Ndubuisi Francis in Abuja
For two consecutive days, normal activities were paralysed at the Ministry of Finance headquarters, Abuja as workers embarked on a protest over what they described as â€˜unresolved welfareâ€™ package.
The protest, which came about the same time a similar one was held by the workers last June, started Monday and continued Tuesday.
A member of staff who was involved in the protest,Â told THISDAY that as early as 8a.m. on Monday, the workers, guided by the leadership of the Joint Union Council (JUC) had converged on the main gate ofÂ the ministry.
According to him, their plan was to barricade the gate and stop the minister, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, from gaining access to her office until she addressed their demand.
However, according to him,Â the minister, who got wind of the protest had to go straight to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs headquarters, venue of the public presentation of the 2017 budget.
Our source added that rumours had filtered in that the minister had put the responsibility of implementing the workersâ€™ demand for welfare package on the laps of the Permanent Secretary, Dr. Mahmoud Isa-Dutse and the Director, Finance and Accounts (DFA), Mr. Moses Chimereze Okpo.
The rumour, THISDAY gathered, ignited a spontaneous reaction among the workers, who rushed to the sixth floor of the building occupied by both top officials.
Chanting solidarity songs, the workers thronged the offices of Isa-Dutse and Okpo and demanded to have their demands met.
However, efforts to placate them could not assuage their grievances, and the workers occupied the sixth floor for the most of Monday.
Yesterday, the protests and siege on Isa-Dutse and Okpo continued, culminating in the management of the ministry inviting a detachment of policemen.
The police personnel numbering about 12 were stationed at the main gate with about five pick-up vans also packed near them.
Our correspondent was able to gain access into the premises of the ministry in the morning, but was barred when he returned around 2pm.
The private security personnel at the gate said they were under instruction not to allow anyone access.
At the notice board of the ministry were two internal memos.
First, was the one issued on June 16, 2017Â by the Director, Human Resource Management, Obisesan B.M, captioned â€˜Re-Welfare Package to All Staff.
The circular said: â€œfollowing days of dialogue between the management and the workersâ€™Â leadership over staff welfare for Eid-el-Fitr, the management had resolved to provide to all staff, irrespective of grade level, one 25 kilogramme of rice each as well as a four litre of vegetable oil each.
Arrangements, the circular added, would be made to supply the approved items at the ministryâ€™s premises, and advised all staff to â€œadhere to the content of the circular and maintain industrial peace.â€
However, by Monday (June 19), another circular, also issued by Obisesan was pasted on the notice board, with the caption, â€œProper Conduct of Staff Within the Office Premises.â€
The circular referred workers to the earlier circular of June 16 with respect to staff welfare, adding: â€œI wish to further inform staff of the need for them to conduct themselves properly within the office premises in conformity to Public Service Rule No. 030301 which categorise unruly behaviour as an act of misconduct which may lead to termination or retirement of an officer from the service.
â€œI am to warn that disruption of official activities by person or group of personsÂ as was observed today will no longer be tolerated. According, all staff are advised in their own interest to desist from any such action that may lead to the disruption of work in the ministry,â€ the circular warned.
It urged all staff or group withÂ legitimate grievances to channel same through appropriate administrative process as enshrined in the public service rules.
However, rather than tone down the workersâ€™ protest, the warning gingered them to continue their protest Tuesday.
Some of them who volunteered information, said their welfare benefits, including training had been stopped, adding that the tone of the circular was somehow combative.
As at 3p.m. yesterday when THISDAY visited, the workers were still occupying the sixth floor.
Efforts to speak with the JUC leadership was futile as our correspondent was prevented from entering the ministry.
Personnel of the information unit of the ministry also declined to speak to THISDAY, describing it as an internal affair.