Planned nationwide protest: Defiant NLC insists as Afenifere, CSOs opt out, preach ceasefire  

Ahead of the planned nationwide strike at the instance of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), some 65 Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have opted out, explaining that it might lead to anarchy and further increase the hardship in the land.

They also cautioned against going the Sudan way and therefore called on the labour to further dialogue with the federal government.

The strike, announced by the NLC February 16, followed the federal government’s non-implementation of the agreement reached October 2 with labour on how to ameliorate the pains resulting from fuel subsidy removal.

This followed the conclusion of a 14-day ultimatum issued by the labour unions to the federal government over the nationwide suffering among the people.

However, contrary to the agreement by both the NLC and TUC, the former announced a nationwide protest scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday (February 27 and 28 respectively), but rejected by the latter.

CSOs opt out

Opting out of the planned strike, however, the CSOs under the aegis of Coalition of Civil Society Organisations Forum (CCSOF), warned that “Any attempt to embark on a nationwide strike during this 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.”

In a statement signed by the CCSOF’s coordinator, Comrade Buba Ibrahim Mohammed, and secretary, Comrade George Phillips, they said  the strike action will only stir up civil unrest and further worsen the already bad security situation as well as damage the fragile economy.

The coalition said feelers from some of their members and citizens across the country were that the labour unions were trying to undermine the current Tinubu led administration and create a process for breakdown of law and order to score cheap political points.

It said: “As Civil Society Organisations, we do understand the depth of economic challenges facing the ordinary citizens, especially the workers, but we cannot fold our arms and support a move that will further damage and threaten our peaceful coexistence.”

While acknowledging the rights by the labour unions to make demands and embark on strike to drive home their demands, the coalition urged them to explore further options in order not to worsen the already bad situation of the nation.

They said: “Part of reasons we have refused to join forces with labour unions to create anarchy and cause more hardship for the people. Instead, we are making frantic efforts to meet with federal government to discuss how to amicably resolve the issues at stake.

“We recognise the importance of addressing labour-related concerns and advocating for workers’ rights, we kindly urge the labour unions to explore alternative means of dialogue and negotiation with the relevant authorities.”  

Afenifere begs

Also in a plea, National Leader of Afenifere, and leader of the Yoruba, Pa Reuben Fasoranti has begged Nigerians, especially the Yoruba, to exercise patience and refrain from engaging in protests or actions that may escalate tensions.

In a statement Sunday, Fasoranti said, “while acknowledging the hardships faced by our people, it is important to recognise that these economic measures, although difficult, are part of a larger strategy aimed at fostering long-term economic stability.” 

The Afenifere leader pointed out that the government’s commitment to implementing these measures is a testament to its dedication to addressing the root causes of our economic challenges, inherited from the ills of the previous years. 

“As the National Leader of Afenifere, and leader of the Yoruba, I address all and sundry today with a deep understanding of the challenges facing our dear country at this critical time. The outcry over the hardship, hunger, and price hikes is not unexpected, yet we must come to terms with the realities of our national challenges which the present administration of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu is striving to resolve,” he said.  

Pa Fasoranti added: “While acknowledging the hardships faced by our people, it is important to recognise that these economic measures, although difficult, are part of a larger strategy aimed at fostering long-term economic stability”. 

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

The group further maintained that “as a  responsible leader, I appeal to every Yoruba man and woman, young and old, and our fellow citizens across the nationalities, to exercise patience and refrain from engaging in protests or actions that may escalate tensions.

“Understandably, the immediate impact of these economic reforms is challenging to everyone, but it is crucial to allow the government the necessary time to realise the intended benefits.

“It is important to note that the removal of fuel subsidies and the floating of the Naira was not undertaken lightly, as we all know the great damage done to our national prosperity through the nefarious activities of the agents of darkness within the oil and financial sectors,” they said.  

He pointed out that “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, adding, “in the long run. It requires collective understanding and resilience from every citizen as we navigate through these challenging times.

“We cannot afford a preference for the euthanasia approach of painless death of our nation, where we are propped up with loans and subsidies until a total collapse into a failed nation, while we have the opportunity of painful healing through treatment with multiple surgeries that will guarantee not just our survival, but restored health, vigour and thriving life. 

 “We must endure today’s hardship for tomorrow’s prosperity. I implore you to trust in the government’s commitment to the welfare of our nation. Let us engage in constructive dialogue and contribute positively to the ongoing economic reforms. Join me in appealing for unity and understanding among our people. Together, we can weather this storm and emerge stronger as a nation.

“I want to assure you as the Leader of Afenifere, that we are actively engaging with the government 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.”

 …Falana writes AGF, seeks protection of protesters

In all of this, a human rights activist, Femi Falana (SAN), has asked the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Lateef Fagbemi (SAN) to provide security for demonstrators Tuesday and Wednesday in the letter dated February 24, Falana said Section 83(4) of the Police Establishment Act empowers the Minister of Justice to provide security cover for the protesters.

He, however, urged the organised labour to conduct themselves peacefully without any recourse to violence during the planned protest.

The letter partly reads, “While we have advised the members of the NLC to conduct the rallies scheduled for February 27-28, 2024 in a peaceful manner, we urge you to use your good offices to direct the Inspector-General of Police to provide adequate security to the conveners and participants in the protest in line with the provisions of Section 83(4) of the Police Establishment Act.

“Finally, while awaiting your favourable reply to this letter, please accept, as usual, the assurance of our highest esteem.”

…Police caution

Similarly, the Police Sunday cautioned those willing to be part of the labour-organised protest against violating the rights of others.

Lagos state Commissioner of Police Adegoke Fayoade said this in a statement by the command’s spokesperson, Benjamin Hundeyin.

Fayoade warned that anyone found infringing on the rights of others would be dealt with lawfully.

The CP also advised against any action capable of grounding commercial activities and obstructing the free flow of traffic in the state.

While assuring residents that necessary security measures were already in plaace to protect lives and property, with or without any protest, the command said its personnel had been deployed to ensure free flow of traffic and ensure a peaceful environment for the conduct of lawful engagements.

He said: “Police will live up to the mandate of ensuring that no person or group of persons is allowed to infringe on the fundamental rights of others.

“Police enjoin all peace-loving residents of Lagos State to go about their lawful duties without fear of harassment or intimidation.

“Adequate security assets have been strategically deployed to ensure the safety and security of all.”

…NLC raises the alarm

Meanwhile, the NLC Sunday raised the alarm over alleged plans by government to attack her members during the protest. NLC President Comrade Joe Ajaero raised the alarm, saying one of the groups was being used to attack her members.

Ajaero, who alleged this in a statement in Abuja said: “We would want to inform Nigerians that the State has perfected plans to attack our peaceful rallies across the country.

“One of the groups being primed to attack our peaceful rallies is by a nebulous name, Nigeria Civil Society Forum (NCSF).

“NCSF is one of the emergency groups put together, funded, promoted and remote-controlled by government to cause violence against our members for electing to peacefully protest against the hunger in the land.

“We would want the State to know that the solution to our horrible economic situation and hunger is not by suppressing peaceful dissent or inflicting violence on peacefully protesting citizens as the government did in Minna and other cities where its agents tear-gassed and beat up women before locking them up for raising their voice against hunger. It does not lie in the deployment of State-sponsored terror. The pangs of hunger cannot be cowed by bullets or tear gas.

“In light of this, we at the Nigeria Labour Congress and civil society allies are moving ahead with our protest rallies against economic hardship and insecurity in line with the decision of the National Executive Council.

“As citizens, we have a fundamental right to peaceful protest and history bears us witness that our protests are always peaceful except in instances of State-engineered violence.

“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.  

“Lest those in power now who may have forgotten be reminded, we faced a more resourceful and resilient adversary in order to have democracy. All we are saying now is that; let there be food for the people, let the people live in safety, let the people live a life of dignity devoid of suffocating  IMF/World Bank economic policies.

“Once again we advise those waiting in the wings to unleash violence on us that this is not about the NLC but about Nigerians who are saying “enough is enough,” about a people who have resolved not to be further pushed into the pit of misery and hopelessness, while a few live in obscene luxury at our collective  expense.” 

“We are by this statement calling the attention of the international human rights body and the governments of 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. 

“We however remain resolute, determined and prepared to express our pain and grief in a peaceful manner as Nigerians come 27th and 28th of February, 2024.”