The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) may have begun to review its strategy in an effort to ensure fuller compliance by workers and higher level of success of the strike called to protest the recent fuel price increase which enters its second day today.
The NLC had attributed the low turnout that greeted its nationwide strike yesterday to late mobilisation of state councils and critical unions just as the three academic staff unions in the tertiary education sector are set to join the action today.
It also emerged that the NLC did not seem to have done much to convince workers that their jobs would be safe if they defied the National Industrial Court Order banning the strike and joined the action.
Without such conviction, and worried about their jobs, government workers in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, yesterday took their own fate into their hands, as they resumed in their various duty posts despite the strike notice by the NLC.
Near-normal activities continued in Lagos, Kaduna and Abuja except for rallies along major roads and public spaces as motorists, workers and schools ignored the call by NLC to embark on strike over the increase in pump price of fuel from N86.50 to N145 per litre.
The protest in Lagos which started from the NLC office in Yaba and headed for the Murtala Muhammed International Airport was largely peaceful, as union leaders urged their members to protest peacefully. A combined team of Mobile Police and the Rapid Respond Squad (RRS) followed them to maintain law and order.
Recalling the industrial actions embarked upon during former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration and court the Secretary to Joint Action Front Abiodun Aremu who spoke on the sidelines of the protest said: “We have never obeyed such an injunction. During the Obasanjo time, there were three of such black market injunctions under the leadership of Adams Oshiomhole, these were never followed up, and we never obeyed them. Nobody can give an injunction to a man that is hungry.”
At the Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital (AKTH), Kano, three out of the five associations under the umbrella of Joint Health Sector Union (JOHESU), joined the strike while the remaining two did not comply with the NLC directive.
The three associations that joined the strike action were said to be directly under NLC, namely Medical Health Workers Union of Nigeria, National Association of Nurses and Midwives and Non Academic Staff Union.
Also, civil servants in Kaduna State defied the order of the NLC to stay at home as banks, schools, markets and other private establishments in the state capital opened for normal business.
But efforts by airline operators to resume full operations yesterday morning were disrupted for a while by protesters around the Murtala Muhammed Airport II (MMA2), Lagos.
Joint factions of the Nigeria Labour Union, Trade Union Congress and National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) stormed the Lagos Airport Road blocking passengers’ route to catch morning flights yesterday.
The development led to some passengers missing their flights as traffic snarls built inwards the airport, leaving passengers trekking long distances to meet their flight schedule.
With the return of aviation fuel supplies late Tuesday, expectations were high that full services would commence, but the strike impeded some operations until mid day.
On Labour’s efforts to ground operations, General Manager Public Affairs, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Yakubu Dati said: “Well, it is a free country but we at the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria are committed to ensuring that we give the services that we are being paid for and that is why we are out to ensure that we continue with our operations and we also want to thank the security agencies who have ensured that the operations at the airports across the country are going on as scheduled .”
As early as 7:00 a.m., yesterday, many government workers in Lagos and Abuja particularly, were sighted at designed points waiting for their staff buses which arrived on schedule. Many were also at the bus stops struggling for spaces in public vehicles.School buses also moved about freely, picking pupils, students and officials. It was as if they were ignorant of the strike by NLC. Banks and private enterprises opened for business.
At the Federal Secretariat, combat-ready policemen were stationed at strategic places as if expecting trouble.Workers were at their duty posts, many of them scared that government would make true its threat to enforce the ‘no work, no pay rule’.
They arrived at their offices eagerly expecting the attendance registers where they would register their presence as directed by Secretary to the Government of the Federation. The registers never came.
But, the possibility of the strike gaining strength is still there as the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU) and the National Association of Staff of Universities (NASU) have resolved to join the strike today.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed and his Labour and Employment and Justice counterparts, Chris Ngige and Abubakar Malami (SAN), were all united that the current protest by the organised Labour was in clear violation of a court injunction restraining the Labour Union by the NIC to that effect.
They spoke at a briefing of State House correspondents after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The National President of SSANU, Samson Ugwoke said that other unions ASUU and NASU have had peaceful solidarity on campuses. SSANU stated that as an affiliate of the NLC, the union would comply with NLC directive.
To the President of Congress, Ayuba Wabba, the success of the strike should not be measured in terms of how many offices were locked or how many workers reported for work.
His words: “The success of the strike should not be measured strictly in terms of how many offices were under lock and key. I think what it demonstrates is compliance with our tradition which is to resist the imposition of policies that would bring hardship to the Nigerian workers. However, if Nigerians believe they can live with the current realities, that is entirely in their hands but posterity will be kind to the NLC and its civil society allies.”
While revealing that the strike and protest will continue today nationwide, Wabba said the National Executive Council (NEC) of the NLC believes that it is better to fight and fail than not to fight against injustice and oppression.
He also said it ws not true that NLC rejected offers from the Federal Government, saying: “We tried to get something from government but it was unwilling to give anything. Even the attempt at reducing the price by some margins was rejected by the government.”
The President of the Nigeria Civil Service Union (NCSU), Kiri Mohammed said whether the strike is judged to have failed or succeeded, “ the NLC has demonstrated its resolve to keep with its age-long tradition of standing with the poor and defenseless people.”
He explained that the increase in the pump price of petrol is the first in the series of actions government will take in the next months that will adversely affect jobs and wellbeing of the Nigerian people.He said: “Either we succeed or not, the NLC will benefit either way.
Let me say to those who backed out of the strike that the plans by the Federal Government to concession the Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kano and Abuja airports would force labour to protest again. The question to ask is: where are the jobs? The fate of the unions in the airports will be like that of the Nigeria Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) who today has no members anymore.”
Kiri submitted that Nigerians should not be too hasty in judging whether the strike has failed, saying, “because this is the first day of the action. Let government continue to use state apparatus like police and propaganda to deceive the people. The action goes on tomorrow and the next but even if we do not succeed, there is going to be uncoordinated anger and things will be terrible because there will be no coordination. What we are trying to do now is to save government from itself. Uncoordinated protest is more dangerous and labour wishes government well.”
According to Mohammed, the current problem of fuel regime in the country is not really about subsidy removal, but about the fact that Nigeria needs more resource. Mohammed canvassed patience and understanding of Nigerians with the government in view of the current global economic realities that the country has found itself. He likened the situation to a salaried person, whose income has been drastically reduced, noting that such a person has no other option but to make some sacrifices to suit the current realities.
In another development, the Senate presided over by the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, rose from an hour closed-door meeting yesterday announcing that its Committee on Labour should dialogue with the Federal Government and the Wabba faction of the NLC, over the strike .
Ekweremadu said that the Senate in the closed session deliberated on the nationwide strike by organised labour.He noted that the intervention of the Senate became necessary in order to find ways and means of resolving the issues that led to the strike to avoid inflicting untold hardships on Nigerians.