Labour leaders on Sunday night walked out of its scheduled meeting with the Federal Government. The meeting was to take updates on the hikes in petrol pump price and the electricity tariffs.
The meeting which was called to review the implementation of the resolutions reached during the three previous parleys ended abruptly, barely 10 minutes into the meeting at the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
At the meeting, which started at 8:18pm were Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) President Ayuba Wabba, his Trade Union Congress (TUC) counterpart Quadri Olaleye and National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) General Secretary Joe Ajaero, among other union leaders.
Trouble started when Olaleye raised the issue of the latest hike in petrol pump price from N160 to N170.
The TUC president accused the government of insincerity, stating that the meeting must record progress otherwise, the Labour leaders would walk out of the parley, adding that they were beginning to lose confidence in the government.
Olaleye said: “Government is showing a high level of insincerity in discussions with us and is also putting us at risk with the people we are leading, with the masses. We find it difficult to move freely but the people in government are moving freely.
I came to the conclusion that the major problem we have in this country is insincerity and this cannot continue. The palliatives government promised and other pledges have not materialised; I just wonder the purpose of coming here every time to be discussing and putting ourselves at risk.
“So, I want to put it to the government that if today’s meeting does not look promising to solve those problems, honestly, we would mobilise to walk out of the meeting. The situation is getting tense and you are putting us at risk.”
Ajaero, who is the NLC Deputy President, said the union had been under attacks over the slow pace of implementation of resolutions reached at the meetings with the government.
But Labour and Employment Minister Chris Ngige assured that the issue would be discussed during the business session and asked the media to leave the hall, adding that their positions would be reflected in the communique that would be issued after the meeting.
However, as soon as reporters were out of the hall, Ngige reportedly said the issue of palliatives would be discussed first while the Labour leaders insisted on discussing the fuel pump price hike.
Following the disagreement, the Labour leaders angrily walked out of the meeting which had in attendance the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) Boss Mustapha, Minister of State for Petroleum Timipre Sylva, Minister of State for Labour Festus Keyamo and others.
Efforts by the government team to persuade the labour leaders to listen to their presentation fell on deaf ears.
NLC General Secretary Emmanuel Ugboaja told reporters that the union leaders left the session because the government team was not willing to address the latest hike in fuel pump price which he said violated the understanding they had with the government.
He said: “We felt we should address the issue of petroleum prices before whether there is need for palliatives or not. On that strength, we felt we could not continue with the meeting whose agenda is wrongly prioritized. When the government is willing to take it the way it is, we are ever ready to engage and to have things properly determined.
“We have had some understanding over time, but while these meetings were ongoing, we were suddenly slapped with a new increase in petroleum prices and we felt that was beyond what we had as an understanding with the government.
We felt that (petrol increase) should be the first item for understanding today. But surprisingly the government team felt otherwise, they felt the issue of imaginary palliatives should be discussed before what is causing the need for the palliatives should be discussed.
“And we felt that was putting the cart before the horse. We want to address the issue on petroleum pricing before we begin to think whether there is need for palliatives or not and on that strength we felt we cannot continue with a meeting whose agenda is wrongly prioritised.
“When the government is willing to take it the way it is, we are ever ready to engage and to have things properly determined. We have to go back to our organs to agree on the way forward, because we have leadership, we are known and clearly with that position we have to tell our members what the situation is.”
Olaleye said the meeting agenda was not properly prioritised, noting that “the meeting had been going forth and back; we cannot go on with their insincerity and that is why we are leaving the meeting.”
But Ngige said nothing went wrong, adding that the union leaders “asked for a recess to do some consultations.”
“We had to do some alterations with the agenda for the meeting; they wanted a particular item discussed first before any other issues that we have front-loaded for the meeting, so they needed a recess,” the minister said.
When informed that the unions were insisting on discussing the fuel pump price hike first, the minister said the agenda of the meeting could not be changed unilaterally, adding that there was no consensus on this.
The minister told the Labour team that he was in charge and that no one should decide for him how to handle the meeting.
“We felt that the item of increase in petroleum having been listed at all as an additional item would have satisfied everybody but they on that said they were calling for a recess. It is for me to reinvite them and I would do that within 24 hours,” he stated.
Olaleye accused the government insincerity with Labour in the discussion.
He said that the labour leaders cannot walk freely on the roads because workers accused them that they had betrayed their trust.
Olaleye said: “Gentlemen of the press, like I mentioned at the beginning of the meeting that today’s meeting is not going to be as usual while because we have seen the insincerity of government and it is putting us at risk.
They are taking us for a ride which cannot continue. We are on the process of discussion for over three months now and they made an announcement increasing the fuel price again and no other person than the NNPC.
“When has the authority been given to NNPC to increase the price of pms, this is unacceptable, the meeting agenda is not well prioritised and because of that we are leaving the meeting, we can’t continue, we will go back to our organ and we are going to get back to you on the next of action. We can’t continue with their insincerity.”