Fuel subsidy removal: Labour declares war | Indefinite strike starts Monday | Lawyers, civil society groups join

By BIMBOLA OYESOLA, LAGOS and MOLLY KILETE, ABUJA

• NLC President Abdulwaheed Omar (middle) with other officials at the emergency meeting in Abuja.

The battle-line between organized Labour and the Federal Government was drawn yesterday with an ultimatum to the latter to let fuel subsidy stay or face indefinite nation-wide strike from January 9. The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress and their pro-people allies have threatened an indefinite nationwide strike effective Monday, if the government fails to revert fuel price to N65 per litre.

 The two labour centres also ruled out the possibility of negotiation with the Federal Government or any of its ad hoc committees set up in the wake of the increase ahead the general strike on Monday. Government had, on January I, 2012, commenced deregulation of the downstream sector of the oil industry. Immediately, petrol price rose from N65 to about N200 per litre.

 In a communiqué jointly issued at the end of their National Executive Council (NEC) meetings, held both at the Labour House in Abuja, and at the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association (PENGASSAN) secretariat in Lagos yesterday, the NLC and TUC vowed that all offices, oil production centres, air and seaports, fuel stations, markets, banks among others, will be shut down during the strike.

 Both presidents of the two labour centres, who read the same communiqué jointly signed by Abdulwaheed Omar, for the NLC and President-General, Comrade Peter Esele, TUC, at a Press conference at the two locations, attended by chairmen of commercial motocyclists (okada) riders state councils, civil society groups, riders, journalists, among others, advised Nigerians to stockpile basic needs especially foodstuffs and water. While calling on the police, military and other security agencies not to turn their weapons on protesters, NLC president Omar called on all Nigerians to participate actively “in this movement to rescue our country. The emphasis is on peaceful protest, rallies and strikes while refusing to be intimidated”.

 The joint communiqué explained that the primary objective of the strike is to revert PMS (petrol) price to N65, restore normalcy and reclaim Nigeria for Nigerians. The communique titled: “In defence of the Nigerian people on fuel price increases”, reads in part:”The National Executive Councils of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) took place today, Wednesday, 4th January, 2012.“The Presidency announced the removal of petroleum subsidy and adjusted upward, the pump price of petrol on 1st January, 2012 even when it claimed it was consulting Nigerians.

 “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”. The Labour leaders noted that the prohibitive increase in price of PMS once again confirms their position that deregulation to the present government means incessant price increase of a strategic product (petrol) that impacts on cost of living, production and the general well-being of increasingly impoverished Nigerians. Labour maintained that the immediate generalized negative impact of the present price increase on transport cost, food, drugs, schools fees and rents indicate that government is totally wrong to underestimate the impact assessment of the so-called deregulation policy.

 “Due to 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’’, NLC and TUC stated.
 The communiqué added that the nation-wide protests, which were peaceful have witnessed the use of unprecedented force by the police, leading to harassment, intimidation, arrests and even the murder of a protester in Ilorin, Kwara State.
 According to Labour: ”there is a subsisting understanding between the Congress and the Federal Government in 2009 that removal of subsidy will not commence until certain conditions have been met. These include the fixing of all the 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 eliminating the corruption associated with supply and distribution of petroleum products in the downstream sector of the oil industry’’.

 The Labour centres, however, stressed that they arrived at the option of strike after exhaustive deliberations and consultations with all sections of the populace, stressing that the NLC, TUC and their pro-people allies demand that the Presidency immediately reverses fuel price to N65.“ If the government fails to do so, they direct that indefinite general strike, mass rallies and street protests be held across the country with effect from Monday, 9th January, 2012.
 “From that Monday, 9th January 2012, all offices, oil production centres, air and seaports, fuel stations, markets, banks, amongst others will be shut down’’, the Labour leaders emphazised.

 Both unions advised Nigerians to stockpile basic needs especially food and water even as they called on all Nigerians to participate actively in the struggle to rescue the country. Comrades Omar and Esele said that 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. “No Retreat, No surrender, Forward Ever,” the communique added.
 Esele also explained that the movement would not entertain any distraction from the government in the form of negotiation before the commencement of the strike. “I don’t see anything stopping us from going on with the strike, all we need is a mandate from our organ and that has been given with the meetings of the two NECs both in Abuja and Lagos. There is no negotiation before the general strike, we cannot talk to the committee until we do what is in our hearts.

 “The next line of action now is for all of us to strategize on how we are going to have a successful strike”, he said.
 The Labour leaders, however, appealed to Nigerians to rise to the situation, maintaining that Labour is well-prepared for the onslaught. “We have the assurance from the Aviation workers that the airspace will be shut, the pilots and engineers are with us, there is no lifting of fuel while all forms of transportation will be grounded,” he stated.
 Meanwhile, the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) is expected to hold a protest march on the streets of Lagos today to express members’dissatisfaction against the arbitrary fuel price increase as announced by the PPRA on January 1, 2012.

 According to a human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, who was at the NEC meeting of the TUC in Lagos, he ruled out the probability of any court injunction standing on the way of the masses from going ahead with the planned protest and general strike on Monday. “Tomorrow morning (today), NBA will start a protest march, and when lawyers participate in a struggle, you know what it takes”, he said. Also, the president of the Campaign for Democracy (CD), Dr Joe Okei-Odumakin, said all the civil society groups have now suspended their rallies scheduled to commence today until Monday, to run simultaneously with Labour.

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