TUC warns NLC against planned protest says action may bring anarchy

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TUC warns NLC against planned protest says action may bring anarchy

The Trade Union Congress has warned that the planned protest on February 27 and 28 being championed by the Nigeria Labour Congress may lead to anarchy.

This is as the union stated that the country was too volatile and tense because of the prevailing hunger in the land.

This warning was made by the Deputy President of the TUC, Dr Tommy Etim, in an interview.

The Organised Labour plans to embark on a two-day strike on Tuesday and Wednesday to protest the hardship currently being faced by Nigerians following the dramatic hike in the prices of goods and services due to the removal of fuel subsidy and the free fall of the naira, among others.

However, the TUC backed out, saying that it was not aware of the planned rally. This caused a crack in the wall of the Organised Labour.

Although the NLC has insisted that the two-day rally must be held, the TUC has stated that it will not be part of the demonstration.

Etim, while commenting on the planned rally, stated that it was ill-timed and urged the NLC not to plunge the country into anarchy.

Speaking on why the TUC backed out of the proposed protest, the labour leader accused the President of the NLC, Joe Ajaero, of running a one-man show by failing to carry members of the TUC along in his decision to declare a two-day strike.

Etim said the NLC had slighted the TUC in making unilateral decisions four times, adding that it was now a deliberate act.

He said, “When one claims that a mistake is done and it is one that a mistake can be accepted as a mistake, but, when it is up to four times, it is now a deliberate action.

“The first thing is that when you issue an ultimatum to the government, the NEC is supposed to meet to review it. When they do, they will then make a decision.

“In this case, the ultimatum given to the Federal Government was still on and the NLC president decided to announce that they would be going on protest as though he had not been in industrial relations practice or law. It baffles us. We cannot take that.

“What is the essence of unionism if you don’t come together for a particular cause? So, adopting a situation where two centres have been on the ground and one feels it has superior knowledge is not a good one at all.

“I feel that he should be sensitive to know that the struggle is not a one-party affair and we must save the country. We have to be a united force. And we have also said that a people united cannot be defeated. The President must leave up to his responsibility.”

No going back – NLC

Reacting, the Head of Information for the NLC, Benson Upah, in a chat with Saturday PUNCH on Friday, insisted that the planned protest would hold, adding that the congress was in touch with the TUC.

“We are going ahead with the protest come February 27 and 28. There is no reason for us to change our minds on that,” Upah noted.

On Etim’s statement of the TUC being sidelined by the NLC, Upah simply said, “We are in touch with the TUC. We are one family.”

However, Etim said the TUC had not received a letter of apology, adding that the NLC must understand that it could not carry out such a national assignment in disunity.

He further stressed that the disagreement between both labour unions would not affect the workers’ needs.

“Whatever happens now will embolden us. There is no organised labour trade centre that cannot fight on its own, but we decided to come together. We feel that fighting alone without unity will not give us the result,” he added.

Protest ill-timed – TUC

Etim said the Organised Labour could get its demands without protests, adding that all it needed to do was strategic engagement.

According to him, if the protest goes on as planned, it may be hijacked by anarchists and turn chaotic.

He said, “If we carry out a protest in this time of hunger and we may meet anarchy. A hungry man is an angry man, and any protest at this time can snowball into a revolution, which we cannot contain.

“Take what happened in Imo State where Ajaero himself went there after several warnings. If not for the National Security Adviser, Nuhu Ribadu, the NLC leader would have been killed.

“When there is tension in the land, we must be very sceptical and strategic in our agitation. We are not babies; we have been long in this struggle. I, for one, have been in this struggle for 35 years. Sentiments and pride don’t pay.”

On rumours that the TUC might have been compromised by the Federal Government, Etim said, “Everyone is entitled to their opinion but the thing is for sure, hunger knows no religion, political party or ethnic sentiments.

“Whether you are a big man or not, your family members are also feeding on you; and if they are parasitic, you will know that one rich man in a community is poor.

“Whatever we are doing, we must recognise that it is time to rescue Nigeria and we cannot just sit down and say a protest will solve the matter.

“Yes, we can mobilise. Yes, protest is our right. But, I think we should be strategic to know that we must carry everyone along rather than thinking we can do it alone. A fight of this nature is not a one-man fight.

“We at the TUC don’t issue threats and back down. The NLC is synonymous with issuing protest threats and backing out, and we don’t want to be a part of that. Any day we issue a notice of action, we carry it to the letter. If you follow our trajectory, you’d know that we always walk our talks.”

Police warn anarchists

The Taraba, Kaduna and Rivers police commands have warned hoodlums to steer clear of protest grounds during the rally proposed by the NLC.

The Taraba State command, on Friday, said it had placed its personnel on high alert to ensure that hoodlums did not take advantage of the protest to ferment trouble.

Though the Police Public Relations Officer, SP Usman Abdullahi did not take his calls, a senior police officer in the command, who spoke to one of our correspondents on the telephone, said the Commissioner of Police in the state had deployed enough personnel for the protest to prevent the breakdown of law and order.

“In our meeting earlier today (Friday), we deliberated on security issues in the state, including the planned protest by the NLC. I can assure you that our personnel are on red alert to prevent any break down of law and order,” the senior officer said.

In Kaduna, the state police command appealed to the leadership of the NLC to shelve the planned two-day nationwide protest.

The command’s Public Relations Officer, ASP Mansir Hassan, said the plea became necessary because of the precarious nature of the state, which has been enjoying relative peace for a while now.

The police spokesman, however, noted that if the organised labour decided against the appeal, the command would provide adequate cover for the protesters.

He, however, warned the NLC to ensure utmost civility and be law-abiding.

According to him, members of the Organised Labour should know that their rights end where other citizens’ rights begin.

Hassan also warned hoodlums against infiltrating the protest, which he insisted must be peaceful.

The police chief said, “We are appealing that the protest should not even hold. They should understand the nature of Kaduna that it is not everywhere they should come and protest.

“We have enjoyed relative peace in the state. We will provide adequate security for them and we are appealing to them to be law-abiding.

“Although we have had a cordial relationship with the NLC for a long time, if they insist, we will give them the necessary cover. They should know that where their rights stop, that is where other people’s rights start.

“We are calling on hoodlums to desist from infiltrating the NLC protest. We are evening appealing that the protest should not hold.”

The Rivers State Police Command warned troublemakers to steer clear of the protest.

The state Commissioner of Police, Olatunji Disu, handed down the warning while speaking to one of our correspondents on the telephone on Friday.

He said officers and men of the command have been briefed on the expectations of the police hierarchy on how to handle the protest, adding the command was already talking with labour leaders in the state.

Disu said, “We have briefed our men. The Inspector-General of Police had earlier briefed all Commissioners of Police concerning what is happening in the country now.

“The IG has asked every command to go and train their officers in handling issues of demonstrations and protests.

“We are also having contact with those people; their leadership and we will provide security and do our best to ensure that hoodlums don’t hijack the protest.”

Asked if officers and men would be deployed to strategic areas of the state to ensure that the protest was not hijacked, he answered in the affirmative.

Disu stated, “We have already deployed men. We are gathering information and monitoring some people who have been involved in one crime or the other, and who may want to join them (labour union members).

“We are trying to look at all the places they might use. So, we know the black spots and where trouble can come from.”

Anti-NLC protest

In a surprising twist, scores of pro-democracy activists on Friday staged a solidarity march from the Unity Fountain to the National Assembly complex in Abuja to demand that the NLC suspend its planned two-day protest and return to the negotiation table with the Federal Government.

They also vowed to mobilise Nigerians against the unionists if the lawmakers fail to convince them not to go ahead with the protest.

The protesters, who arrived at the complex in six luxury buses, were chanting solidarity songs and displaying anti-NLC placards.

Some of the placards read, ‘Let’s be patient with Tinubu’, ‘NLC, please rest. Jagaban is working’, and ‘NLC, stop pretending to be fighting for Nigerians’.

Addressing journalists at the Unity Fountain, the Convener of the Nigerian Civil Society Forum, Sunday Attah, said those who were familiar with history know that the same NLC that was “pretending to fight for the masses” and was among the biggest critic of fuel subsidy removal.

Attah also urged the unionists to borrow a leaf from the United Kingdom where the people stood with the government when the country’s economy entered into recession.

He said, “We must understand the trajectory of how the NLC has operated over time. Remember in this same country when fuel subsidy was removed, they got up and claimed to be standing for Nigerians. They fought and said fuel subsidies should not be removed. But after a series of meetings, which of course today they are saying didn’t yield any fruits, we know how ‘coloured’ papers exchanged hands and matters died on the ground.

“We are not going to allow the NLC to plunge Nigeria into anarchy. Calling for protest against an eight-month-old government is uncalled for. The President is doing his best. He is not a magician. All that Nigerians need at the moment is to be patient with the President.

“When a woman gets pregnant it takes nine months for her to deliver. When the child is born, it takes another one to two years for the child to walk. Why can’t the NLC support Mr President to deliver the dividends of democracy and to fulfil all his campaign promises?

“What they are doing is to play the wild card to get the sympathy of Nigerians then go behind to negotiate and collect money. President Bola Ahmed Tinubu is not that kind of president. He wants to work for all Nigerians, which is why the President begged Nigerians to give him time. His policies may take a little time for us to adjust to.

“These things happen even in civilised societies where government policies do not start manifesting and yielding fruits overnight; it takes a little process of time and that is the process we are at the moment. In the UK today, the British economy is in recession. Are people protesting against the government? It is a process.”

Committee begins talks

Meanwhile, the committee on the new national minimum wage has broken into sub-committees to allow for proper negotiation and suggestions’ collation, Saturday PUNCH has learnt.

This is after the last meeting of the 37-man Tripartite Committee on National Minimum Wage held on Monday and Tuesday.

The committee inaugurated by the Vice-President Kashim Shettima in January after several calls from labour leaders, is charged with the responsibility of recommending a new national wage for the country.

Shettima had charged the committee to ensure timely submission of its recommendations, as a new national wage regime was due in April.

The committee chaired by a former Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Goni Bukar Aji, is made up of members of the Organised Labour, the private sector and the federal and state governments.

Shettima said the decision to set up the committee was in recognition of the need to ensure a decent living wage and compliance with the existing National Minimum Wage Act of 2019, which expire soon.

Speaking of the progress made since the inauguration, a member of the committee, who is an executive of the TUC but did not want to be named, said talks had begun with the various stakeholders to arrive at a national minimum wage.

Recall that Organised Labour had demanded a minimum wage of N1m, stating that the current cost of living and inflation had made a mockery of the current N30,000 wage.

The source said the sub-committees had been tasked to meet with stakeholders and collate position papers until a consensus was reached.

The source said, “We have held the meeting. The work is in progress and all stakeholders were in attendance. The subcommittees were divided and we are looking to turn up.

“There won’t be any encumbrances. For now, nothing has been put on the table. They have to collate position papers and that is what is being done. We are collating so we can look at the aggregate to decide on the minimum wage.

“We have not begun intense negotiations but we are laying a strong foundation. There is a need for a national minimum wage taking cognisance of inflation, high cost of living vis-à-vis the floating of the naira and removal of fuel subsidy are the indices that will cumulate in a national minimum wage.

“By April 2 or thereabouts, we should be able to finalise it based on the work plan, and then something concrete can be presented to the Mr President where it will go from the National Executive Council to the National Assembly and to back to Mr President for assent. But, I am not sure the report will be ready before April because the committee is still doing preliminary work and is yet to present anything concrete.”

The source added that if for any reason the committee was not done with its report by April, the Federal Government would have to continue the payment of the N35,000 monthly wage award.

The source said, “If by any reason there will be an extension, it means there will be payment in arrears. The wage award arraignment will remain as it is.

“If we cannot meet up with the April deadline, the Federal Government must continue to pay arrears till whenever President Tinubu approves the new minimum wage.

“When we negotiated the wage award of N35,000, we insisted that arrears would come from September.

“The minimum wage committee is working within three months whereas the committee is supposed to have worked for six months. We have done mapping and we’re going to the six geopolitical zones to hold public hearings.

“April 18 was when the last minimum wage was signed into law and it’s expected that by April 18, the new minimum wage would have been signed into law.

“When we negotiated the wage award, we agreed that it would continue until the new minimum wage comes into effect.”

Credit – punch

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