Fidelis Soriwei and Olusola Fabiyi
The Federal Government has invited the leadership of organised labour to a meeting in the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation on Monday to discuss the increase of fuel pump price from N86 and N86.50k to N145.
Representatives of organised labour and the civil society had, after a meeting in Abuja on Saturday, given the Federal Government till midnight on Tuesday to reverse the increase or face an indefinite national strike.
The group gave the strike notice in a joint communiqué issued by the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress after the meeting.
The General Secretary of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Dr. Peter Ozo-Eson, told one of our correspondents on the telephone on Sunday that organised labour had received invitations via text messages from the Ministry of Labour on Sunday to attend the meeting with the government at the office of the SGF.
Ozo-Eson said while organised labour would honour the invitation to attend the meeting, the only thing that could stop the planned action was a reversal of the fuel price increase and the 46 per cent increase in electricity tariff.
He said if the Federal Government failed to reverse the two increases, the government should be prepared to meet Nigerians on the streets.
Ozo-Eson added that the first meeting between organised labour and the Federal Government over the dispute would hold at 3pm on Monday.
He said, “I have received a text message inviting us to a meeting tomorrow (Monday) at the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, and we will attend.
‘‘We will attend those meetings but the notice given is not conditional to our action. It is conditional on the reversal of the hike in the price of petroleum and the hike in electricity tariff.
“But we are saying that is not what is crucial; what is crucial is that we will mobilise unless there is reversal. If there is no reversal, we will meet on the streets.”
Ozo-Eson dismissed the reports attributed to the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, that the increase was necessitated by the scarcity of foreign exchange.
He said it was inconceivable for the government to make an arrangement that would allow the black market exchange rate determine the price of fuel in the country.
He argued that there was nothing new in what Mohammed said as it was part of the presentation by the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, which was rejected by organised labour.
He stated, “The nation does not submit to the pronouncement that the fate of Nigerians will now be determined by black market exchange rate because that is the bottom line of what they are doing.
“There is nothing new in what he is saying; we reject it and the position we are taking is based on part of that information. It changes nothing. It is unacceptable.”
A source in the Ministry of Labour and Employment, who confided in one of our correspondents, said the government was “reaching out to labour.”
The source believed there would be no strike as the Federal Government would make every efforts to ensure that there was dialogue.
“The Federal Government does not want strike, we will discuss. Government is making every effort to ensure that there is no strike,” the source stated.
The Special Adviser to the Minister of Labour and Employment on Media, Mr. Nwachukwu Ngige, said he could not reach the minister for his comment on the issue on Sunday.
But the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties on Sunday warned Nigerians not be deceived again ahead of the planned industrial action by organised labour over the increase in the pump price of petrol.
CNPP also urged Nigerians not to trust the labour unions, alleging that they had been compromised.
It said the planned strike, scheduled for Wednesday, wouldn’t last beyond Friday.
If further alleged that the labour unions were using the strike as a ploy to scuttle genuine actions against the increment in pump price as they did in 2012.
The umbrella body of political parties in Nigeria said these in a statement jointly signed on Sunday by its National Chairman, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, and the Secretary-General, Chief Willy Ezugwu.
The CNPP said, “What the labour unions are doing now by calling for a strike was what they did in 2012 during the Occupy Nigeria protests in response to similar increase in the pump price of petrol under former President Goodluck Jonathan.
“The labour unions later scuttled the action by purportedly entering into an agreement with the then government on behalf of Nigerians and ended up fixing the pump price of petrol at N97.00 per litre.
“We have it on good authority that the labour leaders have been compromised.
‘‘Recall that the labour leaders were at a meeting, where the decision to inflict more and more pains on the already impoverished Nigerian people by increasing the pump price was taken and never protested against it. Why the sudden U-turn by the same labour leaders?”
The statement added that the ever increasing hardship enthroned on Nigerians by the current government could not be tolerated.
“The Federal Government and its labour collaborators must be told that the CNPP, the masses and the civil society shall occupy Nigeria until the reversal of the pump price of petrol. Enough of more and more suffering under the guise of fuel subsidy removal,” the statement added.