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NLC-ASUU planned solidarity protest illegal


From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja

The federal government has declared unlawful the street protest planned by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) in solidarity with the striking members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).

It said the planned protest, should it go ahead, would create anarchy.

The umbrella body for workers union had announced that it would embark on a nationwide protest on July 26 and 27 to push the government to resolve the over five-month-old ASUU strike.

Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed, who briefed State House Correspondents after the weekly meeting of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, on Wednesday, was responding to questions on the planned strike.

According to him, since the NLC has no dispute with the government, its planned street protest is illegal.

The minister said that the NLC should insulate itself completely from politics.

Related: ASUU Strike: NANS backs NLC on planned nationwide protest

According to Mohammed, “While we’re still on Labour, I think we should also start to interrogate what labour is doing. The NLC is not a political party. The NLC can go on strike or protest if the rights of NLC members are involved. What the NLC is planning in the next two days is about interest. There’s no dispute whatsoever between NLC as a body with the federal government. Well yes, there’s a dispute between some members of NLC, ASUU and the federal government which is being looked into. And NLC itself is a party to the committee that is looking into the solution. So calling out people on street protests you begin to wonder, what is the motive of NLC in this matter?

“But you see here, we do not interrogate what NLC is doing. NLC by its own laws, cannot even give out pamphlets. And NLC is supposed to be completely insulated from politics. Now, if you declare dispute with us, yes you can go on strike. Even that one would depend on whether certain steps have been taken or not. But this particular NLC, you know, asking and mobilising people to come out on strike on July 26 and 27, is clearly on nothing.”

Reminded that the NLC was worried about the prolonged strike which was affecting their children as well, Mohammed said: “The federal government is as worried as NLC and everybody, but the law is the law. What we are saying is that rather than…what I expect NLC to do as an umbrella body is to find solutions, to join the federal government in finding solutions. They are part of the tripartite agreement that has been negotiating with the federal government on this ASUU issue. So why are they now going out to take sides? I think you should also interrogate it yourselves. I think it is popular to get NLC out and support but ask yourself how does that help the problem? How does that solve the problem? What you are going to create is more anarchy. And I think the NLC should think twice about their proposed strike in solidarity with ASUU.

“Is as if the federal government is doing nothing about ASUU. No. And they’ve been involved in this negotiation all along so why now?”

Minister of Aviation Hedi Sirika, asked what he was doing to avert plans to shut down airports in solidarity with ASUU by aviation unions, stated: “I’m naturally concerned about this if the aviation union will shut down in support of ASUU. I would say they have no need to. I will say also that we should begin to look at civil aviation as a critical national security enterprise. It has all the implications.

“We should not contemplate or think about an aviation disaster. We should also think about the general activity of the economy of Nigeria without civil aviation.

“It’s okay. This is a democracy, you can push for demands, but in pressing for demands you should be reasonable in doing so. Where, the life that you’re trying to promote, would be seriously affected and hampered. Where lives can be lost because of your own activity. I think it should be reconsidered.

“So, civil aviation workers, I think should not be part of this. Yes, I am concerned and yes we’ve spoken to them and I don’t think they will join because they know that there is a huge responsibility of lives on their heads. If you’re an air traffic controller, it involves national security. It involves the capability of preventing external aggression and so on and so forth.

“I believe that they are very aware of the enormous responsibility upon them in civil aviation and they should continue to see it so and continue to be as law-abiding as we want them to be.”

Asked if he has had a conversation with them about the implication of them joining the strike, Sirika said: “Yes, is an ongoing thing. So in civil aviation, we speak to them almost on a daily basis. They are part of us. They are workers like every other person is. And we interact with them. In the ministry, we have their own representatives who speak to me time and again, probably on daily basis.

“Yes, we have spoken and I don’t think they will join and yes, we are concerned, but yes also reminding them of the enormous responsibility upon their necks and our own necks.”

Meanwhile, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige has denied the media report that President Muhammadu Buhari ordered him on Tuesday to hands-off negotiations with the striking ASUU.

Speaking with State House Correspondents, Ngige described the report as false.

He said “Anyway I saw one of the dailies writing something like that today, but the truth of the matter is there is no such thing, it’s just categorically untrue. There is nothing like hands-off.”

Asked if the two weeks directive by the president to resolve the issue is achievable, Ngige explained that he had proposed one week to resolve the issue but that the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, volunteered to resolve the issues with ASUU in two weeks, adding that he hopes the issue will be resolved at the stipulated time.

The Labour minister advised the unions to table their case before the Ministry of Education whom the president has directed to resolve the issue, adding that he has recused himself from negotiation until when he is needed.

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