By AUSTIN OWOICHO, Abuja
The Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) has threatened to go ahead with its planned strike billed to start on Tuesday 6th November, 2018. This is in spite of a court order stopping NLC from embarking on a strike action. Although NLC is demanding N30,000 as minimum wage, the Federal Government (FG) has offered to pay workers N24,000 while state governments are offering N22,000.
Meanwhile the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) has appealed to NLC to weigh the options properly before commencing the strike.
In a statement released on Monday, 5th November, 2018, MURIC cautioned against a strike action whose major victims will be the poor.
According to the director of the organization, Professor Ishaq Akintola who signed the press statement, the same workers and innocent members of their families are most likely to suffer the devastating consequences of an all-out industrial action.
“NLC has directed workers to stock their homes with foodstuffs in preparation for a long strike. But can Nigerian workers sustain this? How much does an average Nigerian worker have in his bank account to enable him reserve food supplies at home? In the midst of pervasive poverty, we doubt much if the masses who have been asked by the NLC to stock foodstuffs at home will be able to afford it. The take-home pay of the average worker cannot take him home. So what is the quantity of foodstuffs he can afford to reserve at home in preparation for the strike?
“Besides, will a general strike not inform the evacuation of hundreds of sick Nigerians from hospital beds? Will it not lead to an increased number of deaths of citizens who do not have the money to access private health facilities? What will happen to accident victims during a strike?
“Socio-economic activities stand the risk of being paralysed. Banks will remain shut and even ATM machines may soon become dry. This strike may turn out to be an open invitation to hunger in the land.
“The impact on the oil sector is expected to be severe. Oil output is likely to be affected. Oil exports which hit 1.7 million barrels per day in October 2018 may come to a complete halt. It cannot be good news to stop oil exports at a time when the price of oil has risen and it is hovering between $76 and $80 after suffering a fall as low as $38 per barrel at the inception of this administration. This is capable of wreaking havoc on the economy. The naira will depreciate further, forcing prices of goods to skyrocket while both imports and exports will be affected as the ports go to sleep.
“This is why we are appealing to NLC leadership to consider the implications of a general strike at this crucial time. By the way, is NLC certain that an irrational payrise resulting from a forced increase in wages will not provoke retrenchment of workers?
“The economy was most crudely battered for sixteen years of reckless looting between 1999 and 2015. This precipitated a recession which lasted almost one year under the present regime. The quick recovery from the recession was due to the prudent management of the economy by the Buhari administration and its blockage of leakages. A general strike just when the economy is starting to look good will do workers no good.
MURIC advised NLC leaders to focus on responsible leadership, patriotic intervention and citizen-oriented actions.
Akintola asked, “Where was NLC when the National Assembly (NASS) shut down the whole nation as it went on recess for weeks ad infinitum? Where were the leaders of labour when the budget was delayed for a whole seven months? Are they telling us that they do not know the implications of prolonged delay of budgets?
“The whole nation expected NLC to stand up when the NASS deducted humongous amounts of money from the budgets of critical sectors of the economy and added same to their own. Were NLC leaders on sabbatical at that time? Mambilla Power Plant, 2nd Niger Bridge/ancillary roads, East-West Road, Bonny-Bodo Road, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway & Itakpe-Ajaokuta Rail allocations were cut by an aggregate of N11.5 billion. The provision for construction of the Terminal Building at Enugu Airport was cut from N2billion to N500million. Wasn’t that outrageous? But does it mean nothing to NLC?
“Positive activism demands that NLC should show concern for the reckless and selfish actions of the 8th NASS. The fact that the cuts from allocations to vital sectors of the economy were added to the budget of the NASS should have struck some vital cords in the anatomy of labour leadership and spurred it to action.
“We expect NLC to strike against legislative recklessness, not only against stomach infrastructure. A government that is providing infrastructure and bringing back the glorious days of rail transportation for Nigerian workers deserves NLC’s cooperation.
“N22.6 billion was released by FG to pay pensioners of the Nigerian Railway after they have been ignored for fifteen (15) years. A government that is paying pensions to retirees who have been ignored for years deserves NLC’s understanding. For crying out loud, those 8.5 million children who are benefiting from FG’s school-feeding programme are children of workers. FG has so far spent N49 billion on the project in two years. This is a government with a human face.
“We do not wish to be misunderstood. MURIC is on the side of Nigerian workers. We also believe that the present minimum wage of N18,000 is unrealistic. But NLC needs to time its action appropriately and put the blame where it really belongs. NLC should face the hawks in the NASS who illegally allocated N29 million monthly to themselves. NLC should lead workers and the rest of Nigerians to protest against parliamentary rascality and legislative impunity.
“In conclusion, we appeal to NLC to shelve its planned strike action and go back to the negotiation table in the interest of Nigerian workers. We call for proactive activism on the part of NLC. The Nigerian people expect the labour leaders to emancipate them from legislative tyranny. NLC’s focus should not be on the central and state governments alone. Neither should it always be about workers’ wages. We need action against greedy legislators.