Jenna Josh-Daniel, Abuja
The meeting between the Federal Government, organised labour and civil societies over the increase in Fuel price and electricity tariff, ended in a deadlock.
It was the second of such meeting to find a common ground on the recent increases in electricity tariff and fuel, and avert a strike being proposed y the labour union.
Minister of Labour and Employment, Sen. Chris Ngige, told journalists after the meeting that it has been further adjourned to Monday, September 28, to allow all parties consult with their members over issues raised at the meeting.
It will be recalled that organised labour had threatened to embark of strike on September 28, should the Federal Government fail to revert the prices of fuel and electricity tariff.
Ngige who appealed to the unions to shelve the planned strike, said some progress were made, adding that both sides had agreed certain palliatives should be put in place to cushion the harsh effect of the increases on the citizenry.
“Fruitful meeting. They are going back to their organs. When they consult their organs tomorrow, next tomorrow maybe they will take a new decision.
“We have requested them to shelve the strike. We have appealed to them to shelve the strike.
The government side agreed proposals with them on the palliative to cushion the effect of the rise in petroleum products and electricity.
The meeting agreed to adjourn to Monday, 3pm we had a fruitful discussion.”
However, President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Ayuba Wabba who only said “meeting adjourned,” refused to throw more light on the discussions held and labours next plan of action, given that the next meeting has been adjourned to same day with its scheduled nationwide strike.
Earlier, the Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, has insisted that the decisions of the Federal Government in increasing the price of fuel and electricity tariff, were taken in the interest of Nigerians.
The SGF maintained that the decision though perceived as harsh, was never intended to cause great pain or erode the wellbeing of the citizenry.
“The president has said that no government decision taken is intended to cause any pain or harm. Decisions that have taken is utmost interest to all people and working class.
“I have the privilege of working in Presidential transition committee set up by president Buhari and I remember the decisions that were presented to him. One of the decisions by the team considered as low hanging fruit in 2015 was deregulation, and I think president Buhari objected to it.
“Thereafter the issue was reflected in the final report. There was the need to consider seriously the issues relating to deregulation of petroleum sector, and the need to look at energy sufficiency and efficiency, within the power on what needed to be done.
“When the report was submitted to Buhari his reaction was that the Nigerian people elected him not to inflict pain on them. He said though he considers that economically as a low hanging fruit, he felt that the time was not yet ripe for it. That the important thing is to manage before such decision will ever be taken.
“Five years down the line, that decision has become imperative and cannot be escaped, it is a decision that must have been painfully considered. But little did we know that we will be confronted in one or two years, that was after the implementation of the minimum wage, with a pandemic which hit the entire world and has completely disrupted even the strongest of the economy to the extent of each and every countries of the world today are trying to find a solution to the economic disruption covid-19 has brought to the entire world.
“Nigeria does not survive in isolation. We as a government and as a people and those of you that on the other side of the divide are part of government because you are leaders in your own right in the places you operate and in the spheres that you exercise influence.”
However, during the meeting, Minister of Labour and Employment, Sen. Chris Ngige, took a swipe at the President Trade Union Congress (TUC), Comrade Quadri Olaleye, for failing to follow due process in communicating the resolve of the Union to embark on an industrial action through his office officially, rather than through the social media.
Ngige who had earlier given assurances that with a new colouration in some specific items listed in the communiqué drawn by the labour centres, had said the country belonged to everybody including political office holders and the union leaders.
But the TUC President, Olaleye, had criticised the Ministers statement saying, “except you change my impression, I believe the country belongs to the few politicians that take decisions and make policies that are very hard for us to live in this country.
£If the country belongs to all of us, the question is why are people running out of this country, our youths are running out of this country despite all the dangerous obstacles on the road, many have lost their lives.
“Let’s make the country to belong to all of us so that we can be a bona fide owner of our country. Democracy is all about the people, we voted a few people to represent us at the government level and when decisions and policies are to be formed, we are the first to be considered.
“The politicians have scrapped the middle class that we used to have, they have taken away our hope, it’s either you are rich in this country now or you are poor. No more middle class and these are the things we need people to look into if we actually want peace in the country. Nigerian workers are suffering, a lot of people have lost their jobs especially during this COVID-19 and the only solution government could bring to their door step is that they should pay more for electricity, they should pay more to buy petrol.
“This hardship is getting too much, so whatever solution we are bringing, must be holistic, something that everybody will feel that the country belongs to all of us sir.”
Olaleye further asked the Minister to withdraw his statement where he accused the TUC of failing to address the letter of strike notification to him, saying it was a clear definition of divide and rule.
Olaleye said: ‘I want to disagree with you due respect to your office, we honor your office and we will not do anything to undermine your office but this issue is the issue that Mr. President himself has to handle, we are not talking about the minimum wage, increase or any price with government, we are talking about economic issues and we have elected Mr. President to lead and that is why we have addressed that issue to him.
“But if you want insist sir, that because the letter is not referred to you, then TUC can excuse you I know it’s a statement of divide and rule which will not be acceptable to this congress sir. I will prefer that you withdraw the statement and let us continue the meeting. If the letter is not addressed to you and you invited us here, I don’t know how we can reconcile this statement. So, it’s very important sir that you withdraw the statement and let us continue the meeting then we listen to the government, let us know what solution are you bringing on board.
Ngige in his response, stood by his earlier statement, insisting the TUC must forward its letter of strike notification through his office. He also noted that Olaleye upon his election as the TUC President, failed to honour his office by visiting or corresponding outcome if the elections to him as Minister of Labour, rather, Olaleye had gone ahead to book an appointment to see the President and Vice President.
Ngige said: “I will not sit on this seat and allow this to continue. All correspondence to government, President should come to Ministry of Labour, that is the channel. If I don’t react, you can report me by doing a reportage to higher authority but as far as Nigeria is concern, I’m the competent authority here on labour matters.
“We have not tried to enforce this rigidly as it should be but in other climes, all labour and industrial matters and social security are channelled to government to Head of State through the Minister of Labour.
“So my friend, the new President of TUC, I don’t want to start altercation before we start our technical session but I want to put the record straight for you so that in case your Secretary General have not educated you properly, then let him do so. You have no business with the President of Nigeria. Your place of business is with Ministry of Labour and Employment of Federal Republic of Nigeria. You have talked about that the issue is not labour dispute such as wage negotiation but in the same vein, you have talked about your earnings as workers being eroded.
“If you want to address social and socioeconomic issues, the Civil Societies and Political Parties are there. You can belong to those ones and then you can write to Mr. President and castigate him but when you talk about the working class in Nigeria and their welfare, erosion of their wages and anything that has to do with them and their families concomitantly, you address it through the Ministry of Labour.
“There is nothing to withdraw from my earlier statement and I still stand by it and also say by a correspondent of Communiqué sent to me by Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), they have affirmed to me that they are doing this with their sister organisation. You don’t address Minister of Labour on the social media. I needy my letter.
“You must respect my office and I will also respect your own too but if you don’t respect my office I will not respect your own, simple.”