strike is misplaced priority –
The ongoing nationwide strike declared by organised labour is a misplaced priority, Senator Adams Oshiomhole declared yesterday.
According to him, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) should take up issues on workers’ welfare rather than what will portray them as partisan.
Oshiomhole, who shot into the limelight as a labour activist, crowning his career as president of the NLC, wondered why the labour centres would not take on state governments that are not paying the N30,000 minimum wage but would embark on industrial action simply because its leader was assaulted.
The former Edo State governor spoke at Aso Villa yesterday after a meeting with Vice President Kashim Shettima.
The NLC and TUC called the strike yesterday to protest last week’s physical attack on NLC President Joe Ajaero in Owerri, the Imo State capital.
Ajaero flew into Owerri to protest the non-payment of outstanding salary arrears to workers.
Despite the workers’ leadership rejection of his intervention, NLC vowed to “occupy Imo State”.
During his picketing at the airport on arrival, he was beaten up and the police took him into “protective custody”.
A few hours later, a photograph of Ajaero’s swollen face surfaced on social media.
He was not seen in public for days. On his return, he claimed that the police arrested him and handed him over to hoodlums who assaulted him.
Although the police denied involvement, Inspector-General Kayode Egbetokun redeployed Imo State Commission of Police Mohammed Barde and ordered an investigation.
TUC President Festus Osifo announced the industrial action on Monday, saying it will be indefinite.
But Oshiomhole said: “Unfortunately, this strike is not about those issues.
“And I think we have to be careful not to mix our political opinion with our responsibilities because the issues confronting workers are so many that they should become the priority.”
Oshiomhole urged the NLC to prioritise holding state governments accountable to the N30,000 minimum wage agreement, which covers both local government and state workers.
He wondered why the NLC was not mobilising workers against states still failing to implement the approved minimum wage while targeting the Federal Government.
Advising union leaders to engage vigorously on issues like unpaid salaries, he cautioned against actions perceived as overtly partisan.
He said: “The Federal Government had granted N35,000 increase. And those discussions were supposed to be for and on behalf of not only the Federal Government but on behalf of all workers in Nigeria, including those employed by local governments and state governments.
“Additional revenue accruing from the withdrawal of subsidy should trickle down to the states and the local government areas.
“I would have wished that somebody in the NLC recognises that the hunger in the stomach of federal employees is not any worse than the hunger in the stomach of those state employees, nor local government employees.
“If these are the issues on the table, even as a senator, I will publicly support action against any government that thinks that we should lament away our hunger while the people do what they do.
“Labour cannot be apolitical because politics is about the people. And I have argued when I was in NLC that nobody has a right to be partisan much more than those who turn the will of our industrial progress.
“You have to be careful not to be seen to be doing the bidding of a particular candidate or a particular political party. As President of the NLC, I made no friends with any politicians.”
He reiterated his stance against brutality against any Nigerian while stressing that addressing the hierarchy of workers’ needs should be NLC’s focus.
“But, let me be clear. I do not support the brutalisation of any Nigerian. I emphasise, any Nigerian, including a journalist, including the unemployed. Of course, including a Labour leader,” he added.
Affiliate unions join strike
The strike got the support of affiliate unions.
Oil, bank and electricity workers, as well as a section of university teachers, joined the industrial action in compliance with their unions’ directive.
Among Labour’s demands are the redeployment and investigation of the Commissioner of Police, Imo State Command; arrest, prosecution and dismissal of all police officers involved in the incident; and arrest of all thugs who partook in beating Ajaero and other workers.
Labour also demanded the arrest and prosecution of Mr Chinasa Nwaneri, Uzodimma’s aide on special duties who allegedly supervised the terror on workers and “bestial brutality” meted out to Ajaero.
The Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association (PENGASSAN) and the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) asked their members to join the industrial action.
The Association of Senior Staff of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions (ASSBIFI) and the National Union of Banks Insurance and Financial Institutions Employees (NUBIFIE) joined the strike.
Federal workers were also asked to join the action.
General Secretary of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria, Joshua Apebo, directed federal workers to withdraw services nationwide.
But some federal workers showed up for work yesterday.
At the Federal Ministry of Education, offices were opened as workers went about their business.
In the education sector, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), National Association of Academic Technologists (NAAT), Senior Staff Association of Nigerian Universities (SSANU), Academic Staff Union of Polytechnic (ASUP), Colleges of Education Academic Staff Union (COEASU) and the Senior Staff Association of Nigeria Polytechnics asked their members to stay off work.
Labour unions in the maritime and health sectors asked their members to comply with the directive.
The health sector is not left out as the nurses’ union asked their members to down tools.
Acting General Secretary of the Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria, Salihu Abubakar, said they would stay home.
The National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives also asked its members to comply strictly with the directive.
The Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) asked its members to shut the courts.
However, the Congress of University Academics (CONUA) said it would not join the action because it was not yet an official TUC affiliate.
Its National President, Dr Niyi Sunmonu, said: “The position of CONUA is not to join the strike for the fact that we are yet to be an official affiliate of TUC even though our application is before them.
“TUC with whom CONUA submitted an affiliation request has not communicated this position on strike action to it.
“Distinguished comrades should therefore note that CONUA cannot be part of the strike action that is not communicated to it.
“In addition, the affiliation process with the TUC has not been officially established.”
SSANU and NASU joined the nationwide strike.
NASU Chairman, University of Lagos (UNILAG) branch, Abiodun Olayinka, told The Nation that the national body had directed all branches to join the strike.
Other affiliates who joined the action are the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria (MWUN), Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Nigeria Union of Railway Workers (NURW), Nigeria Union of Food and Beverage Tobacco Employees (NUFBTE), National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), among others.
But, unions in the aviation industry did not comply fully as there were no flight disruptions yesterday.
Aviation unions affiliated with the labour movement were yet to meet on how to implement the directive by their parent bodies.
Secretary General, Association of Nigeria Aviation Professionals (ANAP), Comrade Abdulrazak Saidu said that was why there were seamless aerospace operations.
All scheduled flights operated without hitches, while activities at the local and international airports in Lagos went on as usual.
The strike went on despite Friday’s interim injunction granted by the National Industrial Court of Nigeria (NICN) president, Justice Benedict Kanyip.
He ruled on an ex-parte application brought by the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) on behalf of the Federal Government.
The presidency and AGF Lateef Fagbemi (SAN) had reminded Labour that the restraining order was still in force.
NLC to Presidency: we won’t be cowed
Labour faulted the statement issued by Special Adviser to the President on Information & Strategy Bayo Onanuga, saying contrary to the presidency’s position, the issues were beyond Ajaero.
NLC Head of Information and Public Affairs, Benson Upah, said Ajaero does not work in Imo and is not owed salary but is fighting for civil servants that are owed.
The Congress insisted the strike was far from personal.
The union said: “Nigerians and indeed, the world to know that the joint national strike by the NLC and TUC is not about ego tripping move intended to blackmail the government as Bayo Onanuga mischievously describes it.
“If Onanuga were not suffering from selective amnesia, Onanuga ought to have known that this government should remain grateful to the Organised Labour for its uncommon patience with a government that was not prepared for the consequences of its fundamentalist market policies.
“The massive currency devaluation and subsidy removal which imposed on Nigerians social violence, upheaval, dislocation, displacement or punishment they never experienced.
“Onanuga ought to have known that the Organised Labour, by not opting for a strike as a first option, acted as a bulwark against the rage of Nigerians thereby saving this government from itself.
“Ajaero is not a member of any union in or outside Imo State nor is he owed a salary or pension payment arrears, but in his capacity as president of the NLC, he has oversight over all the unions affiliated to the congress including the civil servants and pensioners who have been owed in varying degrees of arrears.
“We want Bayo Onanuga and those who sent him and the police much earlier to know that we shall not be cowed by anybody or force no matter the resources at that person’s disposal.
“No government can be bigger than the people over which it presides.”
Full Story: https://citynewsng.com/2023/11/15/oshiomhole-to-ajaero-osifo-strike-is-misplaced-priority/
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