Nigeria

Nigeria’s Crisis Worsens As Labour Braces For War Over Electricity Tariff, Fuel Price Hike

By Akanimo Sampson

Strong pointers have started to emerge that Nigeria under the watch of President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) is grinding to a halt.

There is a simmering threat to impose a state of emergency in Eastern Nigeria, the hotbed of the Biafra agitation by Igbo youths, if security forces are attacked again.

This threat is not going down well with the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo.

From Northern Nigeria comes a weighty allegation that some powerful forces are shielding suspected bandits who are busy drawing the blood of citizens, from arrest and prosecution.

Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Prof. Itse Sagay, on Wednesday, took on the Attorney-General of the Federation and Justice Minister, Abubakar Malami (SAN), accusing him of having well-known proclivity for aborting high-profile criminal cases in favour of major political and governmental figures.

Amid reports that the US Government has placed a visa restriction on Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State, The Punch reports that at least 7,000 people have signed a petition calling on the United Kingdom and the European Union to follow suit.

Already, the organised labour is bracing to ground activities in the country because of electricity tariff and fuel price hike. Disturbingly, Labour and Employment Minister, Chris Ngige, and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) disagreed on Wednesday over the plan by workers to go on strike as from September 23.

While answering questions from State House correspondents at the end of the weekly meeting of the Federal Executive Council at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, Ngige dismissed the seven-day ultimatum TUC gave the Federal Government to reverse the price of petrol.

He claims that the letter written by TUC should have been addressed to him, instead of President Buhari. But TUC President, Quadri Olaleye, says the issue of petrol price is beyond the minister, adding that Ngige should wait till September 23 to see what will happen.

Now, Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has joined the war cry. It on Wednesday issued a two-week ultimatum to the government to reverse its decision on the hikes in electricity tariff and the fuel pump price or face civil unrest nationwide.

NLC handed down the warning at its Central Working Committee meeting in Abuja. In a communiqué read by its President, Ayuba Wabba, NLC says the ultimatum will take immediate effect, warning that it will mobilise its members nationwide for protests as from September 28.

Wabba in an interview said the National Executive Committee members and the state chapters as well as affiliates will meet on September 22 to decide on the strike action if the government failed to revert to the old prices by then.

“Today’s (Wednesday) decision on the ultimatum was taken by the Central Working Committee of the NLC. But by the expiration of the ultimatum, if the government fails to reverse the increase in electricity tariffs and fuel pump price, we would hold a meeting on September 28 and take a decision on a strike action”, he said.

Government had two weeks ago raised the ex-depot price of petrol from N 138.62 to N147.67, prompting marketers to adjust their petrol prices to between N158 and N162 from N148 to N150 in August. The ex-depot price is the price at which government sells petrol to marketers.

Besides the fuel hike being the third within three months, it came at a time electricity distribution companies increased their tariffs.

TUC gave its seven-day ultimatum in a letter titled, “We cannot bear the burden any longer, issuance of seven days ultimatum”, addressed to President Buhari, dated September 4, 2020, and signed by Olaleye; and the Secretary-General, Musa Lawal.

In the interview with the State House correspondents, Ngige however, said the TUC’s letter was misplaced because it was addressed to the President, whom he claimed, is not recognised by the International Labour Organisation.

He gave an indication that the letter should have been addressed to him, and not Buhari. “On the TUC issue, the seven-day ultimatum was misplaced because they wrote the President and issued an ultimatum to him. The President is not recognised by the ILO.

“The competent authority for this nature of the dispute in Nigeria resides in the man who oversees them, which is whoever is the Labour and Employment Minister.”

The obviously defiant Olaleye says the decision to embark on a strike and nationwide protests was taken by the National Executive Committee and the National Action Committee of the union, and accordingly dismissed Ngige’s objection, noting that the issues in contention had nothing to do with workers’ wages over which he could preside.

“We have fully mobilised already. It was an organ decision: the NEC, the NAC took the decision, so, the preparation is ongoing.

“For your information, NLC has also given the Federal Government a two-week ultimatum. Let the minister continue to quote the law. On the expiration of the seven days, he would see the action; he can tell us if it is null and void or not”, he says.

On Ngige’s claim that the letter should have been addressed to him, Olaleye insists that the minister does not take decisions affecting the country. “We are talking to our President. The minister is not the one making decisions and this is not a labour matter. We are talking about issues that affect the general population of the country and we are very much aware of the ILO Convention.

“This one is beyond labour matters. We are not talking about salary increase here. We are talking of something that affects members of the union and the general populace”, he says.

On the nature of the protest, TUC says it will be communicated to Nigerians soon, adding that Nigerians would be mobilised through the 79 civil society groups that had signed up for participation in the protest.

“We are going to have a press conference to inform everybody; we are still in the planning stage. In the next few days, we are going to inform everybody. We are working with 79 CSOs across the country”, he explains.

 The petition against Governor el-Rufai was initiated by a former Presidential aide, Reno Omokri, on Tuesday, and addressed to the UK Parliament, the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson; Council of the European Union and the European Parliament.

Checks on Change.Org showed that the petition had hit 7,000 as of 11.15 am on Wednesday.

Omokri, who initiated the petition, is accusing el-Rufai of being a threat to the peace and security of Nigeria for many reasons, noting that on December 3, 2016, the governor admitted that he paid herdsmen who had been accused of killing several persons.

“Since that admission, there has been an intense escalation of the killings of mostly Christians in Kaduna, and on August 25, 2020, suspected herdsmen abducted seven schoolchildren and their teacher from Prince Academy, in Kaduna. They have not been seen or heard of since then”, Omokri said.

Omokri, who was a social media aide to former President Goodluck Jonathan, said el-Rufai on January 27, 2013, insulted Jesus Christ on Twitter

The petition further read, “On February 6, 2019, he threatened foreign observers, including observers from the EU and UK with death, warning that they would return in body bags should they intervene in Nigeria.

“On July 15, 2012, Nasir El-Rufai said, and I quote ‘We will write this for all to read. Anyone, soldier or not that kills the Fulani takes a loan repayable one day no matter how long it takes.’ This threat has been carried out in Southern Kaduna where there is an ongoing genocide of Christians under el-Rufai’s watch.”

Omokri said on August 23, 2019, the governor charged the Anglican Bishop of Zaria province of Kaduna, Abiodun Ogunyemi, for defamation.

“On April 24, 2019, another of his sons, Bashir el-Rufai, described the pogrom against Igbos as sweet.

“It is for this reason that Nigerian citizens call on the government of the United Kingdom and the European Union Presidency to follow the lead of the United States and place a visa ban on Nasir El-Rufai, who is scheming to become Nigeria’s President, to prevent a Rwandan style genocide in Nigeria,” he said.

Spokesman for the embattled governor, Muyiwa Adekeye, according to The Punch, rejected calls and had yet to respond to a text message as of the time of filing this report.

Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) had last month invited el-Rufai to speak at its Annual General Conference but the NBA later withdrew the invitation amid several petitions.

The governor has been accused of mismanaging the diversity of Kaduna State which has led to the killings of hundreds of persons mostly in Southern Kaduna.

He was also accused of human rights abuse including ensuring the prolonged and illegal detention of government critics.

PACAC, in a statement signed by Sagay, and released by the Communications Unit of the committee, said this while reacting to the proposed bill for the amendment of the establishment Act of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

While arguing that the proposed amendment of the Act was part of “an ongoing very sinister and dangerous attempt to demolish the anti-corruption infrastructure of Nigeria and return it to the situation it was in during the dark days before 2015,” the panel urged Nigerians and the National Assembly to reject it.

Sagay adds that those behind it “are the representatives of the corrupt establishment that brought this country to its knees and subjected us to humiliation as a result of an extremely negative reputation internationally.”

The controversial bill seeks to weaken the EFCC and its officials, and confer an enormous power of control of the anti-graft agency on the office of the AGF.

Though Sagay did not mention Malami as the sponsor of the controversial bill, he tackled the minister for what he described as his proclivity for aborting criminal cases in favour of major political and governmental figures.

He notes that the draft bill, which intended to repeal the EFCC Establishment Act, 2004, was being sponsored by those who were “too ashamed to put their names to the draft bill being circulated.”

Malami, whose memo to President Buhari triggered the ongoing probe of the suspended acting Chairman of EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, by the Justice Ayo Salami-led panel over various allegations of corruption, abuse of office, and insubordination, has been linked to the controversial bill in the media.

The minister has neither denied nor confirmed the rumours.

Citing various provisions of the bill, Sagay said it will eliminate the anti-graft agency’s “freedom and autonomy” and replace it with “an entity under the complete control of the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General.”

He added that the proposed bill would effectively turn the commission into a department in the Federal Ministry of Justice.

The statement read in part, “With all the above established facts, the gravity of the proposed change becomes overwhelming.

“When in addition to all this, we recall the well-known proclivity of the attorney-general for entering nolle procequi in favour of major political and governmental figures, this move to effectively scrap the EFCC becomes more alarming.

“We therefore call on the National Assembly and all Nigerians to vigorously reject this attempt to perpetrate fraud on the nation by effectively scuttling the EFCC and shutting down Nigeria’s anti-corruption war.”

Offensive highlights of the proposed bill, according to Sagay, include, “the repeal of the current EFCC Establishment Act, which has been a spectacular success and has brought Nigeria into limelight as a major force against corruption.”

He added that the bill proposed the scrapping of the commission and replacing it with a weak agency, which would be effectively a department in a Federal Ministry of Justice under the AGF.

Sagay listed the weaknesses in the proposed bill to include, “The replacement of the Executive Chairman of the EFCC with a director-general, who is effectively to be appointed by the attorney-general eliminates the EFCC’s freedom and autonomy, and replaces it with an entity under the complete control of the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General.”

Attempts to get the reaction of Malami’s spokesperson, Dr Umar Gwandu, to the various allegations levelled against him by the Sagay committee, were futile as he neither take his calls nor responded to a text message sent to him on Wednesday.

A Pan-Arewa socio-political organisation under the aegis of the Coalition of Northern Groups have told President Buhari to scrutinise his inner circle, as some power influencers within were allegedly shielding suspected bandits from arrest and prosecution.

While demanding a full-blown investigation into the circumstances surrounding the suspicious release of 18 high-profile bandits, including Abu Dantabawa, from lawful custody in Zamfara, the organisation said some powerful persons were allegedly shielding the identities of individuals sabotaging the prosecution process.

CNG’s Spokesperson, Abul-Azeez Suleiman, at a press briefing in Abuja on Wednesday, said Dantabawa who allegedly plotted to disrupt the House of Representatives by-election was released, “owning to pressure from powerful influencers from the seat of power.”

“We will resist shielding of bandits and collaborators from prosecution. We demand for transparent action to determine the extent of involvement of persons in power with the interruption of criminal proceedings against suspected bandits and collaborators in Zamfara and other places in the North.

“We also demand full investigation into the circumstances that led to the suspicion release of Dantabawa and other suspects from lawful custody outside due process. We urge the security agencies to adopt a more inclusive approach in dealing with the remnant of problems that persist in remote communities of Katsina and other places where the storm has calmed.

“We call for the deployment of similar forces in Niger and Nasarawa States that are fast becoming hotbeds of bandit attacks and kidnappings”, he says.

Meanwhile, Ohanaeze on Wednesday condemned alleged threat by the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, to impose a state of emergency in the East if security forces were attacked again.

Ohanaeze, in statement by its acting Secretary General and National Publicity Secretary, Prince Uche Achi-Okpaga, described the threat as provocative and a glaring example of the reckless impunity of public officers.

While it queried Buratai’s source of power to issue such an open threat to governors of Eastern Nigeria, Ohanaeze said it was a manifestation of the vacuum in governance at the federal level.

“While Ohanaeze Ndigbo decries violence in any form in the states, it takes particular exception to an open threat and warning to South-East governors who by the country’s constitution are chief security officers of their states but are lame ducks in practice as all security commands come from Abuja.

“Ohanaeze Ndigbo finds it particularly provocative for General Buratai to issue such a warning to governors of the South-East where relative peace prevails while he has not done the same in the North-Central, North-West and North-East which have become theatres of war and where army posts and bases have been subjected to incessant attacks by the Boko Haram, ISWA/ISIS, bandits and Fulani herdsmen, killing and maiming Nigerian soldiers”, the group says.

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