After talking tough on Tuesday, the Federal Government, through the National Security Adviser (NSA), Malam Nuhu Ribadu, has taken a softer stance over the nationwide strike by workers, even as it remains unclear whether the blackout being experienced in parts of the country is a function of the workers strike.
On Tuesday, the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) denied any shutdown of power supply, insisting that bulk transmission of power was on. But on Wednesday, power supply went off in many parts, leading to speculations, it was the handiwork of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) which joined the strike called by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC).
Ribadu’s position which is more pliant than that of Presidential spokesman, Mr. Bayo Onanuga, expresses concern over the declaration of a nationwide strike by the leadership of the Organised Labour led by the NLC and TUC.
He disclosed that arrests have been made over the attack on the NLC President and pleaded with the unions to call off their strike action.
Labour is protesting the physical attack and brutalisation of the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Mr Joe Ajaero, in Owerri, Imo State, some 14 days ago by persons believed to have been sponsored by the Imo State government.
Though coming late after the strike commenced, a statement by the Head
Strategic Communication, Office of the National Security Adviser, Zakari Mijinyawa, says the NSA is worried about the implications of the strike action on the livelihood of ordinary Nigerians and its potential impact on economic security and other strategic national interests.
The statement recalls that Ribadu intervened when he became aware of the travails of the President of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Joseph Ajero 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.
The statement said that as a fallout of the incident, relevant authorities were directed to conduct a thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding the assault and bring to book the culprits.
According to the statement, some arrests have already been made adding that the outcome of the investigation will be made public as soon as it is concluded.
The Office of the NSA, therefore appealed to the labour leadership to call off the current strike action and allow the dialogue process underway to be exhausted.
Ajaero alleged that he was picked by policemen who handed him over to thugs that beat him silly, dragging him on the ground.
The NLC had declared a protest in Imo, led by Ajaero on Nov. 1, over alleged anti-workers’ policies and non-payment of 20-month salary arrears by the state government. It was during that protest that Ajaero got the beating of his life.
The police have since denied Ajaero’s claim of its complicity, claiming its men actually took the Labour chief into protective custody to save him from thugs.
After initially seeming to justify the attack, Imo State Governor, Senator Hope Uzodinma, offered a quick apology on the eve of last Saturday’s gubernatorial election.
Meanwhile, Mr Festus Osifo, President of Trade Union Congress(TUC), at a joint news conference with the NLC on Monday in Abuja said the two Labour unions have resolved to stand firmly by the decision of their joint National Executive Councils (NECs) that was held last week Tuesday.
He said “effective from midnight on 14 November, we shall declare a nationwide strike.
“All affiliates of the TUC and NLC, and all state councils of the two unions have been mobilised adequately.
“This is going to be indefinite until governments at all levels wake up to their responsibilities.
“This is the decision of the joint NEC of NLC and TUC and we are going to carry it out to the letter,” he said.
The TUC president, however, noted that for the Labour unions to suspend their strike, the government must investigate the issues surrounding the attack on Ajaero, adding that all those involved in the attack on Ajaeromust be prosecuted or disciplined.
“We are also demanding for the immediate ‘restoration’ of all properties lost.
“We also call for urgent implementation of all the outstanding Industrial Relations agreements previously entered into with the Imo government,” he said.
ASUU said it declared its nationwide industrial strike action in solidarity with the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC).
Its President, Prof Emmanuel Osodeke, in a statement, directed all members of the academic union to join the industrial strike action of the NLC.
“The Nigeria Labour Congress at a Joint National Executive Council (NEC) of NLC and TUC directed all affiliate Unions to commence withdrawal of services with effect from 12:00 midnight today 13th November, 2023.
“As an affiliate of NLC, all members of our union are hereby directed to join this action of NLC to protect the interest of Nigerian workers and the Leadership of the Union.
“Zonal Coordinators and Branch Chairpersons should immediately mobilize our member to participate in the action. A people united, cannot be defeated”.
In its reaction, the Presidency talked tough, too.
Mr. Bayo Onanuga, Special Adviser to President Bola Tinubu on Information and Strategy, said the strike is an attempt to blackmail the government.
His words: “We notice with dismay the decision by the Nigerian Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress to call out workers to commence a strike action from midnight, despite a restraining order issued last week by Justice Benedict Backwash Kanyip of the National Industrial Court.
“This decision by the NLC and TUC other than being an ego tripping move is clearly unwarranted. It is an attempt to blackmail the government by the leadership of the NLC.
“We are still at a loss as to why the NLC and TUC decided to punish a whole country of over 200million people over a personal matter involving the NLC President, Mr. Joe Ajaero, whose error of judgment led to assault on him in Owerri while he was planning to incite the workers in Imo State into a needless strike.
“While the Federal government does not condone any form of violence and assault on any citizen of Nigeria regardless of his or her social and economic status, it is on record that the Inspector General of Police has ordered investigation into what happened to Mr. Ajaero while the Commissioner of Police in Imo State under whose watch the incident happened has been transferred out of the state.
“Calling out workers on a national strike over a personal issue of a labour leader despite a clear court order against any industrial action amounts to an abuse of privilege. Power at any level should never be used to settle personal scores. Rather, it should be used to promote collective progress and advance national interest.
“Our national economy and social activities should not suffer because of the personal interest of any labour leader.
“This flagrant disobedience to court order and lack of respect for the judiciary should not be what the organised Labour would champion.
“The labour movement has always been a champion of rule of law and respect for the judiciary. It is a sad irony that the current labour leaders have shown disdain and utter disregard for court order.
“We reiterate that this strike action is illegal, immoral, unjustifiable and irresponsible. What the strike notice issued Monday night after official hours suggests is it’s designed for a sinister and hidden agenda to cause undue hardship and cause civil disturbance in our country. This is unacceptable.”