Hope of the Federal Government averting the planned strike by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) dimmed yesterday after the unions shunned a last-minute parley with government officials on the issues at stake.
Labour insisted on proceeding with the strike.
It denied claims by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Justice Minister Lateef Fagbemi (SAN) that the planned strike would amount to violation of a court order.
Counsel to organised labour, Femi Falana (SAN), advised government to reopen negotiation with his clients while President Bola Tinubu and the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, yesterday appealed to labour to reconsider its position and shelve the planned action “in the interest of the masses.”
The federal authorities had called an emergency meeting yesterday with representatives of labour to sort out their differences.
The Chief of Staff to the President, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, and Labour and Employment Minister, Simon Lalong, were supposed to lead the FG delegation, only for labour to stay away.
Lalong was sighted in the CoS’s office in preparation for the meeting up till about 5:30pm while the expected Labour leaders were nowhere to be found.
Sources close to the office of the Chief of Staff said the meeting had been rescheduled for this weekend.
One of the sources said: “They had to disperse since the NLC and TUC people didn’t show up. There must have been a reason and I believe they would have communicated their reasons to those waiting for them.
“I learned though that the meeting has been rescheduled for sometime during the weekend, but I don’t know when precisely.”
Labour had accused government of lack of seriousness, saying its planned strike action is on account of the current economic downturn.
We’re not in violation of any court order – NLC
Reacting yesterday to claims by Fagbemi that Labour would be acting in violation of a subsisting court order if it proceeded with the planned strike, the NLC said there was no such order in existence.
President of the NLC, Joe Ajaero, said in a statement that what Fagbemi called a subsisting order had lapsed “due to non-diligent prosecution”.
“We are shocked that Mr Lateef Fagbemi is referring to a restraining order issued on June 5 through motion ex parte which the Ministry of Justice in a formal statement had said lapsed due to non-diligent prosecution,” Ajaero said.
“Which order could Fagbemi be talking about here? We demand to know.
“We similarly find it necessary to remind Fagbemi that equating a restraining order to a perpetual injunction will do no small damage to our legal/judicial system.
“For once, we find it appropriate to reveal to the world that the court refused to sit during the pendency of the order to take our response to that order!
“Even though we would not want to be drawn into details here, representatives of the Federal Government on the National Steering Committee are on record to have said in the Villa that their mandate did not extend to subsequent increments after the one of N187–N537 thus differentiating between the issues for which the order (that has since run out of time) was issued.
“There are two ministerial portfolios whose offices constitutionally do not admit partisanship in the discharge of their duties. These are the Minister of Labour and Employment, and Minister of Justice. In addition to their regular duties, they are expected to play the umpire role.
“But here we find a Minister of Justice whose first major outing is not only an open partisanship but has descended into the arena with his robe and wig, losing in the process the umpire status!
“To gag us, to bind us, to tie us to the pole for life without a chance to hear us out will constitute not just malicious conduct but grievous injury to our fundamental human rights as enshrined in the 1999 constitution (as amended).
“We refuse to be gagged. We also want to remind those in power of their own history when they were out of power!
“We find it pathetic that Mr Fafgbemi strives to operate from the high moral ground by advising ‘Labour Unions on the need to protect the integrity of courts and observe the sanctity of court orders.’
“Who is causing more injury to the sanctity of the courts? Those seeking to convert a restraining order obtained under the cover of the night to a perpetual injunction or the victims of this terrorism?”
Falana to govt: Re-open negotiation with NLC, TUC
But counsel to NLC and TUC, Femi Falana, believes the deadlock can still be reversed.
He therefore wants government to reopen negotiation with his clients.
Falana, in his response to Fagbemi’s claim that the planned nationwide strike would amount to “a violation of the subsisting order and a disregard to the dignity and integrity of the court,” said negotiation between the two parties broke down after government obtained the ex parte order.
His words:”You will agree with us that since the ex parte order was procured by the Federal Government at the National industrial Court on June 5, 2023, negotiations in respect of the subject matter of the proposed strike by the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress ought to have been concluded.”
He said while the organised labour are not inclined to join issues with the minister over the alleged disobedience of the court order by Nigerian workers, they are “compelled to advise the Federal Government to resume negotiations with the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress in the interest of industrial peace in the country.”
Tinubu, Sultan urge NLC, TUC to shelve strike
President Tinubu and Sultan Abubakar said in Abuja that a strike at this time would not serve the best interest of the masses.
Read Also: Labour shuns meeting with FG over proposed strike
They both spoke during the Public Lecture and Special Juma’at prayer to mark Nigeria’s 63rd Independence Anniversary.
Tinubu who was represented by Senate Deputy President Barau Jibrin said: “Let’s dialogue, let’s sit together, let’s understand ourselves and let’s look at the prevailing situation in the country.
“How do we meet this country’s challenges ahead and the current challenges? It is through dialogue that we can solve our problems collectively.
“This government is new and it is working hard to bring succour to the entire people of this country. It has set aside N500 billion and other packages are being unveiled to cushion the effect of the subsidy removal.
“Therefore, we need to support and pray for the government.”
On his part, the Sultan asked labour to give the federal government another chance.
He said: “I am an advocate of dialogue because strikes don’t solve problems; they make them worse. Our leaders must tighten their belt. The common man is suffering.
”I don’t think this government will just decide to make life bad for the people; as leaders and elders, we will always call on stakeholders not to embark on journeys that will make life worse for the common man
“I don’t think government can take it upon itself to make life unbearable for the common man. Let’s give them chance and see what they can do.
”If people are on strike, there wouldn’t be electricity, water, hospital and transportation system.
”Please, let’s reach out to our brothers and sisters who are clamouring to go on strike. They should have a rethink. Please, on behalf of the President and the entire government, this is not the time for strike. It is too early.
”Please let’s dialogue, let’s get together, let’s understand ourselves and let us look at the prevailing situation in the country.
“President Tinubu will not know because he is in the Villa where everything is at his comfort. I think I’m the only one who would feel that there is strike because people will come to me. My house must open I can’t ask anybody to go out. The common man will suffer the more and that is why we are against anything strike by anybody,” Sultan said.
“For God’s sake, for Allah’s sake, anybody planning to go on strike should please give the government another chance. Please rethink and give the government another chance,” he said, while emphasising the need for the labour leaders to embrace dialogue.
Rivers NLC, TUC direct members to comply with proposed strike
Leaders of NLC and TUC in Rivers State yesterday asked their members to comply with the proposed October 3 strike.
The state chairpersons of NLC, Alex Agwangwor and TUC, Ikechukwu Onyefuru, gave the directive at the end of their joint executive council meeting in Port Harcourt.
Their joint statement directed to the workers said: “You are hereby kindly requested to ensure full mobilization for total compliance.”
Bauchi NLC too
Similarly, the NLC in Bauchi State said yesterday that it was gearing up and mobilising members for the strike.
Mr Dauda Shu’aibu, the State NLC Chairman, said in Bauchi that the strike was in the spirit of the Independence Day celebration and to demonstrate resolve for a truly independent Nigeria to take our destinies in our own hands and rescue our nation.
Shelve your action, group tells NLC, TUC
However, a support group of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), National Progressive Hub (NPH), appealed to organised labour to shelve their planned nationwide strike in the overall interest of the citizens of the country.
The appeal was contained in a statement by the NPH National Coordinator, Hon. Bukie Okangbe in Abuja yesterday.
The group advised the labour leaders to continue to engage government in dialogue rather than embarking on an action that will further worsen the economic situation.
Okangbe appealed to the two labour groups and their affiliates to give the federal government the benefit of the doubt in restructuring the economic framework of the country as spelt out in the Renewed Hope Agenda of President Tinubu.
We are prepared for proposed strike – Police
The Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Police Command said officers and men of the Force are prepared to forestall any breakdown of law and order before, during and after the proposed strike.
The police said all preparation have been put in place to maintain peace.
All efforts to get the reaction of the FCT Police Public Relations Officer, SP Josephine Adeh were futile, but a top source in the police who pleaded animosity gave the assurance.
He said: “We are not leaving anything to chance. Our Jon is to protect Nigerians and maintain peace.
“We are fully prepared to do the needful.
“I can assure you that there will be no cause for alarm if the strike holds”.