…Say We Want Democracy in the Management of Our Struggle …Government is Just Buying Time “When I remember Imoudu, I remember the struggle, aye aye, water runaway me eye! When I remember Goodluck, I remember the struggle, aye, aye, water runaway me eye! When I remember Fatogun, I remember the struggle, aye, aye, water runaway
…Say We Want Democracy in the Management of Our Struggle
…Government is Just Buying Time
“When I remember Imoudu, I remember the struggle, aye aye, water runaway me eye! When I remember Goodluck, I remember the struggle, aye, aye, water runaway me eye! When I remember Fatogun, I remember the struggle, aye, aye, water runaway me eye! When I remember Gani, I remember the struggle, aye, aye, water runaway me eye!”
So was the loud battle cry from workers in Edo State, who thronged the streets of the state capital, Benin City on Monday, September 28th, 2020 in spite of the call off of the planned protest cum strike, earlier slated to begin same day by the leadership of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), in partnership with civil society organisations.
Bearing a big banner which says, “Nigerian Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress In Collaboration With The Masses Say No To Increase In Petroleum Prices and Electricity Tariff,” the leaders also say they are opposed to the privatisation programme of the government which has made the people poorer.
“Reverse Privatisation Now,” they demanded. “It’s because of privatisation that we are seeing the different hike in electricity tariff and increase in fuel prices. We are asking them to fix the refineries,” posits Dr Osagie Obayuwana, president, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) who led the civil society organisations at the protest march.
Disgust at Negotiation Outcome
Expressing their disgust at this decision by the NLC and TUC, whose representatives were locked in a protracted negotiation with government until the wee hours of the morning, the workers say their leaders ought to have reported back to the National Executive Council (NEC) before calling off the protest march. “We want democracy in the management of our struggle,” quips Obayuwana, also a former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in the state.
Speaking in the same vein, Mr Sunny Osayande, chairman, NLC in the state, says, “Nigerian workers, here we come again. We are sad that our leaders buckled at the negotiation. As far as the Edo people are concerned, electricity tariff must be reversed, fuel prices must be reversed. We are saying no to privatisation, the two weeks they gave will soon be here and we’ll be back to the streets. Our struggle must continue, Nigeria must be free from slavery. Our country cannot continue to be in the hands of the few,” adding with a loud refrain, “Who get Nigeria?” “Na we the people,” was the reply from the mass of workers.
“As you are aware, we are saddedned.We’ve been mobilising for the past two weeks before I got a message early in the morning that the strike has been called off. When I saw what was gotten as concession from government, it was pitiance, almost nothing. We want to tell out leaders that we are not satisfied with the outcome of the negotiation. They should have come back to NEC before calling it off because our decision in NEC was that we were not going back. We need to be able to speak correctly, we cannot speak in the morning and change in the night,” says Osayande.
Also the Joint Action Front (JAF) and Alliance on Surviving COVID-19 and Beyond (ASCAB), Oyo State branch, on Monday, staged a peaceful protest in Ibadan against the suspension of strike by the organised labour.
The protest, which began from the NLC secretariat in Ibadan, moved through Agodi-Gate, Oje, Yemetu and terminated at the Government Secretariat.
NAN reports that security personnel were stationed in strategic locations within Ibadan metropolis to prevent the breakdown of law and order.
Addressing newsmen, the ASCAB Vice Chairman in the state, Mr Femi Aborisade, said that the group was against the resolution entered into by the leadership of the NLC and TUC.
Betraying General Interest
Aborisade said that the labour unions had, with their actions, betrayed the general interest of the Nigerian masses.
He said that a Federal High Court had, in 2013 and 2016, declared the increment of petroleum pump price and electricity tariff as illegal and unconstitutional.
Aborisade said that the leaderships of TUC and NLC were supposed to have briefed Nigerians on the outcome of their meeting and gauged the feedback from them before announcing the suspension of the strike.
He called on the Federal Government to follow the rule of law and reverse the petroleum pump price and the electricity tariff for the benefit of the masses.
In his reaction, the state Coordinator of JAF, Prof. Ademola Aremu noted that the protest was to show the grievances of the people against the increase in fuel price and electricity tariff which, he said, had resulted in an astronomical rise in the prices of foodstuffs and other commodities.
The coordinator called on the Federal Government to fulfil its promise of fixing the country’s refineries and reducing the prices of petroleum products.
A bipartite meeting between the federal Government and the two Labour Centres – NLC and TUC convened at the Banquet Hall, State House, Abuja to discuss emerging labour issues arising from recent cost – reflective Electricity Tariff adjustments and deregulation of the downstream sector of the Petroleum Industry,
After exhaustive deliberations on the issues raised by Labour Centres, the FGN stated that it has fashioned out palliatives that would ameliorate the sufferings that Nigerian workers may experience as a result of the cost – reflective Electricity Tariff adjustments and deregulation of the downstream sector of the Petroleum Industry. The palliatives will be in the areas of transport, power, housing, agriculture and humanitarian support.
After thorough debates and negotiations on various issues raised by all parties, the following resolutions were reached and mutually adopted:
The parties agreed to set up a Technical Committee comprising Ministries, Departments, Agencies, NLC and TUC, which will work for a duration of two (2) weeks effective Monday 28th September 2020, to examine: the justifications for the new policy in view of the need for the validation of the basis for the new cost reflective tariff as a result of the conflicting information from the fields which appeared different from the data presented to justify the new policy by NERC; metering deployment, challenges, timeline for massive roll – out.
The Technical Committee is to be chaired by Mr Festus Keyamo, SAN, Minister of State Labour & Employment. Other members include Mr Godwin Jedy-Agba, Minister of State Power, Prof. James Momoh, chairman, National Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), while Engr. Ahmad Rufai Zakari, special assistant to the President on Infrastructure is secretary. Labour is represented on the committee by Dr. Onoho’Omhen Ebhohimhen NLC, Mr Joe Ajaero, NLC and Mr Chris Okonkwo TUC. The committee also has a representative of the DISCOs as a member.
The Terms of Reference (ToR) are as follows:
- To examine the justification for the new policy on cost – reflective Electricity Tariff adjustments.
- To look at the different Electricity Distribution Company (DISCOs) and their different electricity tariff vis-à-vis NERC order and mandate.
- Examine and advise Government on the issues that have hindered the deployment of the six million meters.
- To look into the NERC Act under review with a view to expanding its representation to include organized labour.
The Technical sub-committee is to submit its report within two (2) weeks. During the two weeks, the DISCOs shall suspend the application of the cost – reflective Electricity Tariff adjustments.
The meeting also resolved that the following issues of concern to Labour should be treated as “stand – alone” items:
“The 40% stake of Government in the DISCO and the stake of workers to be reflected in the composition of the DISCO’s Boards.
“An all-inclusive and independent review of the power sector operations as provided in the privatization MOU to be undertaken before the end of the year 2020, with Labour represented.
“That going forward, the moribund National Labour Advisory Council (NLAC) be inaugurated before the end of the year 2020 to institutionalize the process of tripartism and socio dialogue on socio – economic and major labour matters to forestall crisis.”
Downstream Sector Deregulation
“Consequent upon the critical review of the various challenges of the downstream sector of the Nigeria oil and gas industry vis a vis the incalculable losses associated with a subsidy regime the country has been incurring in terms of, stifled growth in the downstream sector, diminished human capital development and massive financial leakages and flight. This is in addition to the dire financial circumstances of the Federation that precludes any ability to sustain any subsidy on PMS and making deregulation of PMS inevitable. Consequently, the Parties agreed to the following:
“All parties agreed on the urgency for increasing the local refining capacity of the nation to reduce the overdependency on importation of petroleum products to ensure energy security, reduce cost of finished products, increase employment and business opportunities for Nigerians.
“To address (1) above, NNPC to expedite the rehabilitation of the nation’s four refineries located in Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna and to achieve 50% completion for Port Harcourt by December 2021, while timelines and delivery for Warri and Kaduna will be established by the inclusive Steering Committee.
“To ensure Commitment and transparency to the processes and timelines of the rehabilitation exercise, the management of NNPC has offered to integrate the national leadership of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association (PENGASSAN) into the Steering Committee already established by the Corporation.
“A validation team comprising the representatives of the NNPC, Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC), NUPENG and PENGASSAN will be established to monitor progress of the rehabilitation of the refineries and the pipelines/strategic depots network and advice the Steering Committee periodically.
“Post rehabilitation, NNPC shall involve the PENGASSAN and NUPENG in the process of establishing the operational model of the Nation’s refineries.
“The Federal Government will facilitate the delivery of licensed modular and regular refineries, involvement of upstream companies in petroleum refining and establishing framework for financing in the downstream sector.
“NNPC to expedite work on the Build Operate and Transfer framework for the nation’s pipelines and strategic depots network for efficient transportation and distribution of Petroleum products to match the delivery timelines of the refineries as agreed.
“The Federal Government and its agencies to ensure delivery of 1 million CNG/LPG AutoGas conversion kits, storage skids and dispensing units under the Nigeria Gas Expansion Programme by December 2021 to enable delivery of cheaper transportation and power fuel. A Governance Structure that will include representatives of organized Labour shall be established for timely delivery.
To cushion the impacts of the downstream sector deregulation and tariffs adjustment in the power sector, the Federal Government will implement the following:
“A specific amount to be unveiled by the FGN in two weeks’ time will be isolated from the Economic Sustainability Programme Intervention Fund and be accessed by Nigerian Workers with subsequent provision for 240,000 under the auspices of NLC and TUC for participation in agricultural ventures through the CBN and the Ministry of Agriculture. The timeline will be fixed at the next meeting.
“Federal Government will facilitate the removal of tax on minimum wage as a way of cushioning the impacts of the policy on the lowest vulnerable.
“Federal Government will make available to organized labour 133 CNG/LPG driven mass transit buses immediately and provide to the major cities across the country on a scale up basis thereafter to all States and Local Governments before December 2021.
“Housing: 10% be allocated to Nigerian workers under the ongoing Ministry of Housing and Finance initiative through the NLC and TUC,” the communiqué stated..
Consequently, the NLC and TUC agreed to suspend the planned industrial action.
The NLC President, Mr Ayuba Wabba, TUC President, Mr Quadri Olaleye, NLC General Secretary, Mr Emmanuel Ugboaja and TUC Secretary General, Mr Musa Lawal Ozigi signed for Labour. Others who endorsed the agreement on behalf of labour include Mr Williams E. Akporeha, NUPENG president, Mr Festus Osifo, PENGASSAN president, Mr Martin Uzoegwu Okonkwo, president, NUEE, Chris Okonkwo, president, SSAEAC
Those who signed for government include, Dr Chris Nwabueze Ngige, Minister of Labour and Employment, Mr Timipre Sylva, Minister of State, Petroleum, Mr Festus Keyamo, Minister of State, Labour and Employment, Mr Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture, Mr Godwin Jedy-Agba, Minister of State Power and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Boss Mustapha.