•Strike over Ajaero assault abuse of power, says LCCI, maritime sector loses N20bn
•Labour threatens to resume strike, insists on demands, says suspension temporary
The national executive councils of the Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress on Wednesday night suspended their nationwide strike over an alleged assault on the President of the NLC, Joe Ajaero.
The unions said the suspension followed the intervention of the National Security Adviser, Nuhu Ribadu.
However, the organised Private Sector and the maritime operators carpeted the NLC and TUC over the industrial action, stating that it was ill-timed and misconceived.
The OPS comprising critical players in the economy noted that the strike would affect the Federal Government’s ability to meet its yearly revenue target.
Our correspondent gathered that the organised Labour meeting which commenced a few minutes past 7pm lasted for close to one hour during which various affiliates and state chapters reviewed the outcome of the meeting held between the leaders of the organized Labour and the NSA.
The National Deputy President of the TUC, Tommy Etim, explained that the strike was suspended based on the trust the unions had in Ribadu.
He stated, “The NECs of the NLC and the TUC have suspended the strike. We did this based on our trust in the National Security Adviser, Nuhu Ribadu who gave us his word. We also saw that he wasn’t playing politics with our demands and he was ready and promised to follow up with everything.”
Asked whether the suspension of the strike was indefinite, Etim said, “It is a temporary suspension. We are going to give them some time after which we will meet and if they fail to meet up, the strike resumes.
“We listened to the NSA and he listened to us. He noted that Ajaero didn’t do anything wrong by going to Imo State. We must commend the NSA and it is because of him that there is a suspension of the strike.”
The labour leaders had earlier on Wednesday met with the NSA who announced the arrest of two suspected involved in the attack in Owerri, Imo State on November 1.
The NSA revealed this during a meeting with labour leaders in Abuja on Wednesday- the second day of the strike.
He also apologised to the organised labour over the attack on the NLC president.
The NSA is particularly worried about the implications of the strike action on the livelihood of ordinary Nigerians and its potential impact on economic security and other strategic national interests.
“As attested by the NLC leadership, the NSA immediately intervened on learning about the travails of the President of the Nigerian Labour Congress, Comrade Joseph Ajero who was assaulted in Owerri, Imo State.
“The NSA regrets the incident and condemns it in its entirety as it was against the rule of law and the principles of freedom of association and expression subscribed to by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and his administration.
“The Federal Government will never condone such an act. As fallout of the incident, relevant authorities were directed to conduct a thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding the assault and bring to book the culprits. An available update indicates that some arrests have already been made in this regard. The outcome of the investigation will be made public as soon as it is concluded.
“The Federal Government, through the Office of the NSA, therefore, appeals to the labour leadership to call off the current strike action and allow the dialogue process underway to be exhausted.”
Meanwhile, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Simon Lalong, has expressed optimism that the industrial action would soon be called off.
Giving an insight into the parley with the NSA, the Deputy President of the TUC, Etim, told The PUNCH the NSA also briefed the leadership of the organized Labour on the steps taken so far in implementing the demands of the labour unions.
He also noted that the union leaders secured the commitment of the NSA, adding that the union leaders were satisfied with the steps taken so far by the government.
Meanwhile, the NLC has listed six demands that must be met before labour unions before it can call off the strike indefinitely.
It listed the six conditions in a post via its official X handle (formerly known as Twitter) on Tuesday.
The NLC said a special adviser to the Imo governor on special duties who allegedly led the attack on the NLC president and other workers in the state must be arrested and prosecuted.
The union also said all police officers as well as thugs involved in the attack on the labour leader should be arrested, prosecuted, and dismissed.
Ruing the costs of the strike on the economy, the OPS noted that the strike was coming at a time when the naira was struggling to stabilise.
On his part, the Deputy-President of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Gabriel Idahosa, described the decision of the organised labour to go on strike over an assault on the NLC President as an abuse of power.
According to him, it is self-serving for labour to shut down the national economy merely because of an assault on the president of the labour union.
He said, “It is unfortunate that labour unions in Nigeria have degenerated to the kind of self-seeking impunity that the functionaries of government are always accused of being guilty of.
“Because an individual is assaulted, then the economy of a country is shut down; it doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t matter who the individual is, even if it was the president of the country, he is still an individual. So, labour thinks that because it has the power to go on strike, any reason is sufficient to exercise that power.’’
A facilitator with the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, Dr Ikenna Nwosu, said, “For me, the impact is coming at a very bad time when the exchange rate is trying to find its way back to some level of stability; that is the worst part of it. So, it is coming at that good time when the currency is about stabilising.”
Nwosu added that the strike would affect the government’s ability to meet its yearly revenue target.
He added, “Secondly, it is also going to affect the ability of the government to meet its revenue target. They are losing money, the ports are closed and ships can’t berth to offload their cargoes.’’
The National Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Association of Small-Scale Industrialists, Segun Kuti-George, disclosed that businesses were already feeling the shocks of the strike.
“There is already difficulty in transportation hindering workers from reaching their workplaces. This, in turn, is expected to lead to a decline in productivity, potentially affecting both small and large businesses,’’ he pointed out.
Kuti-George emphasized the need to understand the situation and acknowledge the complexities at play.
The strike, according to him, posed a tough situation that demanded careful consideration and resolution.
The President of the West Africa Specialty Coffee Association, Larry Segun-Lean expressed the uncertainties faced by the union members due to the strike.
While recognising the unions’ right to strike, he questioned the timing, stating that not every situation warrants such an action.
Segun-Lean urged the NLC to consider the broader issues affecting the economy and advocated a strategic approach.
Two days into the strike, licensed customs agents operating in the nation’s maritime sector, said that the country had lost between N10bn to N20bn following the lockdown of the ports by the Maritime Workers Unions of Nigeria.
One of our correspondents observed that as of Wednesday, access to Apapa and Tin Can Island Ports was restricted as workers were denied entry into the facilities.
Giving an update on the development, the Deputy National President of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders, Mr Nnadi Ugochukwu said, “The country is losing and the individuals are also losing. I have a customer here who was supposed to take delivery of his vehicles yesterday (Tuesday) but he couldn’t, having to pay demurrage of about N500,000 on a car for two weeks.
“He is paying N30,000 daily. He had paid today (Wednesday) and he can’t take it today so he will still pay for another day tomorrow. So, everybody is losing but I can’t equate how much that is being lost.’’
Also speaking, the Chairman of the National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents, Tin Can Island Chapter, Abayomi Duyile, said that so far, the economy had lost between N10bn to N20bn in the sector within the two days of the strike.
He said, “The cost for these days now should be in billions. Let’s just say they have lost about N20bn in these few days. You know a day you do not work in our clime, you know the cost implications.
“It is painful when you want to work and all the contractual agreements are disrupted, it is painful. Even manufacturing companies are also affected. The unfortunate thing is that most guys that come to the port for their daily bread can’t feed any longer.”
The Director-General of the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association, Adewale Oyerinde, sued for peace between the labour and the government, pointing at the consequences of the ongoing strike.
“The strike is quite unfortunate, more so at a time when job losses are on the high; business shutdown is becoming a daily occurrence and inflation is riding high.
“It is no gainsaying that the cost of this strike, again, is humongous and cannot be appropriately quantified.”
“We hope that reason will prevail, and the government and labour will get to the discussion table. Organised businesses cannot sit by and watch both parties turn into undertakers of legally established and responsible businesses,” Oyerinde admonished.
Meanwhile, offices in Niger, Bauchi, Rivers, and many other states were still under lock and key on Wednesday as the industrial action entered its second day.
The Niger State Civil Service secretariat which was shut down on Tuesday remained under lock as the security men at the gate continued to turn visitors back.
Workers did not turn up for work and patients were turned back at the public hospitals.
While workers in the public schools observed the strike, private schools carried on with their academic activities.
Banks in the state did not fully observe the strike.
The Niger State Chairman of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, Abdul Mohammed, stated, “ASUU is complying with the strike action. We want the Federal Government to be aware that we are not happy with the treatment being meted out on Nigerian workers and they must take urgent steps to address our demands.”
In Bauchi, there was a near total compliance to the strike, The PUNCH reports.
Our correspondent observed that some banks that operated skeletal services on Tuesday, the first day of the strike, complied fully on Wednesday, as they were under lock and key.
Schools were shut just as the Federal High Court, the Jos Electricity Distribution Company, and the Federal and State Secretariats were all shut.