Civil society groups say labour sold out, vow to continue protests

A coalition of civil society groups in Nigeria on Tuesday accused organised labour of selliing out and betraying Nigerians by accepting the government’s N97 fuel pump price and calling off the nationwide strike protesting the removal of fuel subsidies.


Convening the groups, Dino Melaye, a former federal legislator, at a press conference held at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel in Abuja, faulted the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) for failing to consult with Nigerians before calling off the 6-day nationwide strike.


“We challenge the leadership of organized labour to tell Nigerians who they consulted with before calling off the strike,” Mr. Melaye said. “Until they do, we believe that this was a well orchestrated charade. We completely dissociate ourselves from the NLC decision to call off the protests which they did not initiate.”


Nigerians in their thousands, and possibly millions, had taken to the streets to protest the government’s sudden removal of fuel subsidy on New Year’s Day, which resulted in the hike of premium motor spirit (petrol) from N65 to between N138 and N250. Nigerians, civil society and Nigeria’s main labour unions had remained resolute that an end to the protests was predicated on the government reverting to N65 per litre of petrol.


Following mass demonstrations across the country crippling the Nigerian economy, President Goodluck Jonathan in a nationwide address in the early hours of January 16 announced a reduction of petrol to N97. Hours later, Nigeria’s main labour unions called off its nationwide industrial action and sit-home order accepting the new pump price which they insist was “unilaterally” fixed by government.


In unison, the civil society groups presented a written petition to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), along with the forensic report on the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation undertaken by international auditing firm, KPMG.


While asking the anti-graft agency to prosecute all person the report indicted for wrongdoing, the group said the Minister of Petroleum, Diezani Alison-Madueke, should not be allowed to play any role in the investigation because, as minister, she presided over the fraud and corruption in the sector.


“A probe of the Petroleum Industry is a probe on her. We call on the minister to step aside during the period of probe so as not to influence the exercise knowingly or otherwise,” Mr. Melaye said. “In the same vein, we call on the Group Managing Director of NNPC to step aside and also for the Executive Secretary of PPRA to do the same.”

Protests continue


Also at the briefing, members of Occupy Nigeria, a movement of Nigerian youth opposing government corruption, human rights abuse and highhandedness, while calling for a N65 reversal, said Nigerians had already begun protests before organised labour announced their strike. He wanted the agreement between the government and organised labour made public.


Despite threats of arrests by government officials, they also announced a continuation of protests on Wednesday, while demanding the replacement of Gordon Oboh, the Chief Security Officer of President Jonathan, and his trial for “his involvement in unprovoked attacks” on them on January 9. They also called for an enquiry into “the killing and human right abuses by security agencies” during the nationwide protests.


“We dare them to arrest us,” said Azeenarh Mohammed referring to recent statements credited to the Inspector-General of Police over the protests. “Section 39 and 40 of the constitution is pretty straight unless they want to turn the constitution into dust. But we will protest peacefully, singing the national anthem, saying the pledge and telling the world what we are about.”


Part of the demands of the youth movement is that government, through the National Salaries and Wages Commission “should effect a 50% cut in the salaries and allowances” of legislators and members of the Executive; as well as amend the constitution to ensure “at least 60%” of budgetary allocations cover capital projects.


Signatories to the EFCC petition include Dino Melaye (Anti Corruption League); Ezenwa Nwagwu (Joint Action Front); Pastor Sarah Omakwu (Family Worship Centre); Azeenarh Mohammed, Olaonikpekun Adeyemi, Kate Pam (Occupy Nigeria); Willy Ezugwu (CNPP); Hon. Oyetakin Ebenezer (Nigeria Advance Party); Dr. Yunusa Tanko and Roz Ben-Okagbue (Save Nigeria Group).

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