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NLC protest: Presidency, police issue fresh warnings as 65 groups pull out

060bc4af nlc protest

The Presidency again on Sunday warned the Nigeria Labour Congress not to embark on its two-day nationwide protest against the rising cost of living in the country.

Also, the police warned against disruption of commercial activities during the protest.

The Special Adviser to the President on Information and Strategy, Mr Bayo Onanuga, and the police handed down the warnings as 65 civil society groups on Sunday pulled out of the planned demonstration, warning against its possible hijack, arguing that it could worsen the deteriorating situation.

The NLC President, Joe Ajaero, had insisted in a statement on Sunday that the protest would be held on Tuesday and Wednesday as planned.

On February 16, the NLC announced the nationwide protest scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday over the alleged government’s failure to implement agreements reached between both parties on October 2, 2023, following the removal of the fuel subsidy.

The decision followed the conclusion of a 14-day ultimatum issued to the Federal Government to implement measures against the widespread hardship.

But addressing NLCS’s decision to proceed with the protest despite entreaties from various agencies and groups, Onanuga, in an interview with The PUNCH, described it as a “breach of the law” and an “illegal undertaking.’’

He said, “The attorney-general has written the NLC’s lawyer that the protest is illegal. So, they are breaching a court order if they want to go on with the protest.

“We are not aware of any plans to disrupt the protest, but what we can confirm is that they (NLC) are breaching an extant rule by a competent court that they should not go on protest. The protest itself is illegal. So, the NLC should bear that in mind.”

Warning the NLC on its course of action, the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Adegoke Fayoade, said the command would not condone any form of violence during the planned protest.

Adegoke in a statement cautioned the protesters against disrupting commercial activities, and vehicular movements in the state, adding that anyone found violating the rights of others during the rally would face legal repercussions.

The statement read, “The Lagos State Commissioner of Police, CP Adegoke Fayoade, has assured Lagosians that the command has put necessary measures in place to ensure the safety of lives and property, the free flow of traffic, and a peaceful environment for carrying out their respective lawful duties.;;

He advised protesters against, “an action capable of grounding commercial activities and obstructing the free flow of traffic.

“The command will live up to its mandate of ensuring that no person or group of persons is allowed to infringe on the fundamental human rights of others, especially the rights to freedom of movement and the right to dignity of human persons.

“CP Adegoke, therefore, warns all intending protesters that anyone found infringing on the rights of other Nigerians will be dealt with in accordance with the law.’’

Ekiti police

Similarly, the Police Commissioner in Ekiti State, Adeniran Akinwale, said the force would not allow a breakdown of the rule of law in the state during the protest.

Akinwale, who harped on the need for peace in Ekiti State and Nigeria, said, “I have a role to play, my own is to ensure that there is peace and tranquillity in Ekiti State. In any situation that comes, we monitor and if there is anything, we respond accordingly. But our own job is to monitor to ensure that there is no problem.

“We appeal to people not to truncate the peace Ekiti people are witnessing because the present economic situation is not palatable, however, it is not peculiar to Nigeria or Ekiti alone, so we will just continue to pray for improvement in the economic situation in Nigeria.’’

The Delta State Police Command disclosed its plan to deploy personnel to maintain law and order during the protest.

Revealing this in an interview with one of our correspondents on Sunday, the Police Public Relations Officer in the state, Bright Edafe, said, “We will do our normal deployment of officers to maintain law and order. The command will issue a statement tomorrow to that effect.”

On its part, the Kaduna State police command asked the NLC to shelve the protest in the state.

The Command’s Public Relations Officer, Mansir Hassan, hinged his plea on the precarious situation in the state.

 He, however, noted that should the NLC t protest, the command would provide the necessary cover for them, warning the protesters to be law-abiding.

Hassan said, “The command is appealing that the protest should not even hold. They should understand the nature of Kaduna and that it is not everywhere they should come and protest.

“We have enjoyed relative peace in the state. We will provide adequate security for them and we are appealing to be law abiding. Although we have had a cordial relationship with the NLC for a long but if they insist, we will give them the necessary cover.

“They should know that where their rights stop, that is where other people’s rights start. In fact, we are evening appealing that the protest should not hold. We are calling on the hoodlums to desist from infiltrating into the NLC protest.”

Concerned by the possible hijacking of the rally, 65 civil society groups under the aegis of Coalition of Civil Society Organisations Forum, said it would no longer participate in the demonstration.

The group said this a few days after the Department of State Services appealed to the labour to shelve the protest on the grounds it could be hijacked by fifth columnist to cause chaos in the country.

The group in a joint statement by its Coordinator, Buba Mohammed and Secretary, George Phillips, on Sunday, also said it was making “frantic efforts” to meet with the government and amicably resolve the issues at stake.

“Any attempt to embark on a nationwide strike during these critical period of hunger and harsh economy could be hijacked by hoodlums and criminal elements, who have been waiting for the slightest opportunity to unleash terror; disrupt public peace, loot business premises and markets,’’ it said.

NLC allegation

Reacting to the development, the NLC President, Ajaero, claimed that the forum was “one of the emergency groups put together, funded, promoted and remote-controlled by the government to cause violence against our members for electing to peacefully protest against the hunger in the land.”

The president insisted that the protest would hold in line with the decision of the NLC national executive council, adding that “the pangs of hunger cannot be vowed by bullets or tear gas.”

In a statement on Sunday, the labour leader alleged a plot to attack the protest, warning that there would be a total shutdown if attacks or violence were unleashed on peaceful protesters.

He admonished the government to find solutions to the challenges plaguing the country.

He noted, “In light of this, we advise the state to put on its thinking cap and find solutions to the pains it continues to cause the people instead of further dehumanising them.”

“However, if it is irrevocably set on the path of violence against us and other peace-loving Nigerians, it will be making a costly mistake because if we are attacked there will be a total shutdown via withdrawal of services by workers. Let no one be deceived, we and other deprived Nigerians cannot easily be intimidated.’’

The congress told the African Union and the United Nations that the right of the people to ‘’peacefully protest and demand for freedom from economic slavery and hardship is being threatened by the Nigerian state.”

Speaking on Ajaero’s allegation, the Federal Government said it had no intention to disrupt the protest.

The Minister of Information and National Orientation, Idris Mohammed, said this in an interview with one of our correspondents on Sunday night.

The Attorney-General and Minister of Justice Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, had earlier reminded the unionists that there was an existing court injunction restraining them from embarking on any protest or rally.

But Idris assured that the government would not use force or recruit hoodlums to attack the protesters just as he faulted the planned rally, describing it as unpatriotic.

He said, “Let me first say the Federal Government has no intention whatsoever to use force against anybody. What we are saying is that they must maintain law and order.

‘’The question is why will the NLC want to go on protest at this crucial time when the nation is trying to find a solution to economic challenges that we have?

“If Labour is patriotic enough, this is not the time for them to go on strike. Their decision to embark on this needless strike now is quite unpatriotic.

“The Federal Government is not interested in using force against labour or anybody at that. We are only appealing to them to see reason and underscore the importance of dialogue all the time.

“After all, most of the agreements we have with labour have been implemented. So what is the point? I can’t see any reason for them to go on strike at this moment. What do they intend to achieve with it? What we should be looking for is the solution to our challenges.’’

Shedding light on what the government has done so far post-subsidy regime, the minister stated, “Look at the gains we have made from the removal of fuel subsidy. More money is being pumped into the economy. There is a committee on wage that has also been agreed upon.’’

FG faults Labour

Continuing, the minister explained that the Federal Government was doing everything possible to ease the economic crunch and arrest the free fall of the naira.

He also confirmed that the government met with state governors and private sector players, including business mogul, Aliko Dangote; Group Chief Executive Officer at Oando Plc, Wale Tinubu; Chairman of Heirs Holding and Transcorp Plc, Tony Elumelu and Chairman of BUA Group, Abdulsamad Rabiu at a crucial stakeholders’ meeting at the State House in Abuja on Sunday evening.

“The Federal Government today met with all the state governors and organised private sectors with Aliko Dangote, BUA, Elumelu and others. That is to tell you that this administration is doing everything humanly possible to resolve the current challenges,” he stated.

Also speaking on the alleged plot to disrupt the protest, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Olajide Oshundun, said plots to attack protesters should not be linked to government agencies, adding that it is the fundamental right of every Nigerian to protest.

Oshundun stated, “Government do not disrupt protests because it is the fundamental human right of any individual or groups to organise protests.

“I have never heard of my ministry or any government agencies being employed to frustrate protests.

“On the part of the ministry, we have appealed to Labour to shelve the protests because what they centred their protests on is that the ministry is not keeping to the 15-point agreement reached on October 2 2023 but within the last week, the Minister of Labour and Employment in a release addressed each of the 15 points agreements. There is none of the 15-point agreement that the government has not done one thing or the other.

“However, we will keep appealing to the labour union but if they still want to go with the protests, the ministry should be left out of the attacks on protesters. We are civilised and we know the rules.”

Despite the pleas from the Federal Government, the Lagos State NLC Chairman, Agnes Sessi, has insisted that there is no going back on the nationwide protest.

Reacting to the warning from the AGF that the protest could be in contempt of court, Sessi said it was within the fundamental human rights of its members to hold a peaceful protest.

In a letter dated February 23 and addressed to the counsel for the labour unions, Femi Falana, the AGF said, “You may wish to note that the foregoing issues or objectives are at the core of the pending case before the National Industrial Court.

“Upon the submission of grievances to the court, parties in the suit cannot resort to public protests over the same issues, as such conduct amounts to gross contempt and an affront to the institution of our courts of law.

“Therefore, the proposed nationwide protest action in all its ramifications is in clear violation of the pending interim injunctive order granted in suit no. NICN/ABJ/158/2023 Federal Government of Nigeria & Anor v. Nigeria Labour Congress & Anor on June 5, 2023, restraining both NLC and TUC from embarking on any industrial action or strike of any nature.”

But Sessi insisted that the AGF or any other government officials or agencies could not truncate the union’s planned peaceful protest.

Sessi stated, “The AGF cannot say the court has ruled against the protest. There is a law. And this law supports our fundamental human rights. This law allows for peaceful protest. You can stage a peaceful protest anywhere around the world.

“It is our right; nobody can tell us not to assemble. It is going to be a peaceful protest against the bad policies of the government. They cannot tell us not to come out. We will come out.

“We will be civil in our protest, and we will show our displeasure about the hardship through our convergence. We have the backing of those who know the law. Peaceful protest is allowed all over the world.”

Also commenting on the AGF’s warning, the Kano State NLC Chairman, Abdullahi Jungle, said, “We only take directives from our national body and not any other organizations.’’

“I can assure you that by Tuesday, we are fully set for the protest and you can also come to witness the process,” he added.

Meanwhile, the National Leader of the pan-Yoruba socio-political organization, Afenifere, Pa Reuben Fasoranti has appealed to Nigerians to be patient with the administration of President Bola Tinubu.

Fasoranti acknowledged that the economic measures being implemented by the government were difficult, it was aimed at restoring economic prosperity and stability of the country.

This was contained in a statement issued by the Afenifere leader on Sunday titled, ‘A special appeal to Yoruba/ Nigerians not to participate in any protest or rallies as we go through the painful surgical solution to rescue our country from avoidable death and to restore it to the path of glory.’

According to the nonagenarian, the government’s commitment to implementing the economic measures was “a testament to its dedication to addressing the root causes of our economic challenges, inherited from the ills of the previous years.”

The Afenifere leader noted that the removal of fuel subsidy and the floating of the naira was not undertaken lightly, ‘’because great damage had been done to the country’s prosperity through the nefarious activities of the agents of darkness within the oil and financial sectors.”

He said, “These measures by the Federal Government, though painful in the short term, are designed to create a more sustainable economic environment that will benefit us all in the long run. It requires collective understanding and resilience from every citizen as we navigate through these challenging times.’’

While imploring the people to trust in the government’s commitment to the welfare of the nation, Fasoranti said there was a need for the people to engage in constructive dialogue and contribute positively to the ongoing economic reforms.

As the leader of Afenifere, we are actively engaging with the government at different levels to address the concerns of our people. Let us remain steadfast, patient, and united in the face of these challenges, confident that our collective resilience will pave the way for a more prosperous future,” he submitted.

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