There is a biting hardship in the land. COVID-19 pandemic has robbed many of their jobs; the majority of the salaried are living on half remuneration. People are suffering. Many families are finding it hard to feed. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, artisans, clergy, business chieftains, everyone is feeling the pinch. There is rising blood pressure and other related ailments such as nervous breakdown. Hardship bites harder as price of food stuff rises and the cost of living soars following the increase in electricity tariff and petrol prices. Since September 1, and September 2, 2020, when the National Electricity Regulatory Commission and the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) raised electricity tariff and fuel price, sufferings of the masses have doubled.
As a reflection of the sudden hike in price of petrol by the Federal Government, fuel marketers across the country adjusted their pump prices to between N158 and N162 per litre of the premium motor spirit (PMS), warning Nigerians that a further increase in global crude oil prices would push the pump price of PMS higher. On the other hand, electricity tariff was increased from about N30.23 to about N62.33 per kWh. Public opposition greeted these sudden hikes. The bulk of the complaints kept hammering on same assertion,“ Increasing petrol prices and electricity tariffs, among others, at a time people are losing their jobs, businesses are not moving in the light of COVID-19, is callous of government.
” The protesting strident voices of opposition were louder and louder with every passing day. In a statement entitled, “Killing the dead,” and signed by the President, Quadri Olaleye, and the Secretary-General, Musa-Lawal Ozigi of the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC), the union condemned the increase in petrol price and electricity tariff in the country saying: “ Like the book of George Orwell, titled ‘1884’, the government and its agencies have resorted to doing the opposite of what they were set up to do.” “Government instead of providing welfare is killing the people systematically. Just two days ago, we protested the hike in electricity tariff and sadly, yesterday, they slammed us with fuel price hike at a time countries such as Ghana and Canada are giving out palliatives to cushion the effects of coronavirus pandemic.
It is difficult to cope in this circumstance. “Do we still wonder why unemployment and insecurity have increased? This is disgustingly shameful. We urge government to listen to the voice of reason and reverse the price immediately. “Stop pushing Nigerians to the wall. This is too daring. The congress is calling a meeting of its organs to take decisions on this obnoxious move. The dead are dying again; stop killing the dead!” The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) and others kept kicking against the recent hikes. Labour vowed to resist the increments.
The NLC President, Ayuba Wabba, said the move would be resisted and cautioned the DISCOs against going ahead with the implementation of the new electricity tariff. “Each hike in electricity tariff in Nigeria is trailed by huge leap in the hours of darkness, de-metering of more Nigerians, exponential rise in incidences of estimated billing, and increased burden on citizens for the procurement of equipment and facilities for public electricity supply amidst other devious methods by DISCOs to cheat, exploit and despoil poor Nigerians,” Wabba said.
The NLC boss said it totally rejected any plan to inflict further pain on Nigerians” at this time of great economic distress,” insisting that the new dribble by the Abuja DISCO is dead on arrival as it will be resisted by Nigerian working class and people.” Following the increase the NLC, TUC and other groups vowed to lead Nigerians in protest and indefinite industrial action to condemn the move by the government. The Central Working Committee (CWC) of the NLC issued a two weeks ultimatum to the government to reverse the price increase.
These boisterous voices of protests were quite reassuring as the suffering masses joined forces with the labour leaders and backed them with prayers for reversal of these increments. They rejoiced as the labour leaders and human rights activists took swipes at the Federal Government from various states of the nation and mobilized their members for a shutdown of the country in a bid to arm-twist government to reverse the recent increase in petrol price and the hike in electricity tariff. Ayuba Wabba, advised the Federal Government to, in the interest of industrial peace and social order, listen to cries of workers and other suffering Nigerians and rescind the increases, warning that failure to meet the demands would make the planned strike and mass protest inevitable.
All promptings and initial meetings with government by the labour unions , NLC and TUC to subtly see to the reversal of the hikes expected fell on deaf ears. The labour leaders resorted to the next alternative, a strike and protest. NLC fixed Monday, September 28, 2020 for the commencement of the industrial action despite a court order by the federal Government restraining the NLC and TUC from going ahead with the strike. TUC, extended its 7 days strike notice to September 28, to tally with NLC’ deadline for a united labour action against the increase in electricity tariff and petrol pump price. Both unions directed all their councils across the 36 states and Abuja to intensify mobilization of workers and other Nigerians.
Almost all Nigerians joined forces with NLC and TUC for the planned nationwide strike action. They were in hurry to down their tools to protest against the recent hike in petrol pump price and electricity tariff. The economic hardship was biting harder and harder, they were all set for a shutdown of the country to arm-twist government to reverse these hikes. But this was not going to come easy. On Sunday, September 27, 2020 government invited the labour leaders for further negotiations in a bid to stop the industrial action. Following the meetings with Femi Gbajabiamila, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, NLC and TUC refused to suspend the strike.
They announced their readiness to stage protests and embark on a nationwide strike the next day, if government fails to revert the hikes. But more meetings were to follow. There was now uncertainty over the planned strike as the organized labour and government held a marathon meeting that Sunday evening until the early morning hours of September 28. In between this meeting, the labour leaders again raised the hopes of Nigerians as affirmed that the negotiation between workers and the Federal Government to prevent the industrial action had failed.
But the meeting still continued behind closed doors. But most Nigerians who had gone to bed swallowed their words wholeheartedly as they prepared with a mindset that the strike scheduled to kick off at midnight would be in full swing by day break. But this did not come to pass. In the wee hours of the morning of the d-day, the unthinkable cropped up. The labour leaders reached a comprise with government even before the strike was billed to commence. And the NLC and TUC suspended the strike to the relief of Government and dissatisfaction of Nigerians.
Nigerians were taken unawares. They felt betrayed nationwide. Some factions of the civil society organizations, NLC and TUC rejected the suspension of the strike and still embarked on strike in various states of the federation. Nigerians were outraged by labour congress decision. Their hopes on reversal of the hikes were dashed, they will have to face the music of the new pump price, it has come to stay. So painful, the increment of both items came at a time individuals and families were struggling to recover from months of lockdown occasioned by the coronavirus outbreak.
Five days after most Nigerians are still very angry. Workers and citizens at large strongly believe that the Nigerian Labour Congress has betrayed the trust reposed in them to strike a deal with the government. The labour movement in Edo embarked on street protest so also its contemporaries in other states. The protesters led by the former Presidential Candidate of the National Conscience Party (NCP), Dr. Osagie Obayuwana and the Edo state NLC Chairman, Mr. Sunny Osayande insisted that they would embark on total strike if government refused to totally reverse the actions within two weeks. Obayawana said: “ We say no to the increase in electricity tariff and fuel and VAT.
We say no to privatization where our wealth is given to a few persons. They are just buying time, but before you know it, two weeks will come and go.” In the same vain, Prof. Adenike Ogunshe, Secretary of ASCAB, Oyo State decried, President Buhari who cried so much before becoming a President is making Nigerians cry. Is this a country? Mr. President speaks from both sides of the mouth. NLC, TUC may decide to suspend the strike but ASCAB says No to petrol and tariff hike.
” The organized labour had reneged on the reversal of the increased electricity tariff and petrol pump price for a bundle of promised palliatives and measures designed to cushion the effect of the deregulation of the downstream sector, the timeline for revamping of the refineries, suspension of newly introduced cost regime in the electricity tariff amid others. It was like an anti-climax, as the much publicized and much talked about strike and mass protest by the organized labour and the civil society organisation, failed even before it could see the day light.
The Organised Labour had succumbed to promises by the Federal Government to play some of the cards in its pack, to the benefit of Nigerians who are being crushed under the full weight of deregulation. According to agreement between the government and organized labour, “A specific amount to be unveiled by the FGN in two weeks’ time will be isolated from the Economic Sustainability Programme Intervention Fund and be accessed by Nigerian Workers with subsequent provision for 240,000 under the auspices of NLC and TUC for participation in agricultural ventures through the CBN and the Ministry of Agriculture. The timeline will be fixed at the next meeting.
“Federal Government will facilitate the removal of tax on minimum wage as a way of cushioning the impacts of the policy on the lowest vulnerable. “Federal Government will make available to organized labour 133 CNG/LPG driven mass transit buses immediately and provide to the major cities across the country on a scale up basis thereafter to all States and Local Governments before December 2021.