Labour Rally: Mark, Bankole flee National Assembly - Labour promises total showdown with FG over deregulation
THE Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the Trade Union Congress (TUC), and the Civil Society Coalition, on Thursday, led hundreds of Nigerians to the streets of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, to protest the planned deregulation of the downstream oil sector, non-adoption of a national minimum wage of N52, 200 and the partial implementation of Justice Mohammed Uwais Electoral Reform Committee’s report.
But they could not deliver their message to the Senate President, David Mark and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, as the two leaders of the National Assembly fled from the premises a few minutes before the arrival of the procession, led by the NLC President, Mr. Abdulwaheed Omar, the President General of TUC, Mr. Peter Esele, and the chairman of the Labour and Civil Society Coalition (LASCO), Dr. Dipo Fashina, to the National Assembly.
However, labour threatened that if the Federal Government failed to rescind its decision on deregulation after the series of rallies, it would go for a total showdown with the government. They also challenged the Federal Government to subject the issue of deregulation to the court of public opinion by conducting a referendum to determine whether Nigerians truly wanted the policy or not.
The procession, which began early Thursday morning at the Berger end of Abuja, ended at the National Assembly, where both leaders, Senator Mark and Honourable Bankole, refused to receive the labour leaders, but ran away from the premises of the National Assembly, when the rally train was moving nearer to the Assembly.
Their disappearance was not a surprise to the labour leaders, as Nigerian Tribune was reliably informed that Senator Mark, in particular, made frantic efforts to make labour stop the rally late Wednesday night.
Specifically, Senator Mark was said to have called the leaders of the NLC on Wednesday night to tell them that he would only receive them outside the gate of the National Assembly, a proposition the labour leaders rejected.
However, about 30 minutes to the arrival of the rally, Senator Mark, who was leading the Senate plenary session, excused himself and hurriedly drove out of the premises.
The rally was later received by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Labour, Senator Wilson Ake, who assured union leaders that their requests would be looked into by the National Assembly.
Speaking at the rally, Mr. Omar said: “I want to challenge the Federal Government, if they think that deregulation is a popular policy, let them subject it to a referendum and let Nigerians decide.
“Let Nigerians decide. Because, if the essence of democracy is for the people and by the people, then let them subject it to a popular referendum. The National Assembly should also refer it to the public and let us see the result.”
In his own address, to the General Secretary of LASCO, Mr. Biodun Aremu said: “If government does not yield to the workers’ demands after this final rally, there will be a total showdown.
According to LASCO chairman, Dr. Fashina, the National Assembly had only two options; either to be on the side of the people or to be against them, adding that there was no middle way.
He stated that if the National Assembly supported deregulation, it meant that they were against the people and that people would treat them as enemies.
Dr. Fashina, however, said that many Nigerians believed that the people at the National Assembly did not win their elections.
The TUC president, Mr. Esele, in his own address, pointed out that deregulation did not mean pump price increase, regretting that a majority of the people were not educated, thus making them to give wrong perception of deregulation.
Also, Mr. Femi Falana said the Peoples Democratic Party government had been increasing fuel prices illegally, because the National Assembly had refused to perform its role.
Rather than deregulating the downstream oil sector, Mr. Falana said the government must deregulate corruption, election rigging and the looting of treasury, regretting that billions of naira had been spent on the refineries but they had refused to work due to corruption.
NLC president, Omar, delivered a letter entitled “Why we held a national rally in Abuja today, Thursday, October 29, 2009” to Senator Ake for onward delivery to the Senate president and stated that the three primary reasons for the rallies and processions were the planned deregulation of the downstream sector of the oil industry; fast-tracking negotiation of a new National Minimum Wage and wage review, and the non-implementation of the Justice Uwais Electoral Reform report.
Reacting, Senator Ake said the National Assembly was aware of their coming and had made provisions to ensure they had a fine atmosphere to deliver their message.
He expressed appreciation and thanked the leadership of labour for organising peaceful rallies across the country, adding that the issues they raised were very important.
Senator Ake said the National Assembly was in alliance with the position of labour as the legislature was already looking into the Uwais panel report and had subjected it to public hearing.
He also said: “We want to assure you that we are with you on this. Workers need increased salary. There is a basis for the salary to be increased. The National Assembly is also with you on deregulation. Now that it is officially before us, we are assuring you it is going to receive serious attention.”