The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) yesterday made good its threat to shut down Kaduna State as it officially commenced a five-day warning strike with a mammoth crowd of peaceful protesters turning out in the streets of the state capital, Kaduna.
The NLC embarked on the industrial action to protest what it says are anti-labour practices by Kadun State Governor Nasir el-Rufai, including the mass sacking of workers and underpayment of salaries among other infractions.
All government offices were shut while businesses were also closed, causing untold hardship to the residents.
The striking workers, who turned out in their thousands chanting solidarity songs in a peaceful protest, commenced the possession from the Labour House (opposite National Ear Care Centre) and marched through Independence Way with a stopover at the State Secretariat where the national president of NLC, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, addressed the crowd at the gate before proceeding to the State Assembly.
Comrade Wabba led the procession alongside other labour leaders of affiliate unions such as Comrade Joe Ajearo of National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE), Comrade John Adaji of (National Union of Textiles, Garments, and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria (NUTGTWN) among several other labour leaders.
He gave a rundown of the sacked workers and other issues labour hold against Governor el-Rufai and said the workers’ union want the sacked workers reinstated as well as the reversal school fees’ increment.
“We took the action because Kaduna State Government’s actions are causing untold hardship on those affected and their dependents,” he said.
According to him, if nothing concrete happens at the end of the warning strike, a national strike would be embarked upon, adding that relevant bodies, including security agencies, had already been communicated to that effect.
ALSO READ: True Federalism And Labour Issues
He said: “In SUBEB 4,000 workers were sacked. We are also aware that 11,000 others have been penciled down for sack. He claimed he had not reverted to the old N18,000 minimum wage, but we are aware that out of the 31,000 workers in the state, he has not paid 20,000 of them April salary. In the local government area, those he paid few days ago, he paid N18,000. Those are the facts and the people affected are here to confirm that.
“Also, the students are here. He is throwing their parents out of job; he increased the school fees by 100 percent. I also have it on good authority that 70 percent of the students at the Kaduna State University are indigenes of Kaduna State; they are also children of workers, children of pensioners, children of petty traders, yet they are out of school because they cannot afford the school fees.
“What type of a system do we want to run? How can we not have insecurity? We have it on record that the 21,000 teachers sacked two years ago have not been paid. If he says he has paid them, tomorrow I will ask them to bring their letters.
The NLC president accused the governor of lying that he had sought to have a parley with the labour leaders, saying he (Ayuba) was only called for a meeting with the governor yesterday but that it was later called off.
“He also claimed that he invited NLC to a meeting and we declined. It is false; we were never invited. In fact, it was late last night someone called that he (el Rufai) wanted us to hold a meeting. It was later he called that the meeting will no longer hold. I recorded the conversation and I can play it for you.”
Speaking further, he said he had also received calls from market traders whose stalls had been demolished and commercial tricycle and motorcycle riders complaining of exorbitant taxing from KASTLEA (Kaduna State revenue agency).
“How can a governor, who earned the trust of the people for election, be deceiving the people? Comrades, as I was on my way here I was shedding tears, I got a text message, and the person told me that this fight is not for only workers alone. He said, as a trader, his shop has been demolished; the shops have been taken over and given to capitalists.
“Yesterday okada (commercial motorcycle) riders and road transport workers met me and said KASTLEA are putting serious taxes on them and they are also feeling the pain. That is the real situation in the state and that is why the whole process is fully complied. Rail has been put on hold. Power has been stopped, Petroleum supply has been stopped, airport is not working, banks are closed, yet we have somebody that is a tyrant that would say he is fighting. Let me tell you that the situation in Kaduna cannot change except we are able to take our destiny into our own hands, and that is why we are here.”
Wabba described as laughable the governor’s claim that he had a six-year-old arrest warrant for the NLC leaders.
“Comrades, is it not even laughable that when el-Rufai discovered that we meant business and were ready to shut down Kaduna, he said he acquired a warrant of arrest six years ago, saying he wants to arrest us. Are we in banana republic? Over six years ago? I have come to Kaduna more than 20 times.
“Comrades, if the person saying it is a fool, the listeners cannot be fools. I read el-Rufai saying that NLC itself is not implementing minimum wage and, as such, we cannot ask for minimum wage; that is not true. I saw the publication and concluded that it was sponsored because there was no accredited source to that information. We cannot as Nigerians be deceived,” he said.
The NLC boss said the labour movement needed to call the governor to order.
“So, we are here to tell him that there is labour law in Nigeria which says that before you declare redundancy, the labour union must be consulted. The laws says, ‘labour shall be consulted’. This is a clear provision, but the governor claimed to have consulted labour; the labour leaders are here and they said it is a lie.
“They said the only consultation he tried to make with them is how to reduce minimum wage from N30,000 to N18,000. Even that, he should not think he is doing the workers a favour by paying minimum wage, because the National Minimum Wage is already a law and it has sanctions,” Wabba said, adding that the workers’ unions will not back down until the governor reverses the anti-labour policies.
“So, there is no retreat, no surrender. I want to thank our union leaders both in public and private sector, from NUEE to NUPENG, from bank union to railway union, aviation and others that are giving maximum support and maximum action deployed to the success of this action. If he (el-Rufai) is a reasonable person, he should know by now that this is beyond the issue of rhetoric; it is an issue that is affecting the lives of citizens.
“We are aware of COVID-19 and that is why we are respecting the protocols. But our right to protest as workers cannot be trampled upon, because they are rights that are enshrined in the African Union Charter and Section 40 of the Nigerian constitution. The law says we don’t need any permission to gather in peaceful protest against any bad policy; it is a law that is sacrosanct.”
Wabba challenged the Kaduna State governor to rather direct his power of intimidation to criminals that are terrorising the citizens.
“If they want to intimidate any group, let them go and intimidate the criminals that are kidnapping our people. They should go after the hoodlums that are today killing our people in the name of banditry.
“We are aware that Kaduna today is the epicentre of kidnapping in Nigeria; it is a very sorry situation that even five of our children, students of Greenfield University were killed, and he (the governor) has shown no remorse or taken action to address some of those issues effectively, but he is responding to workers that want to defend their fundamental human rights.”
He insisted that minimum wage is already a law and the governor had no choice than to implement it.
“But the law says you can’t sack even a single worker without consulting the labour union. The law says, ‘you shall discuss with the union’. Even if the worker does not belong to the union, the law says ‘discuss with his representative’. That is a law which is sacrosanct and that is why we are here to defend the law.
“Those he has sacked before have not been paid. He told them their benefits would be paid in due course. That is not acceptable because there is no commitment. As we speak, over 20,000 people have not been paid April salary, while those in the local government were paid only N18,000.”
NLC said even after the five days’ warning strike, if the government did not reverse the sacking of their workers, it will mobilise their members all over the country for a nationwide industrial action.
“This is an anti-worker policy and anti-people policy that we are here to engage. If at the end of the five days warning strike, there is no sign of response, we shall declare a five-day national strike and this decision has been communicated to all the relevant bodies, including the security agencies,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Kaduna State government yesterday stuck to its guns, saying it will not reverse its decisions and accusing the labour unions of sabotage.
It said it had noted that the conditions that compelled its decision to right-size its work force have not been altered by NLC’s “campaign of economic and social sabotage.”
The government also reiterated its firm commitment to using all the resources it can generate to serve the interests of the majority of its citizens.
A statement signed by special adviser on Media and Communication, Muyiwa Adekeye, pointed out that government’s resolve ‘’is only reinforced by the desperate actions undertaken by the NLC to unlawfully trespass on government facilities, and prevent officers from signing attendance registers. ‘’
The statement added that ‘’despite these actions, the state government has guaranteed access to the State Secretariat and other government offices.’’
According to Adekeye, the government intends to continue running its operations in service to the people, despite the futile efforts of the NLC to impede it.
‘’Accordingly, all officers from GL 14 upwards are expected at their duty posts as usual,’’ he added.
The special adviser noted that NLC had also shut healthcare access for several citizens, in addition to shutting down electricity, including several hospitals and chased away the patients.
‘’General hospitals in Kawo, Tudun-Wada, Kafanchan, Giwa, Rigasa, Kakuri and Sabon Tasha were illegally locked. They also shut rural hospitals and primary health centres in Kwoi, Turunku and other locations across the state,’’ he lamented.
‘’The government shares the pain of the people of Kaduna State amidst the avalanche of unlawful conduct by the NLC and appeals to all residents to remain peaceful and vigilant,’’ Adekeye said.
The statement, however, warned that ‘’government is documenting all these violations of the Miscellaneous Offences Act and the Trade Union Act.’’
The special adviser said that government welcomed the visit by the leaders of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) who met with our Head of Service, Bariatu Y. Mohammed, yesterday morning.
‘’Hajiya Bariatu has reported on the constructive attitude of the TUC delegation led by Barrister Musa Lawal, its secretary-general,’’ he said.
The statement added: ‘’the TUC team included Comrade Isa Mohammed of PENGASSAN, Comrade Bulama Haruna, Comrade Ebere Okpara, Comrade Yunusa Zubairu, Comrade Aliyu Yunusa and members of the Kaduna State Executive of the TUC,” he said.
Yesterday, the governor took to his social handles to condemn the NLC action, accusing the labour union of socio-economic sabotage. .
Governor el-Rufai in his official verified Twitter handle @govkaduna also accused the NLC of having no interest in public welfare, noting that the NLC went violent over the sack of teachers in 2017.
“KDSG affirms that the conditions that compel it to rightsize are not altered by the NLC’s campaign of economic and social sabotage.
“The NLC showed in 2017 that it had no interest in public welfare, going violent over 21,780 failed teachers who KDSG replaced with 25,000,” he stated.
Residents of Kafanchan, the headquarters of Jema’a local government, have appealed for an amicable resolution of the ongoing standoff.
LEADERSHIP’s correspondent who went round the Kafanchan metropolis observed full compliance with the strike directive by schools, hospitals, filling stations and banks.
The wards are empty while relatives that have patients with complicated issues are stranded in the hospitals and complaining that their relatives are not being attended to.
A union member told LEADERSHIP at a hospital that the offices of medical doctors and nurses are under lock and key.
Speaking to LEADERSHIP at the General Hospital, Sabo Tasha, a relative of one of the patients who only identified herself as Anna, urged the government to meet the demand of NLC and re-recall the sacked workers.
“We need more workers in the hospitals. In all the days that we’ve been here, the hospital has shortage of staff. The government should please consider its earlier decision,” she said.
A patient’s relative, Jethro Hosea, said he was stranded at the hospital, and does not know where to take his sick uncle to.
“This is someone very sick. I can’t carry him home in this condition,” Hosea said.
At the General Hospital, Kafanchan, a patient, Lami Dauda, told LEADERSHIP she was turned back at the entrance after showing up for a doctor’s appointment.
Dauda said the strike, if not resolved, will bring untold hardship on the people who are already struggling to survive.
“As you can see, they are telling people to go back home. I was supposed to see a doctor today for a follow-up on my ailment.
People will suffer and may even lose their lives if something is not done to quickly resolve this problem,” she said.
Even though there was vehicle movement in the state, the train and air services were shut.
LEADERSHIP gathered that hundreds of people that bought the train ticket for the Rigasa-Abuja trip were turned backi as a result of the strike.
The train ticket is non-refundable after a stipulated time of travel but sources at the station said they may reconsider their stand following the new development.
LEADERSHIP reports that fuel stations are not selling in Kaduna while the Kaduna Electricity Distribution Company (KEDC) had shut down all their transmission lines in the state.
Another resident, Ezekiel Sunday, noted that the disruption of critical services, such as water and electricity, has come at a heavy cost for his laundry business.
Sunday called on the NLC and the state government to try to find a common ground in order to resolve the dispute amicably.
On his part, Musa Saleh said having economic activities grounded for a week could spell doom for the state, hence the need for both parties ‘to work out something now’.
IGP Deploys More Operatives, Assure Of Safety
The inspector-general of police, Ag. IGP Usman Baba has ordered the deployment of additional police operatives and crime prevention assets to ensure public safety and strengthen security along the Kaduna-Abuja expressway.
Force PRO, CP Frank Mba said the IGP gave the directive as a proactive measure to protect communities and travellers in anticipation of increased traffic on Kaduna-Abuja expressway following the disruption of other means of transportation by the industrial action in Kaduna State.
The IGP noted that the deployment was designed to enhance police visibility, prevent and neutralise possible criminal activities targeted at citizens plying the road.
Mba also said the IGP had directed the assistant inspectors-general of police (AIGs) and commissioners of police in Zonal and State commands with jurisdictions straddling Kaduna-Abuja highway and its environs to ensure no new threat to lives and property thrive within their Area of Responsibility (AoR) as a result of the industrial action.
Similarly, the AIG in charge of the Force Intelligence Bureau had been directed to immediately deploy covert operatives from the Intelligence Response Team (IRT) and the Special Tactical Squad (STS) to prevent any untoward situation along the expressway.
While assuring citizens that the Force will continue to do all within its powers to promote public safety, the IGP called on citizens, particularly communities, transporters and commuters along Kaduna-Abuja expressway to cooperate with security operatives deployed to their areas.
Citizens are also enjoined to be vigilant and promptly report any suspicious movements or criminal activities in their localities to the police.