- Ngige faults workers’ ‘abrupt’ withdrawal of service 21-day ultimatum not abrupt, Ajaero insists
Adedayo Akinwale ín Abuja
The federal government and the leadership of the House of Representatives have assured the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) that the agreement reached with them would be implemented.
The union had at the expiration of the 21-day ultimatum embarked on a nationwide strike before the federal government reached an agreement with the union leaders.
The Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, during a peace meeting Thursday with the Minister of Labour, Dr. Chris Ngige, the Minister of State for Power, Mr. Goddy Agba, officials of BPE and leadership of the NUEE, urged the union to exercise higher tolerance before thinking of embarking on strike as their action could affect lives negatively.
He assured that the House would ensure that members of the union are henceforth treated rightly by the government to avoid the strike action they embarked upon on Wednesday, which paralysed economic activities in the country.
Despite the fact that an agreement was signed at a meeting held between the Ministry of Power and the NUEE, Gbajabiamila said the House should be included as a witness so that it would ensure that all issues agreed on are implemented.
He added that from all indications, the matter would be resolved permanently, adding that the issue was discussed on the floor of the House on Wednesday, but noted that the leadership of the House decided to address the issue not because the committee was not competence, but because of the seriousness and urgency of the matter.
He lamented that the seven-hour strike already had unintended consequences on Nigerians that might not be reported.
According to him, “The 9th National Assembly is for reformation. We have had so much about government perchance for not honouring agreement. We want to make that agreement a tripartite agreement and include the House of Representatives as part of it. We want to be part of the agreement as witnesses so that you can hold us accountable. That way, we’ll ensure that the government meets its part.”
Responding to the claim by Ngige that the 21-day ultimatum was abrupt, the Speaker explained that 21-day ultimatum could not be described as abrupt. “You are talking about express notice, there is something we call constructive notice, even if I hear something on the pages of newspaper, I have been given notice, even if it is not directed at me. I want to believe they gave notice, they gave notice to the whole world.”
He also urged the union to notify the House before embarking on any strike in the future.Earlier, Ngige expressed displeasure over the 21-day ultimatum given by the union, saying it was abrupt.
He stated: “I want to express my displeasure, very serious displeasure at what has happened because electricity is an essential service and they know that in the categorisations of essential services, after hospital, it is electricity. And if you withdraw your services abruptly many lives will be lost, that is why they are categorised as essential services.
“They know under essential services, the law contemptualises how we should deal with them. The workers should have done everything that is possible to make sure that we were probably briefed and we shall then be allowed to do our work. I didn’t find it funny that the whole economy was thrown into huge loss through sudden withdrawal. Not only sudden withdrawal of their people from service, they also forced other people including the senior staff to abandon their duty posts.
“Much more than any other thing, they blocked the office of the Minister of Power and the staff under the guise of picketing. Picketing is an English word and we know what it means, there should be no obstruction in picketing, there should be no threat, there should be no stoppage of any other staff that wants to go and do his work. I’m expressing that displeasure and I hope my comrade friends will take note and I want this to be the last time that it would happen.”
On his part, Ajaero stated categorically that he took exception to the world ‘abrupt’ and sudden withdrawal of service used by Ngige, insisting that the 21-day ultimatum that was given and lasted for more than one month was not abrupt.
Ajaero argued that all the issues in contention have been with the Minister of Labour for the past six years, even before Ngige came to the ministry, noting that there was nothing new in the demand by the union.
He however urged the House to amend the labour law and give more legislative power to the Minister of Labour to sanction any employer that refused to honour agreement entered with the union.