Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
Workers under the aegies of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) on Thursday carried out a protest at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja against last week’s brutalization of the NLC President, Joe Ajaero, in Imo State.
As part of reactions to the labour crisis precipitated by last week’s ill-fated protest in Imo State, NLC said that Ajaero will address a world press conference in Abuja Friday to give his own account of what transpired in Imo State.
The workers’ action caused a major disruption to the activities at the international airport, leaving most passengers to abandon their vehicles and trek to the airport lounge.
Addressing the protesting workers, President of TUC, Festus Osifo, said that the workers were protesting the unjust action meted to Ajaero while carrying out his mandate of protecting workers’ rights in Imo State.
He said that organised labour is determined to undertake a series of actions until the government do the needful by bringing the Area Commander of Police and those that allegedly perpetuated the brutalization and molestation workers in Imo State to book.
Osifo said: “An injury to one is an injury to all. Somebody asked me why we are at the Abuja airport, is it a national issue? That the issue is in Imo State and we said no, the person that was brutalized is a national figure. Our president is a national figure and the police that brutalized him is a national institution, they are not Imo State police.
“The police that brutalized him reports to the Inspector General of Police, who in turn reports to the President of Nigeria. So since this is a national issue, we must make it one. Governor Hope Uzodinma cannot unleash thugs with the Nigeria police in Imo State on someone who have been peacefully fighting for the interest of the Nigerian workers.
“For us we say no. What is happening is just the first stage of the series of activities that will happen, except the Nigerian government do the needful and arrest those people who perpetrated the evil act on the NLC president and Nigerian workers. This is not acceptable and this must not be allowed by the Nigerian workers.
“Comrades let us be strong and this is a marathon. It is not a dash race, we are just starting until the government do the needful, the area commander that perpetuated this, that led those armed men that called themselves members of the Imo State police are called to order. They must be prosecuted and they must be brought to book. It is not just to transfer the Commissioner of Police in Imo State, there are series of actions that must be taken by the Nigerian government because an injury to one is an injuring all.”
He said that injustice is the same everywhere whether it happened in Imo State or in any state in Nigeria, adding that: “Once you do this to any Nigerian workers, we have the right fight for the right of the particular person across the nation.”
Osifo said that the uprising that happened sometime in the Middle East was actually caused by one individual who was brutalized in Tunisia and it caused an uprising in the entire Middle East.
“The Nigerian president must act, the IG must act and the time to act is now,” he said.
Similarly, the NLC General Secretary, Emma Ugboaja, urged them to conduct themselves in a peaceful manner and avoid being provoked to violence.
He said any security agent thinking of molesting the workers should do well to go to parts of the country threatened by insurgents and exhibit their strength there.
Speaking to journalists, one of the labour leaders said: “We are here to protest the molestation and brutalization meted out to the NLC president, Joe Ajaero, while he was carrying out a lawful action to protect and defend the right of workers in Imo State last week.
“You could see how the security agents together with the thugs actually molested the president of NLC and the number one worker. This is a clear violation of the fundamental rights to freedom of a worker. When a worker fights for his rights in terms of wages and sacking of workers.
“When reminded that their protest at the airport was causing disprution and preventing innocent citizens from traveling, the NLC chieftain said that the intention was actually to ground any flight that comes into the international airport and prevent it from lifting any passenger out of the airport.
“We want to draw the attention of government to this kind of insensitivity, this kind of authoritarian actions. It is a way to get the president of the country to address these issues. We see it as part of the struggle for the democratization of Nigeria.
“It is wrong for this kind of tyrannical measures to be taking place under a democracy.”
He said that the workers intended to extend the protest to the headquarters of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) because the police allegedly compromised on their duties during the attack on Ajaero in Imo State.
He said that key to the demands of the organised labour is that the Imo State government must reinstate those workers that were retrenched or declared as ghost workers.
He also said the state government should implement all agreements reached with the workers, adding that: “We demand an apology against what happened during the protest in Imo State.”