By Adesina Soyooye
The Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, has shut down Imo State. Affected in the shut-down in the Sam Mbakwe International Cargo Airport, Owerri, Imo State. The NLC on March 7, declared a strike/protest action which it said completely shut-down Imo State.
The shut-down of the Airport, the NLC said, will begin as from 12 midnight, March 8, 2023.
In a notice addressed to the Managing Director, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, signed by NLC’s General Secretary, National Union of Air Transport Employees, Comrade Ochema Aba, titled “Notice of Total Shutdown of Owerri Airport”, the Union said; “In compliance with the directive of the Nigerian Labour Congress for Total strike and shut- down of Imo State over the militarisation and brutalisation of Congress Members in Imo State, all Aviation Workers in Owerri Airport have been directed to shut-,down all services at the Airport with effect from 12 midnight, today, 08/03/2023.
“This action shall disable normal operations at the Airport, especially, with regard to aircraft movement in and out of Owerri.”
How Trouble Began
This magazine was told that trouble began over what the NLC said is the State Government’s interference in the State NLC election of its Executive Members on Tuesday, March 7, 2023. The State Government, the Union alleged, was bent on installing the State Chairman of the NLC, a move that was resisted by the Union.
In other to reekectthe current Chairman, the Governor, Senator Hope Uzodinma, allegedly, asked his opponent, a staff of the Imo State University to stand down. But he was unanimously asked by his Union to contest, so it was not an order he could obey without consultations.
On Tuesday, the Commissioner for Information, Declan Emelumba, allegedly put a call across to the National President of the NLC, Comrade Joe Ajaero, and told him that the Governor’s choice be upheld. He asked Ajaero, to comply with that, an order Ajaero rejected and told Emelumba that the two contestants would be allowed to participate in the election, so that whoever wins would take up office.
Ajaero, this medium was told, assured the Governor that whoever won, would be a plus for the Governor as both are staff of Imo State Government.
However, as the Convention began, it was disrupted by
alleged Government sponsored agents who attacked the Workers and in the process, injured a number of them. That prompted the NLC to declare a Strike Action.
In a statement on Tuesday entitled Agents Of Imo State Government Unleash Mayhem On Nigerian Workers, Ajaero, on behalf of the NLC, declared a strike action in protest.
The statement reads;
“One of the cardinal principles of good governance is the pursuit of the security of the lives and properties of the citizenry from criminal elements. Imo state today however witnessed the unleashing of brigandage and mayhem on hapless workers and citizens unbelievably by agents of the state government. Instead of securing the lives of citizens, the government allowed the use of thugs against its own people.
“NLC in keeping with its democratic culture and practices had instructed its State Councils throughout the federation to prepare for State Delegates’ Conference. Accordingly, officials of the Congress were deployed to various states to act as Returning officers in the elections that are supposed to usher in new leadership in the respective councils in accordance with the statutes governing our operations. This Conference is taking place today Tuesday, the 7th of March everywhere in Nigeria.
“However, the government of Imo State in their usual characteristics sought to influence the outcome of the elections in the State. This meddlesomeness was resisted by the Delegates who refused the unholy offerings and baits to vote for their chosen candidates. The resolve of the Delegates in session did not go down well with the Government and their agents who resorted to the use of violence to beat up delegates and scatter the venue of the Conference.
“When it was obvious to the Government and their goons that their stooges were going to overwhelmingly lose in the elections, thugs who were armed to the teeth descended on the Delegates inflicting various degrees of injuries on them, chasing them away and carting away materials meant for the conduct of the elections that was supposed to be at the heart of the Conference. As if that was not enough, Security agents led by the Police and the so-called State Investigative Bureau invaded the venue and completed the sordid episode.
“It is blood cuddling and inexcusable to mete out this level of violence on workers who gathered peacefully to perform their democratic rights of electing their leaders. Our nation requires great restraint at this time and not this aggressive use of forces of brigandage against the people. Nigerians have suffered enormously and what happened today in Owerri truly deepens the anger of the ordinary citizens and creates more spaces for dangerous eruption in our polity.
“NLC considers this the height of irresponsibility thus unacceptable and falls far below accepted standards of behaviour by individuals who occupy high offices in Nigeria especially the Government of States. It truly does demonstrate the level of decay that has continued to fester in leadership circles in the country. It does also show the level of militarisation that pervades the state from one end to another and we also feel that it may be a serious pointer to the source of the violence in the state which has made the state the epicentre of killings and brigandage in the South East.
“We therefore call on all well-meaning Nigerians to prevail on the government of Imo state to mind its business and focus more on rendering good governance to the people and allow us continue setting good examples on how transition of power ought to be. They cannot choose our leaders for us and ought to learn from other Governments the nuances of engagement and not this brazen resort to brute force and bloodletting. It is on record that no Government in any other state has resorted to this level of rascality and depravity in engaging our members in this Conference.
“Perhaps, it is a carry over from the violent habits they have learnt from being Nigerian politicians that has propelled him into this banditry against workers whom he has sworn to protect at inauguration. Exporting his violent understanding of politics into purely workers activities transcends the boundaries of debauchery thus totally abhorrent to modern human societies.
“The NLC holds the Governor and his Government responsible for any loss of life in this wanton display of hooliganism against unarmed Nigerian workers who were going about their lawful business of organising a statutory Delegates’ Conference.
“We call on the Federal Government especially the Security agencies to call the errant Government to order before it turns the state into graveyard for workers and men of decency. His Excellency the President of the Federal Republic must urgently restrain the Government from destroying our hallowed rules of engagement in the Industrial Relations sphere which demands an understanding of the rights and privileges of the Social Partners. The Inspector General of Police must at this time step in to stop the use of his men in unleashing terror on Nigerians which seem to have become the hallmark of the Governor of Imo State.
“If nothing is done to restrain this Governor, we warn that we will not fold our hands and watch the government and its agents destroy our properties, maim the lives of our members and spilling their innocent blood in attempts to intimidate and harass them into doing their bidding. We shall be forced to mobilise our members nation-wide to take action against this violence to avert it from spreading to other parts of the country.
“Consequently, the Imo state government has forced us to withdraw peaceful industrial relations engagement with it starting from tomorrow, Wednesday the 8th day of March, 2023. This is to protect our members and workers in Imo state from further exposure to the violence that has become apparent in the State. Since the safety of workers is no longer guaranteed by the government, it behoves us to protect ourselves by staying at home. This therefore directs all workers in Imo State to proceed on indefinite industrial action.
“Furthermore and sync with our traditions, we announce the establishment of a Caretaker Committee to run the affairs of the Congress in Imo State. Members who start work immediately are as follows:
“Comrade Ofoegbu George Ugochukwu (NASU) – Chairperson
Comrade Nwaigwe Deborah Ngozi (NUPENG) – Vice Chairperson
Comrade Mbakwe Augustine Ibechole (NUEE) – Member
Comrade Chukwude James (AUPCTRE) – Member
Comrade Ugwu Nnabugwu (MHWUN) – Member
Comrade Frank Uchehara (NURTW) – Member
Comrade Anukwuorji Nduka Peter – Secretary
“Once again the Police must immediately investigate this bloodletting today against our members and affiliates in Owerri. This is the only way we would be comforted with the knowledge that the Police is not in cahoots with those who sought to spill the blood of our members today in Imo State. This violence is a contagion and it is the duty of the Security agencies to nip it in the bud before it becomes the spark that sets our nation on fire.
“Nigerian workers are not pawns and should not be turned into cannon fodders by politicians of whatsoever hue and standing. A redress is demanded immediately.”
State Government Reacts
But in a response, the State Government, in a Press Release, asked Imo Workers to ignore the call for strike over State NLC’s Election.
The Release titled: Imo Workers Urged To Ignore Call For Strike Over State’s NLC Election reads:
“All public service workers in Imo State have been advised to completely ignore the call for a strike by the National leadership of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) on the flimsy and unfounded allegation of interference with the election of its local chapter on Tuesday March 7, 2023.
“The Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Hon Declan Emelumba said in a statement on Tuesday that “government is not aware of any outstanding dispute between her and the State workers that can warrant such brash and illegal strike call from the NLC national leadership, who are not on the ground in Imo State.”
“Emelumba added that Imo workers should be decerning enough to know that anyone calling them out to an industrial action at this piont of the conclusion of the process for their mass promotion exercise cannot mean well for them.
“Besides, the government is aware that some of the leaders are trying to use the workers to actualize their veiled political interests.
“Consequently, the government urges public servants not to allow themselves to, wittingly or unwittingly, be used as canon fodder for other people’s political adventure,” the Commissioner maintained.”
NLC’s Second Response
But on Wednesday, March 8th, most Workers obeyed the NLC. And, aside from the Airport which has been shut down, NUPENG in obedience, directed its members to stop the supply of fuel to Imo State. Meaning, there will be no fuel in the State.
In its response on 8th March, 2023, the NLC described the Imo State Government as “a serial abuser and violator of rights and privileges of its workers. It listed a number of examples, including the alleged “Continued use of thugs and instruments of violence against Workers in the State as was furthered in the terror of yesterday.”
The full statement reads:
“The present situation in Imo state especially as it concerns reasonable and effective social dialogue has become so toxic that it is almost impossible to engage the government in any decent conversation. Hobbesian state of nature has become prevalent exposing not just workers in the state but institutions and individuals to the most horrendous of scare, fear and violence in their daily activities.
“A State that once prided itself as the Eastern Heartland which provided weekend rendezvous to those looking for relaxation and comfort by the deliberate actions of this government has become heavily terrorised. Citizens’ engagements with the government are almost non-existent while participation in social life is petering to nothing. Moving around the state requires extra caution as a heavy pall of gloom seems to have enveloped the state.
“It is within this context that NLC in continuation of the State wide Industrial action in the State which has already commenced this morning and which was prompted by the brigandage of the state government in conjunction with Security agencies against workers in the state yesterday who assembled peacefully to conduct the State Delegates Conference of the Congress.
“As we had pledged, we cannot fold our hands and watch the state turn into a camp of horror and a ghost state because of the irresponsible actions of some operatives bequeathed with the powers of state. The use of of instruments of state as weapons to terrorise workers and the people cannot be accepted in sane engagements and it is only by the action of responsible organisation like ours and other patriotic individuals that such perfidy could be stopped.
“The government of Imo state has become a serial abuser and violator of the rights and privileges of its workers. It has deliberately turned the State into the most uncomfortable clime for workers in Nigeria. As it stands today, the state has almost made it seem a criminal offence to be a worker. We have taken notice of the previous actions of the government and had warned severally of the implications of their unreasonable actions and had demanded that a new leaf be turned but sadly, these warnings were left unheeded.
“For the avoidance of doubt, we restate below some of the atrocities of the state government against its own workers. They are:
- 20 months Salary arrears owed to some workers stigmatised as ghost workers
- Declaration of about 11,000 workers in the state as ghost workers even while they were physically at work and diversion of their salaries.
- Intimidation and Harassment of Trade Union leaders; a witch hunt carried out in different guises
Continued use of thugs and instrument of violence against workers in the state as was furthered in the terror of yesterday.
Impoundment and illegal diversion of Union dues in the state
- Declaration of about 10,000 pensioners as ghost Pensioners and refusing to pay them for over 22 Months leading to the death of many.
- Harassment and intimidation of the entire workforce with constant threats of violence and sack
The Resort to blackmail and falsehood through the Information Commissioner of the state whose infamous role as an attack dog of the administration has not only scuttled reasonable and effective social dialogue but has also brought the state to ridicule.
“Consequently in pursuit of our legitimate strike action to restore sanity to the state’s industrial relations sphere, we wish to advise that:
those travelling to Imo State through the Airport to look for other alternatives those that make use of Petroleum products should make efforts to seek alternatives and, those that use Electricity to seek other options outside the National Grid.
“We are resolved to press home our demands and until these infractions are remedied, we will continue escalating the industrial action till the government is compelled to show reason and restore meaningful and effective dialogue in the state.
“NLC calls on the federal government to use whatsoever may be at its disposal to protect the lives of the citizens and workers in Imo state. The actions and inactions of the state government are capable of turning the state into a ghost state and this must be avoided. The actions of the federal government would go a long way in ensuring that sanity is restored and the people free to participate in social activities without fear and intimidation.
“Enough is Enough!
“Comrade Joe Ajaero, National President, NLC*
But the Imo State Government in response, alleges that Ajaero would destroy the NLC. It accused him of trying to impose a State Chairman with whom he would destabilise the State, an allegation not a few people dismissed as “hogwash”.
The Statement reads:
“Worried by the divisive, combative and autocratic style of the new President of the Nigeria Labour Congress ( NLC), Comrade Joe Ajaero, the Imo State Government has predicted that the Congress may soon disintegrate under his watch except something is urgently done by the workers to save the situation.
“It disclosed that Ajaero has not only enmeshed the new executive into avoidable partisan politics but has a hidden agenda detrimental to the welfare of Nigerian workers.
“Reacting to the allegations by Ajaero that the government meddled in the botched election of the state chapter of NLC, the State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Hon Declan Emelumba accused him of lying to cover his “dirty role in the sordid affair.”
“Apart from being a pathological liar, available information to government is that it was Ajaero himself that actually disrupted the election because he wanted to impose his stooge on the workers,” Emelumba submitted.
“According to him, instead of allowing the normal delegates to cast their votes in accordance with laid down rules, Ajaero suddenly changed the rules at the last minute, which the workers resisted.
“He noted that when it became obvious that Ajaero wanted to impose one George from his local government as the NLC chairman in Imo against the wishes of the majority, the workers rose against the NLC leadership and insisted that the elections will not hold.
“He denied that agents of the government attacked any delegate as alleged by Ajaero, and challenged him to produce any evidence of his claim, insisting that no government official was at the venue of the election.
“it is unfortunate that a reputable labour union like NLC now has a President that is not only clannish but impulsive and a liar as well,” Emelumba said.
“He disclosed that the security agents went to the venue to restore law and order when it was obvious that Ajaero had lost control of the situation.
“Emelumba described Ajaero as a divisive leader who, few years ago, had formed a pararrel United Labour Congress when he lost the presidential election of NLC.
“He said the man was yet to purge himself of such divisive tendencies,hence his decision to impose an unpopular candidate on Imo workers.
“The Commissioner also requested the interrogation of the agenda of Ajaero whose priority he said is to cause division and havoc in the South East.
Said he, “We should really know what this man wants. He is not upbto two months in office and his focus is to destabilize the states in his home zone. He started with Ebonyi, went to Abia and now causing havoc in his home state of Imo.”
“Emelumba said security report available to Government showed that Ajaero signed an agreement with the said George to make the state ungovernable for Governor Uzodimma.
“To confirm that fact, both Ajaero and George “whom he has illegally installed as caretaker chairman” have asked workers to go on strike for no just cause.
“We don’t have any trade dispute with workers. We are not owing them any salary. We are now working on their promotion. So under which basis will they go on strike?”, he asked.
“The Commissioner urged the workers to completely ignore such calls, saying that Government remains committed to a robust working relationship with labour.”
Nobody knows how long the strike action will last. But not a few people pray it is called off soon, especially, as it is likely to affect the conduct of the State Assembly Election in the State on Saturday, 11th March, 2023.