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Presidency alleges political agenda as protests hit states

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The Presidency has faulted the nationwide protests by the Nigeria Labour Congress, alleging that some people are leveraging the situation in the country for their political agenda.

The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Ajuri Ngelale, in an interview with  TVC on  Tuesday, monitored by one of our correspondents, said protests organised across the country by the NLC were unnecessary.

On Tuesday, workers and other Nigerians in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Lagos, Ibadan, Kano, Benin, Osogbo, Akure, Port Harcourt, Sokoto, Jos, Katsina, and other urban centres protested the economic hardship in the country.

Nigerians have been grappling with economic difficulties on the heels of the fuel subsidy removal and other economic reforms being implemented by the Federal Government.

To express its dissatisfaction with the hardship in the country, the NLC on Tuesday commenced a two-day demonstration to pressure the federal and state governments to tackle hunger across the nation.

The NLC and Trade Union Congress had on February 8 issued a 14-day nationwide strike notice to the government over its failure to implement the agreements reached on October 2, following the removal of the fuel subsidy.

The unions also issued a protest notice over the Federal Government’s failure to fulfil its promises to address the economic crisis, but the TUC later withdrew from the protest, citing the failure of the NLC to carry it along.

A last-minute meeting called by the Federal Government on Monday to dissuade the NLC leadership from pressing ahead with the protest deadlocked as the NLC President, Joe Ajaero, said the protests would take place.

Insisting that the protest was needless, the presidential spokesperson, Ngelale,  said the Federal Government had commenced efforts to alleviate the hardship in the country.

Ngelale said there was no unanimity behind the NLC’s action, citing the withdrawal of the TUC and National Association of Nigerian Students from the protests.

He stated “Any labour union that is speaking to the concerns of Nigerian families, the pains that are being felt by our people, is absolutely free to do so. It is right that Nigerians speak up in difficult situations.

“And the government has been doing everything possible to alleviate those concerns. But we also want to separate the legitimate concerns being expressed by some of the labour unions from people trying to leverage some of the situations in the country to achieve a political agenda.

“We have seen the Trade Union Congress pull out of the purported nationwide protest. We have seen the National Association of Nigerian Students pull out of the protest. There is no unanimity behind what the NLC is trying to do. I believe all of the legitimate concerns being raised by the unions are being tackled by the administration of President Bola Tinubu.”

Meanwhile, the NLC president has lamented the hardship in the country.

Ajaero, led workers to the National Assembly, Abuja, where he presented the demands of workers to the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Labour, Employment, and Productivity, Senator Diket Plang, for delivery to President Bola Tinubu.

The NLC president in his address at the National Assembly said Nigerians embarked on the peaceful protest because there was hunger in the land, adding that Nigeria was becoming like Zimbabwe.

Ajaero said that the protest would serve as a signal to the government to immediately tackle the country’s challenges.

NLC laments hunger

He explained, “We are here today because there is hunger in the land. In the last week, it was a struggle for us to come to the street but we are here today.

‘’History will not forgive us if we do not protest today and tell the government that there is hunger in the land. It is important to note that this is not just a symbolic rally but it is a rally to signal to the people in authority that there is a problem in the land. People are dying of hunger, and banditry, among others.

“We are going to present a letter to the National Assembly for onward transmission to the President. We were here a few months back and we presented a letter. Unfortunately, those demands have not been addressed.

“We want to remind our representatives that we do not bring letters for the fun of it. Rather, actions can be taken with immediate effect. If we give you this letter and you don’t take action on it, then we will resort to self-help.’’

Referencing the food crisis, he noted, “A bag of rice is over N70,000 whereas, the minimum wage is N30,000. How long will Nigerians continue to suffer? We cannot pay school fees with N30,000 minimum wage. Let the poor eat. The currencies of Cameroon, Benin Republic, and Niger Republic, are higher than Nigeria’s because of the devaluation of naira.’’

Plang, after receiving the letter, assured the NLC that its demands would be attended to immediately.

He stated, “We understand you. We feel what you feel. We want to assure you that this letter will be discussed immediately at the plenary session.’’

 Addressing journalists after the protest, Plang assured that the leadership of the National Assembly was working to address the plight of Nigerians.

The demands presented by the labour leaders to the National Assembly leadership include the full implementation of the welfare provisions as contained in chapter two of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) by making the provisions justiciable; employment generation through massive investment in agriculture and value-added manufacturing and Immediate subsidy to farmers to boost agricultural production and food security.

The protesters also asked the government to open all food storage silos and enforce equitable distribution across the country, fix abandoned factories, and revive local production and patronage of Made-in-Nigeria goods and services.

The protesters asked the government to go after the oil subsidy cabal and other economic saboteurs and put a stop to the dollarization of the Nigerian economy.

They also demanded fast-track negotiation and implementation of the new national minimum wage even as they advised the authorities to  “abandon IMF/World Bank policies as they bring extreme hardship to Nigerians as well as imperil our security and sovereignty.’’

States’ protests

The protests, which were also held in Lagos, Ogun, Plateau, Delta, Benin, Katsina, Oyo, Osun, Gombe, Benue, Kogi, Ondo, and other states, recorded an appreciable turnout.

In Lagos, scores of protesters trooped out to express their grievances over the current economic hardship while pleading with President Tinubu to reverse the fuel subsidy.

The protest started at Ikeja at about 7am from the Ikeja under-bridge and moved to the State House of Assembly.

To ease the stress of the long walk, police officers from the Lagos State command distributed bottled water and biscuits to the protesters in the Alausa area.

The cops were hailed for the kind gesture.

The state Police Public Relations Officer, Benjamin Hundeyin, told one of our correspondents that the snacks were provided by the Commissioner of Police, Adegoke Fayoade, as a show of solidarity with the protesters.

Hundeyin said, “It was the idea of the commissioner of police. All credit goes to him. He believes in service to humanity and being your brother’s keeper. That was why he did that. He does not treat protesters as enemy and that was why he deployed policemen for security to make their protest easier.”

Fayoade on his part said, “It is their right to protest. Our presence is not to bring any fear, and we have been greeting and exchanging banters with them. There is nothing to be afraid of.’’

 Present were the state NLC chairperson, Funmi Sessi, Deputy General Secretary, Emeka Nkwoala, Assistant General Secretary, Medinat Balogun, and human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, among others.

The protesters were seen carrying various placards: ‘End suffering and poverty now,’ ‘Petrol subsidy is a fraud,’ ‘Fix the refineries now and others.

Addressing journalists before the protest, Falana stated that the Senate and House of Representatives should be merged.

He said it was ridiculous that each legislator was given a Sports Utility Vehicle valued at N160m.

Falana added, “The government has announced the merger of ministries; that report is outdated and does not reflect the current situation. As of today, Nigeria has 1,316 ministries, agencies, and parastatals.

The national president of the Precision Electrical and Related Equipment Senior Staff Association, Rufus Solusesan, said, “We are here to protest the suffering of the masses at the hands of the Tinubu-led government. We recall that since he removed the subsidy, Nigerians have been walking in abject poverty.’’

The chairman of the Association of Staff Union of University, University of Lagos, Prof. Kayode Adebayo, said the citizens voted for the present government to right the wrongs of the past government.

Kano protesters

The Kano protesters were received by the Head of Service, Abdullahi Musa, who pledged to convey their grievances to the President.

Speaking at the Government House before submitting a letter to the governor for onward submission to the President, the state NCL Chairman, Kabir Inuwa, complained that poverty is increasing daily.

“We are not against him. He is our President, we respect him but let him allow the poor to breathe,” he said.

Speaking with journalists during the rally in Abeokuta, Ogun State, the state NLC Chairman, Hammed Ademola-Benco insinuated that the current economic hardship in the country had affected the psychology of the people.

“The protest rally is about getting good deals for the people of the country. The truth is that people are suffering, many Nigerians are hungry, and the prices of food have reached the rooftop.

“The wage award that they promised is still not being paid by many states. We are only calling on the government to be responsible and attend to our demands which is about making lives more rewarding and enjoyable for the people,” he said.

The National Vice President of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, Yinka Folarin, said it was unfortunate that the renewed hope promised to Nigerians had been dashed.

“Things must change because Nigerians did not file out last year in February to vote for hardship and the way things are in the country,” he said.

In Osogbo, Osun State, business activities were paralyzed for some hours on Tuesday as the protest by the NLC and its affiliates grounded commercial operations in the city.

The protesters led by the Osun NLC chairman, Christopher Arapasopo, began their march from Freedom Park, Osogbo, and moved through MDS road chanting anti-Tinubu songs.

Some of the affiliates of NLC that participated in the protest include the Academic Staff Union of Universities, Radio, Television,Theatre and Arts Workers Union of Nigeria, and the Nigeria Union of Journalists, among others.

As the protesters moved towards Olaiya Junction where they eventually converged, vehicular movement was grounded along Osogbo/Gbongan road.

In Jos, the capital of Plateau State, hundreds of protesters stormed the streets to express their dissatisfaction with the situation in the country.

They gathered at Secretariat Flyover where they lamented the economic hardship and insecurity in the country.

The state Chairman of the NLC, Eugene Mangji, said, ‘’Nigerians are not happy over the situation in the country that has brought untold hardship and suffering of the citizens which started immediately after the removal of the oil subsidy.

“It started as a joke and suddenly petrol, which was initially sold at N197, jumped to N530 and then to N670. Today, the petrol is sold at more than N700.’’

There was a heavy presence of policemen and other security agents at the rally.

Addressing the protesters in Ondo State, the ASUU Coordinator for Akure Zone, Dr Adeola Egbedokun, lamented the hardship Nigerians were going through and called on the Federal Government to reverse its policies that have impacted negatively on the people.

The Osun State NLC chairman, Arapasopo, asked the government to find solutions to the economic hardship facing Nigerians.

He said, “What Tinubu promised during his electioneering campaign was reprieve for Nigerians but what we are seeing now is the opposite of that.’’

In Katsina, protesting workers took off from the state council secretariat located along the Katsina/Kano highway and marched across the state capital.

The workers led by the state NLC Chairman, Husseini Hamisu, waved placards and chanted solidarity songs.
“If two weeks after this protest, the government remains adamant, the government should expect a total strike by the organised Labour. We have realized that the only language that the Nigerian government understands is strike. We shall not remain silent,” Hamisu warned.

A similar situation was observed in Kogi State where the NLC members marched in parts of Lokoja.
The Chairman of Kogi NLC, Gabriel Amari, asserted that the rally was not ‘’a coup or a threat against the government of the day.’’

“You are all aware of the current hardship that Nigerians are passing through. This protest embarked upon nationwide is in the interest of the entire citizens,” Amari stated.
Addressing Gombe protesters, Governor Muhammadu Yahaya claimed he and his officials were not exonerated from the hardship in the country.

Yahaya, who was represented by his deputy, Dr Manassah Jatau, insisted that politicians were not oblivious of the hardship, adding the letter presented by the workers would be submitted to the president as requested by the union.

The governor, who doubles as the chairman of the Northern States Governors’ Forum, stated, “We that are here are not exonerated from what you are suffering from. As a good leader, whatever your subordinates are facing is what you are facing. I can tell you that we are together in all your plight.’’

Earlier, the NLC Chairman in the state, Yusuf Bello, while delivering a letter to the state government for submission to the President, decried the food insecurity amid the removal of the fuel subsidy.
Like their counterparts across the country, Kaduna workers who trooped in large numbers demanded an end to the hardship, hunger, and insecurity in the country.

The protest led by the Kaduna NLC chairman, Ayuba Suleiman, and the National President of the Tailoring and Garment Workers Association of Nigeria, John Adaji, did not disrupt economic activities as banks, schools and other businesses opened to customers.

The protesters marched from their secretariat on Race Course road through the State House of Assembly Complex along the popular Independence Way and back to the secretariat under the watchful eyes of security operatives.

In Benue State, security personnel were on hand to oversee the protest which attracted dozens of participants.
Addressing the workers, Governor Hyacinth Alia stated that the government was aware of their sufferings and other Nigerians.

Alia, who was represented by his Chief of Staff, Mr Paul Biam, assured the protesting workers that their grievances would be transmitted to the President.

He said, “As a government, we are completely in agreement with the facts that workers and indeed Nigerians are going through tough times. We have to accept this reality. It is only when we accept and try to bring up policies that can cushion this that we can live better.’’

The state NLC Chairman, Terungwa Igbe, said Nigerians were passing through untold hardships following the bad economic policies of the Federal Government.

He said the high cost of living had affected the workers seriously and urged Tinubu to urgently initiate and implement policies that could alleviate the sufferings of the masses.

Also, Mr Rapheal Amokaha, ASUU Zonal Coordinator, Nsukka, said their salaries could no longer feed two persons for a month due to the high cost of living in the country.

The protest in Delta State started around 9am amidst tight security.

The workers urged Governor Sheriff Oborevweri to provide the palliatives to the people just as they demanded the whereabouts of the palliatives given to the state by the Federal Government.

The NLC Deputy Chairman, Zicko Okwudi who led the protest, said, “When you go to market you will see that the N30,000 minimum wage earlier approved does not take us home. We have come here today to bring our protest because a hungry man is an angry man.”

The Secretary to the State Government, Dr Kingsley Emu, promised to convey their demands to the governor.
The protest also held in Akwa Ibom, Kwara, Edo, Imo, Rivers and Ekiti States where the labour leaders and workers demanded a better deal for Nigerians.

Meanwhile, the Nigeria Labour Congress has suspended the nationwide protests it started on Tuesday.
The NLC and other related unions commenced a national planned protest on Tuesday over the high cost of living, inflation, insecurity, and hardship in the country.

However, in a communique issued at the end of the National Executive Council meeting and signed by its President Joe Ajaero and General Secretary, Ismail Bello, on Tuesday, the NLC believed that the message from the protests was effectively communicated to the government.

“The NEC of congress in session on Friday February 16 2024, ordered a 2-day Nationwide Protest to join Nigerians in demonstrating outrage over the massive suffering and hunger facing the masses and workers as a result of the policies of the government to hike the price of Premium Motor Spirit and float the Naira.

“The NEC-in-session therefore reviewed the execution of the first day of the nationwide protest to assess its effectiveness and take decision on further necessary action to guide Congress in its effort at engaging government to protect the people and Nigerian workers from the increasing scourge of hardship.

“To this end, NEC commended Nigerians, all NLC affiliates, state Councils, Workers and Civil Society Allies across the Nation for trooping out in large numbers to peacefully demonstrate their outrage on the hardship imposed by the government and its twin altars – the IMF and the World Bank.

“NEC also deeply appreciates Nigerian workers and masses for sending a strong message to the powers that be on their united resolve to demand accountability from those who occupy positions of leadership in our nation. It believed that the message has strongly resonated,” the communique reads in part.

It, however, also gave the Federal Government a fresh 14-day ultimatum, which will elapse on March 13 for the full implementation of all the October 2, 2023 agreement and other demands presented in its letter during Tuesday’s nationwide protest.

“Consequently, NEC-in-session resolved as follows: To suspend street action for the second day of the Protest having achieved overwhelming success and thus attained the key objectives of the 2-day protest on the first day.

“However, Nationwide action continues tomorrow with simultaneous Press Conferences across all the states of the federation by the state Councils of the Congress including the National Headquarters.

“To reaffirm and extend the 7-day ultimatum by another 7 days which now expires on the 13th day of March 2024 within which the Government is expected to implement all the earlier agreement of the 2nd day of October 2023 and other demands presented in our letter during today’s nationwide protest.

“To meet and decide on further lines of action if the expiration of the 14 days Government refuses to comply with the demands as contained in the ultimatum.

“Once again, NEC recommits the NLC to continuing defending and promoting the interests and desires of Nigerian workers and the downtrodden masses,” it stated.

•Additional report: Temitope Aina, Dayo Oyewo and Abdul-hafeez Fadehan, James Abraham, Bankole Taiwo, Bola Bamigbola, Olaide Oyelude, Gbenga Odogun, Chima Azubuike, John Charles, Tukur Muntari, Matthew Ochei,Patrick Odey, Tunde Oyekola, Adeyinka Adedipe, Chidiebube Okeoma, Abiodun Nejo, Godwin Isenyo, Ted Odogwu and Bankole Taiwo

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