There are very few people in Imo State who do not express joy at the ‘peaceful’ resolution of what threatened to be a mother of all protests, which the organized labour kick-started in Owerri, the capital of Imo State on Wednesday, the 10th of February, 2016. This protest which would have shut down the entire State and possibly plunged the State into unprecedented crisis was the workers’ response to the State Government’s draconian policy of arbitrarily disengaging civil servants in the various parastatals of the State Government, after the Governor had almost concluded the concession of these public parastatals due to what he termed; bloated wage bill, unproductivity and the difficult economic realities which make it impossible for the government to continue paying these workers and still be able to continue with its other responsibilities to the people.
The fact that this is not the first time the Governor is meting out this kind of wickedness on Imo workers, makes this particular incidence a little less topical, if you ask me. Personally, I did not feel inspired enough to show necessary solidarity to the workers and their union at this time, because of their traitorous silence when the same Governor Okorocha sacked 10,000 youths who were employed into the Imo State Civil Service by the immediate past administration of Dr. Ikedi Ohakim.
The leadership of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), at both State and national levels looked the other way, while these youths went from one place to the other looking for a way to get the Governor to return them to their duty posts. Some people argued then, that the NLC could not have done anything because these youths were yet to be confirmed as staff of the State Government. However, I am aware that a labour union does not just or should not just fight for those who are its members, but stands up for the people whenever they feel that the government is trying to persecute them. I cannot be convinced that the NLC was right in abandoning these youths to their fate, and making it look like it does not matter, what the Governor decides to do to Imolites.
The sack of the 10,000 beneficiaries of Governor Ohakim’s job scheme was done through a radio broadcast by the Governor, less than one week into his first term administration. Through the same broadcast, Governor Okorocha also booted out elected local government chairmen and their councilors. The sack of these chairmen and councilors of local government areas, also affected about one thousand other people who were employed by these chairmen and councilors as aides and other staff. The labour union in Imo State did not utter any word of condemnation, even though the NLC and some of its affiliate unions had severally decried the interference from State governors on local governments in Nigeria.
More disheartening is the eventual assassination of the leader of these 10,000 youths. Comrade Ugonna Emeronye was allegedly assassinated by men suspected to be members of the Imo Security Network; a State sponsored local security outfit, set up by the Governor to complement the Police in guaranteeing security in the State. Comrade Ugonna was a vibrant and very vocal young man, whose activism in pushing for the reinstatement of the 10,000 jobs beneficiaries reverberated across the State and beyond. He was courted by politicians from across political Parties, and eventually he pitched tent with the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), whose governorship candidate, Chief Emeka Ihedioha pledged to recall the 10,000 youths should he emerge Governor.
Unfortunately, Comrade Ugoo did not live to see the election as he was gunned down on the eve of the election in his father’s compound. The organized labour in the State did not as much issue any statement commiserating with this fallen Comrade, neither did they deem it fit to even visit the family all through the months that the young man lay cold in the morgue until he was eventually interred.
Four years after, the Governor decided to wield the sack or suspension hammer on older civil servants, whom he believed are unproductive and unnecessary liabilities to the State government. Remember that this is the same reason he gave for the sack of the 10,000 youths. He claimed that the State had no vacancies to accommodate these youths.
I won’t mince words in saying that the sacking of these 3,000 workers is more tolerable and even more justifiable than the sacking of the 10,000 youths. This is because most of those affected by the recent sack have put in many years into the service and are nearing retirement; hence, sacking them is not a big deal. Also, not a few of these civil servants are involved in some infractions that should have warranted their sack. Some of them are docile as alleged, some have manipulated their true ages in order to continue in service, while others are involved in some other acts that the Civil Service Rules frown at. Yet, it is this sack that woke the Organized Labour in the State from their slumber.
A careful analysis of the agreement that led to a suspension of the industrial action will tell you that the struggle may not yet be over for the Labour Union in Imo State as the Governor did not enter into any binding agreement with them. It is either the labour leaders were compromised or they did not take their time to read that agreement thoroughly before appending their signatures to it.
The sack or suspension of these 3,000 workers was not the only reason for the Organized Labour’s protests. One of the major reasons for their standoff with the State Government is the non-payment of salaries to both civil servants in the State for several months, unnecessary deductions from their salaries and planned or already implemented reductions in the take-homes of these civil servants. Yet, the agreement they entered into with the government did not take care of all of these. One is forced to ask, if the labour leaders forgot themselves, or they were blinded by some brown or even white envelopes?
What about the pensioner who are being owed for many months now? Are they not part of the Organized Labour? Why did the labour leaders who signed this agreement with the government not talk about them? The government only committed to the immediate recall of disengaged or suspended workers. The question that is not answered is whether this agreement has reversed the concession of these parastatals. If it has, what happens to the money paid by these concessionaires?
Also, the government agreed to a 70-30 percent sharing of VERIFIED revenue. This means that 70% of whatever revenue that accrues to the State will be deployed in paying these workers while the remaining 30% will go for developmental projects. As much as people are celebrating this as a victory for the labour movement, I do not see it as that. This is rather a subterfuge by the Government to shelve any binding commitment to the regular payment of salaries. Also, the agreement does not contain details on what these verified revenues are. This will be another contention in the future.
In a democratic State, all appropriations are supposed to pass through the legislature. Hence, the 70-30 percent sharing which the Governor agreed with the labour union contravenes the budget proposal presented by the Governor to the Imo State House of Assembly, where a bigger chunk of the appropriation was voted for capital expenditure. If the Governor was ready to implement this agreement with the labour, he would have long called for a withdrawal of the budget to reflect this agreement. Are the labour leaders not afraid that the House of Assembly may go ahead to approve the budget as already presented, hence, making a mess of the agreement? Or is there an agreement with the lawmakers to rework the budget on their own, in order to reflect this fiscal plan by the State government?
It should bother the ordinary workers in Imo State that their leaders failed to get the government to commit seriously to some critical issues that have bogged the civil service in the State since the inception of Governor Okorocha’s administration. So many questions are left unanswered by this agreement that it will not be a surprise if the State is thrown into another industrial crisis in some months from now. How the workers are to react to the impending reduction in their salaries and allowances is still not known, but will definitely not enthralling.