Nigeria’s organised labour has suspended its nationwide strike, which began on Tuesday.
The Joint National Executive Council of the two leading labour unions which declared the strike – the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC) – announced the suspension of the industrial action at the end of a meeting Wednesday evening.
The development came a few hours after the labour leaders listed six demands and subsequently met with the National Security Adviser (NSA), Nuhu Ribadu.
The meeting was held at the instance of Mr Ribadu, who earlier in a statement on Wednesday appealed to the labour unions to call off the strike to give room for negotiations.
The NLC, TUC and their affiliates had declared the strike against the background of the attack on the NLC president, Joe Ajaero, in Owerri, the Imo State capital, on 1 November.
The unions accused the Imo State government and the police in the state of sponsoring thugs and giving them a cover to brutalise Mr Ajaero.
The NLC president was attacked and brutalised while preparing to lead a protest against the Imo State government over alleged non-payment of civil servants’ salaries for months and inhumane treatment of some government workers in the state.
In their demand list which they released Wednesday, the labour unions demanded that justice be done with respect to Mr Ajaero’s attack for the strike to be called off.
Among their six requests were demands for investigation, prosecution and dismissal of government and police officials involved in the attack on Mr Ajaero.
Speaking with journalists after the meeting with the NSA on Wednesday, TUC president, Festus Osifo, said the federal government, through Mr Ribadu, had given assurance to meet their demands.
The labour unions in a joint statement on Wednesday signed by the NLC, General Secretary, Emmanuel Ugboaja, and the TUC, General Secretary, Nuhu Toro, said: “This suspension is intended to facilitate further discussions after the federal government had met our crucial demands to address the distressing abduction and brutalization of the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Comrade Joe Ajaero, and others.
“These incidents occurred at the hands of the Police and Governor Hope Uzodimma’s thugs in Owerri, Imo State, on the 1st day of November 2023.”
The unions noted that an apology was tendered on behalf of the government by the NSA, who promised to coordinate the investigation.
“Some of the perpetrators have been arrested, and we were given high assurances that all others will be fished out and prosecuted.
“High-powered investigation is currently being carried out and the leadership of the labour centres will be briefed continuously as progress is being made.
“We extend our commendation and salute to all affiliates and state councils for their unwavering commitment and tenacity, which contributed to the success of the nationwide strike.
“Therefore, all affiliates and State councils of both the NLC and TUC are hereby directed to demobilize, cease any further escalation of the indefinite strike action, and fully resume work tomorrow, Thursday, the 16th day of November 2023,” the unions said.
The unions on Monday directed their members to down tools across the country as from Tuesday.
This is despite the restraining order issued by the National Industrial Court, in Abuja, on Friday, stopping the labour unions from embarking on the strike. The judge, Benedict Kanyip, ordered the two major labour unions to stop their industrial action scheduled to commence on 14 November.
The interim order followed an ex-parte request by the Nigerian government through the office of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, due to the Labour unions’ threat to embark on strike.
Meanwhile, the presidency called the strike an illegal and unwarranted act, describing it as a blackmail of the government.
A statement by the Special Adviser to the President on Information & Strategy, Bayo Onanuga, on Monday, said the government was still at a loss as to why labour would punish a whole country of over 200 million people over a personal matter involving the NLC President.
On Monday, the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation similarly advised the unions against the strike, asking them to respect the subsisting court order, which it said had been served on them.
The office urged the unions not to embark on what it described as a contemptuous act after being served with the court order.
PREMIUM TIMES reported partial compliance with the strike directive of the leadership of the unions by workers in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, and across states on Tuesday.
As compliance deepened on Wednesday, the National Security Adviser, Nuhu Ribadu, waded into the crisis. He called on the labour unions to end the strike and announced that some suspects who assaulted the labour leader have been arrested.
“The outcome of the investigation will be made public as soon as it is concluded,” Zakari Mijinyawa, the NSA’s spokesperson said in a statement sent to PREMIUM TIMES.
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“As attested by the NLC leadership, the NSA immediately intervened upon learning about the travails of the President of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Joseph Ajaero who was assaulted in Owerri, Imo State.
“The NSA regrets the incident and condemns it in its entirety as it was against the rule of law and the principles of freedom of association and expression subscribed to by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and his administration,” Mr Mijinwaya wrote.
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