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SUBSIDY STRIKE: A POST MORTEM

By NBF News

After six days of street protests and mass rallies, the strike embarked upon by labour unions and civil society organizations have finally come to an end. The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) had called out workers to strike over the increase in the pump price of fuel from N65 to N141. Government had, on New Year's Day, effected the change in price in line with its plan to completely deregulate the downstream sector of the oil industry.

The withdrawal of the subsidy on fuel, which is a major plank of the deregulation policy, brought about the astronomical increase. From the way the strike went, it was obvious that Nigerians were united in their resolve to reject the increase announced by the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) on New Year's Day.

Even though many states of the Federation merely witnessed withdrawal of services by public service workers, the strike was total in places like Lagos and Abuja as mass rallies held on daily basis to drive home the people's rejection of the increase in the pump price of fuel.

However, after six days of sustained strike action, normalcy returned to the country following government's reduction of the pump price of fuel to N97. With the reduction, government has finally opted for phased deregulation rather than an outright one. By so doing, the harsh effects of the increase on the people will be minimized. We are gratified that wise counsel prevailed after days of negotiation between government and labour unions. It is also reassuring that government listened to the complaints of a wide spectrum of Nigerians and therefore realized that removing subsidy on fuel in one fell swoop would inflict pains on the people.

We are, however, amazed that the labour unions, after days of negotiations with government, dissociated themselves from the final agreement reached. While addressing the Press on Monday, the labour leaders described the new pump price of N97 as a unilateral action of government. They said they never sat with anybody to agree on that amount.

If this was the case as labour would have us believe, what then was it doing with government all this while? What was the negotiation all about? The impression the labour leaders have, unwittingly, given of themselves was that they were passive partners in the whole affair. We believe that the labour leaders were impolitic in this declaration. If they were playing to the gallery, they got it all wrong. If they intended to impress the people, the declaration struck the wrong chord. By this action, labour lost the opportunity of being praised for remaining steadfast and committed to the cause of the strike.

Be that as it may, we commend all concerned for the resolution of the dispute. We are encouraged the more by the fact that labour is still prepared for more interface with government. Its promise to relate with the Christopher Kolade Committee in order to come to terms with grey areas of the subsidy policy is reassuring. We implore labour and government to explore that resolution mechanism to the fullest.

The loss of lives and destruction of property in some areas are regrettable. They would have been avoided if the parties concerned had not been overzealous in their conducts. We urge law enforcement agents to be more tolerant when dealing with amorphous crowds such as the ones we witnessed during the strike action. It is equally incumbent on activists to shun provocative and subversive tendencies in situations such as this.

The fact that the rallies turned almost political in some locations, leading to insinuations that some people were advocating for regime change, was most unhealthy. We must always learn to draw a line between public protests and political agitations. When we mix both, our actions lose legitimacy and appeal. We believe that the lessons of the strike have been learnt by all concerned. Let us build on such lessons to avoid a repeat of the ugly scenario in future.