Governor Jona Jang
Seriki Adinoyi and Damilola Oyedele
Two Plateau State Government officials were Thursday, allegedly assaulted by protesting workers in the state, over the non-payment of their seven months salaries by the state government.
The incident occured during the budget presentation of the 2012 budget by Governor Jonah Jang to the state House of Assembly.
In the same vein, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has accused Jang of orchestrating violence through the use of thugs and members of the Special Task Force (STF) to attack workers across the state who demand the implementation of the national minimum wage.
However, the budget, which was meant to be presented to the 24-member Assembly ended up like a child’s play as only nine members, including the Speaker, Hon. John Clark, who was smuggled into the Assembly Complex by his Chief Press Secretary, Mrs. Nandak Chinle, through her car, was able to listen to the presentation with divided attention, and under the stern watch of security operatives.
While some alleged that the other 15 members went abroad on medical check up, others said they boycotted the sitting in solidarity with the workers. Yet, others said they stayed back at home for their safety. But Chinle said they might have gone on constituency assignment.
The presentation, which was billed for 10 a.m., was able to commence some minutes after 2 p.m., when Jang was able to pull through the crowd of protesters to the Assembly through the help of the state Commissioner of Police, Mr. Chris Olakpe, at about 1:52 p.m.
It took the sporadic shooting of tear gas and spraying of hot water by the police before they were able to disperse the protesters, who barricaded the road and vowed that Jang would not pass through to the Assembly.
The government officials that were assaulted by the protesters were the state Commissioner for Agriculture, Mr. Stephen Barko, and Special Assistant to the Governor on Youths Mobilisation, Mr. Kwamkur Silas.
Similarly, the North Central Zonal head of National Union of Bank, Insurance and Financial Institutions Employees (NUBIFIE), Mr. Sunday Akinfolarin, said the non-payment of workers’ salaries for six months had attracted queries to bank managers and operations managers from their head offices as “local government workers who collected loans from banks could not redeem it”.
Akinfolarin, who said NUBIFIE was in support of the protest until government meets the demand of workers so that economic equilibrium can return to the state, stated that “the government stood as guarantors and now the government have defaulted and also many bank managers and operations managers are in trouble with their head offices and without paying the loans the workers are withdrawing their deposits to the last kobo.”
Meanwhile, the NLC has accused Jang of ordering the arrest and torture of some workers and labour leaders some of whom it alleged were beaten to a state of coma by the STF.
The NLC in a statement issued in Abuja, by its Acting General Secretary, Chris Uyot, however, said it would not be cowed by Jang’s uncivilised acts, threatening further that it would never renege on its demand for full implementation of the agreed minimum wage in the state as well as the payment of all salaries and allowances owed local government workers for six months.
“We call on the workers to continue to exercise their rights and ensure the sustenance of their peaceful actions despite the provocation of the governor and his cohorts,” the statement said.
The congress further alleged that the governor had ignored all attempts to resolve the dispute with workers, saying the governor was erroneously insinuating that his political opponents incited the workers to embark on strike.
Nowhere in the world does a worker need to be incited to demand for his right, NLC said, adding that Plateau is the only state where a strike on the implementation of the new wage has dragged on for six months.
“We assure all residents of the state of our determination to ensure that the rights of workers are protected peacefully until the state government accepts the reality that there are no options left for them than to implement the new minimum wage in full,” the NLC said.
The congress again called on all stakeholders to prevail on the governor to honour his agreement with the workers before the state is engulfed in crises and made ungovernable for him.
“For a governor to throw all attempts at dialogue to the wind even jettisoning the intervention of state legislators and respected elders in the state to continue to starve workers and their families for six months without pay is the height of callousness and impunity ever witnessed in a democracy,” the statement read.