Thursday, January 5, 2012

Labour begins strike, protests Monday

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) have threatened to shut down the country with indefinite strike action and mass protests should the Federal Government fail to revert back to the old price of fuel by Monday, January 9. This is coming as the Joint Action Front (JAF), a coalition of civil society groups, foreclosed the possibility of dialogue with the government before the commencement of the strike. The National Executive Councils (NEC) of both the NLC and TUC had yesterday met simultaneously in Abuja and Lagos respectively, with the two labour groups issuing a joint communiqué which slammed President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration for jerking up the pump price of fuel last Sunday even while government claimed to be consulting with Nigerians. The communiqué read by the NLC President, Comrade Abdulwaheed Omar, stated in part that: “Due to this upward review of prices, the pump price for petrol is now selling for between N141 and N200 per litre nation-wide rather than N65. This prohibitive increase in price of PMS once again confirms the position of Labour that deregulation to this government means incessant price increase of a strategic product (petrol) that impact on cost of living, cost of production and the general well-being of increasingly impoverished Nigerians.” “The immediate generalised negative impact of this price increase on transport cost, food, drugs, school fees, rents, indicate that government is totally wrong to underestimate the impact assessment of the so-called deregulation policy,” the communiqué stated. Omar stated further that: “In view of the untoward hardship workers and other Nigerians are experiencing based on excessive increase in petrol prices, there have been sporadic protests by Nigerians in at least 10 cities.” These peaceful protests, he noted, have witnessed the use of unprecedented force by the police, leading to harassment, intimidation, arrests and the murder of a protester in Ilorin. The NLC boss disclosed that there was a subsisting understanding between the Congress and the Federal Government in 2009 that removal of subsidy will not commence until certain conditions were met. The conditions, according to him, include the fixing of all the nation’s four existing refineries and building of new ones, regular power supply, and provision of other social infrastructure such as railways and repairs of roads as well as elimination of the corruption associated with supply and distribution of petroleum products in the downstream sector. He decried that these conditions were not fulfilled before the latest surreptitious subsidy removal by the Jonathan administration. Against this backdrop, he said: “After exhaustive deliberations and consultations with all sections of the populace, the NLC, TUC and their pro-people allies demand that the Presidency immediately reverses fuel prices to N65. If the government fails to do so, they direct that indefinite general strikes, mass rallies and street protests be held across the country with effect from Monday 9th January, 2012”. Beginning from Monday, 9th January 2012, all offices, oil production centres, air and sea ports, fuel stations, markets, banks, amongst others would be shut down, he said. He advised Nigerians to stockpile basic needs especially food and water and called on them to participate actively in the entire efforts to make government rescind its decision. “The emphasis is on peaceful protests, rallies and strikes while refusing to be intimidated. Labour calls on the police, armed forces and other security agencies to reject orders that they turn their weapons on fellow Nigerians. We warn that anybody who does so will be individually brought to justice”. “The primary objective of this patriotic call and movement is to revert PMS price to N65, restore normalcy and reclaim Nigeria for Nigerians,” he stressed. Meanwhile, the Joint Action Front (JAF) after an emergency in Lagos yesterday, insisted on nationwide protests and mass rallies, saying the was no need for dialogue with the Federal Government. TUC President, Comrade Peter Esele, who briefed newsmen at the end of the group's meeting at the PENGASSAN office in Lagos, said that the organised Labour would not dialogue with the Federal Government on the removal of fuel subsidy, insisting that the price of fuel must be reverted to N65 per litre. Also present at the meeting was Human Rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, who stressed that the battle is "a fight to finish", saying that if court wants to stop them, they have also organised their own lawyers to fight the cause. He announced that Lagos lawyers would join the protests today.

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