NLC splits as court halts planned fuel price strike

Strick ActionLABOUR suffered yesterday a major setback in its plan to force a reversal of petrol price from N145 per litre to N86.50k.

The National Industrial Court (NIC) ordered that it should not go on strike.

The Trade Union Congress pulled out of the plan and a faction of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), led by Joe Ajaero, also backed out.

But the Ayuba Wabba faction of the NLC vowed to go on with the strike today.

The NLC team led by Wabba last night walked out of a meeting with the government delegation led by Secretary to the Government of the Federation Babachir David Lawal, claiming that the government failed to agree to a reduction in petrol price.

Wabba’s faction said it was not aware of any court order stopping it.

The government said workers should report for duty and that security was guaranteed.

It warned that anybody who failed to show up at work will have himself to blame.

NIC President Justice Babatude Adejumo, in an ex-parte ruling, also directed the NLC and the TUC to maintain the status quo, pending the determination of the motion on notice filed by Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) Abubakar Malami (SAN).

Justice Adejumo gave the order after listening to Malami who moved an ex-parte application.

The judge said: “The defendants are hereby restrained from carrying out the threat contained in their communique issued on May 14th, pending the hearing and determination of the ýmotion on notice filed on May 16.

“It is the order of this court that status quo be maintained as at 17th Mayý.”

Listed as plaintiffs are the Federal Government and the AGF. The defendants are the NLC and the TUC.

Justice Adejumo also ordered that the processes in the case be served on the respondents within 24 hours and that proof of service be filed in the court

He added: “It is the order of this court that none of the parties shall engage in any act, conduct, overtly, covertly on this matter pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice.”

Justice Adejumo however announced the transfer of the case to another judge of the court for further hearing on the grounds that he would be engaged at the National Judicial Council and would not be able to take further proceeding on the matter.

The judge said he would prefer that the dispute be resolved amicably but that he was constrained to issue the order exparte because the respondents were not yet before him.

He also said that he granted the order to make sure that people were not subjected to avoidable hardship.

“I decided to take this case this morning because it is on an issue that will affect everybody. I don’t want people to be subjected to hardship. There will be scarcity of food, people may die, students will engage in all sorts of activities. This is why I have to grant this order,” he said.

The plaintiffs, in the exparte application, sought an order of interlocutory injunction restraining the respondents from embarking on an industrial action pending the determination of the originating summons.

They also asked for an order of interlocutory injunction restraining the respondents from engaging in any act that may disrupt the economic activities of the nation pending the determination of the originating summons.

Malami had, while moving an exparte application, argued that it was in the national interest to stop the organised labour from shutting down the nation over last week’s increase in price of fuel.

He cited Section 14 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, to justify his application to stop the strike.

Ajaero said his faction would not be part of the action because it was called at the wrong time and with the wrong motives.

He also accused the Wabba faction of coming to ask the government to write off a N2 billion loan collected in 2012 to buy buses which has not been paid back.

He said: “When you are coming to say that the loan that was given to you in 2012, which you have not paid back, should be written off, we see it as if the action has already been sold out before it takes off.

“So, we will wait for our group to meet. But, definitely, it appears that by ideology and every other thing, we can no longer meet. We thought we should have managed this in the interest of Nigerians but from the look of things, it appears we have to go our different ways.

“We have condemned the increase and called for negotiation and reversal and it was on the basis of our calls that this meeting was summoned for us to meet and find the way forward.”

Ajaero added: “If we wanted to be serious about an action, you can’t call for an action on Wednesday. It is only an action that is sold out that is called for Wednesday so that by Friday, you say you have strike lethargy and you call it off.

“Popular Trade union actions commence on Mondays and by the time you drag it for five days, it would have had an impact. In fact, you would have taken one week to mobilise and sensitise.

“As of today, apart from holding a NEC meeting and calling an action for two or three days, remember that the people you are mobilising have not been paid for about six months. Will it take a newspaper mobilisation for them to come out? We need to do a serious work if the action is to work. The action is called at the wrong time and with the wrong motive.”

Speaking at a meeting with the government delegation, Ajaero frowned at the government for not recognising his faction of the NLC, but simply as officers of Electricity Workers, Petroleum workers, Railways and Banks.

He said: “I want to correct an impression. We are not here as individual unions, but as a faction of the NLC. Unions make up the NLC. The NLC is not a union in itself. By our own historical accident, we found ourselves operating in two groups.

“The issue of deregulation is not something that is new. In fact, I was shocked when I saw Comrade Adams Oshiomhole on the other side. I am wondering what he will say now since we learnt a lot from him. I will listen to him carefully and see whether we now have another school of thought.

“We want to understand whether it is deregulation that took place or price fixing or whether government has regulated price in a deregulated market. On the issue of shortfall in foreign exchange, whether what has happened now will not worsen the market because if you are importing when the currency was N320 to the dollar and now, it has moved to N365.

“With the same amount of money, you will import less; if you import less, we will face scarcity and if you face scarcity, there will be distrust. We should also look at the issue of having local refineries because this issue has been on the front burner. You also talk about palliatives and we would also want to know whether this will be before or after deregulation.”

The President of NUPENG, who is also the deputy president of the Ajaero faction, Igwe Achese, lamented the division within labour, but pointed out that the ultimate issue is that the Nigerian worker must not be allowed to suffer.

He said his union was not surprised about deregulation, adding: “More often, you are faced with non performance of refineries, subsidy issue and many more. For us, it is not  surprising news that we need to deregulate.

“These are issues that NUPENG and PENGASSAN have been on for several years to see how NNPC can bounce back and become a world class company, think globally and be able to put back into the economy. But here we are faced with so many different policies.

“It is unfortunate that we have moved from sixth to eighth position in the extractive industry, but I believe that at the end of the day, Nigerians will understand while we pursue this issue. I hope that government will be able to have that political will and the enablement to put smile on the faces of Nigerians and bring the necessary palliatives.”

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