The ongoing nationwide strike declared by organised labour is a misplaced priority, Senator Adams Oshiomhole declared yesterday.
According to him, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) should take up issues on workers’ welfare rather than what will portray them as partisan.
Oshiomhole, who shot into the limelight as a labour activist, crowning his career as president of the NLC, wondered why the labour centres would not take on state governments that are not paying the N30,000 minimum wage but would embark on industrial action simply because its leader was assaulted.
The former Edo State governor spoke at Aso Villa yesterday after a meeting with Vice President Kashim Shettima.
The NLC and TUC called the strike yesterday to protest last week’s physical attack on NLC President Joe Ajaero in Owerri, the Imo State capital.
Ajaero flew into Owerri to protest the non-payment of outstanding salary arrears to workers.
Despite the workers’ leadership rejection of his intervention, NLC vowed to “occupy Imo State”.
During his picketing at the airport on arrival, he was beaten up and the police took him into “protective custody”.
A few hours later, a photograph of Ajaero’s swollen face surfaced on social media.
He was not seen in public for days. On his return, he claimed that the police arrested him and handed him over to hoodlums who assaulted him.
Although the police denied involvement, Inspector-General Kayode Egbetokun redeployed Imo State Commission of Police Mohammed Barde and ordered an investigation.
TUC President Festus Osifo announced the industrial action on Monday, saying it will be indefinite.
But Oshiomhole said: “Unfortunately, this strike is not about those issues.
“And I think we have to be careful not to mix our political opinion with our responsibilities because the issues confronting workers are so many that they should become the priority.”
Oshiomhole urged the NLC to prioritise holding state governments accountable to the N30,000 minimum wage agreement, which covers both local government and state workers.
He wondered why the NLC was not mobilising workers against states still failing to implement the approved minimum wage while targeting the Federal Government.
Advising union leaders to engage vigorously on issues like unpaid salaries, he cautioned against actions perceived as overtly partisan.
He said: “The Federal Government had granted N35,000 increase. And those discussions were supposed to be for and on behalf of not only the Federal Government but on behalf of all workers in Nigeria, including those employed by local governments and state governments.
“Additional revenue accruing from the withdrawal of subsidy should trickle down to the states and the local government areas.
“I would have wished that somebody in the NLC recognises that the hunger in the stomach of federal employees is not any worse than the hunger in the stomach of those state employees, nor local government employees.
“If these are the issues on the table, even as a senator, I will publicly support action against any government that thinks that we should lament away our hunger while the people do what they do.
“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 will of our industrial progress.
“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 friends with any politicians.”
He reiterated his stance against brutality against any Nigerian while stressing that addressing the hierarchy of workers’ needs should be NLC’s focus.
“But, let me be clear. I do not support the brutalisation of any Nigerian. I emphasise, any Nigerian, including a journalist, including the unemployed. Of course, including a Labour leader,” he added.
Affiliate unions join strike
The strike got the support of affiliate unions.
Oil, bank and electricity workers, as well as a section of university teachers, joined the industrial action in compliance with their unions’ directive.
Among Labour’s demands are the redeployment and investigation of the Commissioner of Police, Imo State Command; arrest, prosecution and dismissal of all police officers involved in the incident; and arrest of all thugs who partook in beating Ajaero and other workers.
Labour also demanded the arrest and prosecution of Mr Chinasa Nwaneri, Uzodimma’s aide on special duties who allegedly supervised the terror on workers and “bestial brutality” meted out to Ajaero.
The Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association (PENGASSAN) and the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) asked their members to join the industrial action.
The Association of Senior Staff of Banks, Insurance and Financial Institutions (ASSBIFI) and the National Union of Banks Insurance and Financial Institutions Employees (NUBIFIE) joined the strike.
Federal workers were also asked to join the action.
General Secretary of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria, Joshua Apebo, directed federal workers to withdraw services nationwide.
But some federal workers showed up for work yesterday.