The nationwide strike action by workers earlier planned for Wednesday, June 7 was suspended to avoid encouraging acts of lawlessness exhibited by the Federal Government, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) clarified on Tuesday.
In a communique issued at the end of the emergency National Executive Council (NEC) meeting of the Central Labour movement on Tuesday in Abuja, the NLC accused the Federal Government of showing bad faith, by engaging in series of acts that breached the law and terms of agreements reached with Labour over the issue of subsidy removal on petrol.
The communiqué was signed by the President of NLC, Joe Ajaero and General Secretary, Emmanuel Ugboaja.
Apart from breaching the provisions of the 2023 Appropriation Act, by announcing the removal of subsidy on Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), popularly called petrol, ahead of the scheduled deadline of June 30, 2023, the NLC said the Federal Government proceeded in breach of existing agreement, by procuring a flawed restraining order from the National Industrial Court (NIC) to stop the workers’ body from proceeding with its proposed nationwide strike scheduled for Wednesday, June 7, 2023.
The strike was called by the National Executive Council of the Labour movement and its affiliates to protest the decision by the Tinubu administration to announce the removal of subsidy on petrol without first unveiling palliatives to provide succour necessary to assuage the negative impact of the decision.
In 2016, following a similar threat by the NLC to embark on strike to protest an attempt by the government to remove fuel subsidy, as part of negotiations, both parties had agreed that subsidy removal would not be import-dependent, rather would only be undertaken after the issue of the source of fuel supply was resolved with the rehabilitation of the nation’s four refineries.
Again, the Petroleum Industry Act (PIA) had originally provided that the subsidy regime on petrol would terminate in 2022. But the Buhari administration decided to extend the terminal date to the end of the first half of 2023 (June 30).
To sustain the extension, the administration said provision was made in the 2023 Appropriation Act for the continued payment for subsidy on petrol till the end of June.
But at his inauguration on May 29, when the new President, Bola Tinubu, declared that fuel subsidy was gone, it was more than 30 days to the expiration of that deadline.
As soon as Tinubu made that pronouncement, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) went ahead to adjust upwards by over 195 percent the retail prices for petrol in all its filling stations across the country.
The new prices showed that ex-depot price for major and independent fuel marketers was adjusted from N179 per litre to N479. 50 per litre, while retail prices at its mega filling stations were hiked from N195 to an average of N488 and N557 per per litre, depending on location across the country.
Consequently, the major and independent fuel marketers used the NNPCL benchmark prices to raise their prices to between N540 and N600 per litre, triggering a national crisis, as prices of goods and services, particularly food and transportation costs, escalated beyond the reach of the common man.
The Group Chief Executive of the NNPCL, Mele Kyari, attempted to justify the company’s decision to hike petrol prices ahead of the June deadline in defiance of the PIA, by explaining that there was no cash backing for the approved appropriation in the 2023 Budget for fuel subsidy.
But the explanation appeared insufficient to persuade the NLC to abandon its resolve to pursue its planned strike action.
To compel Labour not to proceed with the planned strike action, the government approached the the National Industrial Court (NIC), which granted an injunction to restrain the NLC from embarking on the strike.
However, during the emergency NEC meeting convened to discuss the outcome of the dialogue between the NLC and representatives of the government on the subsidy removal crisis, the Labour movement condemned the National Industrial Court (NIC) “for its continuous weaponization of the instrument of Ex Parte injunction in favour of the Government against the interests of Nigerian workers in defiance of the position of the Supreme Court on the use of this instrument.”
In the communiqué, the NLC stated: “Whereas the previous NEC-in-Session had ordered a nation-wide withdrawal of service and mass protest over the petroleum products price hike by the federal government;
“Whereas the federal government was in breach of the 2023 Appropriation Act, the NLC will not encourage lawlessness on its part;
“Taking into account that the federal government has procured a Court injunction restraining Congress from proceeding with the proposed nation-wide strike as the NEC-in-session had ordered to begin, Wednesday, the 7th of June, 2023;
“Recognizing the willingness of the government for continuous engagement through dialogue and to offer reasonable palliatives in due course to cushion the effect of its policies and some levels of understanding reached;
“Considering the mood of the socio-polity during last elections and the need to pursue national stability and;
“Consequently, the NEC-in-session resolved as follows: to commend and applaud the diligence of the Congress’ leadership in carrying out the assignment given to it by NEC;
“To demonstrate to the federal government the need to comply with the laws of the land, especially as it concerns obedience to the rulings of the courts and their brazen disregard to the 2023 Appropriation Act;
“To therefore support and accept the decision of the leadership of Congress to suspend the proposed strike action in compliance with the flawed rulings of the NIC and also allow negotiations to flow freely and enable final agreement during or after the 19th June, 2023 negotiation round with the federal government;
“To however register in strongest terms its disgust and disapproval with the ruling of the National Industrial Court (NIC) for its continuous weaponization of the instrument of Exparte injunction in favour of Government against the interests of Nigerian workers in defiance of the position of the Supreme Court on the use of this instrument.”