NLC Says No Going Back On Protest Despite Buhari’s Directive
‘You’re Not A Political Party,’ FG Warns
The Federal Government and the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) are currently trading words over the planned two-day nationwide protests by the latter.
The unions under the NLC had planned to embark on a nationwide protest from July 26 to July 27, in solidarity with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
It was learnt that no fewer than 40 unions, including the aviation workers will participate in the rally called in solidarity with the striking ASUU which has shut down public universities since February 14 over the failure of the government to meet its demands.
ASUU had embarked on a one-month warning strike on February 14 to press home its demand for the implementation of the October 2009 ASUU/FGN agreement.
The Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities(SSANU), Non-Academic Staff Union of Allied and Educational Institutions(NASU) and National Association of Academic Technologists(NAAT) later joined the industrial action.
In May, the ASUU President, Emmanuel Osodeke, announced the extension of the three-month prolonged strike by an additional three months.
The planned protest has unsettled the Federal government, just as the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, on Wednesday said the protest was illegal.
Mohammed said members of the NLC had no business in the ongoing tussle between ASUU and FG. He accused the congress of being motivated by partisan interests, saying it was supposed to be “completely insulated from politics.”
Addressing State House correspondents after Wednesday’s Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, Mohammed warned the NLC against holding such protests, adding that President Muhammadu Buhari had already directed relevant authorities to resolve the issue.
He noted that the President had directed the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, to resolve the five-month strike within two weeks and report back to him.
Mohammed said, “The NLC is not a political party. The NLC can go on strike or protest if the rights of the NLC members are involved. What the NLC is planning in the next few days is about interest. There’s no dispute whatsoever between NLC as a body with the Federal Government.
“Well yes, there’s a dispute between some members of the NLC, ASUU and the federal government, which is being looked into. And NLC itself is a party to the committee that is looking into the solution.
“So, calling out people on street protest; you begin to wonder, what is the motive of the NLC in this matter? But you see here, we do not interrogate what the NLC is doing. The NLC by its own laws cannot even give out pamphlets. And the NLC is supposed to be completely insulated from politics.”
Worried by the possibility of the aviation workers joining the planned protest, Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, said such move would put the lives of Nigerians at risk.
Speaking also with journalists, the Minister said the aviation workers have huge responsibilities on them, urging them not to take it for granted.
He said, “I’m naturally concerned about this if the aviation union will shut down in support of ASUU. I would say they have no need to. This is democracy. You can push for demands. But in pressing for demands, you should be reasonable in doing so; where lives can be lost because of your own activity. I think it should be reconsidered.
“So, civil aviation workers should not be part of this. We’ve spoken to them and I don’t think they will join because they know that there’s a huge responsibility for lives on their heads.
“I believe that they are very aware of the enormous responsibility upon them in civil aviation and they should continue to see it so and continue to be as law-abiding as we want them to be.”
However, the Head, Information and Public Affairs, NLC, Mr Benson Upah, in is reaction said the president’s directive is not enough to call-off the planned protests.
According to him, the government could resolve the lingering strike within three days if it was serious about the crisis, stressing that the union was going ahead with its protests.
“We’re still going ahead (with the protests). The public action is on the July 26th and then the mega one is on (July) 27th. So, I mean, of what effect will two weeks have on that?
“I am saying that had the government asked the minister of education to solve this problem within two or three days, aha. But he is giving him two weeks, and two weeks will come after our protest must have taken place. Don’t you think so? So it’s like take charge of it.
‘’If the government wants to end this matter today, I assure you that they will be able to fix it in three hours. Remember when the airline operators planned to go on strike and within hours there was an intervention; remember?
“The summary of what I want to tell you is that nothing has happened for us to change our proposed action. All I know is that we’re going on with our action.
“Freedom of expression, freedom of protest are within the ambit of the law and guaranteed by the constitution; so, he (minister) does not have the power to abolish it.
“ASUU is part of the unions that make up the NLC and we all know that for the past six months or so ASUU had had issues with the government; an issue that government has not resolved,” Upah stated.
Also, the Secretary General of the Association of Nigeria Aviation Professionals, Abdulrasaq Saidu, said that the union’s solidarity strike would still hold.
According to him, the aviation workers would join the protest, noting the union is part of the NLC.
He said, “We are bound to carry out the NLC decision because we are part of it, we are an affiliate of NLC. It was the national executive council of the NLC that called for that strike and it must hold. If it’s not going to hold it is only the national executive council that will stop it.
“Whatever Buhari said is only an afterthought because they were there since ASUU went on strike- the minister of education and labour too. All affiliates of NLC will embark on the planned strike. We are complying and carrying out the instruction of the NLC.”