• Obi: I support subsidy removal but must be with conditions
• Subsidy ruined Nigeria, N500 pump price cheapest in Africa, says Kokori
• Subsidy removal, a painful surgery to save the economy – Olawepo-Hashim
• Stakeholders advocate state-level minimum wage to tackle poverty
• NLC fumes over court ruling, tells members to remain vigilant
There were discordant tunes yesterday in reaction to yesterday’s suspended strike to protest the removal of petrol subsidy.
While organised Labour on Monday night put off its planned strike after a marathon meeting between its leaders and Federal Government representatives, Nigerian e-hailing drivers union, the Amalgamated Union of App-based Transport Workers of Nigeria (AUATWON), yesterday announced that its planned strike, scheduled to commence today, June 7, will proceed as planned.
This was contained in a communiqué titled: AUATWON rejects low fares, directs workers to shutdown app services from Wednesday, which was made available by the union’s General Secretary, Ibrahim Ayoade.
The e-Hailing drivers’ union, which is also affiliated to the NLC, said its members remain resolute in their decision.
Confirming the strike action, Chairman, Media and Publicity Committee, Jossy Olawale, said the strike would be carried out against the operators, including Uber, Bolt, Rida, In Drive, among others.
He said the operators have refused to meet the demands of the drivers, stating that even the ones who adjusted their prices were not up to expectations of the drivers.
To address their concerns, the drivers are demanding a minimum of 200 per cent increase in fares, a 50 per cent reduction in commission charges, stop to the unlawful deactivation of drivers who refused to work due to the low fare and attendant unprofitability, and the recognition of AUATWON as the representative body for their interests.
Calling on e-hailing drivers to join the strike, the communiqué stated: “We are using this opportunity to call on fleet managers, driver-partners and app-based transport workers across Nigeria to support this strike fully and understand that our services must be withdrawn during this protest and a moratorium or waiver should be given to all drivers on rentals or hire purchase.”
Similarly, Resource Centre for Human Rights & Civic Education (CHRICED) has berated NLC and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) for suspending the planned nationwide strike. The body noted that the labour unions were not living up to their expectations compared to their counterparts across the world.
Addressing journalists yesterday in Abuja, Executive Director, Ibrahim Zikirullahi, observed that the administration of President Bola Tinubu got off on the wrong foot, adding that Nigeria needs vibrant labour unions to protect citizens from exploitation.
“The corruption that is at play in Nigeria is because the labour themselves are not living up to their responsibilities. There is nowhere in the world where the government does not subsidise public service.
“For us at CHRICED, the same political elite who are responsible for treasonous mishandling of the economy and national assets are selling us the antidote of subsidy withdrawal. CHRICED believes that the political elite, which mishandled and ruined the economy, is not in the greatest position to advise the people on how to go ahead. For us, it is completely unacceptable for those who have turned the state into their personal fiefdom and who live lavishly at the expense of the public to be the ones to tell the rest of Nigerians how they must make sacrifices for the country’s economic fortunes and stability.”
Also, another civil rights advocacy group, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), yesterday, said CSOs, over 130 million multidimensionally poor Nigerians, millions of jobless youths and all lovers of democracy should protest the ‘abrupt and insensitive’ removal of petrol subsidy.
HURIWA, in a statement by its National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko, accused the labour leadership of working to enrich their individual pockets by going into selfish negotiations with the government and terminating the planned nationwide strike.
HURIWA said already, the nation’s inflation is galloping like never before and the informal sector is yet to recover from the hardship caused by the cash swap policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
“Yet, the government deemed it fit to abruptly remove fuel subsidy without palliatives in place, without getting the nation’s four refineries to work, without transportation arrangement for Nigerian workers, without fulfilling its promises of the conversion of car engines from petrol to gas, among many others.”
HURIWA stressed that the organised labour betrayed the Nigerian people by agreeing to suspend its planned strike scheduled to commence on Wednesday.
In a clarification, presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP), Peter Obi, stated that his position on subsidy removal has not changed but such removal must be done under certain conditions.
Obi, who maintained that subsidy payments over the years by various administrations remains an “organized crime” that permits stealing of the country’s resources, insisted that its removal must not be done without putting in place essential balms that would soften the pains caused by the removal.
He spoke with reporters on the sidelines of the ongoing hearing of petitions challenging the February 25 presidential election at the Presidential Election Petition Court in Abuja.
“Throughout my campaigns, go and check my manifesto, I had maintained this about its removal. If you have a toothache and you go to a dentist, there is a difference between removing your tooth by applying anesthesia, which will ameliorate your pains than by just pulling it out.
“The difference is that I believe it should be removed with conditions, and that conditions have to be applied”, he said.
Meanwhile, former General Secretary of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Frank Kokori, has said the subsidy of petroleum products by the government ruined the country.
Kokori said: “Nigeria has no money again. You pay subsidy and only a few individuals are enjoying all the billions of naira. They are the cartel and they have properties all over the world, private jets, everything and you are subsidising fuel for the whole of West Africa, up to Sudan and Central Africa.”
Saying that the N500 per litre was the cheapest pump price in Africa, he noted “there is no country in Africa that does not sell fuel for up to one dollar per litre. They have killed Nigeria with subsidy. What did we gain from it?
“Nigeria owes the entire world and we are servicing loans with all the money that we have, so we are broke, we don’t even have money to subsidize fuel; there is no money.”
While holding that Labour did not give the federal enough notice for their planned strike action, he said: “I told the Labour movement to go back and negotiate immediately because there is nowhere in the world where you give the authorities three days working days notice for a national strike.
“They were supposed to give at least 14 days notice and with that the government will call you for negotiation.”
A former presidential candidate and businessman, Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim, has appealed to the Labour movement and other social groups to accept the removal of the subsidy on petroleum product as a painful surgical procedure instituted to excruciate a dangerous cancerous cell in the life of a patient in order to save the critically ill.
In a statement from his media office in Abuja on Tuesday, Olawepo-Hashim explained that since the subsidy was removed already in the 2023 budget by the previous administration, it is now obvious because the market price is reflected and the entire market has absorbed the increase with prices going up for different items.
He said: “even if the subsidy is reversed, prices of goods and services will not be reviewed to their previous levels and it would be a loss to the economy.”
NLC has said the ruling of the National Industrial Court (NIC) to stop the union from embarking on a nationwide strike was a continuous weaponisation of the instrument of ex parte injunction in favour of the government against the interests of Nigerian workers.
A communiqué signed by NLC President, Joe Ajaero, and its General Secretary, Emmanuel Ugboaja, yesterday, after an emergency meeting, said the court injunction was in defiance of the position of the Supreme Court on the use of this instrument.
The communiqué stated that the meeting was called to discuss the outcome of the dialogue between the NLC and the Federal Government on the petroleum products price hike.
The Congress, while commending all affiliates and state councils on their robust mobilisation towards successful nationwide strike action, urged members to remain vigilant in case there is a need to continue.
It stated that considering the mood of the socio-polity in the last general elections and the need to pursue national stability resolved that the Federal Government needed 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.
It said it supports and accepts 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 June 19 negotiation round with the Federal Government.
“Whereas the Federal Government was in breach of the 2023 Appropriation Act, the NLC will not encourage lawlessness on its part.”
However, a uniform national minimum wage is an aberration to the ability to pay, which is bedeviling the current N30,000 national minimum wage as some state governors continue to wobble.
The global labour body, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), though does not have a universal definition of what constitutes a national minimum wage, said: “A minimum wage is the minimum amount of remuneration that an employer is required to pay wage earners for the work performed during a given period, which cannot be reduced by collective agreement or an individual contract.”
A former Director-General of the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA), Segun Oshinowo, said the time has come for Nigeria to determine whether a national minimum wage is desirable or even needed at this time considering the current economic space.
He argued that a wage determinant mechanism must be put in place, which will be developed by critical stakeholders within the wage system. He added that the prevailing system where no sanction exists for employers that do not pay wages regularly must end under the new system.
Oshinowo admitted that while he favours retention of the current national minimum wage, the ability to pay by all employers must be factored into it.
While faulting the negotiations between labour and government, Oshinowo stated that the issue at stake is a non-employment issue, but an economic policy of the sovereign for which the state is accountable to the populace rather than a section of it that represents less than one per cent of the population.
The Chief Executive of Dairy Hills Limited, Kelvin Emmanuel, said adopting a state-led minimum wage model is more effective than a blanket increase from a federal level.
“Lagos for instance generates IGR equivalent to that of 26 Nigerian states, and has an Internally Generated Revenue to FAAC ratio of 76:24 per cent. It can afford to raise the minimum wage of civil servants in Lagos by a 100 per cent, as compared to an Enugu with 11,456 civil servants on its payroll, with a FAAC to IGR ratio of 30.7:69.3 per cent,” he explained.
He argued that the debate dovetails into the issue of fiscal restructuring and the importance of letting states generate their own value added tax, personal income tax as well as changing the principles of derivation that establishes the revenue sharing formula among federating units
As a temporary measure for addressing the sharp spike in the cost of transportation amongst the most vulnerable, it is important for the government to develop CNG buses since Nigeria has a comparative advantage with gas, and use the direct intervention funds from the World Bank to provide free transportation across states to elder citizens above 60, and younger citizens below 18.