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Labour unions NLC and TUC yesterday called off the national strike and protests over fuel subsidy removal, ending a week-old confrontation with the government after President Jonathan reduced petrol price to N97 per litre.
“In the past eight days through strikes, mass rallies, shutdown, debates and street protests, Nigerians demonstrated clearly that they cannot be taken for granted and that sovereignty belongs to them,” president of the Nigeria Labour Congress Abdulwaheed Omar told journalists at a news conference in Abuja.
Jonathan yesterday reduced petrol price to N97 per litre from about N141, following series of botched negotiations with the unions, who insisted on reversal to pre-New Year’s Day price of N65. With the reduction, the Federal Government would now be paying a subsidy of N44 on each litre of petrol, according to figures from the Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency (PPPRA).
According to Daily Trust, Omar said the unions would begin discussions with the Federal Government team led by Justice Salihu Modibbo Alfa Belgore to press for further reduction of petrol price and general cleansing of the petroleum sector.
The removal of petrol subsidy announced by the Federal Government on January 1 sparked street protests in nearly all major cities around the country, which turned violent in several of those places, leading to the death of at least 15 people.
The NLC president, who spoke along with his counterpart of the Trades Union Congress Peter Esele, said the unions decided to end the strike and demonstration so as to save lives and in the interest of national survival.
Omar said the strike was successful because it forced government to reduce price of petrol to N97 per litre, even though “this new price was a unilateral one by the government.”
“Secondly, government has been made to adopt the policy to drastically reduce the cost of governance. A third major success Nigerians recorded is to get the Federal Government to decisively move against the massive and crippling corruption in the oil sector,” he added.
Answering questions on whether the decision by the unions would be acceptable to Nigerians, Esele said, “I will assure you that we consulted widely and don’t forget that we have the national executive council to which we report to. If we don’t get their consent and permission, we will not come here to call off this strike.”
Asked if labour would accept full deregulation of petrol, Esele said “when we get to the bridge we will cross it.”
But a coalition of civil society groups which were involved in the protests against subsidy removal said yesterday they were not consulted by labour before the announcement calling of strike and rallies. Some have accused NLC and TUC of collecting bribes.
“At that moment when they shook hands, several billions have been exchanged. It is so sad NLC would sell us out.” an angry Nigerian said.
However, some Nigerians who believe in the integrity of NLC and TUC have said that the real reason why they called off the strike is because they were threatened by the government and therefore decided to withdraw to avoid loss of lives. Whatever the case is, Nigerians are not happy with NLC’s decision to call off the strike and believe the protests proved furtile.