The recent faceoff between the Kwara State Government and the labour unions in the state was stretched to the extreme on Tuesday when the union after protracted but failed negotiation to arrive at a common ground on the contentious issue of minimum wage implementation finally down tool amidst accusation of thuggery against the government to intimidate them. Acting Editor, Mumini AbdulKareem writes on the issue.
Last week Tuesday, the Kwara State workers under the aegis of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) among others finally made good their threat to shutdown the state over the lingering issue of the implementation of minimum wage in the state.
The strike which witnessed total compliance across the state is coming following the expiration of the fourteen days ultimatum issued by labour for the Kwara State Government to commence payment of the new wage.
Both Labour and the union have reached many deadlocks during their negotiations prior the industrial action as Government maintained that implementing the minimum wage and its consequential adjustment will leave the state with zero resources to implement other programmes for other citizens of the state, who are not workers, an excuse that the labour rejected.
According to the unions, while many states that are not as buoyant as Kwara have since commenced the new minimum wage and even returning to the negotiation table to ask for more in the light of the skyrocketing prices of food, the Kwara state government has no excuse whatsoever to decline payment of the new salary.
Failed Court Restriction
However, in order to halt the threat of the workers to go on strike, the state government hurriedly rushed to the industrial court sitting in Akure under Justice D.K Damulak to obtain an experte order restraining the labour unions from embarking on the strike which was granted.
According to government in an affidavit filed at the industrial court in the suit No NICN/AK/53/2020, the government asked whether it was lawful for it to sign an agreement affecting Local government workers when it is not in control of Local Govt finances nor expending its funds.
The case was instituted by the Attorney General of Kwara State as Plaintiff while the defendants include the Nigeria Labour Congress; Trade Union Congress; Joint Negotiation Committee; Aliyu Issa Ore (State NLC Chairman), Ezekiel Adegoke (State TUC Chairman); and Saliu Suleiman (JNC Chairman).
The court, among other things, in the interim injunctions therefore restrained the “defendants/ respondents jointly and severally by themselves, their agents, servants, employees, workmen, privies or authorities howsoever described from declaring any strike or industrial action or embarking on the planned industrial action of any nature effective on the 12th and/or 13th day of October, 2020 or at any other date pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice for interlocutory injunction.”
It also granted an order restraining the defendants from taking further steps in respect of the subject matter of the suit pending the hearing and determination of the motion on notice and another order for substituted service of the originating summons and any order of the court. The court then adjourned to case to October 20, 2020 for hearing of the motion.
However, the workers defiled the court order describing it as an infringement on their rights and reiterated their resolve to proceed on the strike.
Titled “No Going Back on Planned Indefinite Strike Actions”, the labour unions said “While we remain law abiding entity which holds the judiciary in high esteem, we wish to reiterate that the proposed strike action will proceed … as agreed during our joint meeting which was held today where all industrial unions including NLC, TUC and NJC were signatories.
“For the sake of emphasis, we want to state categorically that N30,000 minimum wage agitation is a constitutional matter which had passed through all legislative processes and assented to by President Muhammadu Buhari. To this end, the experte order obtained from NIC is an infringement on Labour rights to peaceful agitation and such cannot stand”, the statement which was signed by the NLC, TUC and Joint Negotiating Council (JNC) stated.
Resort to Thuggery
But following the failure to restrain the workers through the court order, the government reportedly resulted to violence and thuggery destroying part of the NLC secretariat and attacking the labour leaders and their enforcement team which had gone to monitor the level of compliance at the office of the Kwara State Internal Revenue Service (KWIRS).
Confirming the government action in their separate responses on the issue, the labour leaders vowed that that no amount of intimidation will make them renege on their action adding that this was strange in the government labour union relationship in the state.
In the words of Comrade Issa Ore, the state chairman of NLC, accused the Special Assistant to the Governor on Domestic Affairs, Obasanjo Alashe, popularly known as SOJ, of leading the thugs to carry out the destruction at the labour secretariat.
He said, ‘the thugs were over 12 in numbers and they invaded the NLC secretariat during the early hours of Tuesday with dangerous weapons. They came in numbers and they were led by one S.O.J. They vandalized the entrance gate and took away our banners and broke one of our doors on Tuesday.
‘‘On Wednesday, I got a report from my men who were on the field to assess the level of compliance that they were again attacked by the hoodlums while at the office of Kwara State Internal Revenue Service (KWIRS). My treasurer and his vice were attacked and manhandled in the presence of security officials at the scene”.
Ore added that whatever the level of intimidation from any quarters, the Kwara NLC will not succumb to any act of distraction as it is fight to finish until the government akin to the demand of the workers in the state.
This issue has gone beyond the labour and government, it is now between labour and political thugs of the government”, he submitted.
For his part, Acting Kwara State chairman of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Ezekiel Adegoke accused the government of unleashing thugs at the union leaders adding that ‘‘the government that we voted in is now using thugs to chase us. It’s not their fault. My take to the thugs is that the government will also dump them after they have been used’’.
In the words of the Kwara State chairman of the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT), Comrade Olu Adewara ‘‘this has never happened this way (in the history of the state), that thugs will be set at union leaders. They came to all the gates (we) mounted with strong weapons with their ferocious looks ready to attack (us).
Silence Means Approval
In the meantime, activists and public commentators in Ilorin have accused the Governor and his government of giving tacit approval to the waves of attacks on the labour leaders over the strike issue.
During a Radio Programme, Lagbo Oselu on Sobi FM, Comrade Musa Aliyu, a public affairs commentator said the failure of the government to condemn the attack amounted to tacit approval of the action of the thugs against the labour leaders, a position that was also shared by another civil right activist, Comrade Shola Muse who was also featured on the programme.
Evasive Governor/Misplaced Priority
While the strike lasted, many of the striking union workers and leaders accused the governor of been evasive and not getting his priorities right by personally leading the EndSARS protesters in the state to the police headquarters while his house was on fire. During its popular weekly radio programme “Efura” sponsored by the Kwara Stakeholders Consultative Forum, the anchor, Hon Ayanshola Mohammed said since the inauguration of the cabinet, Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq has only met with labour twice, the second been the one that was held last week. He noted that the government has been too secretive and operating the administration like a cult. According, there is need for more openness and transparency going forward which was a toll deployed by past administrations that averted civil servants strike in the state for the last sixteen years.
Although, the labour leaders have said they have suspended the industrial action following various interventions by government officials and stakeholders, the action appears to lack the backing of the entire labour bloc in the state as the Nigerian Union of Agriculture and Allied Employees (NUAAE) has dissociated itself from the decision to suspend the strike in a statement weekend by its state chairman, Comrade D.K. Ehindero. Furthermore, the Acting State chairman of the TUC, Comrade Ezekiel Adegoke, even while endorsing the strike warned of the consequence ahead if the government failed to accede to their request.
“The industrial action has shown government that the Kwara State workers are very serious with their demands and will not hesitate to down tools again should the government hesitate to respond to their demands”.
Based on the foregoing and initial dogma that government purse is too lean to accommodate the workers requests, how elastic are both parties prepare to go on the issue remain to be seen in the coming days and whether labour will return to the strike or the government is ready and willing to avert it.