Deji Elumoye and Shola Oyeyipo in Abuja
The Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria, (PASAN), made good its threat to picket the National Assembly over workers’ unpaid wages and outstanding promotion.
PASAN had at the weekend threatened to picket the National Assembly from yesterday to Thursday (tomorrow) if the management fails to accede to its demands, including the payment of outstanding workers’ salaries and promotions.
The workers in their hundreds who converged at the foyer of the National Assembly as early as 8 a.m, barricaded the entrances to the two chambers, thereby preventing Senators and House members from carrying out their legislative duties.
Senators and House of Representatives members, including the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who arrived for plenary, were booed by the angry staff who insisted that there wouldn’t be sitting in the National Assembly until the payment of their Consolidated Salary Structure (CONLESS).
The protesting workers who chanted several anti-Clerk of the National Assembly (CNA), Mohammed Sani-Omolori songs, displayed placards with inscriptions such as: “Executive, fund National Assembly now”, “Omolori must go”, “Our Mumu Don Do”, “CONLESS has been approved since 2010”, “promotion is our right”, say no to consultancy,” “No Welfare Incentives for staff since 18 years now,” “We need alert”, “Release our promotion letters now,” “Omolori is a contractor,” “No salary no sitting”, “Contract inflation is a crime,” and many others.
Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki in the company of House Speaker, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, in the course of the picketing at about 1.55 p.m addressed the workers and sought their cooperation in resolving the issues at stake.
Saraki who told the aggrieved workers to give the National Assembly leadership up till Friday to find a lasting solution to their demands, was however halted with shouts of “No Alert No Sitting, No Alert No Sitting” which was chorused by the workers.
Later, Senate Leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan and his House counterpart, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, told reporters that the leadership of the National Assembly decided to intervene “in the matter between the workers and Assembly management so that matters will not get out of hand”.
He, however, cautioned the wirkers against disrupting the sitting of the two chambers of the Assembly saying “ much as the workers have the right to complain they should not prevent Senate and House from carrying out their legislative duties”.
Chairman of Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN), Hon. Bature Musa, had earlier justified the picketing when he told journalists that the intention of the protesting Assembly workers is not to have a faceoff with the lawmakers but to drive home their request for the payment of their outstanding salaries.
Though Musa, who spoke with reporters as the protest progressed, initially promised that the lawmakers will not be prevented from accessing the red and the green chambers when they arrive, but that was not to be as Senators Kabiru Marafa, Ben Bruce, Ekweremadu, the Chief Whip of the House of Representatives, Hon. Alhassan Doguwa, among others were prevented from entering the legislative chambers.
According to Musa, “the word picketing does not prevent anybody from working, it is a message passed to the leadership of the National Assembly and don’t forget, it is for a duration of between 9 a.m and 2 p.m then after that everyone will return to work.”
He said “what we have at the back of our minds when we set out for the picketing is that when the legislators come around they will definitely find out what is happening, because we have written to them almost eight months ago, and nothing seems to be happening.
“You will agree with me that they are almost on their way out and this is the best time for us to cry out load because the whole world will know why we are embarking on this peaceful demonstration.”
The PASAN Chairman said the workers were not aversed to negotiations with the National Assembly, noting that “National Assembly is a custodian of law and we are not in this parliament to kick against the law. We are law abiding citizens, once it is 2 O’clock we will return to our respective offices”.
Reacting to the protest by staff, Clerk of the National Assembly, CNA, Sani-Omolori blamed the non-payment of salary which led to the agitation by PASAN on non-release of the 2018 budget.
According to the Clerk, who spoke with National Assembly correspondents while the protest lasted, said it is not within the powers of the legislature to facilitate the payment the workers are requesting for.
He said: “I still insist that they need to be a bit patient with the system. Like I said, in my reply to their letter; in an unprecedented manner, the presiding officers acceded, without hesitation to their requests for this increment. It was bargained with them and they captured it in the budget.
“So, how is it in their (lawmakers) powers, if the money is not released? And in any case, the reality on the ground is that it is not only the National Assembly that is suffering from non-release of funds. That is the reality of the Nigerian situation. So, I think we all have to be patient.”
He explained further that “it is a matter that has been on for some time now and we have tried to explain to them; we approved salary increase for them which was captured in 2018 budget but as it is today, it is a common knowledge that the level of implementation of the 2018 budget, especially the new addition to the National Assembly, which has not been implemented – that is where we had hoped that the addition would be paid.
“So, to the extent that the money has not been released and that there is no way we can make the payment.”