The speaker of the Imo State House of Assembly, Hon. Acho Ihim Tuesday escaped being lynched by angry workers and pensioners who besieged the State House of Assembly, Owerri to protest the plan by the lawmakers to enact law backing the privatization of parastatals in the state.
The speaker had arrived the Assembly complex to address the workers and pensioners, but they did not allow him speak, but kept on abusing him and cursing him, to the extent that some of the embittered workers attempted to push him.
But, for the intervention of his security personnel, the speaker would have been pushed down into the muddy waters in front of the gate.
He was however quickly whisked away by his security aides with workers pelting him with garden eggs and stones.
The protesters said the plan by the state government to privatize the parastatals was meant to sack more workers from the state civil service while the government was still owing them months of unpaid salaries and pension arrears.
As early as 7 am, the protesters had moved in droves to the House of Assembly complex, blocking the gates, calling the state governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha and the speaker unprintable names and chanting solidarity and war songs to depict their anger.
They sang such songs as “elu na ala megide onye si na ogaghi adiri anyi na mma” (let heaven and earth rise against the man that has evil intentions for us).
The proters also bore various placards with several inscriptions such as “Imo Govt, stop punishing pensioners through incessant verification”; ‘Rochas Pay law Officers their salaries”; $1.4 billion can rescue Imo, bring it back from America”; “EFCC kindly visit Imo State, Rochas has killed workers”; “Buhari call Rochas to order”; “Rochas treat retired perm secs as foundation administrative senior citizens”, among many other.
The protest caused a gridlock for some hours as workers and pensioners called on the state government to pay their salaries and pensions and stop the proposed privatization of parastatals.
The protest which preceded an indefinite strike action, was led by the state chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Comrade Austin Chilakpu, the secretary of the association of retired permanent secretaries, Sir F. I. Agba and others.
Addressing the protesters, Chilakpu said that the protest became necessary as a result of the five months salaries owed the workers by the state government.
According to him, “the workers went on a warning strike for seven days but the speaker and the members of the state house of assembly did not deem it fit to ask what was the problem. The house of assembly also did not deem it fit to talk about the non-payment of workers’ salaries for one day at plenary.
“Instead, what they want to do is to sit down and pass a law scrapping parastatals and asking workers to go home”.
Chilakpu stated that the intention of the government was to back the proposed privatization with law and sack the workers the way thousands of workers were sacked in the Imo Transport Company, ITC, Adapalm and Concorde Hotels where the governor first commenced the privatization policy.
He said the workers would not resume work until the state government solved the problem and pay their salaries.
Chief Gideon Ezeji, the state chairman of Nigeria Union of Pensioners who also spoke decried the situation whereby Imo indigenes who served their fatherland meritoriously were allowed to face hardship by the government.
He accused the state government not really doing anything to show they are working to ameliorate the plight of pensioners and workers.
“As at today, civil pensioners are owed six months, retired primary teachers are owed 20 months, IBC pensioners owed seven months, ITC nine months and the list is endless. Gratuities are not paid. The worst is that the retired primary school teachers are not paid their federal share of pensions. Imo is the only state in south east that is withholding the federal share of primary school teachers’ pensions”, Ezeji said.
He stated that the pensioners joined in the protest because of the plan of the legislature to privatize state parastatals, insisting that the plan was another way the governor wanted to sack the workers.
“We are here because the workers in the state are owed between four and 10 months. This protest will continue until the government decides to do something about the unpaid salaries and pensions”, the NUP chairman insisted.
For the secretary of the association of retired permanent secretaries, Sir F. I. Agba, Governor Okorocha was intentionally destroying the economy of the state by not paying the salaries and pensioners, a situation he said had crumbled the economy of the state.
“A man whose family is dying of hunger and he is building sky scrapers, is simply not insane. How can you be doing well if you are starting the economy you are supposed to be promoting by not paying salaries and pensions. The governor was given mandate to protect Imo State economy and not destroy it. But now he has destroyed the economy of Imo State and people are crying and yet he doesn’t want to act”, Agba lamented.
Comrade Erekhaha Moses and Comrade Enekhaeze Anthony, state chairman and secretary of the Amalgamated Union of Public Corporations, Civil Service Technical And Recreation Services also insisted that the intention of the government to privatize all parastatals was meant to disengage the workers.
“He started it with ITC, Adapalm and Concorde and we are against it because of what we have seen in ITC and Adapalm where many have been laid off. In ITC, Global Ginikana has virtually finished it and sacked over 250 workers and more are still being sacked. Not up to 100 workers work in ITC now
“So, we want the government to pay workers their salaries because is a functional state”, one of them said.
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