With the recent arrest of some of the alleged culprits in the brutalization of the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Joe Ajaero, in Owerri, Imo State as confirmed by the National Security Adviser, Nuhu Ribadu who has promised to investigate and prosecute them, there is a crying need to glean significant lessons to prevent a repeat of the ugly incident.
It would be recalled that Ajaero was reportedly picked up from the NLC State Council Secretariat by heavily armed policemen and taken to an unknown destination. Subsequently allegations were rife, that Ajaero was beaten black-and-blue by the police authorities in the state.
However, Governor Hope Uzodimma, while speaking at a meeting with the Imo State Council of Elders at the Government House in Owerri said the state government regretted the sad situation the labour leader experienced. On the other hand, he stated that his government will not be cowed or intimidated by any non-state actor under any guise. That statement came as fingers began to point in his direction, accusing him as responsible for the near-tragic situation in the state.
Though the NLC has called off the indefinite strike it began on Monday, November 13, 2023 after reaching an agreement with the federal government, the blame-game that transpired between the two has necessitated the need to right the misconceptions that have persisted for decades, on the narrative of who is wrong and who is on the right track. That is, when it comes to querulous labour-related matters.
While some analysts are of the firm opinion that Ajaero, who incidentally hails from Imo State was wrong to have embarked on the workers’ protest in Owerri, few days to the gubernatorial election, accusing him of surreptitiously dancing to the tune of the opposition Labour party, some others disagreed. They insist that with the workers owed 42 months and the state governor, Uzodimma allegedly breaking the rank and file of the state’s arm of the NLC to foist his whims on the hapless workers and long-neglected pensioners, Ajaero did the needful.
Indeed, it should be noted that the conditions which workers must fulfill before embarking on a lawful strike in Nigeria are contained in section 31(6) of the Trade Unions Act LFN 2004 as amended by the Trade Unions (Amendment) Act 2005. The others include Sections 4, 18 and 42 of the Trade Disputes Act LFN 2004 as amended.
Similarly, Section 40 of the 1999 Constitution provides that every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and he may in particular form or join any political party, trade union or any other association for the protection of his interest. This aspect of the extant laws falls in sync with the provisions of other national and international legal instruments, including South Africa and Ghana. But here some despots masquerading as democrats deploy the instruments of the predatory power of might is right!
In fact, the analysts in support of Ajaero are of the opinion that the governor had a hand in the arrest and brutal force meted out to the NLC President, who is to them the nation’s numero uno worker. An assault on him was an affront on them all. And the fact that Uzodimma reneged on fulfilling his own side of the bargain which they had amicably reached weeks before was a clarion call for the strike.
Not helping matters was the antics of the government playing games with the workers’ sensibilities, by going to court to seek for an injunction to stop the strike, even when no such order was served on either the NLC or the Trade Union Congress.
That the strike went ahead in spite of such a threat has further rubbished the image of the judiciary. It was such an appalling situation that the NLC reminded the otherwise legal institution that it was not an aggrieved political party, or candidate that could be told to “go to court”, knowing full well that its pendulum of judgment would not swing in its favour.
One bitter lesson from the altercation between the federal government and the labour union therefore, is that of the needed rebuilding of the various arms of government. It should be such that institutions are strengthened and placed above the idiosyncrasies of individuals, no matter how powerful they might claim to be.
Ayo Oyoze Baje, Lagos