#Subsidyprotests: Banks, offices shut amid rallies, labour demands N200,000 wage

•NLC, TUC leaders hold emergency NEC today after special meeting with Tinubu, N’Assembly

•FG sues labour leaders, says protest will be suspended

•How protesters broke N’ Assembly gate

Banks, offices and other businesses in many parts of the country were shut on Wednesday following a rally by organised labour in protest against the failure of the Federal Government to provide palliatives to cushion the pains of fuel subsidy removal.

Several economic and commercial business premises were shut down in parts of the Federal Capital Territory and Abakaliki and other urban areas while many travellers were also stranded.

The organised labour was insisting on N200,000 minimum wage for workers and other palliatives for Nigerians as a condition to call off their protests.

The protesters led by the President of the Nigerian Labour Congress, Joe Ajaero, and his Trade Union Congress counterpart, Festus Osifo, subsequently met with President Bola Tinubu at the Aso Villa on Wednesday evening.

They were also slated to meet with the National Assembly leadership on Thursday (today) after their emergency National Executive Council meeting.

During the rally, the labour leaders met with National Assembly leaders where they vented their grievances over the worsening social and economic conditions in the country brought about by the fuel subsidy removal.

The protesters commenced the street rally around 8.30 am from the Unity Fountain, Maitama, Abuja and proceeded to the Ministry of Justice, and from there to the National Assembly gate where a mild confrontation ensued between them and the security personnel on duty.

The protesters had asked the security agents to grant them access to lawmakers who were screening ministerial nominees.

But as the security operatives delayed, the impatient protesters pulled down the gate and thronged into the assembly complex where they interacted with the Senate Chief Whip, Senator Ali Ndume, who represented the President of the Senate, Senator Godswill Akpabio.

Speaking on behalf of the workers, Ajaero asked the government to reverse the increase in the price of Premium Motor Spirit, school fees and Value Added Tax.

The labour unions also demanded immediate fixing of the refineries, adding that the Nigerian citizens must insist on the production of fuel rather than importation.

Ajaero, who read the workers’ demands at the Senate said, “We demand the implementation in good faith of all resolutions at Congress jointly signed with the government and TUC; immediate reversal of all anti-poor policies of the government, including the recently hiked PMS price, school fees and VAT, the fixing of all modular refineries; Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna.

‘’In the entire statement made by Mr President, no comment was made about it. And we can’t continue to run an import-driven energy system. PMS seems to be the life-wire of the economy of Nigeria. And this is a natural resource given to us by God, we have no business refining abroad, we have no business importing.”

Ajaero claimed the committee that the Federal Government set up to negotiate with the unions disclosed that not a single kobo had been saved since subsidy was removed.

He countered President Bola Tinubu’s statement that N1tn had been saved since his government stopped the payment of fuel subsidy.

In a nationwide broadcast on Monday, the president had said N1trn was saved within two months of the subsidy removal.

“Mr President talked about N1trn saved. The committee when we met told us that no one kobo has been saved so far. Therefore, we have not agreed on what to pay anywhere,” the NLC president said.

Responding, Ndume asked the labour leaders and protesters to call off the nationwide protest and give the Senate one week to address their demands.

He said, “We have keenly followed what is going on when we realized that there was a breakdown in the discussions between the Presidency and the NLC. I want to assure you that we will find a permanent solution to this.

“Please give us one week and we will make progress and if you are not satisfied with the progress we are making, then you can take further action.”

The senator also said that a committee had been set up to look at the demands of organised labour.

 He added that by the close of the day or Thursday (today), they would call the first meeting with labour to start the discussions and the engagements would continue.

“We will do our best as your representatives to come out with solutions acceptable to you and realistic enough,” Ndume pledged.

The Senator representing the FCT, Ireti Kingibe, who identified as one of the unionists, being a member of the Labour Party, also appealed to the protesters to give the Senate time to address its demands with the Executive and respond accordingly.

Sequel to the plea by the National Assembly leaders, the National Executive Council of the NLC is expected to hold an emergency meeting on Thursday (today) to consider possible suspension of its protests.

The National Treasurer of the NLC, Hakeem Ambali, who disclosed this to The PUNCH, explained that the labour leaders would also meet with the leadership of the National Assembly.

He said, “The leadership of the National Assembly pleaded with us to give them one week to resolve the matter. We will also meet with the senate either today or tomorrow (Thursday). Similarly, the NEC meeting of the NLC will be held tomorrow (Thursday).”

Activities paralysed

Meanwhile, the protests paralysed economic activities across the states with many offices unable to open for business.

Several banks failed to open in Abakaliki, the Ebonyi State capital, leaving their customers stranded at their gates.

The PUNCH reports that the banks were shut, while overwhelmed customers who could not carry out their transactions conversed in groups.

A security guard in one of the banks, who pleaded anonymity, said the refusal of the banks to open for commercial activities was a consequence of the labour protests.

He said, “We didn’t open because of labour issues but we are waiting for directives on what to do.”

The gates of the state High Court premises were equally locked forcing lawyers and litigants to return home.

However, the rally, led by Egwu Oguguo, Samson Nwafor,  Ikechukwu Nwafor and other labour leaders, was peaceful.

The workers had earlier converged on Abakaliki township stadium from where the protest took off amid heavy security presence.

 Addressing the protesters, the NLC Chairman in the state,  Oguguo said, “We need to move, let our voices be heard, let them stop putting their knees on our necks, let them not intimidate and oppress us. Nigerian people, Nigerian workers, we must breathe. We must shine, we need to shine, we need to move.”

In Abeokuta, Ogun State, travelers and commuters were stranded following the lockdown of the roads by the protesting workers.

The aggrieved workers demanded the immediate reversal of all anti-poor policies of  President Bola Tinubu’s administration.

Travelers plying the Abeokuta-Kobape-Sagamu interchange were caught up in the web of the gridlock caused by the protest.

They spent hours in the gridlock before they were able to proceed on their journey.

Armed with placards, the protesters marched from the NLC secretariat in the Leme area of Abeokuta metropolis to the Governor’s Office in Oke-Mosan.

 Some of the inscriptions on the placards read: ‘Let the poor breathe, don’t suffocate them;’ ‘Stop importation of petrol, revive the refineries now!!!;’ ‘Stop the looting, tax the rich and subsidise the poor’ and ‘Give workers what is due.’

 The NLC chairman in the state, Hammed Ademola, explained that the protest was in compliance with the directive of the national body of the union.

 He said, “We have to be on the street, we must not wait until we die. Our destiny is always in our hands and now is the right time for us to tell the government of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu that Nigerians are suffering.

“The fuel subsidy removal has caused a lot of hardship, untold hardship onto the masses of this nation. We are suffering, we have crude oil yet we are still buying abroad; enough is enough.”

 The TUC Chairman, Akeem Lasisi, faulted the president over the removal of fuel subsidy.

Lasisi demanded the reversal of fuel subsidy removal, vowing that the union would not relent until it is reversed.

The situation was the same in Kano where the organised labour led a peaceful procession to the Government House.

Security was heightened across Kano metropolis as the roads to the Government House were barricaded.

The protest, which commenced from the Murtala Mohammed State Library, on Ahmadu Bello road was led by the Kano State NLC Chairman, Kabiru Inuwa.

They displayed placards which read, ’Government should not listen to IMF and World Bank demand;’ ‘No to increment in university fees’ ‘Minimum wage should be N200, 000,’ among others.

The singing protesters were received at the Government House by the Secretary to the State Government, Dr Baffa Bichi.

 Inuwa told the SSG that the workers were displeased with the palliative measures rolled out by the Federal Government.

Responding, Bichi said the state government was not at war with labour, assuring that he would convey their message to the governor for deliberations toward addressing their demands.

“The state government will do everything humanly possible to address the demands of labour toward ameliorating the current hardship, caused by the removal of fuel subsidy,’’ he stated.

The NLC in Kaduna similarly held a street rally in protest against the palliatives unveiled by the Federal Government.

The state governor, Senator Uba Sani, was represented at the rally by his Special Adviser on Labour Matters, Adamu Samaila.

Chairman of the NLC in the state, Ayuba Suleiman, advised the President to  use the proposed N8,000 palliative ‘’to revive the country’s refineries.’’

Suleiman insisted that the refineries should be revived, noting if the four refineries were working, “we will refine our oil here in Nigeria.”

 “Use the money you want to borrow from the World Bank to revive our refineries, use the proposed N8,000 palliative to revive our refineries. We don’t need the government palliative,” he said.

The state TUC Chairman, Abdullahi Danfulani and the National President of the National Union of Textile Garments and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria,  John Adaji, also urged the President to consider the plights of the Nigerian masses in his policies.

The protest which started from the NLC Secretariat,  along Race Course Road,  terminated at the main bowl of the Ahmadu Bello Stadium.

Police appeal

Meanwhile, security operatives were stationed at strategic places in the metropolis but business activities and office activities, including human and vehicular movements in the state, were normal.

In Ilorin, members of the labour unions and civil society organisations participated in the protests.

The protest, which kicked off as early as 8.30 am, was led by Saheed Olayinka and Tunde Joseph, state chairmen of NLC and TUC, respectively.  Some of the protesters brandished placards with various inscriptions.

Earlier in the day, the state Commissioner of Police, Mrs Ebunoluwarotimi Adelesi was at the NLC Secretariat where she appealed to the workers to go about their protests peacefully.

She led policemen on surveillance operations during the protest along Ahmadu Bello Way, Post Office area, Challenge, Unity Road, Taiwo, Ministry of Agriculture and Fate Road.

During their rally, the NLC Chairman in Sokoto, Abdullahi Aliyu, said the rally was not meant to vandalise government properties but rather to express the grievances of Nigerian workers about the living conditions in the country.

 “We are calling on the government at all levels to do all that is required in order to bring relief to the masses who are currently finding it difficult to pay their bills,’’ he appealed.

 In Lokoja, Kogi State, the organised labour admonished the government to reverse ‘’all anti-people policies that posed hardship to Nigerians.”

The call was contained in a protest letter written by the NLC president and delivered to Governor Yahaya Bello.

The state NLC Chairman, Gabriel Amari who read the letter, said the recent removal of fuel subsidy without commensurate palliatives for the masses had caused untold hardship in the country.

“The federal and state government should expedite action in ameliorating the pain and suffering of Nigerians before it get out of hand,’’ he advised.

Bello, represented by his deputy, Chief Edward Onoja, appealed for patience, assuring that measures are being put in place to address the hardships in the country.

Like in other states, the protest was also peaceful in Lagos where the protesters challenged the government to provide palliatives for the citizens.

The Deputy President of NLC, Adeyanju Adewale, who addressed the protesters who converged at Ikeja, Lagos, stressed that the organised labour was not out to fight the government.

He stated, “They should not see us as if we are fighting them (government), we are not fighting them (government). What we are asking for is to give us sound palliative incentives that will take care of our families. I think that is our struggle, it is a struggle of survival.”

The Lagos State chapter Chairman of the NLC, Agnes Sessi, said the leadership of the union had called an emergency NEC meeting in Abuja.

Sessi added that the next line of action would be determined by the outcomes of the NEC meeting.

“Our leadership has called for an emergency NEC meeting tomorrow (Thursday), so we will know the way forward from the outcome of the NEC meeting,’’ she noted.

In Edo State, the workers defied a downpour to protest the removal of subsidy which has led to an increase in fuel price as well as the costs of goods and services.

The Edo State NLC Chairman, Odion Olaye, led the protesters who had placards bearing various inscriptions such as ‘Let the poor breathe’, ‘Stop reckless fuel price increase’ and so on.

The Gombe State NLC Chairman, Yusuf Aisha, asked Governor Muhammadu Yahaya to put pressure on the Federal Government to address the demands of the union, adding that “Nigerians have suffered a lot within the few weeks of the removal of oil subsidy.”

But the protest by workers in Borno State was restricted to a particular area to forestall a possible breach of the fragile security in the insurgency-troubled state.

In Katsina State, labour leaders converged at the state secretariat and marched across the state capital.

The NLC in Bayelsa State faulted the decision to remove fuel subsidy, insisting it was hasty and without plans to reduce the hardship it had brought on workers and other impoverished Nigerians.

In Osun State, different labour groups held separate protest marches against the removal of subsidy on petrol in Osogbo, the state capital.

The development was blamed on the lack of substantive leadership in the NLC,  the umbrella body that would have coordinated other unions for the protest.

The organised labour in Ekiti State held a peaceful protest in Ado Ekiti, the state capital, in compliance with the national body’s directive over the increase in fuel pump price.

The workers lamented that the removal of subsidy on fuel by the Tinubu administration had inflicted hardship on Nigerians.

The Nasarawa State NLC Chairman, Ismaila Oko, called on the Federal Government to reconsider its decision on fuel subsidy removal.

FG’s wage award

Meanwhile, the organised labour said it met the President on Wednesday to discuss deeper details of the Federal Government’s intervention to reduce the economic hardship occasioned by the discontinuation of the petrol subsidy on May 29.

 However, the union said suspending the ongoing nationwide protests would only be a decision of its Executive Councils which would meet later on Wednesday and Thursday.

Emerging from a meeting with Tinubu, Ajaero told journalists that “We met with him. The issues we discussed are the same issues that led to the protest today. But we have gone deeper into them. The broadcast has broader issues, but there are one or two things that need immediate attention,” he said.

However, Ajaero did not mention the specific details.

The PUNCH gathered from unconfirmed sources that these commitments bordered on an immediate wage award to workers, which the TUC President, Felix Osifo, said the union had clamoured for in an earlier meeting on Tuesday.

It also includes the distribution of CNG-powered vehicles to ease mobility. Moreso, the President promised to reconstitute the Presidential Steering Committee on Palliatives.

Asked if the deliberations would lead to the end of the protests, he said “No one person can call it off.

“We’re taking it (the new commitments) back to the office with our colleagues to review it and release a document on our next line of action.

“That’s why we’ll have to go back to the office so that they will look at it, the EXCO will need to look at it before they come up with their decision. And by tomorrow, the NLC will equally have their NEC meeting, to look at the bigger picture.”

Fielding questions on whether Tinubu appealed for the protests to end, Ajaero remarked that “The President is a pro-democracy activist. So he understands protests.”

Wednesday’s meeting became the sixth round of discussions between organised labour and the Federal Government at the Aso Rock Villa, Abuja.

LCCI reacts

Meanwhile, in a statement issued on Wednesday, the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry said it was reasonably worried the ‘peaceful’ protests might be taken over by hoodlums.

The statement read in part, “The Chamber acknowledges that peaceful protests across democratic countries are a right of the citizens, the organized labour is not excluded. It is, however concerned about their detrimental impacts and implications for the organised private sector and the overall economy.

“The Chamber notes that the protests are coming at a time when all hands are supposed to be on deck, given our recent experiences as a nation and the current realities of our economy, with prices of staples, transportation, and others constantly on the rise.”

Meanwhile, the Presidency in a statement on Wednesday night said labour leaders had agreed to end the protests after their meeting with Tinubu.

Source: The PUNCH

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