Our reporters

NATION — The Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, yesterday made a 17-point demand to President Bola Tinubu to assuage the poverty, hunger and mass suffering inflicted on the citizens by the policies of the federal government.

This is even as Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State participated in the protest in Ibadan, the state capital, saying there are hunger and anger in the land.

Suspends protest
However, leaders of NLC, yesterday suspended the two-day nationwide protest after the first day, saying its suspension was based on the fact that the street action achieved overwhelming success. In a communiqué at the end of its National Executive Council, NEC, meeting yesterday in Abuja, President of NLC and Acting General Secretary, Joe Ajaero and Ismail Bello, said: “The NEC-in-session, therefore, reviewed the execution of the first day of the nationwide protest to assess its effectiveness and take decision on further necessary action to guide congress in its effort at engaging government to protect the people and Nigerian workers from the increasing scourge of hardship.”

Meanwhile, on first day of nationwide protest yesterday, NLC, in a letter to President Tinubu, titled ‘’Tackling the Crisis of Survival and Mounting Destitution in the Land – What Must be Done Now!”, signed by its President, Joe Ajaero, said: “Sequel to the recent nationwide protests called by the National Executive Council, NEC, of the NLC, it is our considered opinion that we write to you at this time of great national distress that has left a huge majority of the citizenry and workers massively impoverished and hungry.

“We believe that together, we can co-create programmes and policies that will not only help reduce suffering on the people but also create a functional path out of this morass which the crushing weight of unmitigated inflation and hardship has imposed on us.

“First, Your Excellency may recall that two policies of your government are responsible for the unprecedented economic downturn facing millions of Nigerians. The first is your inauguration declaration that ‘fuel subsidy gone’. “The impact of that policy is unbridled hike in the price of refined petroleum products, especially petrol.

The second is the foreign currency exchange rate flotation policy which translates to massive depreciation of the naira. “We understand that these policies were at the instance of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Your Excellency may recall the principled opposition of the NLC against hike in the pump price of refined petroleum products over the years.

‘’We recall the role Your Excellency played in the early days of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration to mediate in the industrial action by the NLC against increase in the price of refined petroleum products, especially PMS. ‘’We recall your promise then that the APC government would fix the ills and rot in Nigeria’s downstream petroleum sub-sector. Unfortunately, nine years after, the story has deteriorated. ‘’The major cause of dislocation in Nigeria’s downstream petroleum sub-sector is failure of the state to efficiently manage our four national oil refineries and products distribution arteries, resulting in mass importation of refined petroleum products, expensive road haulage, incessant hikes in the pump price of petrol and transfer of high energy costs onto prices of other essential goods and services.

17-point demand
“However, your Excellency, NLC believes that the following demands as proposed below, if immediately implemented will assist our nation overcome the present crisis of survival in the short-run. ‘’They are adoption of measures to mitigate the increasing hardship in the country via mechanisms that will allow for immediate food availability locally.

We suggest a reopening of land borders to allow food, cement and other essentials to come in. Emergency measures to ensure food security around the country, including ensuring that farmlands are secured so that farmers can return to the land.

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We propose an immediate removal of the collection of levies, fees, dues and tolls from petty traders across the nation by local and state governments. Immediate implementation of the October 2, 2023, agreement reached with your government. An immediate purchase and deployment of CNG/ electric buses across all states of the federation to be managed by stakeholders. An immediate deployment of large numbers of CNG conversion kits to all states of the federation to grant the citizenry easier access to conversion of their vehicles from PMS to CNG. Composition of a team of relevant stakeholders to monitor and supervise all Federal Government’s intervention funds in the interest of Nigerian people. The same arrangement is advocated at all levels to ensure that government interventions reach the poor and the vulnerable. Reversal and suspension of further increases in school fees across the nation; A drastic reduction and removal of import duties paid on essential drugs and medical consumables to relieve the current hardship being witnessed by the sick. Direct all state governments to immediately pay all owed wages, wage awards, allowances, gratuities and pensions. Cash Transfers to the vulnerable with verifiable and inclusive social register to begin immediately. An immediate tax holiday to all workers earning from N100,000 per month and below including a reduction in PAYE for all workers earning below N500,000/Month. A removal of VAT on basic consumer items. Direct the purchase and use of Made in Nigeria goods and services to stimulate local production and save jobs. Immediate reduction in the cost of governance in Nigeria at all levels to reflect the nation’s tight fiscal position. Halt immediately the implementation of all IMF and World Bank policies in Nigeria. They have not only worked anywhere but have brought extreme hardship which imperils our nation’s security and undermines our sovereignty. Speedy conclusion of the National Minimum Wage negotiation, ensuring that it approximates a living wage.

“Some of the foregoing proposals and recommendations are actually part of previously agreed Collective Bargaining Agreements, CBA, between organised labour and government at various times. “We believe that diligent implementation of these proposals, in consultation with social partners via the various processes of social dialogue will go a long way in recovering our economy from the precipice and repositioning Nigeria as a productive economy with capabilities for decent job creation, inclusive growth and the rule of law. “Mr. President, the current economic hardship facing our nation requires bold and decisive action. As the leader of our great country, we urge you to heed the cries of the Nigerian people and take immediate steps to alleviate their suffering. “The resilience and ingenuity of our workforce are invaluable assets that, if harnessed effectively, can propel Nigeria towards a future of prosperity and progress. “While we look forward to your consideration of our proposals, please accept the renewed assurances of our highest esteem.’’

NLC protest needless — PRESIDENCY
But reacting to the protest yesterday, Special Adviser to President Bola Tinubu on Media and Publicity, Ajuri Ngelale, described it as needless. Speaking in an interview on TVC, the president’s spokesman said the Federal Government is doing everything possible to ameliorate hardship in the land. He said: “Any labour union that is speaking to the concerns of Nigerian families, the pains that are being felt by our people, is absolutely free to do so. It is right that Nigerians speak up in difficult situations. “The government has been doing everything possible to alleviate those concerns. But we also want to separate the legitimate concerns being expressed by some of the labour unions from people trying to leverage some of the situations in the country to achieve a political agenda.

“We have seen the Trade Union Congress, TUC, pull out of the purported nationwide protest. We have seen the National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS, pull out of the protest. There is no unanimity behind what NLC is trying to do. “I believe all legitimate concerns being raised by the unions are being tackled by the administration of President Bola Tinubu.”

Statewide protest — Lagos
In Ikeja, Lagos State, leaders and members of the NLC and their civil society allies, especially the Joint Action Front, JAF, converged under the Ikeja Bridge as early as 8 am to begin the protest. Speaking before the march began at 9. 15 a.m., Lagos State chairman of NLC, Funmi Sessi, said that the protest was against the economic hardship faced by workers and Nigerians at large. “The price of foodstuff has gone beyond the reach of Nigerians; the price of rice has gone up and beans as well.

“The monthly salary of workers no longer takes them home, not to talk about taking care of their families. “We are marching to the State House of Assembly to present a letter; this protest is purely organised by the NLC, with support of some affiliate bodies,’’ she said.

They marched through Obafemi Awolowo Way to the State House of Assembly. During the protest, Femi Falana, a prominent human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, highlighted government officials’ attempts to obstruct the protest. Falana stressed the constitutional right to peaceful protest and called on Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu to be ready to engage with the demonstrators. Falana said provision of palliatives was not enough to address economic challenges facing Nigerians, adding that government should rather address youth unemployment, and called on the state to put in place a law on social security.

“We want a bill for social security in the state, and if Lagos can start, other states will be compelled to follow suit. “It is no longer enough to give palliatives; it must be on a permanent basis, and that is why a social security bill must be passed by the House in the interest of our people,” he said. Falana also spoke on the Oronsaye Report. His words: “We can’t continue to implement neo-liberal policies that ‘ll further impoverish our people. “Nigerians must continue to protect their right. Nigerians have the right to complain and assemble peacefully and demonstrate in line with the provisions of the constitution. “I’m so delighted to see Nigerians and civil society organisations make the point that we are a free people. “We are agitating that the destructive policies of IMF and World Bank be dropped. The Federal Government should dialogue with labour unions and other stakeholders to tie the fate of our country.’’ Abuja In Abuja, the national leaders of NLC, led by the President, Joe Ajaero, told the Federal Government that what is needed in the face of the hardship in the country is serious action and not mere rhetorics.

He asked government to take immediate, drastic measures to cushion the worsening hardship and hunger in the country. Addressing the leadership of the National Assembly, that came to the receive the protesting workers who stormed the national legislative house to register their displeasure over the hardship in the country, Ajaero charged President Bola Tinubu to show capacity by taking immediate action that will reverse the current high cost of living in the country.

He said: “This is not to use theoretical or rhetorical solutions. Serious actions must be taken by government immediately to save the citizens from death and the country from civil unrest. “Across Nigeria, the murmuring and dissenting voice of displeasure is growing stronger by the day, it will be unfortunate and regrettable if government allows the voices growing in the shadows, snowball into a mob action.

Our rally today is a kind of early warning to what may come if government hesitates to act now.’’ Receiving the letter of demand from the protesting workers, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Labour and Productivity, Senator Diket Plang, said the demand of the NLC and its civil society allies will be discussed immediately at the plenary of both the Senate and House of Representatives. He promised that the Senate President will transmit the position of workers to President Bola Tinubu, and ensure urgent action was taken to end the hardship.

Makinde joins protest in Oyo
In Ibadan, Oyo State, Governor Seyi Makinde joined the NLC’s protest. The governor said hardship and poverty had reached alarming levels, with many unable to feed themselves or find work. He said: “The solution lies in our collective efforts to tackle these issues. My message to

The protesters and people of Oyo State is to simply let them know that this is a trying period for our country. It is not the time for divisive activities; we have to pull together and confront the challenges we are faced with. “Usually, when you are going through a period where you are trying to reform a system, there will be challenges. We have seen it in 1989 during the Structural Adjustment Programme. We had a riot but, at the end of the day, we still all came together to solve our problem. “I told labour and also responded to the NLC president that this is not the time for lies and propaganda.

They cannot say no state is paying wage awards as we have started paying it to our workers and pensioners since October, last year.’’ Earlier, the NLC chairman in the state, Mr Kayode Martins, and other union leaders, urged the federal government to find lasting solution to economic hardship facing the country.

In Akure, Ondo State, leaders of the NLC led their members to protest against hardship in the country. The protesters marched through Alagbaka GRA to the Governor’s office to deliver the labour message to Governor Lucky Aiyedatiwa. Chairman of the NLC in the state, Mr Victor Amoko, who led other affiliate unions in the protest, said: “The peaceful protest is to register the people’s grievances against poor policies of government and untold hardship facing the country.” Responding, Governor Aiyedatiwa assured that the state government is not unaware of the difficult situation the people had found themselves.

Similarly, the organised Labour in Osun State, in collaboration with the civil society organisation, joined the nationwide protest against economic hardship in the country.

The protesters converged on Freedom Park around 8am, where Chairman of Osun Civil Societies Coalition, OCSC, addressed the gathering on the need to be law-abiding and not allow anyone hijack the peaceful protest. The protesters then moved through Old-Garage, MDS and terminated at the popular Olaiya under bridge to address residents. The NLC chairman, Mr Christopher Arapasopo, said: “There is need for the Federal Government to come to the aid of Nigerians because people are suffering and dying. “Inflation is affecting everything in the market, the President should do something and come to our aid. He should honour agreements signed between organized Labour and government.”

NLC protest in Ogun
Also, workers in Ogun State, yesterday, joined in the protest, as security agencies such as the police, DSS and operatives of Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC, were on ground to maintain law and order. Speaking with journalists before the workers embarked on the protest, the NLC chairman in the state, Mr Hammed Ademola-Benco, said: “This protest is about getting good deals for the people of the country. ‘’The truth is that people are suffering, many Nigerians are hungry, and the prices of food have reached the rooftops “The wage award they promised is still not being paid by many states, the government must stop carrying on as if all is well.’’

In Benin City, Edo State, protesting members of NLC, led by the chairman, Odion Olaye, took to the streets of Benin City and stormed Government House in G.R.A to make their grievances known. They chanted solidarity songs and displayed placards with inscriptions such as “No to economic hardship” and “Government must act now.”

Addressing the protesters the NLC chairman said the protest was “to draw the federal government’s attention to the plights of Nigerians, especially the economic hardship the people are passing through in the country.” He appealed to President Bola Tinubu, to urgently put measures in place to address the economic hardship in the country .

Similarly in Asaba, Delta State, Vice-Chairman of the state NLC, Ziko Okwudi, led the protest from Labour House through the popular Inter-Bua roundabout and converged on the entrance of Government House Speaking during the protest, Okwudi said the country is in a vicious circle and called for a reversal of the escalating cost of living. “Market women, building materials sellers, transporters have increased their prices, but salaries of Nigerian workers cannot be increased. “If the mechanism of checkmating what is happening in Nigeria is being put in place, l do not think we would have been where we are.”

In Yenegoa, Bayelsa State, members of the NLC, led by the state chairman, Barnabas Simon, led the procession along the Lambert Eradiri drive through the Melford Okilo Road, and stopped at Government House at Onopa in Yenagoa, chanting solidarity songs and displayed placards . Addressing the protesters, Simon, said the ailing economy, occasioned by the removal of fuel subsidy and spike in exchange rate of the naira to the dollar, had made life unbearable for workers and the ordinary citizens. He lamented that the spiraling inflation in basic food, goods and services had made survival a herculean task for many families.

In Owerri, the Imo State capital, protesters called for an end to hardship and hunger in the country. Leading the protesters from the NLC secretariat, through Owerri-Port Harcourt road, Okigwe road, to the front of Government House, NLC’s chairman, Chigemezu Nwaigwe, said: “We are suffering. The cost of food is rising. Transportation cost is high. ‘’The salary is insufficient. We are in pain. Government should look into our demands. We are forced to go into the streets because of the hunger in the land. “We say no to all the policies that are impoverishing us. We say no to policies that are bringing us suffering. We say no to policies that will not bring joy to Nigeria workers. We say no to policies that will bring sorrow and pains.’’

Also in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, NLC state chairman, Oguguo Egwu, led the protesters from the Pa Ngele Oruta township stadium, Abakaliki, into major streets and roads in the state capital and had a stop at Udensi Roundabout, near the old Government House. Speaking, he said: “Nigerian people are dying, we are suffering and smiling. It is obvious that Nigerian people, despite the hardship we face daily, still try to move on. “It is obvious the pain is too much and we are here to use every legal means to tell the world that, indeed, we are in pain, that indeed we are suffering. “We are here, not against anybody, we are here because we are hungry. Starvation has become a burden among Nigerian people, and starvation has become a burden among the workers.’’

In Akwa, Anambra State, the protesting workers decried withdrawal of the wage award announced by Governor Chukwuma Soludoto to cushion the effect of fuel subsidy removal. Soludo had last year, announced the introduction of the wage award of N12,000 per worker, starting in September and lasting for four months until December 2023. However, addressing the protesting workers, NLC’s Chairman, Humphery Nwafor, questioned the governor’s decision to withdraw the wage increase while economic challenges caused by the removal of fuel subsidy persisted. He said: “We are marching against the policies of the federal government that have inflicted hardship on the entire citizenry, not only the workers.”

In Enugu, Enugu State, the Commissioner of Police, Mr Kanayo Uzuegbu, stopped protesting workers from spilling onto the streets and restricted them to the state secretariat. He had ordered adequate deployment of police operational and intelligence resources to ensure security and peaceful conduct of the NLC protests in the state. “I warn miscreants to steer clear of the protests, as police will not hesitate to deal decisively with individuals found acting contrarily. “I enjoin residents of Enugu State to remain law-abiding, and vigilant, and report to the nearest police station, suspected criminals or anyone found acting in ways contrary to the peaceful conduct of the protest.”

In Lokoja, Kogi State, protesting members of NLC, led by state chairman, Gabriel Amari, said the Federal Government’s draconian policies are killing workers and Nigerians in general. He said: “We are here to tell the whole world that Nigerians are dying because of the draconian policies of the federal government. ‘’The adoption of IMF and World Bank policies that led to the devaluation of Nigeria currency has put the entire Nigerians into crisis. “You can see that there is no food. There is hunger everywhere. People can no longer attend to their health needs or sponsor their children to school. Nigerians have now turned beggars.’’

Also in Ilorin, Kwara State, protesting members of NLC, led by the state chairman, Murtala Olayinka, lamented: “The only free things in Nigeria are air and sunlight. Every item is increasing in price per second. ‘’So, this protest is telling government that it needs to redefine some of its economic and security policies. The rate of insecurity is also alarming. Government has to take issue of security seriously. “On the economic front, the federal government needs to strengthen the power of the naira. Why are we dollarising our economy?

In Jos, Plateau State, displaying placards with various inscription to drive home their message, the protesting members of NLC, led by the chairman, Eugene Manji, said the protest was about “the skyrocketing prices of goods and services, the harsh economic conditions faced by Nigerians since the removal of petrol subsidy. Today, petrol is being bought at over 700 per litre. “Labour is not opposed to removal of subsidy but we want the cushioning of the effects of the removal. This was tabled before the last administration, the damage has been done but there must be a reversal.’’

However, the protest did not hold in Borno State as the state NLC claimed the Police Commissioner, Mohammed Yusuf, prevented NLC members from joining the nationwide peaceful protests in Maiduguri. NLC’s state Chairman, Yusuf Inuwa, told journalists that after all arrangements were made for the peaceful protests, he received a call from the police commissioner that his attention was needed at the Police headquarters in Maiduguri. “While I was at the Police headquarters, the CP informed me that NLC should not lead the protests, considering the peculiar and fragile security situation in the state. “I, therefore, immediately summoned an emergency meeting with all state executive members, SEC, of all unions and affiliates, we discussed extensively, and we came to the conclusion that for peace to reign, we should address the press and let the whole world know that we are prevented from embarking on even a kilometer street protest.’’

But in Birnin Kebbi, Kebbi State, leaders of the state council of NLC led the protesting workers from Haliru Abdu stadium to the deputy governor’s office, displaying placards with various inscriptions. NLC vice chairman in the state, Aliyu Udu, who presented their demands to the deputy governor, listed them to include immediate release of grains to Nigerians as pledged by President Tinubu, implementation of N35,000 wage award, additional grains to the workers by the state government, minimum wage for local government workers and primary school teachers and implementation of workers promotions. He said: “We are also calling on the state government to immediately release the withheld salaries of some local government and LGEAs staff held six months ago. We will no longer tolerate victimisation of workers in the state and elsewhere.’’

In Makurdi, Benue State, the protesting workers led by the state chairman of NLC, Terungwa Igbe, blamed the bad policies of the federal government for the increased poverty and suffering in the country. He lamented that the prices of goods and services had gone beyond what the Nigerian worker could afford and urged President Tinubu to take steps to ameliorate the situation to save the masses from lack and hunger. Also, the Zonal Coordinator, Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, Nsukka Zone, Raph Amokaha, said: “Our salaries cannot feed two persons for a month. It is as bad as that. It is all about the economic hardships inflicted on Nigerians by the bad policies of the federal government. The government must act fast to save the situation.”

In Gusau, Zamfara State, leaders of NLC, led the workers into the streets and marched to the office of the State’s Head of Service, Ahmed Liman. Addressing the protesters at Liman’s office, the state’s NLC chairman, Sani Haliru, said: “The alarming rate of hunger and starvation, suffering has become so worrisome and unbearable that the labour forces have no option than to go on protest,” He noted that a series of meetings had been held between labour and the federal government but regretted that the meetings produced no beneficial result. He, however, commended the state government for clearing the backlog of three months’ salaries of workers and pensioners, even though he inherited such liabilities from the past administration in the state.

Similarly, in Kano, Kano State, leaders of NLC and the protesting workers called on the federal government to stop taking advice from the International Monetary Fund, IMF, the World Bank and others, insisting that such pieces of advice had been compounding the hardship faced by Nigerians. Addressing the protesters, NLC chairman in the state, Kabiru Inuwa, said: “The issue we are talking before the government is for them to allow the masses breathe because we are living in hunger and poverty. ‘’Our level of poverty is increasing by the day. Prices of commodities are skyrocketing. Every day you go to the market, commodity prices increase on hourly basis. This is why we are complaining. They should allow us breath. “They should forget about the international lenders policies that are only targeted at creating problems for African nations because a hungry man is an angry man.’’

In Yola, Adamawa, members of NLC, led by the chairman, Emmanuel Fashe, stormed the streets of Yola to express their grievances over the current economic hardship. They lamented that hunger, pain and insecurity compelled NLC members to trek round the streets of Jimeta, and called on the government of President Bola Tinubu to do something about it urgently. Fashe conveyed the woes of Adamawa State workers to the state governor, Ahmadu Fintiri, who was represented by his Chief of Staff , Dr Edgar Amos .

Similarly in Minna, Niger State, members of the state NLC joined their counterparts nationwide to kick-start the protest against hardship. This came the State House of Assembly suspended sittings for two days in solidarity with the workers. The protesters took off from Labour House along the IBB way, matched straight to the the State House of Assembly which is over ten kilometers in distance. The labour officials were received by speaker of the House, Abdulmalik Sarkindaji. The state NLC chairman, Idris Lafene, presented a document containing their demands to the speaker. Receiving the protesters, speaker of the House, Abdulmalik Sarkindaji, praised the protesters for being very orderly and peaceful throughout the exercise and called on them to maintain the peace.



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