Labour not in talks with government over planned protest

Labour leaders singing solidarity song before the commencement of the meeting with president Goodluck Jonathan

The leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) moved swiftly today to debunk reports making the rounds that it had gone back on its earlier resolve not to reopen dialogue with government or any of its agencies on how to avert the impending nationwide protest against the contentious cut of petrol subsidy.

The NLC and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) of Nigeria have already issued an ultimatum to the Federal Government on their plan to call out their members for an indefinite nationwide strike if government  does not revert to the old pump price of N65 per litre of petrol by midnight of Sunday, January 8.

NLC’s Acting General Secretary, Owei Lakemfa, expressed disgust over stories circulating on the internet that the leadership of the labour movement was meeting with some government officials on the issue.

“This is an absolute falsehood,” Mr, Lakemfa said. “labour leaders are busy mobilising for the indefinite strike action and mass protests, which will commence from Monday 9th January, 2012, and have no time for frivolous, unsustainable and unproductive ‘dialogue’ with the Presidency or any of its dialogue committees. We see these stories of “meetings” with the Federal Government as mischievous and part of government’s strategy to break the fuel hike protest.”

According to the NLC official, “We restate categorically that the labour movement has no intention of holding any discussion with the Federal Government or any of its officials on the issue of increases in petrol prices until the price is reverted to N65 per litre to allow for a level playing field.”

While urging its members in the affiliate unions across the country as well as all Nigerians from all walks of life to ignore such stories, Mr. Lakemba said they should remain focused and committed to participate actively in the general strikes, mass rallies and street protests as scheduled.

On allegations about petroleum products marketers bankrolling the planned general strike and mass protests, the NLC accused the Presidency of being behind the reports in the media as a desperate ploy to divert attention, saying no amount of blackmail would make the unions lose focus of its objective.

“We wish to state categorically that no oil marketer or any individual can fund a protest of the working people,” Mr. Lakemfa said. “The negative impact of the increase in petrol prices is there for all to see – astronomical rise in the cost of transportation, school fees, medical bills, food and services. The Nigerian people, unlike those in government, are independent-minded and cannot be bought by any group, be they petroleum marketers, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or World Bank.”

Government, labour pointed out, should wake up to the reality that “Nigerians are resolved to resist its punitive policies and are determined to reclaim their country from those who are intent on bringing it down.”

On plans by the Presidency yesterday to import 1,600 buses to cushion the effects of the hike in the price of petrol following the removal of the subsidy, the NLC dismissed the reports as false, pointing out that the buses the government is referring to are the ones being imported by Trade Union Congress (TUC) with a loan it raised for the mass transit programme.

Besides, Mr. Lakemfa described as laughable the announcement by the Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, at the end of the emergency meeting of the Executive Council of the Federation in Abuja yesterday, that buses would be arriving the country on Monday.

“If the 1,600 buses are divided among the 774 Local Governments in the country, it will amount to two buses per Local Government,” he noted, wondering why the Presidency did not consider putting these “cushioning effects” in place before the decision to withdraw the subsidy, if it had the interest and welfare of the people at heart.  

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