•Partial compliance recorded across country
•Pro-democracy group accuses FG of stifling opposition, labour
By Our Correspondents
The leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), yesterday, rejected the ascription of the nationwide strike the congress embarked upon in conjunction with the Trade Union Congress (TUC) as a personal agenda by NLC president, Comrade Joe Ajaero.
On the contrary, NLC said, “the arrest and protective custody” of Ajaero by the Nigeria Police, which led to multiple injuries to his body and psychology, was a state-sponsored act of terror not just against an individual but all freedom-loving Nigerians.
The strike recorded partial compliance in many parts of the country.
Relatedly, a pro-democracy group, United Action Front of Civil Society, condemned what it described as the hostile disposition of the President Bola Tinubu administration to constructive opposition and labour activism since assumption of office.
But former President of NLC, Senator Adams Oshiomhole, charged the leadership of organised labour to prioritise the welfare and rights of Nigerian workers over personal political interests, even as he opposed the idea of strike.
Nonetheless, the indefinite strike, which started yesterday, appear to have taken off on a shaky note.
Most public schools in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), for instance, as in other parts of the country, observed the strike, as the school authorities turned back students who showed up.
THISDAY gathered that following a directive from its national headquarters on strict observance of the indefinite strike, state branches of NLC and other affiliates mobilised their members as early as 8am to picket offices of institutions that tried to open for business.
A combined team of NLC and TUC officials picketed the offices of some banks and the Federal Ministry of Finance in Abuja, even as organised labour also staged a protest at the entrance gate of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) at the early hours of yesterday.
In a statement by its Head of Information and Publicity, Benson Upah, NLC said Nigerians should not succumb to the “private matter” narrative being pushed by the federal government to discredit the ongoing nationwide strike meant to protest acts of impunity and maltreatment of Nigerian workers.
Special Adviser to the President on Information and Strategy, Bayo Onanuga, had accused NLC and TUC of punishing a country of over 200 million people over a personal matter involving the NLC president. Onanuga said Ajaero’s error of judgment had led to the assault on him in Owerri, Imo State, while he was planning to incite the workers in the state into a needless strike.
But the NLC scribe described the government’s position as Freudian slip and sadistic.
Upah stated, “It is in light of this we would want the world to know that Onanuga’ s sadistic comment is a Freudian slip, as this is the way his principals view the Imo State triple-digit tragedy: the non-payment of workers/pensioners benefits; the choking/stifling environment that leaves workers and citizens gasping for air; the license for impunity that covers murder and attempted murder of dissenting voices, including Comrade Joe Ajaero, which the Nigerian state now passes off as a ‘personal matter.’
“When we first heard through the grapevine that glasses were clinked and pleasantries earthily exchanged by the powers that be following the arrest and torture of Comrade Joe Ajaero, we thought it was one of those rumours but with this confirmation from Bayo Onanuga, we now know better!”
Upah said Nigerians should not succumb to the “private matter” narrative, recalling the famous poem: “When they came for the Jews, I said I was not a Jew; When they came for the teachers, I said I was not a teacher….By the time they came for me there was no one left to shout.”
Upah said the arrest and “protective custody” of Ajaero by the Nigeria Police, which led to multiple injuries to his person, was a state-sponsored act of terror not just against him but also against all freedom-loving Nigerians.
He said the government was merely testing the waters, adding that no one knows who the next target would be.
“Take heed and open your eyes and note that this systematic assault on the citizenry is being co-ordinated by a tiny clique within the government on all fronts: economic, political and social. It is total violence!” Upah said.
On the contention by Onanuga that the Inspector General of Police, Kayode Egbetokun, had ordered an investigation into the Owerri incident, Upah said the federal government had already pre-empted its outcome by accusing Ajaero of inciting workers against the Imo State government.
According to him, “So the police will now be the judge, jury and jailer in their own case? What a country we run! Secondly, what per chance, will the police be investigating, when the government, by the admission of Onanuga, has already found Ajaero guilty, arrested him, convicted him, punished him through torture for ‘planning to incite the workers in Imo State into a needless strike.’
“We concerned Nigerians are not interested in a charade. We demand an honest and thorough investigation by competent and independent professionals (with free and unfettered access to information, people and materials) from within and outside the country. Ajaero holds offices on the international circuit.”
Similarly, United Action Front of Civil Society, in a statement by its Head of National Coordinating Secretariat, Olawale Okunniyi, said it was becoming crystal clear by the day that the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led federal government “is out to criminalise civil opposition and labour activism in a desperate attempt to cripple vibrant platforms of the Nigerian polity in furtherance of its dubious agenda of neo-colonialist policies fraught with profligacy and corruption with attendant negative consequences manifesting in excruciating multi-dimensional poverty as well as codified hardship on the masses.”
Okuniyi said the federal government had so far remained evasive and appeared not committed to fulfilling the agreement it reached with labour over removal of fuel subsidy.
He stated, “We are concerned that rather than fulfil the agreement with labour and bring succour to the downtrodden working masses of Nigeria, it is unfortunate that government is embarking on smear campaigns, criminalisation and targeted attacks and brutality of labour and opposition leaders.
“The manipulative use of court orders by government to frustrate and truncate the legitimate rights and demand of workers and masses by the present administration is another condemnable and irresponsible trend to be employed by a supposed democratic government.”
But Oshiomhole, who spoke to newsmen after meeting with Vice President Kashim Shettima at State House, Abuja, expressed his reservation about the ill-treatment of workers at any level, citing his affinity with the labour movement, as NLC’s former president.
While expressing his continued commitment to the cause of labour, Oshiomhole, however, disapproved of the ongoing strike, saying it does not adequately address the crucial issues facing workers. He urged NLC and TUC to prioritise engaging state governments not implementing the agreed wages for workers in their respective states.
The former governor of Edo State said, “Labour cannot be apolitical because politics is about the people. And I have argued, when I was in NLC, that nobody has a right to be partisan much more than those who turn the wheel of our industrial progress.
“But in saying that, we must recognise that however hard you try, when it comes to politics, people are going to have different reasons for supporting different candidates.
“You have to be careful not to be seen to be doing the bidding of a particular candidate or a particular political party. As President of the NLC, I made no friend with any politician in Edo State.
“So Ogbemudia once asked me, ‘we want to be able to say leave the matter to me, he’s my boy, I will call him.’ I am not anybody’s boy. I want to make my decisions. I take responsibility for those decisions. You can’t find me in the house of a politician. Not because I hate them. Because they represent the value that I represent.
“I represent those guys who can only vote. Even though the law allowed that to be voted for, unfortunately, the system hardly throws them up. So, I have to prioritise what is it that I’m ready to die for? And what is it that I’m ready to accommodate.”
Urging NLC to prioritise holding state governments accountable to the N30,000 minimum wage agreement, which also covers local government and state workers, Oshiomhole queried why NLC was not mobilising strikes against states still failing to implement the approved minimum wage instead of targeting the federal government.
Nevertheless, the strike recorded partial compliance in many places. Below are reports of how the strike was observed across the states.
The leadership of the Joint Union Action Committee (JUAC), yesterday, chased out workers of the FCT Administration in enforcement of the nationwide strike ordered by NLC and TUC in protest against the brutality inflicted on Ajaero in Imo State.
The union leaders mobilised in large numbers and forced workers, who had barely settled down for the day’s work, out of their offices. Many offices at FCTA were deserted as a result of the enforcement of the industrial action.
Even though workers and visitors streamed through the main entrance to the FCTA secretariat for the day’s activities, the union leaders ensured that the various offices within the secretariat, from the minister’s block to other departments, were locked.
Only a few workers in the minister’s office stayed back to carry out skeletal services after the premises was deserted due to forced departure of many members of staff.
Rivers State also witnessed partial compliance by workers. At the Federal Secretariat on Aba Road, a few workers were seen within the premises. Some of them, who spoke to journalists, claimed they were not informed to stay back at home to observe the strike.
At the state secretariat, workers were in their offices. Businesses were moving freely, but some of the workers said they might fully embark on the strike from today based on directives.
Commercial banks sighted at the popular Ikwerre Road and parts of Aba Road were closed in compliance with the strike. But some of the banks along Artillery axis, Rumudara, Trans-Amadi, Port Harcourt Township did not comply with the strike directive.
Public schools, including primary and secondary schools within the Port Harcourt city and Obio/Akpor also did not comply with the strike directive. Some of the teachers said it was only when they got to the school that they knew about the seriousness of the strike.
But Chairman of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) in Rivers state, Mr Collins Echikpu, said, “We are in compliance with the directive for nationwide strike action in Rivers. All the schools have been informed to comply because we are an affiliate with the NLC”.
Academic activities at the Africa University, Toru Orua, in Sagbama Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, were put on hold in compliance with the directive by NLC and TUC to proceed on an indefinite strike. This led to the indefinite postponement of their second semester examinations.
Activities were also paralysed in most state and federal government institutions.
Special Adviser on Media to the Vice Chancellor of the university, Tonye Yemoleigha, who spoke with our correspondent, said all academic activities had been suspended, including the second semester exams, pending when the strike would be called off.
In a joint statement by the state chairman of NLC, Comrade Barnabas Simon, and his TUC counterpart, Comrade Laye Julius, in Yenagoa, the unions said the decision to comply with the strike action was a collective one to rein-in the excesses of some public officer holders in the country.
A visit to the State Secretariat, state-owned radio station, Glory FM 97.1, and the Port Harcourt Electricity Distribution Company (PHEDC), indicated that the workers complied with the NLC directive, as most of the offices were under lock and key. Senior staff members of Radio Bayelsa, Niger Delta Television (NDTV), and New Waves were at the offices.
Most workers in Cross River State did not participate in the indefinite strike declared by NLC, and TUC, yesterday. Aside from electricity workers, who did not open for business for the most part of yesterday, offices in the Cross River State Government Secretariat remained open throughout the working hours.
Schools in the state, both public and private, operated normally, up to the closing hours, before some of the public schools in Calabar were notified of the indefinite strike called by organised labour.
Though the directive of the national secretariats of NLC and TUC was pasted at the various entrances of the two state government secretariats located at Diamond Hill, the workers were in their offices and went about their normal businesses.
Up until the close of work, the government offices were not picketed by the leadership of organised labour. But some people believed to be officials of NUT were seen in some schools in Calabar South and Calabar Municipality informing their members of the strike.
The strike appeared not to have affected the supply of petroleum products, and vehicular movement in Calabar and its environs because most of the filling stations were still dispensing petroleum products to buyer for between N640 to N650.
In Ogun State, the strike recorded partial compliance, as commercial banks, private establishments, and some workers defied the directive of organised labour to stay away from work.
But the Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company (IBEDC) complied with the directive as the Abeokuta office of the company was closed.
Some public secondary schools in the state capital had earlier opened, but closed before mid-day in compliance with the strike action. Students were sent back home, as their teachers were issued circulars from the state council of NLC to comply with the strike.
Private secondary and primary schools did not participate in the strike. Workers at the banks were also seen attending to their customers.
At the state-owned General Hospital, Ijaye, a handful of doctors and other health workers were seen carrying out skeletal work, while student nurses attended to patients. Many patients, who came for consultation, were stranded while others were sent back home following refusal by some medical workers to attend to them.
Day one of the labour strike in Ekiti State affected government activities, as many government offices, schools and institutions were deserted. Only a few workers, who claimed to have gotten the strike information late, reported for work.
Some top government officials, who spoke with THISDAY in Ado Ekiti under condition of anonymity, said they did not know the strike would hold.
One of them said, “Please, don’t mention our names. I want to reveal to you that some of us who came to office right now came only because we don’t have option.
“The reason is that we never believed that this strike could hold. Many of us have lost hope in the leadership of labour. We all believed it would be as usual. The usual, in the sense that once they were settled by the government, and they would cancel it, as usual.
“That was what some of us thought that made us to be available at work. Gone were the days of Adams Oshiomhole, that was when we had genuine and selfless labour leaders.”
However, pupils and students of some public primary and secondary schools, who had earlier come to school, had to return home on realising that their teachers were not available.
The strike was partially complied with in Kaduna State, as many workers were seen at work on Tuesday. Workers at the state secretariat, located at Independence Way, reported to work and were seen going about their normal activities.
Some of the workers said they were not aware of the strike, as they were not informed about it.
Some commercial banks located along Yakubu Gowon Way, also opened for business.
However, the headquarters of the Kaduna Electricity Distribution Company, located at NEPA roundabout, and its branch offices, were locked by officials of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE).
Spokesperson of the company, Abdulhazeez Abdullahi, said in a statement, “Offices of the company will be closed today due to NLC industrial action.” Abdullahi advised customers to use online payment platforms.
In Adamawa State, the federal and state secretariats, specialist hospital, banks and some major institutions and agencies were shut down in Yola, the state capital, in compliance with the strike directive by NLC and TUC.
Chairman of NLC in the state, Comrade Emmanuel Fashe, said the state chapter complied with the strike directive. Fashe said there was total compliance, adding that about 80 per cent compliance was recorded when his men went out to enforce the directive.
Fashe said although there were hitches but the union was able to surmount them, adding that the strike would continue until the demands of NLC were met. He said Labour was on strike because of the brutality meted out to Ajaero, who was brutalised by the police in Imo State.
The NLC chairman revealed that the police had started benefiting from the N35, 000 palliative payment by the federal government as part of the demands of labour.
Civil servants in Ondo State partially observed the strike. In Akure, the state capital, government offices, banks and business centres were opened for operation.
But at the Federal Secretariat, Igbatoro Road, Akure, the complex looked deserted, as the car park was virtually empty and a few offices had one or two senior personnel on ground, while the junior workers stayed away.
Some of the workers, who spoke, on condition of anonymity, called on the unions to be focused and settle their disagreement with Imo State government over the attack on Ajaero and other workers.
Ondo State NLC Chairman, Comrade Victor Amoko, said it was the responsibility of NLC affiliated unions to direct their members to observe the strike, saying, “NLC actually went round and saw some level of compliance.”
Amoko said schools were not involved for the sake of school children so as not to jeopardise their security.
The state government commended teachers, especially those in public primary schools across the state for being in schools, despite the NLC directive.
Executive Chairman of Ondo State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), Victor Olabimtan, also hailed the teachers for displaying uncommon dedication to duty and loyalty to the administration of Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu. He enjoined the teachers to continue to do their jobs to the best of their abilities as the government would always prioritise their welfare.
Commercial activities were brought to a halt in the commercial city of Kano, as a result of the nationwide strike. Due to the strike, the Kano State government, through the Ministry of Education, announced the suspension of the 2023 Secondary Schools Qualifying Examination (SSQE), scheduled to take place yesterday, till further notice.
A statement by Director of Public Enlightenment of the ministry, Balarabe Abdullahi Kiru, revealed that the suspension was compelled by the industrial action embarked on by NLC and TUC nationwide.
The statement appealed to the people concerned, especially the students and parents/guardians, to bear any inconvenience that might be caused by the strike action.
Government officers, both at the federal and state secretariats as well as commercial institutions, were halted by the labour unions as early as 7:00 am, and only green leaves hung on the gates, signifying the strike action in the state.
Some federal and state parastatals were open for business, including the Federal Inland Revenue Service, and the Kano State Pharmaceutical Supply Agency.
Students, who trooped to public and private schools early in the morning, were forced to return home by the striking teachers. All markets in the state, however, remained open.
Public schools in Osun State shut down activities in compliance with the strike directive. But some banks were open for business transactions.
THISDAY noted that some of the banks that opened for business were Zenith Bank PLC located at Okefia area; UBA located along Olonkoro, and Ecobank PLC along Ogo-Oluwa, among others.
A visit to the Government Secretariat, Abere, showed total compliance by the civil servants, as most of the offices were deserted. Although there was free movement of vehicles in and out of the secretariat, offices were not open for business.
Students who had resumed at their various schools around 9am were seen on the streets around Stadium, Ayetoro and West Bye pass, Osogbo, returning home.
But during a visit to some schools within the metropolis, teachers were seen in their offices after the students had been sent home. Some of the schools visited included Fakunle High School, Osogbo, Saint James Grammar School, and Adenle Grammar School, also located in Ayetoro area, Osogbo.
There was total shutdown of facilities in Ebonyi State. Commercial banks, state secretariat, judiciary headquarters, and universities were all shut down.
The leadership of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) branch of Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Abakaliki, set up a seven-man Monitoring Committee to ensure total compliance with the strike action. The branch ASUU chairperson, Comrade Louis Omenyi, announced this at the end of an emergency executive council meeting of the branch held in Abakaliki.
Omenyi reminded members that the strike was total, comprehensive and indefinite, adding that as long as the strike lasted, there would be no teaching, faculty/departmental board meetings or any other statutory meeting involving ASUU FUNAI members.
The state chairman of NLC, Professor Egwu Ogugua, who said the compliance was impressive, added, “So far so good, our compliance with the strike is impressive. The Ochi-Udo secretariat is scanty, the Ebonyi judiciary is under lock and key. The banks are not functioning. It’s only Zenith Bank that is open but they are not open to customers.”
Students in public schools in Warri and environs were yesterday sent home in compliance with the nationwide strike. Students from various public primary and secondary schools were seen on the roads, about 9. 30 am, heading back home.
The main entrance to Warri Ports was barricaded by trade union officials enforcing compliance with the NLC/TUC directive, preventing workers who turned up from resuming for work.
Similarly, most banks refused to open their doors to customers, while others were sceptical about opening, and a few were open for business transactions. Most of the filling stations were open for business and attended to customers, though traffic was scarce with empty roads.
Security operatives were stationed at strategic locations to ward off any unpleasant activities from hoodlums.
A state union official, who pleaded anonymity, said, “We are not doing street protests with the strike. The instruction is for workers to abstain from work, and we are complying. Public schools have sent back their students in compliance with the strike. Many sent their students back this morning because the strike directive came late last night, so that is why students were turned back after getting to school.”
Workers in both state and federal secretariats in Kwara State, yesterday, obeyed the directive of the national leadership of the labour unions to commence a nationwide strike action.
A visit to the state and federal secretariats in Ilorin revealed that workers were not at their duty posts. Most of the offices at the two secretariats were empty.
Public schools were deserted by the teachers, while private schools opened for academic activities. Some of the students who came to their schools were later ordered to go back home.
Electricity consumers also shared from the pains of the strike, as the Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company (IBEDC) locked the gates of it offices at Challenge and Baboko business Centres.
The banners of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) were conspicuously displayed at the gates of the business centres, while security men manning the gates informed customers that the workers were on strike.
Members of organised labour in Edo State joined the indefinite strike action, as government secretariats, high courts, schools and government offices were shut down in compliance with the strike directives.
As early as 8am, the entrance and exit gates of the high courts were locked, with lawyers and judicial workers seen in clusters discussing the strike action.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Afolabi Olayiwola, who could not access the court premises, said the strike embarked upon by members of organised Labour was the sign of a failed system.
Olayiwola expressed shock that the judiciary, knowing very well that there was a court order to stop it, still embarked on the strike and called for a mutual resolution of the the issues.
Meanwhile, Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, branch of ASUU directed all the affiliate members of the union to comply with the directives of organised labour. The compliance directive was signed by the ASUU, AAU Ekpoma Chairperson, Dr Cyril Onogbosele.
Workers in Niger State joined their counterparts in parts of the country to embark on the nationwide strike. As a result, workers in most public institutions withdrew their services in compliance with the directive
The gates to the state secretariat complex, House of Assembly complex, the high court and Sharia court complexes as well as the Federal Secretariat were locked, making it impossible for those who wanted to transact businesses in the institutions to do so.
Similarly, pupils and students of public schools were asked to return home after they met the doors to their schools firmly locked. The gates to the Minna General Hospital were also locked, causing patients to seek medical care at private health institutions, but private schools did not join the strike.
The gates to the state College of Education in Minna and the Federal University of Technology in Minna were, however, open. Some lecturers at the two institutions were seen delivering lectures to students.
State Chairman of NLC, Comrade Idrees Lafene, told THISDAY, “We are happy about the total compliance by our members.” Lafene declared that the strike would continue until the government addressed “all our demands”.