By: Israel Umoh
The Federal Government and the Organised Labour locked themselves in in an eight-hour meeting on Sunday, September 27 to resolve the hikes in the fuel pump price and electricity tariff. The meeting that began from 7 p.m. stretched to 2 a.m. It was such an unholy hour. The hours were meant for husbands and wives. The hours were meant for children and parents. The hours were meant for housemaids to rest after hectic day’s job to resume another schedule in the day. They were busy sleeping and giving up heavy snores. Those were the hours that security men should have kept watch over.
The labour leaders and Federal Government delegation holed up in the comfortable Aso Rock and bantered over the contentious issues. Yet, members of state labour organisations, mass media professionals kept vigil and waited in harsh weather conditions, lost their sleep for outcome of the crucial meeting. Minutes after 2 a.m., both parties- Federal Government and labour- emerged from the closed door and addressed the press.
Though the press expected the national labour leaders to issue a directive on the commencement of the showdown, both parties shuffled their feet and tables and invited the press to come in to witness the signing ceremony. It was not a bad idea for the press to see a communique. It was somewhat expected. But the content was opaque to the “outsiders.” After what looked as foot-dragging, the Federal Government and labour reached an agreement to suspend the strike, at least for two weeks pending resolution of the issues at stake. And the other labour leaders in the various states and other Nigerians had to return to their bedrooms. Unfortunately, they could not recover the lost man-hours meant for sleep because the hours had ticked away.
Earlier, the organised labour had met with Federal Government delegation but the meeting was deadlocked. Labour served government a two-week strike notice. Throughout this period, some government officials were busy in the courts to get injunctions to stop the strike, but to no avail. The Federal Head of Civil Service issued a warning to civil servants to defy the strike and report for work on Monday, September 28. Ministers upon ministers came to the public to explain the rationale for removal of the fuel subsidy and increment of electricity tariff. Yet, labour was busy mobilizing its members and groups for the strike action.
Recall that the Federal Government reluctantly accepted payment of New Minimum Wage with effect from April 2019. Till now, some states have not implemented the package. Prices of goods, services and fares have risen astronomically. The so-called palliatives became selective gifts by politicians for their cronies while the rest bury their heads in the dustbins of famishment.
Coming from crucibles of COVID-19, Nigerians expected the government to show understanding. Nigerian Federal Government raised Value Added Tax to 7 per cent, hiked electricity tariff and withdrew fuel pump price. It did not consult nor looked for the inputs of labour. Yet, labour did not glint or bat its eyes. And could not proceed on strike to press home the oppose the obnoxious policies. But government has given labour a two-week window to resolve its demands particularly the price pump price. And labour accepted the treaty. What a smart way to foster a new marriage!
Unfortunately, NLC and TUC in the country appear to be ready tools of victimization in the hands of government to whip the pauperised and tramautised workers, the vulnerables and the downtrodden. Before the ascension of Ayuba Wabba, NLC President, labour was it not a toothless bull dog as it is.
Pa Imoudu, Paschal Bafyau and Adams Oshiomhole, past NLC leaders and labour veterans showed war chest and held government by its jugular. Government never took organized labour for granted. But modern-day NLC leadership is brooded and discarded like foot mat. During the era of President Goodluck Jonathan, labour proceeded on strike action at the slightest anti-labour issues. These days, labour is seen as a vehicle for pall bearers to celebrate the exit of the bereaved- the financially struggling workers, and the poor Nigerians.
Though Federal Government has announced the suspension of the electricity tariff, yet different Electricity Distribution Company (DISCOs) have not adjusted their costs. Consumers are still charged as it were- estimated bills and arbitrary pre-paid meter charges. Where lies the hope of giving consumers oxygen to breathe in the face of freezing economic hardship?
For any successful labour movement, labour champions must not be seen to be in cahoots with the government on policies that are anti to the welfare and well-being of the masses; otherwise workers will continually wallow in their plights and lack. And the labour leaders must not maintain what looks like a husband-and-wife romance but should be firm and sincere in their agitations.
Let the labour leaders rise in unison and defend the voiceless. The government has made moves to solve impending crisis. For the sake of a booming economy, and smooth governance in the country, there is need to timely resolve the deadlock- combative issues for sustainable and cordial relationship between the government and the labour.