Organised labour, under the aegis of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC), resolved to commence an indefinite strike in Imo State midnight on Tuesday, to protest alleged violation of workers’ rights as well the recent brutalisation of NLC president, Joe Ajaero, during a protest in the state.
The leadership of NLC and TUC, which addressed a joint press conference in Abuja, on Tuesday, said they would also begin a nationwide strike if by Tuesday, November 14, their demands were not met by the federal and Imo state governments.
Addressing a press conference shortly after a joint emergency National Executive Council (NEC) meeting of NLC and TUC in Abuja, President of TUC, Festus Osifo, described the move by organised labour as a national action on Imo State.
Among the demands made by NLC and TUC were that the federal government should immediately order the redeployment and investigation of the Imo State Commissioner of Police, Ahmed Barde; sack the Area Commander and police officers and men involved in the attack and brutalisation of Ajaero and other workers in Imo State; and immediately arrest and prosecute Adviser on Special Duties to Imo State Governor Hope Uzodinma, Mr. Nwaneri Chinasa, the for allegedly supervising the brutalisation of Ajaero.
Other demands of labour included an independent and unbiased professional medical examination of Ajaero to ascertain the extent of the physical and psychological injuries he suffered, and the implementation of all outstanding agreements reached with the Imo State government.
Reading the communiqué, Osifo said, “The NEC of all congresses frowned completely at what happened in Imo, it shouldn’t have happened.
“For the President of the NLC leading workers to examine, protest the non-payment of salary of some of the workers in Imo, to protest the declaration of ghost workers when these people actually go to work every day and several issues that have bedevilled workers in Imo State
“We went there without guns, a single machete but only to protest. Protest is something that is in the law, it’s a fundamental position that is purely guided by our constitution, that is guided by International Charter, that is guided by the ILO Convention, but, unfortunately, Hope Uzodimma organised the police and thought to attack the Nigerian worker.
“NEC completely frowns at it and resolves as follows: that from midnight today (Tuesday), we are going to carry out a national action that is going to zero in on Imo State. These actions are not limited in any form.
“Then on Tuesday next week, there is going to be a total nationwide strike because as at last week, we issued a directive that had some series of actions that were stated therein and none of them as at today has been met, and no attempt whatsoever has been made to address them.”
The communique further stated, “Consequently, the NLC/TUC NEC-in-session resolved – to order the immediate withdrawal of services and shutdown of Imo State beginning midnight today. All workers and affiliates are expected to ensure compliance from wherever they are.
“All flights into and out of Imo State, fuel supplies and electricity be stopped immediately as applicable. All public and private sector workers are to immediately down tools indefinitely.
“That if our demands are still unmet, workers all over the federation shall join in withdrawing their services by midnight Tuesday, the 14th of November, 2023.
“All state councils of NLC and TUC and affiliates are by this resolution mandated to ensure full compliance with NEC’s decision.”
NLC and TUC had earlier given the federal government till Wednesday, November 8, to respond to their demands on the brutalisation of Ajaero in Imo State or risk an industrial crisis.
At a joint press conference on Friday, in Abuja, addressed by Deputy President of NLC, Adewale Adeyanju, and his counterpart from TUC, Erin Oko, the two labour centres had accused Uzodinma of serially undermining the rights of workers in Imo State by retrenching workers, owing workers 44 months salaries, and maintaining a backlog of eight years of gratuity arrears of workers.
They also condemned what they described as “systematic intimidation of trade unions and trade union leaders, dismantling of trade union structures, regular bullying and beating of workers, and denying them of access to the fruits of their labour.”
While recounting the ordeal Ajaero went through in the hands of his abductors, Adeyanju alleged that the NLC president was abducted by officers and men of the Imo State Police Command.
He stated, “They came in a convoy of vehicles and gun trucks, hooded and armed to the teeth. Ajaero was blind folded, beaten to pulp, brutalised, humiliated, and violated by the police personnel and taken to an unknown destination, where he was subjected to more battering and torture as well as threatened with death before help came his way via the National Security Adviser; Mr Nuhu Ribadu who ordered his immediate release.
“However, due to the severity of his injuries, the police had to take him to the Police Hospital, where we made contact with him at 3:30pm. At the time of our first contact with Comrade Joe Ajaero, his right eye was puffed, black and shut, one of his ears has tiny trace of dried blood, his speech was slurred and incoherent. He had welts all over him.
“He did not recognise the people around him and could not walk without being aided or supported. Inevitably, he had to be taken to Federal Medical Centre, Owerri, for more investigation.”
Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja and Wale Igbintade in Lagos