The Federal Government on Monday asked the organised Labour to shelve its planned strike slated to commence on Tuesday (today).
The government reminded the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress of a restraining order issued by the National Industrial Court, Abuja, on Friday.
The TUC President, Festus Osifo, had announced at a press conference in Abuja on Monday that the labour action would commence on Tuesday (today) in protest against the alleged assault on the President of the NLC, Joe Ajaero by suspected thugs in Owerri, Imo State, on November 1.
President of the NIC, Justice Benedict Kanyip, had restrained the labour centres and their affiliates from embarking on any form of strike.
The judge issued the order following an ex-parte application brought before the court by the Federal Government through the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Chief Lateef Fagbemi, SAN.
The Special Assistant to the AGF on Communication and Publicity, Kamarudeen Ogundele, in an interview with one of our correspondents warned the unions that any action taken in violation of the court would amount to contempt.
He said, “There is a subsisting court order stopping them from going on strike. Any action taken against the court order is tantamount to contempt of court. We wish to advise the labour unions and their affiliate unions on the need to respect the rule of law and the court.
“Nobody should take laws into their own hands. They should not resort to self-help, since the matter is before the court the appropriate thing to do is to allow it to adjudicate on the case.”
Speaking at the news conference, Osifo explained that all the affiliates of the NLC and TUC had been mobilised for the strike which might paralyse economic activities across the country.
Ajaero and other labour leaders had led a protest in Owerri, the Imo State capital, over the alleged failure of the state government to pay its workers, among other grievances.
But the demonstration had hardly started when the labour leaders were allegedly physically attacked by thugs who also disrupted the protest.
A strike declared in the state also failed to gain traction as the workers boycotted it while banks and other commercial centres opened for business.
Narrating his ordeal to journalists in Abuja on Friday, the NLC president explained that the police in Owerri handed him over to thugs who brutalised him.
Ajaero who wore a dark shade to cover his swollen eyes, said, “I can’t explain the beating I received. They tied my hands and dragged me on the floor like a common criminal. I am not even a card-carrying member of any political party as alleged.”
The state Governor, Hope Uzodimma, had accused the labour leader of meddling in the affairs of the state, hinting that Ajaero’s action was politically motivated.
The Imo State Police Command had claimed that the NLC president was taken into protective custody to save him from a mob attack.
The incident was widely condemned by prominent Nigerians and civil society organisations, including the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi, and human rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana, SAN.
In response to the alleged maltreatment of the union leader, the organised Labour directed the aviation workers to shut down the Owerri airport.
On Thursday, the labour leaders picketed the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja and grounded all Owerri-bound flights in Abuja and at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos.
Stressing the imperative of the strike, the TUC president said, “We want the government to meet regarding the brutalization of the President of the Nigerian Labour Congress.
“So, we set some conditions and those conditions were very clear without ambiguity whatsoever. We said ‘Those people that brutalised our President must be arrested, and they must be prosecuted.’
“We also stated that the area commandant that led the police to carry out the brutalisation should be relieved of his duty and he should be prosecuted.’’
He added that a man who led the thugs was popular, adding that he should also be arrested and prosecuted,
The TUC president added, “So, the two Labour centres have resolved to stand firmly by the decision of the joint NEC that was held last week Tuesday. Effective 00:1 hours, on the 14th of November, we shall declare a nationwide strike.
“So, effective tomorrow, or midnight today, a nationwide strike is going to commence. All affiliates of TUC, all affiliates of NLC, and all state councils of the two centres have been mobilized adequately and 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 out the latter.”
Ahead of the strike, the unions have written to all their members to down tolls.
A letter jointly signed by the National Secretary of the NLC, Emmanuel Ugboaja and the Secretary General of the TUC, Nuhu Toro, and dated November 13, 2023, directed the affiliate unions to comply with the strike directive.
The affiliates included the Academic Staff Union of Universities, National Union of Electricity Employees, Nigeria Union of Teachers, Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria, Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics and dozens of others across various sectors.
The letter read, “In furtherance to the decision of the Joint National Executive Council of NLC and TUC, all workers in Nigeria are hereby directed to withdraw their services effective 12:00 midnight today, 13th November 2023.
“Consequently, all affiliates and state councils of NLC/TUC are directed to issue circulars for maximum compliance and these circulars be made available to the National Secretariats or posted to the NEC and WC Whatsapp Platforms.
“While we shall update you with developments as they unfold, do remain assured of our commitment to Nigerian workers and people.”
In compliance with the directive, the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria said its members would participate in the nationwide strike.
A statement on Monday by the Head of Media of MWUN, John Ikemefuna, said that the strike was coming on the instructions of the NLC after its National Executive Council meeting held, Monday, directing all affiliates of the NLC to strictly comply.
He stated, “The NLC and Trade Union Congress took this decision after their joint meeting in Abuja, which was prompted by a series of infractions and encroachments of the rights of workers, and the distressing incidents involving the abduction and assault on the NLC President, Comrade Joe Ajaero and other unions’ officials and the continued refusal of government to implement agreements, non-payment of backlog of salaries, pensions, discriminatory payment of salaries and non-compliance to national minimum wage.”
Ikemefuna said as an affiliate of the NLC, the MWUN, was ready to join the labour action.
Taking a legal view of the planned strike, the Director-General of the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association, Adewale-Smatt Oyerinde, emphasised the importance of obeying court orders, reminding the unions of the substantive court order restraining them from embarking on the action.
He said, “The members of the labour movement who may be dissatisfied with the NIC’s decision to address their concerns through the appropriate channels by approaching the NIC to present their case.”
He further highlighted the potential consequences of politicising the NIC’s operations, noting that it could undermine the court’s impartiality, posing a threat to the industrial relations system.
Oyerinde stressed the need to avoid any actions that could tarnish the reputation of the National Industrial Court.
When asked what the police would be doing regarding the planned strike by the labour leaders despite the court order restraining the industrial action, the Lagos State Police Command spokesman, Benjamin Hundeyin, said, “The only job we have is to forestall breakdown of law and order. That’s what we have always done and that’s what we will do.
“I can’t go into specifics about deployment, but definitely, we’re on standby to ensure there is no breakdown of law and order. I can assure Lagosians of that.”
The Federal Capital Territory Police Command said it had made proactive deployment to clamp down on troublemakers who might be planning to cause a breakdown of law and order in the territory during the strike.
The Police Public Relations Officer, Josephine Adeh, noted, “We are aware of the strike, and the CP has made proactive deployment in case of any breakdown of law.”
On her part, the Osun police command spokesperson, Yemisi Opalola, expressed the readiness of the command to maintain peace and orderliness.
She said, “We are prepared to maintain peace across the state. All the necessary officers have been informed and we are prepared to do our job of protecting lives and property.”
The Gombe State Commissioner of Police Hayatu Usman, said he expected the NLC and TUC to comply with the court order.
He, however, promised to ensure that there is no breakdown of law and order.
“We are taking every step to ensure there is no breakdown of law and order in the state. And we hope the NLC and other labour unions will obey the court order and embrace dialogue,” the CP stated.
Meanwhile, The Presidency on Monday accused the Organised Labour of using its Tuesday strike to pursue an agenda inimical to the wellbeing of Nigerians.
It based its claim on efforts by the Bola Tinubu administration to satisfy the demands of the NLC and the TUC in a Memorandum of Understanding signed on October 2, 2023.
Presidency tackles Labour
“In our view, we believe that labour leaders have a hidden agenda that they are executing. They want to exacerbate the hardship that our people are going through,” President Tinubu’s Special Adviser on Information and Strategy, Mr Bayo Onanuga, told our correspondent Monday night.
The PUNCH reports that the Federal Government on the ight of October 2 agreed to fulfil several demands amongst which was the payment of N35,000 to all federal workers as wage wards for the next six months.
The agreement also included the provision of Compressed Natural Gas-enabled vehicles and conversion kits to ease commuting nationwide.
The Presidency reasoned that the move is no longer in the interest of Nigerians as it is now a way to give vent to Labour’s grievances against the Imo State Government.
Onanuga insisted, “So this strike cannot be fr workers’ interest…You cannot tell any Nigerian that this is for a better life for them. In fact, they (Labour) didn’t say they are going to strike because of increase in the cost of fuel or something like that.
“They said they are going to strike because one of their leaders was manhandled in Imo State. And when this happened, the police said they are Investigating. The Governor of the State said if what labour is saying is correct, he apologises.
“So what point do they want to prove now? If it’s abut the issues they have with the Government before, the government has settled most of those conditions they gave in the MOU.”
The Presidency also faulted the legitimacy of the strike saying it is in defiance of an existing court order.
“We are surprised that the NLC and TUC are going ahead with their threat to enforce this strike. We can see their illegality because the National Industrial Court headed by Justice Benedict Kanyip gave a ruling last week and banned them from going on strike.
“Because the court agreed with the petition of our lawyer that the strike will cause untold hardship in this country. So, NLC and TUC forging ahead means they are disobeying a lawful court order.