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Presidency alleges political agenda as protests hit states

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The Presidency has faulted the nationwide protests by the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, alleging that some people are leveraging the situation in the country for their political agenda.

The Presidency insisted that the protests organised across the country by the NLC were unnecessary.

The Presidential Special Adviser to on Media and Publicity, Ajuri Ngelale, revealed this in an interview with TVC on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, 27 February, 2024, workers and other Nigerians across the country, including the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Lagos, Ibadan, Kano, Benin, Osogbo, Akure, Port Harcourt, Sokoto, Jos, Katsina, Benue and other urban centres protested the economic hardship in the country.

Nigerians have been grappling with economic difficulties on the heels of the fuel subsidy removal and other economic reforms being implemented by the Federal Government.

To express its dissatisfaction with the hardship in the country, the NLC on Tuesday commenced a two-day protests to pressure the federal and state governments to tackle hunger across the nation.

The NLC and Trade Union Congress had on February 8 issued a 14-day nationwide strike notice to the government over its failure to implement the agreements reached on October 2, following the removal of the fuel subsidy.

The unions also issued a protest notice over the Federal Government’s failure to fulfil its promises to address the economic crisis, but the TUC later withdrew from the protest, citing the failure of the NLC to carry it along.

A last-minute meeting called by the Federal Government on Monday to dissuade the NLC leadership from pressing ahead with the protest ended in deadlock as the NLC President, Joe Ajaero, insisted on the protests would take place.

The spokesperson, to the President Ngelale, however, insisted that the protest was needless, saying that the Federal Government had commenced efforts to alleviate the hardship in the country.

He added that there was no unanimity behind the NLC’s action, citing the withdrawal of the TUC and National Association of Nigerian Students from the protests.

Ngelale said, “Any labour union that is speaking to the concerns of Nigerian families, the pains that are being felt by our people, is absolutely free to do so. It is right that Nigerians speak up in difficult situations.

“And the government has been doing everything possible to alleviate those concerns. But we also want to separate the legitimate concerns being expressed by some of the labour unions from people trying to leverage some of the situations in the country to achieve a political agenda.

“We have seen the Trade Union Congress pull out of the purported nationwide protest. We have seen the National Association of Nigerian Students pull out of the protest. There is no unanimity behind what the NLC is trying to do. I believe all of the legitimate concerns being raised by the unions are being tackled by the administration of President Bola Tinubu.”

Meanwhile, the NLC president has lamented the hardship in the country.

Ajaero, led workers to the National Assembly, Abuja, where he presented the demands of workers to the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Labour, Employment, and Productivity, Senator Diket Plang, for delivery to President Bola Tinubu.

The NLC president in his address at the National Assembly said Nigerians embarked on the peaceful protest because there was hunger in the land, adding that Nigeria was becoming like Zimbabwe.

Ajaero said that the protest would serve as a signal to the government to immediately tackle the country’s challenges.

He explained, “We are here today because there is hunger in the land. In the last week, it was a struggle for us to come to the street but we are here today.

‘’History will not forgive us if we do not protest today and tell the government that there is hunger in the land. It is important to note that this is not just a symbolic rally but it is a rally to signal to the people in authority that there is a problem in the land. People are dying of hunger, and banditry, among others.

“We are going to present a letter to the National Assembly for onward transmission to the President. We were here a few months back and we presented a letter. Unfortunately, those demands have not been addressed.

“We want to remind our representatives that we do not bring letters for the fun of it. Rather, actions can be taken with immediate effect. If we give you this letter and you don’t take action on it, then we will resort to self-help.’’

Referencing the food crisis, he noted, “A bag of rice is over N70,000 whereas, the minimum wage is N30,000. How long will Nigerians continue to suffer? We cannot pay school fees with N30,000 minimum wage. Let the poor eat. The currencies of Cameroon, Benin Republic, and Niger Republic, are higher than Nigeria’s because of the devaluation of naira.’’

Plang, after receiving the letter, assured the NLC that its demands would be attended to immediately.

He stated, “We understand you. We feel what you feel. We want to assure you that this letter will be discussed immediately at the plenary session.’’

Addressing journalists after the protest, Plang assured that the leadership of the National Assembly was working to address the plight of Nigerians.

The demands presented by the labour leaders to the National Assembly leadership include the full implementation of the welfare provisions as contained in chapter two of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) by making the provisions justiciable; employment generation through massive investment in agriculture and value-added manufacturing and Immediate subsidy to farmers to boost agricultural production and food security.

The protesters also asked the government to open all food storage silos and enforce equitable distribution across the country, fix abandoned factories, and revive local production and patronage of Made-in-Nigeria goods and services.

The protesters asked the government to go after the oil subsidy cabal and other economic saboteurs and put a stop to the dollarization of the Nigerian economy.

They also demanded fast-track negotiation and implementation of the new national minimum wage even as they advised the authorities to “abandon IMF/World Bank policies as they bring extreme hardship to Nigerians as well as imperil our security and sovereignty.’’

The protests, which were also held in Lagos, Ogun, Plateau, Delta, Benin, Katsina, Oyo, Osun, Gombe, Benue, Kogi, Ondo, and other states, recorded an appreciable turnout where they pleaded with President Tinubu to reverse the fuel subsidy and tackle the hardship facing the country.

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