to participate in all components of the energy sector.”

Bagudu stressed that state governments were encouraged to carry out energy audits in order to determine their energy needs as well as explore areas of collaboration with the private sector based on their competitive advantages.

Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Nyesom Wike, said at the briefing that the council, after receiving the report of the special committee on impact of flood and disaster across the states in Nigeria, adopted the grouping of states according to what they suffered from flooding.

Wike listed the states under their various categories to include, “Group A: states with over 15 points (most affected) Anambra, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Benue, Borno, Kogi, Nasarawa, Niger, Rivers, Enugu, Kano, Oyo, Yobe, Zamfara.

“Group B: (states with 10-15 points) Cross River, Delta, Jigawa, Kwara, Ondo.

“Group C: (states with less than 10 points) Katsina, Abia, Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Ebonyi, Edo, Ekiti, Gombe, Imo, Kaduna, Katsina, Kebbi, Lagos, Ogun, Osun, Plateau, Sokoto, Taraba, FCT.”

The FCT minister said the council directed the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to immediately provide intervention to the affected states. He added that a roadmap would be developed and articulated by NEC in collaboration with the chairman of Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF).

The governor of Katsina State, Dikko Radda, gave an update on the distribution of palliatives, as presented by the NGF chairman, and governor of Kwara State, Abdulraman Abdulrazaq.

Radda, who disclosed to journalists that the federal government had released N2 billion to each state and the FCT, added that the NGF chairman informed the council that members were making progress and urged them to re-double efforts as states looked forward to more interventions.

Accountant-General of the Federation, Mrs Oluwatoyin Madein, said the chairman of the Presidential Committee on Fiscal Policy and Tax Reforms, Mr. Taiwo Oyedele, made a presentation to NEC on the fiscal policy and tax reforms. Madein disclosed that the committee was set up by Tinubu to review and redesign Nigeria’s fiscal system with respect to revenue mobilisation through both tax and non-tax avenues; quality of government spending; and sustainable debt management.

She said, in addition, the committee would identify relevant measures to make Nigeria an attractive destination for investment and facilitate inclusive economic growth.

Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Communications, Stanley Nkwocha, gave details of balances in the country’s excess crude and other accounts as follows: Excess Crude Account, $473,754.57; Stabilisation Account, N34, 936,868,803.58; Development of Natural Resources, N128, 330,636,441.14.

AGF Warns NLC, TUC against Planned Nationwide Strike

Fagbemi warned organised labour against the planned nationwide industrial action.

In a letter to the NLC and TUC lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, the AGF reminded the workers’ union that the law banning any strike action in respect of the removal of subsidy was still in force and must be obeyed by all parties. He appealed to the labour leaders to comply with the law and exploit other peaceful and legal mechanisms in addressing whatever grievances they might have against the government and its policies.In the letter dated September 26, Fagbemi told Falana that as counsel to the labour leaders, he was under obligation to let them know the consequences of proceeding with the scheduled strike action.

The letter, personally signed by the AGF, drew the attention of the labour leaders to a subsisting order of injunction which restrained them from leading workers in the country to any form of strike action.

The letter read in part, “The attention of the ministry has been drawn to media reports on the proposed nation-wide strike action by the NLC and TUC scheduled to commence on 3rd October 2023.

“You are kindly invited to recall the antecedence of previous steps, actions on this matter, particularly the exchange of correspondence between this office and your firm, before and after the nationwide ‘action/protest’ declared by the NLC on 2nd August 2023.

“Whilst your clients had maintained that the nationwide protest by NLC is in furtherance of its constitutional right to embark on protests, the ministry has repeatedly advised on the need to advise your clients to refrain from resorting to self-help and taking actions capable of undermining subsisting orders of a court of competent jurisdiction.” The minister also reminded the labour leaders how the government had abandoned its contempt proceedings against them following the intervention of the president and National Assembly, in order for the government and labour to engage in further negotiations without any form of encumbrances.

Fagbemi stated, “However, in its communique issued at the end of its National Executive Council meeting on August 31, 2023, NLC resolved to embark on a total and indefinite shutdown of the nation within 14 working days or 21 days from August 31, 2023. “Also on September 26, 2023, the presidents of NLC and TUC, jointly issued a communiqué stating that organised labour had resolved, ‘to embark on an indefinite and total shutdown of the nation beginning on zero hours, Tuesday, October 3, 2023’.

“From a review of the contents of the above communiques and available media reports, the proposed strike action is premised principally in furtherance of issues connected with the removal of fuel subsidy, hike in fuel price and consequential matters of making provisions for palliatives and workers welfare. “These are undoubtedly issues that have been submitted to the National Industrial Court for adjudication. Therefore, the proposed strike action is in clear violation of the pending interim injunctive order granted on 5th June 2023 restraining both Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress from embarking on any strike of any nature, pending the hearing and determination of the pending Motion on Notice.

“We wish to reiterate that a court order, regardless of the opinion of any party on it, remains binding and enforceable until set aside. It is the expectation of the public that the labour unions would lead in obedience and observance of court orders and not in its breach.