Monday , 15 April 2024

Alleged Attack on NLC leadership : “NLC is feeling guilty in hatching its hidden agenda influenced by partisan considerations,” Says Onanuga

…Pressure mounts on NLC over planned protests

Political leaders, pan-ethnic organisations and civil society groups yesterday mounted pressure on the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to shelve its proposed protest over the rising cost of living.

The two-day protest is billed for tomorrow and Wednesday.

Pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere; Lagos People’s Assembly (LPA) and Arewa Think-Tank cautioned against blackmailing President Bola Ahmed Tinubu with protests.

They stressed that the Federal Government deserves cooperation in its bid to tackle the economic challenges.

Last week, Ohanaeze Ndigbo President Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu urged the NLC to toe the line dialogue.

He urged the people to shun any form of protest.

The Directorate of State Service (DSS) warned that there is a possibility of the protest being hijacked, thereby turning an otherwise peaceful exercise into a violent one.

According to a statement by its spokesman, Dr. Peter Afunnaya, the protest may herald violence that may further impact negatively on the economy.

At the weekend, Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister for Justice Lateef Fagbemi warned the NLC leaders not to risk contempt of court.

The Lagos Police Command also warned protesters against impeding the flow of traffic in Lagos during the protest.

The Police Commissioner, Fayoade Adegoke, said violation of human rights by protesters will not be permitted.

Trade Union Congress (TUC), the second labour centre, disowned the NLC’s plan, saying it was uncalled for and unilaterally decided.

However, the NLC yesterday insisted that the protest would go on.

Its President, Joe Ajaero, said: “We remain resolute, determined and prepared to express our pain and grief peacefully as Nigerians come 27th and 28th of February 2024.”

Ajaero, who maintained that NLC would go ahead with its plan to protest the “mounting hunger and insecurity” in the country on Tuesday and Wednesday, accused the Federal Government of trying to use an amorphous group – Nigeria Civil Society Forum (NCSF) – to attack its members during the rallies.

He said there would be a total shutdown of the country through the withdrawal of services by workers if any of its members were attacked during the protest.

Ajaero alleged in a statement that the right to protest and freedom from slavery was being threatened in Nigeria.

The statement reads: “We would want to inform Nigerians that the state has perfected plans to attack our peaceful rallies across the country.

“One of the groups being primed to attack our peaceful rallies is by a nebulous name, Nigeria Civil Society Forum (NCSF).

“NCSF is one of the emergency groups put together, funded, promoted and remote-controlled by the government to cause violence against our members for electing to peacefully protest against hunger in the land.

“We would want the state to know that the solution to our horrible economic situation and hunger is not by suppressing peaceful dissent or inflicting violence on peacefully protesting citizens as the government did in Minna and other cities where its agents tear-gassed and beat up women before locking them up for raising their voices against hunger.

“It does not lie in the deployment of state-sponsored terror. The pangs of hunger cannot be cowed by bullets or tear gas.

“In light of this, we at the Nigeria Labour Congress and civil society allies are moving ahead with our protest rallies against economic hardship and insecurity in line with the decision of the National Executive Council.

“As citizens, we have a fundamental right to peaceful protest and history bears us witness that our protests are always peaceful except in instances of state-engineered violence.

“In light of this, we advise the state to put on its thinking cap and find solutions to the pains it continues to cause the people instead of further dehumanising them.

“However, if it is irrevocably set on the path of violence against us and other peace-loving Nigerians, it will be making a costly mistake because if we are attacked, there will be a total shutdown via withdrawal of services by workers.

“Let no one be deceived, we and other deprived Nigerians cannot easily be intimidated.

“Lest those in power now who may have forgotten be reminded, we faced a more resourceful and resilient adversary in order to have democracy.

“All we are saying now is: let there be food for the people, let the people live in safety, let the people live a life of dignity devoid of suffocating IMF/World Bank economic policies.

“Once again, we advise those waiting in the wings to unleash violence on us that this is not about the NLC but about Nigerians who are saying ‘enough is enough’, about a people who have resolved not to be further pushed into the pit of misery and hopelessness, while a few live in obscene luxury at our collective expense.”

Also, two groups, The Joint Action Front (JAF) and the Coalition for Revolution (CORE) said they would participate in the protest in solidarity with the NLC.

No plan to attack NLC, says Fed Govt

The Federal Government denied the allegation of a planned attack on NLC leadership, describing it as “speculative”.

Special Adviser to the President on Information and Strategy Bayo Onanuga, said by raising the allegation, “NLC is feeling guilty in hatching its hidden agenda influenced by partisan considerations”.

Onanuga, who spoke with reporters in Abuja, said the planned protest is illegal as it is against a subsisting order of the court.

He said the NLC had a hidden agenda because most of the issues raised by labour for embarking on the protest had been addressed by the government.

Onanuga insisted that the issues raised by the labour had been addressed by the government, including the payment of a wage award of N35,000 for six months.

He said the money had been paid to civil servants up till January and only that of February is outstanding.

The President’s aide said the Federal Government had inaugurated a 37-member Tripartite Committee on National Minimum Wage to review and come up with an acceptable and sustainable Minimum Wage.

He said the government had made substantial financial commitments on the provision of CNG Buses and Conversion Kits.

Onanuga said the busses will be rolled out very soon to alleviate the transportation challenges being faced by Nigerians.

Counsel to NLC Femi Falana said the proposed protest is legal, stressing that the union will not be committing any contempt of court.

In his reply to Fagbemi, he said: “Having withdrawn the contempt proceedings filed against the NLC and TUC for embarking on public protest on August 2, 2023, you ought not to have threatened the NLC with contempt of court over its plan to hold rallies from February 27-28, 2024 against the astronomical cost of living in the country.”

Falana recalled that following the removal of fuel subsidy by President Tinubu on May 29, last year, the Federal Government commenced negotiations with the NLC and the TUC.

He said while the negotiations were in progress, the Federal Ministry of Justice rushed to the National Industrial Court to file Suit No NICN/ABJ/158/2023 against Labour on the same issue.

Falana said on June 5, 2023, Justice Yemi Anuwe granted the application of the Federal Government for an ex parte order to restrain the NLC and TUC from embarking on strike against the removal of fuel subsidy.

He added: “Although both the NLC and TUC complied with the ex-parte order, they promptly applied to set aside same for want of jurisdiction.

“They equally asked for a stay of execution of the order ex parte pending the determination of the motion.”

Falana said the application to set aside the ex-parte order filed by the defendants and the motion for interlocutory injunction filed by the claimants have not been considered as parties resolved to settle the case out of court.

Though the parties signed a 16-point memorandum of understanding, he said the Federal Government did not implement all the terms of the agreement.

Hence, on August 2, 2023, both NLC and TUC held a peaceful protest throughout the country.

He regretted that instead of implementing the agreement, the Federal Government initiated contempt proceedings against the NLC and TUC at the National Industrial Court.

He said they challenged the competence of the contempt proceedings, but the Federal Government turned around to withdraw the application for contempt.

He also recalled that on November 10, 2023, the Federal Government filed another suit, NICN/ABJ/322/2023, at the National Industrial Court against the NLC and TUC, notwithstanding the pendency of Suit No. Suit No NICN/ABJ/158/2023.

He said on that same day, the President of the National Industrial Court, Justice Benedict Kanyip, granted an ex-parte order to restrain the NLC and TUC from embarking on the planned strike.

He said the judge, however, directed that the case file be transferred to Justice Olufunke Yemi Anuwe who is handling a similar labour dispute between the same parties.

Both NLC and TUC challenged the competence of the fresh suit on the ground that it constituted a gross abuse of the court process.

Falana said the application has not been heard and determined by the National Industrial Court to date.

Afenifere leader Pa Reuben Fasoranti urged Nigerians to refrain from protests that can escalate tension.

He said the outcry over the hardship, hunger, and price hikes was not unexpected, urging Nigerians to come to terms with the realities of the national challenges, which the President is tackling.

The Yoruba leader said in a statement in Akure, Ondo State, that the difficult economic measures were part of a larger strategy aimed at restoring economic prosperity and stability.

The statement reads: “Government’s commitment to implementing these measures is a testament to its dedication to addressing the root causes of our economic challenges, inherited from the ills of the previous years.

“As a responsible leader, I appeal to every Yoruba man and woman, young and old, and our fellow citizens across the nationalities to exercise patience and refrain from engaging in protests or actions that may escalate tension.

“Understandably, the immediate impact of Tinubu’s economic reforms is challenging to everyone, but it is crucial to give the government the necessary time to realise the intended benefits.

“It is important to note that the removal of fuel subsidy and the floating of the Naira are not undertaken lightly, as we all know the great damage done to our national prosperity through the nefarious activities of the agents of darkness within the oil and financial sectors.

“These measures by the Federal Government, though painful in the short term, are designed to create a more sustainable economic environment that will benefit us all in the long run.

“It requires collective understanding and resilience from every citizen as we navigate through these challenging times.

“We cannot afford a preference for the euthanasic approach of painless death of our nation where we are propped up with loans and subsidies until a total collapse into a failed nation, while we have the opportunity of painful healing through treatment with multiple surgeries that will guarantee not just our survival, but restored health, vigour and thriving life. We must endure today’s hardship for tomorrow’s prosperity.

“I implore you to trust in the government’s commitment to the welfare of our nation. Let us engage in constructive dialogue and contribute positively to the ongoing economic reforms.

“Join me in appealing for unity and understanding among our people. Together, we can weather this storm and emerge stronger as a nation.

“I want to assure you as the Leader of Afenifere, that we are actively engaging with the government at different levels to address the concerns of our people.

“Let us remain steadfast, patient, and united in the face of these challenges, confident that our collective resilience will pave the way for a more prosperous future.”

A group, ‘Lagos People’s Assembly (LPA), warned against the protest by the NLC, saying it could be hijacked by men of violence.

It called for dialogue between the Federal Government and Labour.

LPA noted that Nigerians are going through economically challenging times like citizens of other countries, recalling that the hardship had been predicted.

Addressing reporters in Lagos, one of its conveners, Gbenga Soloki, said the removal of the fuel subsidy regime by the Tinubu Administration and the unification of the forex system were inevitable in terminating the haemorrhaging of the economy.

He said while the new economic measures have come with pains as underscored by the high prices of goods and services, the revenue accruing to the government at all tiers has increased.

Another activist, Nelson Ekujimi, drew attention to various palliatives by the Federal Government, the Sanwo-Olu Administration and local councils to ease the burden on Lagosians.

He added: “We are earnestly adding our voices to that of other patriots and men and women of goodwill and peace, to call on the NLC to shelve its two days of protest marches for the sake of national peace and security.

“While we recognise the right of the labour unions to embark on protest or strike, going on a protest march at this point will be injurious to the economic wellbeing of Lagosians, Nigerians and a negation of what labour stands for.

“Lagos State is a volatile environment because it is the envy of anti-democratic elements who would stop at nothing to pull the state and Nigeria backwards at the slightest opportunity.

“The trauma of the 2020 EndSARS protests with its damage to limbs, destruction of life and public and private properties still haunts us to date.”

Ekunjimi called for a constructive engagement between the government and the citizenry instead of opting for a protest that could turn violent.

The police in Lagos warned intending protesters not to disrupt the flow of traffic.

Police Commissioner Adegoke warned in a statement by the command’s spokesman, Benjamin Hundeyin, that anyone or group of persons found infringing on the rights of other citizens would be dealt with.

He assured law-abiding residents that necessary measures had been put in place for the safety of life and property.

Former governorship candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in Kogi State, Alhaji Murtala Ajaka, appealed to NLC to shelve its planned protest in national interest.

He cautioned that embarking on an industrial action at this period may be a recipe for the breakdown of civil order.

Ajaka said in a statement in Abuja that President Tinubu needs the support of Nigerians in his bid to reposition the economy.

The statement read: “I dutifully join other patriots in identifying with the concerns of fellow Nigerians over the prevailing economic hardship in our dear country; and also to offer counsel to the NLC against embarking on their proposed protest.”

A Northern group, Arewa Think Tank, lamented that greedy politicians were instigating Nigerians to protest.

Its Convener, Muhammad Alhaji Yakubu, who spoke with reporters in Kaduna, said there will be light at the end of the tunnel because President Tinubu is working hard to end the hardship.

He said: “I don’t want us to over dramatise this and fall into the traps of those who don’t want the administration of President Bola Tinubu to succeed. We should be cautious because all over the world, there are economic challenges.

“I am not defending the government. I know that there are real issues, but let’s look at the genuine ones. We shouldn’t allow disgruntled politicians or disgruntled elements in collaboration with foreigners to destabilise our country.

“Let’s see how we can give Tinubu-led government some breathing space and some time before we start coming down heavy on it.

“One of the fastest ways the Arewa Think Tank is suggesting to the federal, state and local governments to ameliorate these challenges and food insecurity in the country at the moment is for these three tiers of government to sit together and ensure that in every local government in Nigeria, the sum of N20 million is set aside every month to buy foodstuffs and distribute to the most needy.

“If this can be done in the next three to six months, it will go a long way to ameliorate this artificial food scarcity and food insecurity which were created by some very greedy politicians, middlemen and businessmen.”

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